This past week was my older sister Cami’s birthday, so I have been wound up planning an informal, low-key picnic in Central Park for 40 people. When I sent out the evite, I was worried that people wouldn’t be able to make it. When the RSVPs climbed, I was worried they all meant it when they said they were. I did my best to anticipate any logistical problems – were the bathrooms at the Delacorte Theater open, were leashed dogs allowed on the Great Lawn, were you allowed to hang a piñata from Central Park’s look-but-don’t-climb trees? (Answers: Yes, Yes, and Not if they see you). I prayed for sun but when I woke up to a gray Saturday morning, I was overwhelmed by the enormous number of things left to do for a picnic that was so obviously going be awash in early afternoon thunderstorms and soaked donkey piñatas.
I wanted Cami to have the classic Cuban spread – cangrejitos (crab-shaped puffs filled with sweet ham), crispy croquetas, meat filled empanadas, bocaditos (small white bread sandwiches filled with flavored cream cheese), and pastelitos de guayaba. Armed with 4 sheets of puff pastry, 3 bricks of cream cheese, ham and picadillo fillings, and the last of the homemade guava paste I’d brought from home, I set to work. To add a further complication, I was also settling in my mother and Chiqui who had arrived the night before for a two week stay (Chiqui being the 8 pound chihuahua who has replaced me in my mother’s affections).
The few hours I had given myself to prepare evaporated between finding extra closet space, outlets for chargers and rolling out emapanada dough. With just an hour to go, it seemed hopeless, and I started weighing the evils of less food versus having friends wandering the park looking for a spot that hadn’t been staked out. Then someone, probably Chiqui, set my iTunes to Celia Cruz. Now while listening to Celia cannot solve every problem, it does make unhappiness almost impossible. Somewhere Between Cao Cao Mani Picao and Oye Mi Rumba, time slowed enough for me to finish my first empanadas and my mother to cut the crusts of my sister’s favorite tuna bocaditos. By the time I climbed up the subway stairs to 81st Street & Central Park West with a box full of Cuban treats and five minutes to spare, I could finally see the blue skies I first felt when Celia started singing.