Havana in Lezama: the city in the writer

By Rubén Ricardo Infante


José Lezama Lima was a Habanero writer. Devoted to his city, the streets and his people. He described it with the passion of the one who lives it, of whom he knows her in his
interior and to its full extent. An admirer of streets, neighborhoods and especially the Paseo del Prado area, where he lived, the city is portrayed in the pages of several of his books.
From the descriptions within your colossal Paradiso (UNEAC, 1966), the chronicles published in the Diario de la Marina, compiled by Carlos Espinosa under the title José Lezama Lima: Revelations of my faithful Havana (Ediciones Unión, 2010), together with Treaties in Havana (1958), are all books where a passion for Havana, present in the singular work of one of the most important writers in the history of Cuban literature, is manifested.
Despite being the city of Matanzas the first to be mentioned within the parade of voices, characters, places… within Paradiso, as the novel progresses, the city of Havana takes center stage that would allow us to include it as one more character. Each of the descriptions of the neighborhoods, streets and places visited by the characters that make up this choir occupies a leading role.
It is from Chapter II, where it refers for the first time: “The plot intertwined to the rify house of Vedado…” (Editorial Letras Cubanas, 2002, p. 21), an area that will be mentioned on so many other occasions. Or at times he describes it from a habanero feeling, giving the words the Lezamian game: “The dense Habanero twilight descended to the rooftops, where by cast irons and wild pine nuts seemed to herd her swollen ghost of Toledan marzipans” (p. 100). Places of historical significance also defilate as when he resumes: “Now, José Eugenio Cemí, inspected the works of Castillo del Morro, which he had rebuilt as an engineer and inaugurated as the first director” (p. 119).
Also at several times the description concentrates on the Malecon, like that piece-jewel of the city, which borders it and protects it from the sea always trying to possess it. “When I heard this verbal parade, I had the same feeling as when sitting on the Wall of the Malecon, I saw the fishermen extract their fish, how they twisted as death welcomed them out of their natural chamber” (p. 160).
These examples, isolated within the city’s broad presence in the novel, reinforce the idea that Lezama dedicated memorable pages to the city he inhabited.
Similarly in Revelations… the city reappears, but here described in the manner of a whole. Sometimes it is the people who inhabit it, in others the events that took place in it and that Lezama with a critical sense points out. As noted in the countercover note of this title: “We see it penetrate the citadin fabric, its festive or solemn occasions, concerts, exhibitions, sport, occasion discussions, profiles of people who cross when wandering the labyrinthine streets of Old Havana and the sunny Paseo del Malecón. It is a Lezama close to the topics citizens, customs, anxieties and jubilations that make up what he calls ‘Havana better’, who ‘always dreams of the high emotions of the spirit'”.
This book is confirmation of each of those columns that you published in the Journal… and that become a living testimony of the city and its people. The description of a feeling expressed in itself: belonging to a place. After a careful reading we can see how much this collaboration with one of the most important newspapers of the time brought to the writer, how much he perfected his prose to reach the foot habanero. Similarly, Paradiso’s passages seem written after long distilling the emotions that the city enabling him.
For its part Treaties… it is at the same time, a kind of essay, hence the term treated, and on the other, are topics addressed in his Havana, so the title is a game, an invitation to the Lezamian world.
These three titles address the city in its complexity. For those who inhabited it are the footprint that the city left in it, and likewise, these pages are the footprint left by Lezama to re-walk Havana and enjoy each of its revelations.

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