Mariana Rodriguez Alvarez opens one of her heavy double front doors on calle F and peers out through the wrought iron gate. We have come in search of real Cuban food and culture—but I know, as we wait expectantly on the deep porch, that we're hoping for more. Much more. When Mariana recognizes us, her pale blue eyes light up and she swings the gate open. Maria Millan, producer of this story, and her artist husband, Prudencio Irazabal—both Spanish—had first visited Havana in 1993. It was the grimmest year of Cuba's "Special Period," when, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Russians, who had their own problems at home, pulled out of Cuba, taking their tanks and massive subsidies with them. The results were catastrophic, as most of Cuba's trade had been with the Soviet Bloc. At the same time, the world market price for sugar, which accounted for most of Cuba's export earnings, plummeted. Utilities and services stopped, factories had to be abandoned. There was little running water or electricity, and food was scarce. It was a difficult time for everyone, even tourists like Maria and Prudencio, so they turned to Mariana, the grandmother of a close friend in New York. Mariana took them into her home and shared what little she had. Strong friendships are forged in such hard times.