An Havana Cafe, Interior, Havana, Cuba
c. 1898-1931
Wallach Division, Photography Collection, New York Public Library

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Fernando VII in the Plaza de Armas

From Argel Calcines, on a neoclassical statue of Fernando VII, once placed in the Plaza de Armas:

“Situada indistintamente a uno de los costados de la Plaza de Armas, donde fue erigida en 1834 y permaneció sobre su pedestal hasta 1955 —o sea, unos 120 años—, la estatua removida de Fernando VII pudiera apreciarse como un curioso exponente de escultura neoclásica que se ha conservado en el entorno de ese espacio público, desde hace algún tiempo en los portales del Museo de la Ciudad, otrora Palacio de los Capitanes Generales.”

— “La estatua habanera de Fernando VII. Ascenso y caída de un rey de mármol”

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Martí at the beach

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Links on a Thursday

- Nice essay on the 1964 film Soy Cuba: “The resulting film is an epic poem; a surreal critique of realities suffered before and confronted during the revolution. Kalatozov and his team sought to capture events as they unfolded, from social injustice to glorious revolt. Produced over a fourteen-month period, from 1962 to 1964, the film embodies the creativity, the militant optimism, and also the naiveté of the era. It is both Cold War history and revolutionary art.”

Cuba, Then and Now, in Pictures and Words

- Alexander von Humboldt in English

- Book trailer for La Belle Créole: The Cuban Countess who Captivated Havana, Madrid, and Paris

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Pablo Pacheco López, 1945-2014

I was just beginning my research when I first met Pacheco in 2003. He was then the director of the Instituto Cubano de Investigación Cultural Juan Marinello in Havana. A friend had suggested I meet with him as I tried to chart my still somewhat unfocused research plans. Pacheco listened attentively, generously lending an ear to a junior scholar. I eventually became an affiliated researcher at the Marinello, and Pacheco became my first institutional contact in Cuba. He was the first to write the many letters I needed to access archives and libraries in Havana, which he continued to do long after he left the Marinello. Over time, I learned of his long career in publishing and his reputation as an engaged intellectual. I continued to meet with him, on return trips, when he had moved on to a post at the ICAIC. During every one of these meetings, he gifted me books and magazines related to Cuban film and culture that he thought might be of interest. 

On my trip last month, I learned he had been ill, and I called him to say hello and ask if he was feeling well enough for a visit. At that point, he had been working from home with his secretary over the phone — answering emails and completing work tasks as he could. When we spoke, he sounded like Pacheco on the phone, jovial and witty. He asked about my current research and future publication plans.

I visited him a few weeks later at home, and his physical condition had worsened considerably. We chatted for a brief time as his energy allowed. He struggled to find the words he needed, but his critical spirit vibrated under the surface of his weakened body. Before I left, after I held his hand for a brief moment, he asked his son to bring out books and magazines to give to me. Even then, physically frail and fatigued, he was the Pacheco de siempre. I will miss him. I, along with many other foreign researchers, owe him a great debt.

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From the archive

It seems like an obvious thing to say, but reading about life in a slave society is heartbreaking. On March 5, 1818, the Havana town council discussed the proper disposal of those men and women who died aboard slave ships before reading shore:

“El Sr. Arango sobre los negros que mueren a bordo de los buques

El Sor. D. Ciriaco de Arango hizo presente: que los buques negreros que concurren a este Puerto interim verificar el desembarco de ellos arrojan al mar los que se le mueren y pueden causar graves perjuicios a la salud pública, porque los peces se alimentaran con estos cuerpos corrompidos. Y tratándose y conferidose sobre la materia, se acordó q. D. José Damaso Ramos velador nombrado por este Exmo. Ayuntamiento se encargue de visitar diariamente los expresados buques, intimando a sus capitanes y consignatarios que el negro que fallesca lo hagan conducir a tierra dando aviso a D. Juan Narango para que lo lleve al lugar destinado para su enterramiento, bajo la multa impuesta por el Gobierno a los contraventores, tomando noticia el expresado velador de los negros que se hallan conducido en cada buque para que el al tiempo de su embarque se advierta la falta y pueda corregirse al que la cometa.”

A brief translation:

“Mr. Arango on the blacks who die aboard slave ships

Mr. Don Ciriaco de Arango reported: that the slave ships that arrive to this Port provisionally should verify the disembarkment of those they throw into the sea, those who have died, that can cause grave dangers to public health, because the fish feed on their decaying bodies. Having heard and discussed the issue, it was agreed that D. José Damaso Ramos, watchmen named by the Most Excellent Council would be responsible for visiting daily said ships […]”

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Gracias, maestro.

A small tribute to Juan Formell (with tweets) · LMRodriguez

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A book for businessmen

Say you were interested in doing business in Cuba at the end of the nineteenth century. Here is what William Jared Clark would tell you:

“The American visiting Cuba no matter for what purpose will find that his success is principally dependent upon his cultivation of courtesy good temper and patience and upon his becoming acquainted so far as possible with the peculiarities of business and social life. […] We have therefore devoted our first chapter to a brief account of how the inhabitant of Cuba spends his time of how he meets a visitor and of how he expects a visitor to meet him.”

“The Cuban commences his day with a light repast of fruit bread and coffee followed by the later and more substantial breakfast the dejeuner à la fourchette of the French with the period of rest which generally ensues. It must be remarked however that this applies more particularly to the upper and middle classes. The workman starts out for the day’s work which commences at six am with nothing but a glass of aguardiente and a cigarette.”

“At public tables in the cafes and hotels the well bred native never takes a seat without asking permission perhaps simply by a sort of interrogative bow of those who may be already seated there.”

“In the higher walks of society ladies never appear anywhere in public without an escort either male or female.”

“Food on nearly all public and private tables in Cuba will be found excellent clean and well prepared yet an inexplicable custom exists of having the surroundings of the kitchen less healthful than they should be The coffee is the best in the world. The bread is excellent said to be fermented by the use of banana stalks in the dough instead of yeast. The visitor will note an absence of butter except in extraordinary cases and then the quality will be found questionable.”

“Going higher in the scale it should be remembered that there is practically no social intercourse between Cuban and Spanish families except where the children of the latter have been born on the island these being considered natives and proving so in their sympathies.”

“A fact which should be impressed upon the minds of visiting Americans is that the color line is not nearly as closely drawn in Cuba as it is in the United States and that education wealth and personal worth will generally determine a native’s position without regard to whether he has some colored blood in his veins or not.”

“The full blooded blacks found more numerously in the eastern provinces manifest some characteristics which incline one to the belief that a few years of good government and education will do as much for them as it has for the colored race in America.”

“Elevators do not exist except in two hotels in Havana and in fact few buildings are high enough to require them.”

“As to the costume of the people except among the lower classes there is little to indicate any difference from the methods of dress followed in our southern cities in the summer time excepting that the ladies wear hats less frequently and some still wear the mantilla with a grace such as only those of Spanish extraction can.”

“The Cubans of both sexes pride themselves on the smallness of their feet and perhaps there is justice in their claim that they can thus quickly distinguish Spaniards and have accordingly designated them as ‘the big feet.’”

“A Cuban funeral is one of the most striking sights of its character imaginable even the poorer classes being willing to make great sacrifices in order to outshine their neighbors upon such mournful occasions.”

“A peculiar sound used by the Cubans in attracting the attention of each other should not be taken as an insult although it much resembles our hiss of disapproval.”

“Both Cubans and Spaniards are somewhat egotistical and fond of exaggerating their personal prowess especially as regards anything supposedly heroic.”

“Havana has its carnival prior to Lent the same as in certain European cities and practically prolongs these festivities through each Sunday of the Lenten period although participation in them is not quite so general.”

All quotes taken from William Jared Clark, A Book for Business Men (New York: Scribner’s Sons, 1898).

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The Contradictions of Afrocubanismo Nationalism

[vimeo 20848186 w=500 h=281]

Robin Moore speaks about “The Contradictions of Afrocubanismo Nationalism” at the University of Miami Cuban Heritage Collection.

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Sobre Celeste Mendoza

No recuerdo si era de día o de noche. Salí corriendo por toda la casa sin que nadie me pudiera parar. Tendría cinco o seis años. Había reconocido la voz de Celeste Mendoza en los altoparlantes del televisor Dumont y quería verla en la pantalla redonda. Me enredé con el cable de una lámpara de bronce que tenía ceniceros y encendedores de alabastro. El lamparón cayó arrastrado por mi ímpetu de rumbero.

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