An ice-cream parlour around the corner from my home is called Coppélia. It’s just opposite the new Fendi showroom and offices in via Solari in Milan. Now I’m sure regular readers of this blog will roll their eyes in disbelief on reading my query in the next sentence, but for those who don’t know the answer either, this article is for you. I wanted to know why the owners had decided to name a gelateria after a Delibes ballet.
As I was waiting for my polystyrene tub to be filled (tiramisù, stracciatella, and yoghurt, in case you were wondering) the owner explained that he was Cuban, and the state-run ice-cream chain in Cuba is called Coppélia. So I called up Cuban dancer Yosvani Ramos and asked him to fill me in:
Oh yes, Coppélia was very special! I mean, we didn’t have much growing up in Cuba so going to Coppélia for ice cream was always a treat.
The parlour in Havana, which is featured in the hit Cuban film Fresa y chocolate (Strawberry and Chocolate), holds a thousand customers:
It is huge!! There were also huge queues to get in to buy ice cream!
Queuing for over an hour is not unheard of, though if you pay in dollars you can skip the line, but that would seem to ruin some of the fun.
It was Fidel Castro’s idea to create Coppélia; he was an ice-cream lover and wanted his fellow Cubans to share his passion. In 1966 the Havana building opened, and 26 flavours were on the original menu, including orange and pineapple, and chocolate and assorted nuts. Importing the best equipment from Holland and Sweden, Castro wanted to offer better ice-cream and more flavours than the American giants. Hard times followed, and sometimes only one or two flavours were available, and that holds true even today.
So why Coppélia? Well everyone in Cuba knows something about ballet, as Yosvani confirms:
For Cubans, in general, ballet’s very present in their everyday life. I mean you can ask anyone in Cuba who Alicia Alonso is and they will tell you.
Fidel Castro’s secretary, Cecilia Sánchez, was one of many ballet fans. And what do you think her favourite ballet was?
For the young Yosvani, the name Coppélia was to have an even bigger significance in his life,
It’s the first full length ballet I did, at the age of 20, with the English National Ballet, and also the ballet I was promoted to principal with at 24.
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano’) about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman’s Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia’ column for Dancing Times magazine.