Havana in 1841 (Fragments)

Por: Cirilo Villaverde

As a cosmopolitan city, and who doubts that it is, there are many visions and above all the prides that Havana has generated over time. Today our pages offer his image written in the middle of the colonial period, portrait of a ladiga and growing city, seen by the eyes of those who return from abroad. Behind the portrait, vibrate the pen of one of our most important novelists.

France is Paris, England is London, Italy is Rome. If with enough foundation this is said especially of those first two nations, the most enlightened and powerful of the Old World, with no less, in our view, it could be said that Havana, today, is the island of Cuba.
Since the very remote period to which we are now referring, the maritime city, soft wax in the hands of its architects or owners, has always taken the form they have wanted to give it. Everyone, you can make sure, has printed her peculiar character. Under the command of the politician and warrior, his most favorite ornaments have been castles, stakes, batteries, cannons and military camps; under the courtier, he has held his palaces, cathedrals, walks, gardens, fountains, monuments and improved streets. And after as magical as rapid transformations, for those who rule it are not perpetual, today the son who abandoned her for two brief years does not tire of contemplating her in amazement: a new and rozagante city, which leaves the seascath, in the way that the goddess of the beauty of Greek fanatics.
For, to tell you the truth, the Indian waved her plume, straightened, and walked laden with strange feathers, precious stones and silks, which she has certainly acquired not in exchange for the gold and silver of her mines, but the sugar, coffee and tobacco of her fertile fields. In vain, then, it has been to oppose walls and open pits for him. These and those have been passed on …
This rush to build houses and this rapidness in population has caused the evils that now seek to be remedied: the people, abandoned to their own instinct, built on their whim, without squeezing regularly or in any order. But, at last, he built, that it is not little; and the population of outside the walls today is proudly offered in the eyes of the passerby, full of life and movement with its gardens, its fountains, theaters, temples and walks […].
From the high bars of her beautiful walk of Paula, which is due to the year that expires, let us pass the view through the clean and quiet mirror of its bay, that if it is night without moon, we will see the stars of the sky as arrows of fire nailed to the bottom of the waters and a thousand lucky small and large boats […]. But if the sun shines our horizon, let us not browse any record: the flags and flamulas that wave in the gavias of the ships furbles in the port will tell us in voices that the trade of Havana in 1841 is actively related to all the nations of the Old and New World. Let us not penetrate at noon on the streets of the city, because we will risk being spoiled […]; the deafening noise of millions of wagons, forklifts and wagons; driving or removing the fruits of the country and foreigners from the dock, it will tell us that trade … is as flourishing and active as that of the most merchant cities in Europe and America.
At that time of night, likewise, the whole city, as if by charm, and in the manner of certain insects from our fields, springs light from its bowels; but not a light to offend the view, but to reflect on the a thousand varied treasures that the trade has poured into clothing, silver, quincalla, burnished furniture, rich cloths, watches, jewellery, food, sweets and how much the arts and sciences produce throughout Europe. And as if it were absolutely necessary for the products of these nations to be issued here by their own children, Germany and England have populated our desks; France, our watchmaking, jewelry stores, perfumeries, hairdressers, tailors and fashion stores; Spain, our fabric, grocery, quincalla and hat shops; Italy supplies us with its buhoneros, organisers and sellers of statues and prints […].
Everywhere the footprint of trade is discovered, working its metamorphosis and wonders. At the influence of their creative breath, every day there are shops of all kinds, which dazzle, not only because of the luxury with which they are adorned, but also because of the treasures and precious things they enclose. Everywhere there is a people who in luxury and misery do not yield to any of the land, although the expression seems exaggerated, and although at first glance the ideas of luxury and misery together seem to some poorly married and contraposed. Ω

Taken from Cuban costumbristas of the nineteenth century, t.I, selection and prologue of Salvador Bueno, Havana, Editorial Letras Cubanas, 2016.

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