Letter VII (Fragments)

Por: María de las Mercedes Santa Cruz y Montalvo

As for the other funeral ceremony they call wake, he undoubtedly provides in the midst of his duel so many pleasures, epigrams, loves and even marriages, such as your dances and your European meetings. Not only the friends of a dead man, but also the people who, without having met him, want to do him this honor, gather around the corpse and watch over him at night. There are people who do not lack for anything in this world any wake, among others that Don Saturio that I presented to you the other day … true caricature of our insubstantial and voluptuous life.
After a few minutes they exposed the dead, and each of those who were there sprayed him with holy water […] This melancholy spectacle was not very comfortable with Dr. Saturio who accompanied me: he believed, therefore, in the duty to take me elsewhere, under the pretext of introducing me to the widow and the relatives who occupied an immediate house.
Nothing sadder indeed than the situation of that poor woman, forced to suppress her pain, and to stand still in the midst of that circle of people who whispered and spoke quietly of the news of the day and of domestic affairs. Everyone present turned from time to time to the widow, making her physiognomy a seriousness typical of circumstances; but showing among the gestures of sadness the recent signs of joy.
For my part I soon detached myself from the label I had imposed […] I left the widow and went to another room.
There I was offered the show less analogous to the sadness and silence of the mortuary ceremonies. About forty people of both sexes formed animated groups there; the younger ones played games of clothes; others spoke aloud and alternated the conversation with great laughter; others surrounded an old woman who was precisely the one who had decided on the dead man’s shroud, and who had a scrupulous prolijity his youth, his virtues, his riches and all the particularities of the disease he suffered.
The noise of laughter and conversations was increasing from now on; and at about twelve o’clock at night the general algazara, the races of the runners, the vibrant voices of the girls, the squeaky and shelled accent of the old ones, the resonant voices of the men, the rubbing of the dresses and the racking of the chairs formed a concert that should have resurrected the dead. But the dead man stood still and the living went to dinner.
“Big moment must have been that for Don Saturio,” I said to my cousin.
“Indeed it was,” he continued; laying the napkin from one shoulder to another, with a fork in his right hand and brandishing a knife with his left, having rushed to smash a ham, said his thanks between bite and bite and made the best of everything there disappeared in the depths of his stomach.
Behold, my dear friend, what is called an evening of death in our country. It is a particularity of our middle-class customs, which should certainly not be seen as a general rule, and which has nothing to do with aristocratic classes; but be sure that nothing I have exaggerated you, before I have weakened the real and positive picture of this funeral feast […] So, what do you think of the wake?
The great Spanish label in the dead man’s room; Creole indifference in the other rooms of the house; a wild stun coupled with the memory of a pompously religious civilization, isn’t this a unique ensemble, composed of unexpected contrasts? Ω

Taken from Countess of Merlin: Trip to Havana, Editorial Art and Literature, Havana, 1974.

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