Coppelia is a state owned ice cream parlour in Havana. It operates out of a beautiful expressionist concrete building, an elegant cylindrical structure with a central spiral stair on which is inscribed a suitably uplifting revolutionary slogan from Fidel Castro. A wigwam like bunch of concrete beams sprout from the top, reminiscent of Liverpool’s Frederick Gibberd designed Catholic Cathedral. Indeed the interior of Coppelia is like a secular church to ice cream. Semi-circular timber screens with coloured stain glass panels divide up the interior. A delicate lattice ceiling surrounds a central oculus window.
The process of buying ice cream is bizarre, and byzantine in its complexity. There are six entrances, each one of which leads through a palm fringed public plaza to its own semi autonomous restaurant area. To get in though you have to queue at one of the entrances, sometimes for up to an hour or so, until a uniformed guard leads you inside and shows you to your seat. When you finally get to sit down, the ice cream is brought to you in little plastic bowls accompanied by a glass of water. It is amazingly nice.
Coppelia is an incongruous mixture of rationing and luxury. State sanctified religion is replaced in Cuba by state sanctified fun. Perhaps this is why the forms of Coppelia are so reminiscent of contemporaneous modernist churches from Europe. It employs the same abstracted and non specific religious iconography. It's position, set back from the road and at a major junction, indicates its symbolic importance, just as a church might. And visiting it for most Cubans has, apparently, some of the same sense of social ritual and importance. The deferral of pleasure of the queuing system is slightly shorter than the deferral of pleasure in Christianity though.