The Milkman (Fragments)

Por: Ramón Meza

There will still be those who remember, or have heard it told to parents and grandparents, how in the days of yesteryear the litres of milk were deposited very early every morning at the door of the house, without anyone being able to take the one that did not belong to him. The print that our pages bring today goes back even further. Despite the huge differences with the present day (or just for that reason), we find this portrait, written by Ramón Meza at the end of the nineteenth century, very valid. Perhaps, by human logic and progress, it is not relevant to return to these decimononic modes (although as you will see, they were effective and efficient, apart from enclosing certain bucolic poetry in their images). However, this narrative is proof that true work and selflessness are always accompanied by results.

[…]
The nocturnal phalanx, well organized and worse distributed, formed by the milkmen, invades during the early morning the population; but since many hours before he has begun his work. It can be said to last most of the night and much of the next day. At about eight or nine o’clock at night, in the paddocks and corrals near the city, they are already kneeling at the foot of the cows numerous peasants extracting from the swells udders the healthy and nutritious food par excellence […] Sleepy men, shrouded in black layers, pass through the field singing in half a voice, open the corrals, whose wooden doors squeak when they turn over their frailties mingled by the weather, approach each cow, which with exemplary meekness rises, remain crouched down for an instant to their foot, and then fill, with the white and warm liquid they extract, large tins. , which are submerged in a water pond and placed in the serons of some horses tied up one after the other by the tail. Done all this ride the milkman on the first horse, leave the countryside and set off on the royal road.
[…]
In Jesús del Monte, from Toyo to the Agua Dulce bridge, on the Hill, near the corner of Texas, there are poorly looking homes, which with their guano ceilings and its brushed wooden walls or bleached masonry have at the same time some bohíos and some houses: transition between the buildings of the city that begins and cottages that end. In those humble houses whose doors open wide at night you can see, thanks to the reddish reflections of bad lamps that smoke inside, tall, sturdy men, shoulders rounded by work, who come and go, and stand and crouch endlessly in the portals. In the face of these houses, the milkmen who pass the roads are being arrested and parked silently: they deposit their cargo there; it is measured, weighed; and from the huge buttones that the horses are loaded is moving on to smaller, more manuable botijas. It is a swing of pots that pass from the serons to the portals, from portals to serons; a confusion of encapoted men working without speaking; you can only hear that loud noise coming out of the tin bottles when you collide empty with each other or by giving its wide bottom on the hard pavement accompanied by spur spurs. After a while those who even the portals came are re-riding and retreating back to the countryside. Other horses that have received the cargo spread over the gloomy portals set out on the march to the city. These are the ones you see, and the more you see them, you hear them transiting the lonely streets in the early hours.
At five o’clock in the morning, when the first dawn of the day begins to pale the light of the lanterns, there are drowned screams, stabbings, cooking, murmurings of impatience in the face of the closed doors and windows of the houses: they are the milkmen who call. The doors and windows are amused, heads squeathed, faces sleepy, pale, battered eyes of clumsy gaze in which causes the day to sting, peek out for them; a bare arm passes through the slit to grab the boot covered with corn straw by the neck.
–Good morning. You’re coming too early.

Not in all houses does the milkman find the doors closed: some are completely open. And then in the dining room, lobby or anteroom, that those three destinations have such the pieces that in our houses follow the hall, finds an old man with white hair, well combed, dressed in toilet, who sitting in a wide leather butacon with his legs stretched out in a chair, unfolds the newspapers, wet still, and who have just thrown by the doorkroom […] The milkman enters wrapped in a large hood, resonating with his firm steps the stars of the spurs, gives the good days, calls the maid worried about lighting light with greasy paper and oil, empties the contents of the boots into a couple of large tin jars and comes out again; but not always quietly, which is sometimes noticed by the old early riser:
–Good morning. You’re too late.
[…]
After the dairymen retire from the city on horseback, the dairymen begin to walk through its streets […] And first of all, goes the guide cow that wears a metal sound bell tied around her neck. These melancholy animals looking and ruminating incessantly, which seem to bring with them souvenirs of the peaceful and semi-patriar life of the village … will stop at the door of the houses of the neighbors who have the whim of buying or drinking milk at the foot of the cow. Ω
[…]

Elegant Havana,
Havana, September 5, 1886.

Taken from Cuban costumbristas of the nineteenth century, selection and prologue of Salvador Bueno, t. II, Havana, Editorial Letras Cubanas, 2016.

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