No comas de lo que pica el pollo [Don’t eat what chickens peck]
Al cantío de un gallo [next to the rooster crowing or not that far away]
Otro gallo cantaría [if true, another rooster would sing]
A gallina vieja dale candela [give fire to an old chicken or give it time and it’ll work
Gallina vieja da buen caldo [an old chicken yields good broth or older women are better than young chicks]
I still don’t understand why. But, chickens feature prominently in Cuban life. Even within the heart of Havana, you’ll either hear a distant rooster, often confused, crowing at any time other than dawn or see a few hens pecking away for whatever crumbs they can find. It never fails when we’re fresh off the trans-Atlantic flight and losing our battles with jet lag and surrealism, some crazy rooster will signal morning in the dead of night. Cuban chickens — they are entirely odd to me. And, yet, I love them.
During our last trip, we sat at a cafe in the old botanical gardens in Varadero, which supposedly featured ‘the best piña coladas in Cuba’ [they were not; and anything that is ‘the best’ is typically crap]. As we sat sipping our overly boozed-up cocktails, made somewhat more palatable because of the amount of rum in them, an older gentleman sat down at a nearby table. Out of nowhere, a herd of chickens flocked to this man. He had brought the magical bag of stale bread and the chickens could not have been happier.
Amongst these happy hens, the cockiest rooster I’ve ever seen strut about and occasionally pecked up the treats on offer ignored by his brood of hens. This rooster though — he was a thing of beauty, almost too gorgeous to be hidden behind walls and at the end of a bit of a winding driveway away from the rest of the peninsula. As long as the bread lasted, he was all about the puffing up of his chest and strutting his stuff for an audience of six.
But, chickens. What is it about chickens in particular that they feature so prominently in Cuban life? For every idiom my husband attempts to translate for me, there is some relation to a rooster or old hen or chick in some way shape or form. For whatever situation we are discussing, be it political, social or economic, chickens provide the answer or punchline. The early bird may get the worm, but the chicken spotted that worm long ago and decided it was too skinny. Or something like that. [NB: This is not a Cuban idiom to my knowledge, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was.]
Perhaps if all chickens were this lovely, I’d get it. But, many of the chickens scratching about in Cuba look rather…unappetising. But, this guy… Cock-a-doodle-doo, indeed.