Thursday, September 13, 2007

La chivichana

Maybe you don't know what the hell is that.
But you will, whenever you finish reading.
I was born an raised in the hilliest neighbourhood of them all, La Vibora, in Havana.
When life gives you paved streets going down hill, well, you make chivichanas.
Those are wooden speed-devils with skate wheels or -my favourite- ball bearings doing the work of wheels. They could be as rustic as they were, or a bit more polished.
I remember when I was about seven, one of my grandfathers step in to help me build one.
I had an odd pair of skates, one was American and the other one was Chinese, and I wanted to chop'em off to have the wheels from my chivichana.
My grandfather came up home with a burlap sack and drop four 6" diameter ball bearings on the living room floor and said: "keep the skates, they are fun too".
So we went to see my other grandfather who dabbed in carpentry after his forced retirement. We picked up four big chucks of old wood, very solid, to this day I have no idea what kind of wood was it. My two grandfathers produced a sketch and hack-sawed the wood, and the three of us got to work. They asked me: well, your brother's younger.... what are you going to do, he will ask for a chance to ride this thing...."
And I said: "can I carry him in the back, seating behind me?"
One of my grandfathers said: "I think I have something for you in the shop -he had a custom motorcycle shop in the good old days- and something else for your brother, we will go there afterwards".
They asked: "and how will you brake when you're going down hill?"
"with my foot".
They laughed.
"with your foot? Do you think these commies sell shoes for kids? your mother's gonna kill us"
So I went: "maybe like in your car?"
"Yeah -he said- but you have to tell me how to make it"
We started taking and I saw a hinge and I said: "we can do something with the hinge, just like the brake of your car, grandpa"
The two old men starting drawing some frame that will help me brake in the tall hills of La Vibora, and then one of them said: "but you need something to bring this brake up again, or you will have to press on the other side so you can return it to the up position, unless you use a...."
"Spring!" I said completing the sentence....
We left one of them building the wood frame and installing the wheels, and we went to see what we had at my other grandpa's old shop.... It was in the lower level of his house, that was built on stilts, and a yard full of chicken and an illegal cow sloped back into the neighbors properties, more or less 70 yards afar. This in the middle of a city....
He pulled out a wooden box, and got a crow bar and broke it open. It was a seat of a Harley Davidson motorcycle. Repeated with another box, and he showed me the seat of an Indian motorcycle, complete with fringes. He said, "one for you and one for your brother" and look, inside that shed there's something else for you when you become older.... (which happened to be a full blast rock and roll motorcycle)
We went back my other grandfather's house who was drinking a beer in his shop. He got one from the fridge and gave it to my other grandfather. Of course, they gave a sip each. What do you think they were? Wimps?
They put themselves to work while I went to tell my grandma that the two of them wanted coffee. And I got a sip of coffee too. With rum and honey, courtesy of my grandma. In this country they would have gone to jail for that, but hey, that didn't do me any harm.
The thing, la chivichana was finished. Yeah, The Thing, they baptized it as La Cosa.
We needed a string to be able to drive it, but the two flashy old men settled for a chromed chain, they said design was everything. I realized now that they didn't built them for their grandkids, they build them for themselves....
Out to try it.
We picked up my brother, drop one grandfather down at the base of the hill, and we went to the top of the hill, the two kids seated on La Cosa, and down the hill we went at break neck speed. Again, today you would have the Social Services jailing the two old men for child abuse, dangerous games, playing with the kids on the street, and so on and so for.
Let me tell you, in Cuba we used to play pick up ball games cuatro esquinas, and you played with traffic, people crossing the street, and so on and so for. Con bate o a la mano.
The same goes for stick ball.
Do I have to tell you that I don't know how many windows I broke and how fast I ran to escape the ire of the neighbors?
La Cosa ended in the hands of other kids in the neighbourhood, after three of four years of faithful service, during which we would park it under my father's car in the garage. So the poor man had to pull it out every single day before going out.
How was that La Cosa changed owners?
Well.... One fateful day, the women of the neighbourhood that the bad idea of running to my house screaming to my mother that we were having a great time leading the buses in a mad chase down hill. We were with other kids literally waiting for a bus to come and cutting in front of the bus with chivichanas and having el cabron guaguero screaming at us all the way down, and even getting off the bus to chase us.
Needless to say that my mother belted us really well (more child abuse!) and that La Cosa was headed for destruction. But..... Two brothers, los negritos mas flacos del barrio, came and told my Mom: "you will not do that.... we don't have toys!!!!!" Damn kids, masters of manipulation.... my Mom gave it to them.
And secretly, my brother and I kept on going down hill all around la Vibora till I entered high school and my interests switched to girls and electric guitars.... Ah, my Mom DIDN'T know us riding la Cosa again. Till NOW.
Thanks to Los Chaviano (esos dos negritos) for coming up with such a freaking brilliant plan!
(you see, I told you a story without cemeteries or rock'n'roll!)