Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Guayabera, Guajiro Guayabera

Rushing to the airport with the two hundred dollar guayabera...

Being a Filipino who is partial to the traditional Barong Tagalog, I've always harbored an interest in the Cuban Guayabera. The problem living in Baltimore is that it's far away from anything Cuban and obtaining a guayabera is difficult at best.

Over the years, I've managed to obtain one that just wasn't very comfortable. I've long imagined myself wearing the guayabera, walking through fields of tobacco with a torpedo shaped puro in my hand that was rolled on the thigh of a virgin.

Instead, I tried wearing an ill-tailored white shirt that just didn't have the fit or finish of a proper guayabera. Having enjoyed the fine pina cloth of an ultra-traditional Barong, I've wished for at least a better quality guayabera than the twenty dollar job that's been banished to the far end of my shirt rack.

On the drive back from Key West, I thought that now might be the opportune time to grab a guayabera that fit. The iPhone showed me several guayabera shops and the one nearest to the airport, and on my way, was a place called La Casa De Las Guayaberas - The House of the Guayaberas. I figured this would be a good bet for a guayabera.

My guess is that here in Miami, the guayabera is like the Aloha Shirt in Hawaii. Lots of low-quality shirts designed for the masses (and tourists). I didn't need something artisanal, just something decent enough to wear while smoking a cigar and fashioning myself as a sort of modern-day Che Guevara.

Located in the midst of Miami's Calle Ocho, driving to La Casa De Las Guayaberas places one deep into Cuban/Latino culture. Everything is in Spanish - even the Chinese restaurant is in Spanish. All over Miami, people speak Spanish and I'm starting to get the feeling that to live in Miami and no hablo Espanol could very well leave you in the minority.

Is Calle Ocho a tough neighborhood? I can't tell because I don't know much about the culture here, except for some of the Latino music I hear making reference to this legendary street. That said, La Casa De Las Guayaberas has accordion-like metal shutters that enclosed the entire storefront, except for the entry doorway. Of course, this could be more of the fact that I arrived at 6:00pm - about an hour before closing.

Inside are racks upon racks of guayaberas on hangers and wrapped in plastic. There's all sorts of guayaberas here: white, pink, yellow, red, blue - just about any color that the fashionable Cuban could want while awaiting the overthrow of Fidel Castro. In the back, behind clear glass is the tailoring room where tailors trim and size your guayabera to your body's quirks, backgrounded by luscious-looking rolls of fabric. Seeing the fabric on the wall makes me think of a custom-tailored guayabera for Papi Chulo.

This is where things took a turn for the interesting.

Walking into La Casa, I'm greeted by a friendly older woman who only seems to speak Spanish. No problem, this is their house and I'm going to give mi Espanol a try - afterall, I just came back from over a week in Colombia, I should be able to navigate somewhat easily. I'll just say hello and have a look at those guayaberas on the racks and find one in the $40-$60 price range.

The woman starts inquiring about what I'm looking for and immediately my Spanish fails me. How can I possibly keep up with the speed and Cuban-style pronunciation when I'm only comprendo about a third of the words she's throwing at me. Somewhere in there I figure out that she's asking what I'm looking for and specifically what kind of fabric I desire. I thought I responded with the only word that sounded somewhat familiar: polyester. But I was probably wrong.

She immediately introduces me to a man who I later find out is the owner, Ramon Puig, who emigrated to the United States from Cuba over forty years ago. The man immediately assesses my bodily situation: mas grande!. Oh, great. He asks how many X's I require. "No se," I answer.

Ramon is merciful with the questions and moves to a nice, traditional white guayabera, but with my penchant for spilling food and not really enjoying wearing white, I ask him for "negra, por favor".

We've moved to the side wall away from the racks and he's going through, seeking just the right guayabera, in just the right size. A few moments later, he pulls one from the rack and unwraps it from it's plastic.

Watching Ramon move is like majesty. He's proud of the guayaberas they make and you can see it as he works with the finished item. It's not until much later that I realize that I'm in the midst of a maestro and wish I had spent more time with him reviewing the materials, instead of being in such a rush to get to the airport.

There's another gentleman trying on guayaberas. He's younger than me and looks like he could be one of those Latino actors at whom women throw themselves. I'm envious - even though I have hair better than Alejandro Fernandez.

Senor Puig encourages me to try the guayabera on for size, and even though I'm wearing a t-shirt and would just put it on right there, he wants me to use the dressing room. I head inside, put it on and come out for the review.

The fit is nice. The man is good. There's no need for tailoring or tucking along the body, the length is right and it feels comfortable. The only thing is that the sleeves are about two inches too long.

Did I mention it was long-sleeved? I originally wanted a short-sleeved guayabera but as I looked around the room at the Latin Actor, Senor Puig and the other gentleman hanging out in the store, I noticed all of them wore long-sleeved guayaberas. Perhaps I too should follow their cue.

Senor Puig is asking me about tailoring the shirt but I only understand a little bit of what he's saying. I get the gist of it and tell him that I have a tailor at home that I can use when the Actor jumps in en Ingles to let me know that they could do it but the girls have already gone home for the day. Being in a hurry to get to the airport, I assure them that I will be fine and will have it tailored properly. Senor Puig pins the sleeves for me to ensure the proper length.

Thinking about it now, I probably should have left the guayabera with them for proper tailoring. They know their product and they will do it correctly, whereas my local tailor will do it to their knowledge - which is presumably non-existent of Cuban fashion. Perhaps I'll send it back to Senor Puig for the work to be properly done.

Really, the guayabera is fantastic. The fabric feels comfortable. This is nothing like the guayabera I have at home and I can't wait to wear it to the cigar shop accessorizing with a proper cigar and the imaginary virgin.

Not speaking Spanish and jumping into things leads me to trouble every now and then. We agree that this the guayabera for me and return to the cash register. I've got $80 in cash, no problemo.

The shocker comes when Senor Ramon Puig tells the woman at the counter: Cien noventa y cinco."

Huh???? Did that tag on the plastic say "$195.00"???? Ay, carajo!

Holy crap. Now, I'm stuck. One hundred ninety-five dollars. One hundred ninety five...

I didn't want to look like a dumb ass and ask for a forty dollar guayabera. Truth is, I already knew the worth of owning a cheap guayabera, and it's worthless. I knew that this one is the Real Deal. With this guayabera, I could become The Baller of Calle Ocho. Latinas would swoon. Latinos would give me room to pass. I could smoke my cigars proudly and perhaps even a virgin would appear.

Hmm, maybe two hundred dollars is a bargain...

La Casa De Las Guayaberas
5840 SW 8th Street
West Miami, Florida 33144

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