November 28, 2020

Havana, 500 years of mestizo culture | Culture

Havana, 500 years of mestizo culture | Culture


In a popular bar Havana sings a trio: "The pains that mistreat me / are so many that they run over each other / and how to kill me they try / they crowd to each other / and for that reason they do not kill me …". The sharp verses of Sindo Garay in La Tarde trap the staff in the gambling den, where the echo of the trova is impaled by the sound of the ice when it hits the double rum that the poet Sigfredo Ariel holds in his hand.

We are in the Egrem studios, in San Miguel street and Campanario, mythical place where they recorded Josephine Baker, Benny Moré, Snowball, Bebo and Chucho Valdés, Compay Segundo, Omara Portuondo and other glories that were long before the Buena Vista Social Club. "Without music and without Havana, Cuba is not understood", Says Sigfredo, who defends, now that 500 years have passed since its founding, that the cultural potential of Havana is immense and is given by its mulatez and by the mixture. Ariel quotes Gastón Baquero, poet and thinker equally immense, who considered the Cuban capital a kind of tropical Aleph, a point where all points converge and also space and time.

If in history half a millennium is nothing, it turns out that since its birth, in 1519, under the sun of the tropics here the four bloods and the four races gathered and were seasoned over a low fire until they formed a well-tied sauce. Indian Sibones and Tainos, Spaniards and Europeans, conquerors and pirates, slaves plucked from Africa and brought to these lands with their pantheon of divinities, Changó, Yemayá, Elegguá and all others, and with them 150,000 Cantonese and Macao Chinese , which they loaded on their trip to the Antilles with their raffle Chiffá and their fire dragons, all with their singularities and their magical worlds settled in this Caribbean island until condensing that distillate that the ethnologist Fernando Ortiz called cubanía or cubanía.

In the deep essence of that ajiaco, says Pablo Milanés, Culture reigns with capital letters. It does not matter if you talk about architecture, music, painting, ballet, literature, chess or poetry. "Culture has always emanated from Havana. It is a tradition that has remained despite all the avatars and regardless of what happened around it. " On your disk Renaissance (2012), the Bayamo musician pays homage to the city that welcomed him when he was six, when his mother brought him to study in the capital.

19th century engraving of Havana by Frenchman Frédéric Mihade.
19th century engraving of Havana by Frenchman Frédéric Mihade.

He is a guaguancó, and he says in one of his stanzas: "Ay! Havana with its columns / as Carpentier says / still floods us / with a beautiful glow … ". Cuba has given three Cervantes awards. And there is no coincidence that the three -Guillermo Cabrera Infante, Dulce María Loynaz and Alejo Carpentier-, have turned Havana into a character and protagonist of many of his works. It was certainly Carpentier who best captured the character of Havana and the "style without style" of the city.

"Little by little, from the variegated, the intermingled, the embedded between different realities, the constants that distinguish Havana emerged," and among these, those of more character, the columns. "In Havana, a passer-by could leave the area of ​​the port's fortresses and walk to the outskirts of the city, crossing the entire center of the town, crossing the old roads of Monte or de la Reina, tramontando the Cerro Jesus del Monte, following the same and always renewed colonnade, in which all the styles of the column are represented, conjugated or mixed to infinity. Columns of Doric half body and Corinthian half body, Ionic dwarves, cement caryatids … ".

If it is about architecture, Havana is -always was- a great adventure, because there is not one but many Habanas. The best known is the colonial, the one of the five great squares and the military strongholds of La Fuerza and La Cabaña, which are World Heritage.

Quartet of Cuban musicians play for tourists in the streets of Havana Viieja.
Quartet of Cuban musicians play for tourists in the streets of Havana Viieja. Getty Images

But there is also a fabulous eclectic Havana, and a Havana deco and also an incredible modern Havana. There is also Havana of the great roads -the one of Cerro, the one of Monte, the one of Infanta-, that meander in all directions protecting the passerby from the rain and the sun. And the stately Havana of El Vedado, or the exclusive residence of the Fifth Avenue and the Country Club, or the marinera of Regla and White House. Chinese, mulattos, whites, blacks, English, French, North Americans, Jamaicans and inhabitants of the different lands of the Caribbean were passing through here and leaving their mark, while they took their fascination to other parts of the world.

Account Eusebio Leal, the historian of the city and responsible for the restoration and rehabilitation of its historic center, that Havana is "a state of mind." "When you arrive in Havana, you feel that something seduces you, attracts you, catches you, leaves no one indifferent. Sometimes the city is covered by a veil of decadence. But when you break the veil, there is the splendor of its urbanism and an architecture that allows you, by a single avenue, to go from the sixteenth century castles to the modernity of Richard Neutra. "

In neighborhoods such as Centro Habana, you can discover a catalog of different facades, most of them eclectic, that combine shamelessly columns, pilasters, balconies, cornices, bars, half-points, guardavecinos and balustrades without a spectacular building that stands out: as in an orchestra, it is the harmonious sound of the ensemble that attracts and prevails. The same goes for Havana and its inhabitants; this is a magical city, which was the key to the Indies and the main point of connection between Europe and the New World, and which today, because of its history and despite its deterioration, remains the cultural capital of America.

It's Havana's Jose Marti and from Lezama Lima, the nocturnal and bohemian Three sad tigers, the secret city of the group Origins, that dazzled to Maria Zambrano and before to Juan Ramón Jiménez, The Havana that the French engraver Frédéric Mihale drew in the 19th century, the one discovered by Dizzy Gillespie in Chano Pozo's tumbadoras, forever changing the shape and background of jazz. It's Havana's Our man in Havana, by Graham Greene, the Hemingway Y The old man and the sea and that of the Catalan bartender Constante. The city of Cecilia Valdés, from the pimp Yarini, the place where a painter like Wifredo Lam was formed, a mixture of Chinese and black, who moved all that mestizo and bewitching Afro-Cuban world to Paris.

The same Havana that is about to turn 500 years old – and, careful, another 290 years its University, founded by the same Spaniards who brought the card, the cross and the guitar to the island. It is the mulatto city that Sigfredo talks about with a double drink in his hand and in which every Tuesday he performs at the Septeto Habanero, a group that will be 100 years old and that in his repertoire has a famous song dedicated to a Calle de La Habana: "There on Steam Street / they say they enjoy themselves / and what happens, gentleman / a moment of great comfort". Well, that.

The Capitolio finally restored, landmark of the commemoration

The restoration of the Capitol of Havana and its emblematic dome of 91.7 meters, the sixth in the world for its height and diameter, will be the main gift for the Cuban capital on its anniversary, which will be held on November 16, 2019, half a millennium after Spanish explorer and conquistador Diego Velázquez de Cuellar founded the first Cuban villas.

The complex rehabilitation work, carried out by the Office of the City Historian, began in 2010 and will cost about 17.5 million euros, more than what the Government of Gerardo Machado paid for the majestic building, inaugurated in 1929 as the seat of the Congress and the Senate.

The Capitolio habanero, designed by the Cuban architects Raúl Otero and Eugenio Rayneri Piedra, was built in the image of Washington, with a total length of 207 meters and a monumental staircase, on the sides of which are two 6-meter bronze sculptures Tall: The tutelage virtue of the people Y The job, both made by the Italian artist Angelo Zanelli, also the author of the impressive work The Republic, located in the Hall of the Lost Steps, of almost 15 meters of height and 30 tons of weight. After the triumph of Fidel Castro's revolution, the Capitol housed the dependencies of the Academy of Sciences and the Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment, and will now be the seat of Parliament.

The program of activities for the 500th anniversary also includes the reopening of emblematic works such as the Cuatro Caminos market and the Central Railway Station, among other actions designed to beautify the city.

The historian of the city, Eusebio Leal, recalls that the unfinished rehabilitation of Havana has for years been supported by the Cuban Government and the collaboration of other States, international organizations and non-governmental organizations.

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