Coño, It’s Cold

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Like many writers, I keep a running list of things about which I want to write – ideas that are especially interesting (at least to me) because they’re especially Cuban, capturing the inimitable specificity of this place.

One thing on that list, a writing idea I had about six months ago, was about The Heat. That suffocating, certain noose of weather that induces apathy, discomfort, and an ineluctable urge in all Cubans to complain about just how hot it is. Whereas six months ago, I was going to write about threads of sweat weaving between breasts, now I’m compelled to write about erect nipples thanks to our recent spell of witch’s tit kind of cold.

First and foremost, bathing is a bitch. Most people I know (myself included, dear reader) don’t have running hot water at home. Everything is accomplished with cold water or with water heated on the stove. (Talk about Old Skool. I swear, Cuba [too] often feels like that Pioneer House reality show). This includes bathing. Pull back the shower curtain in any Cuban home and you’re bound to see a plastic bucket. When it’s ‘bath time,’ water heated on the stove is mixed together with its cold counterpart to the bather’s preferred temperature in the bucket. This brew is then poured over the body using another, much smaller, plastic bucket, or more commonly, an oversized tin cup known universally as the ‘jarrito.’

To all those people who have ever said to me, ‘why do you need hot water in Cuba anyway?!’: I invite you to my house today, where the thermometer struggles to reach 50°F, to try bathing with the little/big bucket system.

I’m particularly fond of hot water, I’ll admit. Esalen, Fuentes Georginas, Puna’s hot pond – I’ve lounged and lingered in them all and I’ve yet to meet a (clean) hot tub I didn’t like. Bathing with the bucket method cold day in, cold day out? This is my hell.

You would think that 8 years on I’d be used to it, or at least have a viable strategy. But I’m still trying to dope out the best method: Do I pour many little jarritos of hot water over my entire body head to toe in quick succession and then proceed to suds and rinse all at once? Or do I go about it piecemeal, wetting my legs, soaping them up, and rinsing them off before working north to my hips, waist, and beyond? Even on still days, the air is colder than the water and neither strategy keeps me from freezing my ass off. (Hair washing is clearly out of the question.) It’s like entering a chilly pool, I suppose. Creep deeper inch by inch or dive right in head first? Tough call.
So how cold is it, really? Well for starters, the weather folks on Cuban television (see note 1) are using phrases I’ve never heard here before like ‘exceptionally cold’ and ‘be sure to bundle up.’ For once, this isn’t Cuban hyperbole. Record lows have been recorded throughout the country this January: last week it was 33°F in Gran Piedra and a couple of days ago it was just a few degrees warmer in Colón. Average lows here in Havana hover around 48° (or colder in the microclimates). I could make a fortune selling fuzzy socks and cozy pants on a random Habana Vieja corner. According to our venerated weather people, it’s going to be close to, or record breaking, for the number of cold fronts passing through Cuba in a single January. Already it has been 30 years since the last time it was this cold – some nine cold fronts in the month.

It’s affecting everything. Outdoor concerts are being cancelled and patio dining is at an all-time low. Even baseball is feeling the effects, with hard to hold bats flying towards the infield and sportscasters breaking in after the count to exclaim, ‘I am FREEZING and for what?’ Then there’s the Cuban cold weather wardrobe: Dogs are combing the streets in jury-rigged hand towels, while musty, long-abandoned coats are hauled out of closets from Guanahacabibes to Punto Maisí. If you’ve been to Cuba recently, you’ll have noticed there’s an unhealthy predilection for denim jackets. Unfortunately, these are often paired with jeans, meaning Cubans of all types and stripes are violating the 11th Commandment: ‘Thou shalt not wear jeans with jeans jacket.’ (see note 2)

Friends here assume I’m not bothered by this relative cold since I hail from ‘up there.’ But they’re wrong: I hate this state of weather in between. This not hot, but not really cold either. I hated it for 7 or so years in San Francisco and I’m hating it still. It’s just too wishy washy for me. It’s like the suburbs. Give me urban like New York or rural like Pinar del Río, but I’ll skip Scarsdale in all its über suburban-ness, thank you very much. Likewise, give me hot like Havana (normally is) or cold like Montreal. Northern California’s pseudo-heat? I’ll pass.

For now, I’ll just have to suck it up dirty hair and all and brew some more tea. Giselle just announced another cold front is on its way.


1. I must take this opportunity to say something about Cuban weather forecasters, since they are so different from those pretty little thangs that dominate TV weather up north. Living in the hurricane belt confers upon Cuban weatherpeople a notoriety, visibility, and responsibility beyond detailing five days worth of sunshine and rain. We depend on them to keep us informed about any heavy weather heading our way, lest we have to tape windows and put up water, lay in candles or evacuate to a shelter. These folks are experts and have the higher degrees to prove it – everyone reporting weather on Cuban TV has a master’s degree or higher – and are accorded the reverence we usually reserve for professors or doctors in the USA. Another difference between here and there is the weather wardrobe: the night weather woman Giselle appeared wearing a black lace teddy type number during prime time, I was reminded of my dearly departed brother who watched the Weather Channel like it was porn. And when her colleague Odalys reported the weather right through her eighth month of pregnancy, I realized this was a whole different ballgame. I mean, when was the last time you saw a very pregnant woman delivering the weather forecast where you live?

2. The 11th Commandment was coined by my dear old friend Neil S. Since he clued me in to just how cheesy and profane the pairing is a couple of decades ago, I’ve ceased to be a sinner (at least in this regard).



Filed under Americans in cuba, Living Abroad, Writerly stuff

22 responses to “Coño, It’s Cold

  1. Annie

    It’s hailing right now here in CA which means panic in the streets. So I hear ya.

    You wrote, “If you’ve been to Cuba recently, you’ll have noticed there’s an unhealthy predilection for denim jackets. Unfortunately, these are often paired with jeans, meaning Cubans of all types and stripes are violating the 11th Commandment: ‘Thou shalt not wear jeans with jeans jacket.’ (see note 2)”

    HAHAHA! Funny piece, thanks. 🙂

    • Hail?! Yikes. Maybe that Northern (?) California weather isn’t so wishy washy after all

      The 11th Commandment is hard to break once you know it exists.

      Happy 2010!

      • sami

        Yea. It hailed in SF and we had a full on thunderstorm as well ! Its been pretty cold here too, and raining now for about a week straight. I’m on my way to Cuba this week actually…maybe I should bring a jacket…promise not to bring a jean jacket though 🙂

  2. It won’t help much in this super-cold weather, but when it’s a little nicer, the Turkish bath approach is a good one for dealing with no hot water. Basically, use what you’ve got, except you need a slightly bigger basin to dump the water with–you want something kind of wide (not quite as big around as a dinner plate), and a little shallow. Get just wet enough to soap up and scrub, then just start dumping bowls of water over yourself in fairly quick succession. It’s surprisingly refreshing–I think the wider bowl helps slosh your whole body more.

    I now travel with a bowl, just for dealing with crappy showers in this way.

    Also…love the image of the pregnant weather reporter!

    • Hola from Merida and mil gracias for reminding me of the Turkish hamam action! Mom and I went in Marrakech and it is one of my enduring travel memories.

      Happy travels!

  3. Oh, and: can totally relate to SF weather hatred. Never have I felt so cold as in that city…

  4. Ha! Well, we wrote the HOT article for you ( and you wrote the COLD one for us. It’s finally warming up here… just in time, cuz I was about to take a pick-axe to the cement floor and put in a campfire…

  5. Marie

    Hi there!

    Did y0u ever get my Christmas Card?

    I was in Camagüey last month and boy was I in for a surprise come shower time!
    I hope to visit Havana this spring; my only requirement is a room with a cold/hot shower.

    Best to you this new year.

    • Ay~ No Christmas card yet, but its the thought that counts, eh?? so. thanks for that!

      Actually, they’ve made a little procedural change down at my PO – now the section with the boxes is only open 8-4 mon-sat (used to be 24/7/365). since we often swing by the PO after partying, i haven’t been able to check in about 10 days. I’ll let you know when/if it comes in…

      happy travels

  6. Ah yes, your dear departed brother did enjoy the weather channel. While most people hover there for a minute or two, he’d actually sit and watch it as if it were pay per view. And if he was watching it now, he’d know not to go outside. Up here in el norte, to leave one’s house is to have one’s scrotum withdraw in shock. And I’m a from the Colorado Rockies. I know cold.


  7. Doug


    I just got back from two weeks in Norway. As I got off the bus at Oslo’s Central Station, I walked past an outdoor cafe. The temperature was about 15 degrees F, and so, of course, the place was packed. The folks were drinking beer and singing along to Abba. I thought for a minute I had landed at the Scandavia ride at Disneyland or something, but no, it was real. Can’t make this stuff up. My two weeks there taught me to re-appreciate the Montreal cold, as you refer to it. And you’re right. I like it better than the 50 degree endless rain we’ve been having here in L.A. for the last week. Although, L.A. in the rain is actually kind of nice. Weather in L.A. is always appreciated, as it is rare. And I have an awesome hot shower! You should come visit sometime!

    By the way, I may be tripping (Lord knows I’ve done plenty of that), but I do recall that in the good old days you were a fond violator of the 11th Commandment. Dare I out you on this?



    • You are trippin! mi amigo – and must have me confused with some other blond shiska from the good ole days. jeans on jeans jacket has never been how I roll!

      on another note: aren’t the Norwegians lovely?? Next time Im in LA, you’re on! take care and happy solistice.

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  9. galia

    No need to have your hair dirty. Here is how I used to do it when living in Cuba and having the el cubo/el jarrito system with shortage of water, shampoo/soap, gas/luzbrillante and electricity. Wet your hair first, then add some shampoo. Rinse it with very little water. Then repeat it, but rinse it inside the cubo para ahorrar el agua. Then use this water para banarse. Sounds not very hygienic, pero resuelve. LOL

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  11. Hey, are denim jackets still totally hip in Havana in 2013? How is the weather now?

    • Hiya!!

      Yes, jeans jackets (and jeans on jeans jacket) are still raging here, though at the moment it’s brutally hot – and will remain so for the next, oh, I don’t know, four months?

  12. Pingback: Havana Mantras | Here is Havana

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