I have a friend who doesn’t like to drive in unfamiliar places, or to drive in reverse or parallel park.

A couple of days ago she called my husband to propose that we take her to Rincón, so she could fulfill a vow to St. Lazarus. It made my mouth water thinking of a subsequent prize: oxtail stew with beer. Either way, with a tail or without it, we took her.

During the entire ride we observed, with pain, the deterioration of highways, roads, houses, and of course, people. We were on the lookout the whole trip, trying to recognize the charming old places that still live in our memories.

Finally, when we reached the parking lot of the Shrine, as we had barely gotten out of the car, the vendors who saw us yelled “Look! It’s the people from Hialeah!” I don’t know if they were confused by the car or our clothes. But finally they surrounded us trying to sell all kinds of objects: candles, images, prayer cards, and so on. With great difficulty we managed to get rid of them and move toward the church. At the entrance of the sanctuary there was a poster, very pretty and nicely done, describing certain prohibitions, with illustrations for those who could not read:

NO EATING IN THE SANCTUARY

NO SMOKING

NO DRINKING

NO LOW-CUT BLOUSES

NO SHORTS OR FLIP-FLOPS

REMEMBER THAT THIS IS THE HOUSE OF GOD

But hey, that was nothing. On the return trip, dodging like a boat adrift over all kinds of potholes that made the car wobble like a drunk, we left there and arrived at Santiago de las Vegas. We were very excited to go to La Begoña garden, gorgeous according to stories on TV. I was particularly thrilled at the thought of orchids. Imagine our surprise to see that this beautiful garden was in a state of total abandonment. On leaving we were met by starving dogs that could hardly even bark at us. We left there very disappointed, but opposite, right in front of us was a farmers market. Hallelujah! There they must have things, because we were in the country. But no, just anemic and stunted carrots for 28 pesos a pound. You would swear that they were covered with gold leaf, but no sir, only with dirt. They had the little cap-shaped peppers that from Gustav and Ike you never see any more, for 28 pesos per pound; pearl onions at 22 pesos per pound. Even so, they gave us tremendous joy: we didn’t return home with orchids, but at least we could spice our food back in Havana, whoopee!

Best of all was when we retreated with our small but expensive package, when suddenly, another sign appeared before our eyes in the parking lot. This one, unlike the priests’, on a piece of cardboard painted as you like:

NO SHITTING IN THIS AREA

Fine, I said to my companions, if you can’t in this area, surely you can in another.

We returned to “civilization” dying with laughter from the experience and yes, very refreshed spiritually, because we could thank old Lazarus for the gifts received and also ask that he help us “as you know best.”

Translated by: Tomás A.

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