Stories of people and places in Havana (I)

Havana, capital of the world.

About the people and some places of Havana is this wonderful text published by Ciro Bianchi in the Cuban newspaper Juventud Rebelde. Today we suggest your reading and enjoyment. To learn more about the wonder city of the world.

There was a bowling alley on 23rd Street, between O and P, in Vedado, on the days when La Rampa was not yet La Rampa. Tony’s bowling alley, a concrete building and zinc roof that occupied the place where, starting in the second half of the 1950s, the La Rampa cinema was built. «A delight for young people … Bowling games, with a cafeteria with the first shake machines, and victrolas that played the latest fashion records: Bin Crosby, Frank Sinatra. And there were youth parties there, and even dances that were not yet up to me, “writes the distinguished filmmaker and narrator Enrique Pineda Barnet in a wonderful text about Vedado that I do not know how or when he came to my machine.

Adds the author of films such as Mella and La bella del Alhambra: “It was an advance of youthful modernity in Vedado. While at 17 and N El Liro poultry, opened another modern cafeteria where chocolate milkshakes, malted milk, sandwiches of bread and prepared cookies. Opposite, where the Focsa is today, the Cubaneleco Club of the Cuban Electric Company was established for Calixto Kilowatt, its workers and associates. There was a tennis court, squash court, pool and clubhouse, parties, sports and American life. While the poultry El Liro grew with their shakes and victrolas, to change years after the chickens for the bunnies ».

You will have understood the reader who alludes to the space occupied by El Conejito restaurant.

Three were three

Three bishops died of pegueta in Havana, one after the other, and all three in strange circumstances, without the cause of death could be established. It was only said, by way of explanation, that the death had been motivated “by sudden illness”, but it was difficult to silence the city in the rumor of poisoning.

The second half of the seventeenth century passed, and, historians say, the clergy lived in serious contempt. Blacks and browns prostituted themselves in favor of their owners and the priests not only let it pass, but also benefited from that traffic and were dedicated to usury or charged for every sin they absolved. The ecclesiastical hierarchy was undermined by these evils and, protected by its economic power and its influence on society, showed no intention of abandoning its positions.

Bishop Juan Montiel, animated by a strong moralizing zeal, wanted to put an end to these excesses and planned to convene a synod to study the matter and promote a reform that would end the outrages. The strong opposition of the powerful made their passage through the Bishopric of Havana very brief.

He died three months after his arrival on the island, in an untimely and disconcerting manner. He left in an hour. Those who were at his side at the last moment commented nothing on the sardonic smile that, in death, was drawn on the emaciated face of the prelate. Arsenic causes the facial muscles of the person who ingests them to contract, and that contraction sometimes mimics a smile.

If Juan Montiel was three months in office, his successor was perhaps less. Upon assuming the Bishopric of Havana, Pedro de Reina Maldonado expressed his desire to continue the efforts of his predecessor. And that purpose sealed his fate. He died at 11 in the morning of October 5, 1660, and the popular rumor was the same: He was poisoned. Someone commented then: “He died without various customs or new foundations being undertaken.”

It was the turn of Gabriel Díaz de Vara Calderón, animated as the others in their efforts to reform and clean up. His goal was to carry out the diocesan synod planned by Montiel and Reina Maldonado, and he was able to go further than them, because he made his convocation, and that’s where he arrived. He died on March 15, 1676, at 11 o’clock at night, “for unknown reasons.” Months before, he had informed the archbishop of Santo Domingo: “They have tried to give me poison, from which God has delivered me.”

The thing took such a tinge that when the Mexican Juan García Palacios was appointed substitute for Vara Calderón, he made a will before arriving in Havana and was accompanied by collaborators of his absolute confidence, starting with the chef.


The first Jewish organization that existed in Cuba -The United Hebrew Congregation- dates from 1906 and was located on the corner of G and 21, also in Vedado, in a building that remained closed and in ruins for many years and that was rebuilt to locate there the little hotel El Costillar de Rocinante, of the Union of Journalists of Cuba.

In this regard Margalit Bejarano in his The Hebrew Community of Cuba; Memory and history:

«The beginning of the Jewish emigration in Cuba goes back in small scale to 1898, year in which the Spanish-Cuban-American War took place. It began being sporadic and individual when some soldiers and suppliers of the US Army decided to stay in Cuba at the end of the war. In other cases, Jewish merchants who had lived in Key West and supported the Cuban Revolution decided to settle on the Island after independence. A few Spanish-Portuguese families from Curaçao or Panama lived in Cuba since colonial times, hiding their Jewish origins. They were joined by some merchants or German adventurers, whose Jewish affiliation was revealed after many years, with the arrival in Cuba of the refugees of the Nazi regime.

“The initial group that founded the first Jewish organization in 1906 was made up of American citizens, most of them born in Romania, who had come to Cuba to conduct business; Some arrived as representatives of sugar companies, others settled with clothing stores in the commercial center of Havana. They identified themselves as Americans and their language was English, participating in the social life of the American Club. “


On the corner of Malecón and San Nicolás lived the journalist Enrique Fontanills, teacher of the social chronicle. He established a style of his own that was later imitated by all his colleagues.

He was a teacher in his. The mundane chronicle, as it was conceived, lasted on the island in spite of renewing airs. He created a style cut, donoso, new, ductile, that handled with dexterity and in which the adjectives balanced and pondered the scope of the definitions. He had the right to find the precise phrase, wrote in 1935 the great journalist Arturo Alfonso Rosselló.

Long was the career of Fontanills. He started in El Liberal and worked, among other publications, for La Discusión, La Lucha, El Fígaro and La Habana Literaria, directed by the late President Alfredo Zayas, until he entrenched himself, at the end of the 19th century, in Diario de la Marina. It began there in the writing of those gacetillas in which the same thing was spoken on a book that of a laxative, until a good day was raised with the column of the social life. He called it Habaneras, and made the expression “I will attend” famous. When the announcement of an artistic show was on her, she would move the curiosity of the audience towards the event and refine, perhaps without knowing it or caring, the popular taste.

One day, disgusted, he left the newspaper. Nicolás Rivero, the director-owner, did not delay in seeking it. When he returned, Rivero wrote in one of his News: “The Diary can not be without Fontanills or Fontanills without the Diary.” He died in 1933.

Octavio Averhoff, Minister of Education of Machado, lived on the corner of Malecón and Loyalty. At the fall of the dictatorship, on August 12, 1933, the house was ransacked, as was the so-called Averhoff Castle at the exit from Mantilla to El Calvario. He was one of the five men who left Cuba that day, heading for Nassau, on the same plane that carried Machado. “Coquito,” as he was called, returned to the island in 1937, when the Machadistas began to return, and he opened a new house at 17 and L, where there is a primary school. Still in 1960 it appeared in the Golden Book of the Havana society.

In Malecón and Perseverancia he lived until his death, in 1956, Cosme de la Torriente, with a firm in San Ignacio 26. Colonel of the Liberation Army, he was a distinguished lawyer, Chancellor of the Republic in the Government of Menocal and president of the League of Nations , the UN’s predecessor body. In his final years he tried unsuccessfully to seek an understanding between Batista and the political opposition in order for the dictator to call for elections and to abandon power. He wanted to play the same role that in 1933 played in the mediation between the Government of Machado and the traditional opposition. In 1956, the same year of his death, he presided over the so-called Civic Dialogue between the Batista government and its tolerated opponents, that “atomized and stubborn” opposition, of which Fidel spoke from Mexico.

Tragic corner

A bloody incident occurred on the corner of G and 25 on Friday, April 14, 1933. In the middle of the afternoon and in the presence of witnesses, agents of the Secret Police of dictator Machado applied the law of escape to the brothers Raimundo Solano and Antonio Valdés Daussá . The American journalist J. Phillips, witnessed the crime from the balcony of his apartment at the Palace Hotel and told him later. Years later, in 1958, on the same corner, Marcelo Salado, a militant of the 26 de Julio Movement, was murdered. He was one of those responsible for the strike on April 9. He was in an apartment in the Chibas building, from where he followed the details of the strike that was expected to be general and went out to take the temperature to the situation. Batista’s henchmen recognized him and shot down “one of the bravest and most promising paintings” of the 26th, as Faustino Pérez defined it.

Before, in 1935, in G and 29, two blocks from where Marcelo Salado and the Valdés Daussá brothers fell, the death of Ivo Fernández and Rodolfo Rodríguez, militants of Joven Cuba, the organization of Antonio Guiteras, were found. They were going to be interned in the Prince’s Castle and they did not arrive at the prison. The police themselves gave an account of them.

From the terrace of La Concordia you can enjoy a magnificent sunset watching the beautiful capital of Cuba.

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