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Cubans waited in three hour long queues this week for the much-awaited relaunch of “Coppelia,” the island nation’s so-called cathedral of ice cream which re-opened after a two-month revamp just in time for the summer vacation.
Cuba’s most famous ice cream parlor was immortalized on an international level in the ground-breaking film “Fresa y Chocolate” (Strawberries and Chocolate) which pushed boundaries with criticism of the Castro regime’s treatment of the LGBT community and, following its release in 1994, was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.
The parlor’s appeal persists and locals of Havana welcomed the reopening with anticipation despite the heat.
“In this heat, ice cream is the best thing, but after two hours burning under the sun I am beginning to have doubts, I may not move from here,” a young Cuban, Gloria, told Efe whilst she held a parasol.
Like many in Cuba, Gloria did not want to give her surname when talking to foreign media, which is tightly regulated by the government.
For Cristian, a student who stood in line with a bunch of colleagues, the ice cream shop is the place he goes to after exams. At the weekends, he feels obligated to stop off here.
“It is the cheapest place,” Flora, an older woman who says she witnessed how Fidel Castro and Celia Sánchez built Coppelia for the people.
Opened in June 1966, Coppelia is one of the most renowned ice cream parlors in the world.
The modernist building was designed by Cuban architect Mario Girona and boasts a spiral staircase that connects to five large discs all under one round roof.
The state-run chain has a socialist philosophy at its core and to this day diners share tables with complete strangers.
The 53-year-old joint, which can hold up to 1,000 punters, has recently taken on a bad reputation because of poor service and accusations of corruption, something the government is aiming to challenge with a generous investment that trickled down the supply lines as far as the factory that supplies Coppelia with the frozen goods. int.
Before its closure in April, local media published countless negative reviews decrying poor hygiene standards and measly portions at the parlor, however, this does not seem to have deterred customers, who continue to flock to the ice cream mecca in droves.
This could be in part due to the fact that for locals, with average wages of $30 a month, Coppelia continues to be far more affordable than its privately-run competitors.
“We have been waiting here since 9 in the morning and we weren’t first to arrive. In front of us, there were lots of people waiting, some had been here since 8,” Yosvany told Efe.
The young Cuban puts it down to the excitement of the school vacation compounded with the parlor’s recent closure.
“The reopening may well excite people but the service is still appalling,” he added.
Inside, waiters move swiftly from one table to another and empty spots are snapped up quickly.
The freshly painted walls and the array of flavors – 14 in total – suggest things could be improving.
“But it’s only the first day,” Alfredo, a retiree, said skeptically.
The older man was happy with the quality but taken aback by the price hike.
“It’s barely anything, two or three pesos, no more, but for me, as I no longer work, it is a fair bit,” he continued.
“I just hope it means the service and ice cream will be better,” he added. EFE-EPA