“When the trumpet sounded
everything was prepared on earth,
and Jehovah gave the world
to Coca-Cola Inc…”
–Pablo Neruda, “La United Fruit Company”
Paolo turned 10 less than a week after I moved in upstairs, but his parents invited me to his birthday party anyway. It was small, just family and me and the girls who live downstairs. We ate Chinese take-out fried rice with white bread and drank coke and Paolo showed off his new birthday clothes.
Then the cake came out, and Paolo’s mom lit 10 candles, and we sang “Happy Birthday” with the raucous second verse “Now we want cake, now we want cake, even if it’s just a little peace. Now we want cake – and also Coca-Cola and for the old folks, coffee.”
Paolo cut the cake and, like every year, his father smashed his face into it and Paolo licked it off and smiled and his mother topped our glasses off with Coke.
Paolo didn’t believe that my hometown didn’t have pulperías, which are like corner grocery stores except smaller and on every corner and you ask for what you want through a screened-in window out front.
Here we’ll go into town to buy groceries or clothes, but when the napkins run out or we’re hungry for chips or guests come and we want cold pop for them we run next door to the pulpería.
Many of them are painted red and white, Coke’s curly logo stretched across their walls. People have told me Coke will paint the little stores for free if they get to add their logo and the pulpería owners rarely mind the brand name, in fact it’s as good an advertisement for them as for Coca-Cola.
Coca-Cola has a strange taste, acidic but syrup-sweet. I hardly ever drank the pop in college, and it was almost a mark of pride, in the same way saying “pop” was a mark of pride at age seven, my first rebellion against my “soda”-drinking mother.
When I first got to Honduras, I started drinking it because I liked the feel of the glass bottles it comes in here, and also because water wasn’t free anymore at restaurants, and I didn’t want to pay for water.
But then I drank it because it was familiar; it tasted like family movie nights with homemade pizza, like the snack table at college clubs, like sitting at the bar when I was 20 and my friends all 21. It tasted the same as it always had, and in a place where everything else tasted different there was a surprising comfort in that.
This is marketing, I know. I am aware of the billions of dollars that Coke has spent to make its emblem familiar and its taste comforting to people for different reasons from every corner of the world.
Have you heard of the Soviet who begged for clear coke so he could pretend it was vodka he was drinking, not the drink of the capitalists? Have you heard that Coke is available in every country in the world but North Korea and Cuba (and that even there you can find it)? Did you know that here where trucks cannot reach they carry boxes of Coke for the pulperías up on horseback?
I don’t know anything about Coca-Cola, really, whether its production is ethical or its ingredients are responsibly sourced. Yet it is as ubiquitous here as in the United States, familiar enough to make its way into birthday songs, onto street corners, and on every restaurant table.
This is capitalism, not nostalgia, though sometimes it is very hard to draw a line between the two.