2017
03.25

Cobblestone Road

SYNOPSIS:  TRINIDAD.  A CITY OF COBBLESTONES AND CROWDS.

What makes Trinidad such a charming city is not just its narrow alleys, colorful colonial homes, churches, and plazas, but the fact that all the streets in the center are still “paved” with cobblestones.  If you think European-style cobblestones, think again. These stones are not the same size, evenly laid out as in other places I have seen.  Here, the stones range from small splinters to larger boulders patched together left and right of a center row of larger stones that forms the low part of two inward sloping sides.  Walking around here is a challenge.  Forget high heels and not for a second take your eyes off that road as you walk. 

Trinidad is the third oldest city in Cuba founded by notorious conquistador Hernandez Cortez himself!  When Velasquez, another conquistador, needed manpower for his conquests in Mesoamerica, he recruited the locals, leaving behind little to nothing and little to no one.  Trinidad survived mainly because pirates and the British discovered it as a safe haven for smuggling slaves.  In the early 19th century, over 100 French fled from a slave rebellion in Haiti and settled in the area, setting up dozens of small sugar mills.  And the economic upswing began.  But it only lasted until the War of Independence, which devastated the fields through fighting and fires.  There was no recovery to former glory, but the boom had lasted long enough to enable the colonists to build showpieces of their wealth.  As one of my guidebooks put it:  Trinidad slipped into a life-threatening economic coma.  Tourism started around 1950 and rescued the town from near-certain death.  These days, the scale seems to have dangerously tipped the other way:  tourists seem to outnumber the locals in the center, certainly now, during high season.  Hopefully, they won’t choke Trinidad out of its charm.

Everything of cultural value in Trinidad is within a stone’s throw of Plaza Mayor, the historic heart of the city.  In vain, I searched for amiga Celi.  I had lost her talking to an artist who had a studio at one of the fancy colonial mansions flanking the plaza, which also served as the state-run Galeria de Arte.  As I was still sifting through the piles of art upstairs, she had gone downstairs and before we realized it, we had lost one another.  So it was plan B, everyone on their own. 

Earlier, we had strolled up the hill to a former Spanish Military Hospital chapel, the now ruined Ermita de Nuestra Señora de la Candelaria de la Popa.  A hike up the hill behind the church promised a grand view across town.  But the chapel was under construction, fenced in so thoroughly, that continuing on the path was impossible.  The sun was beating mercilessly and it was midday.  The view was a disappointment.    

If it were not for the tallest tower in town, a bell tower of a former convent San Francisco de Asis, we would have never entered the Museo Nacional de la Lucha Contra Bandidos, that is housed there today.  Photographs of comrades, a few guns, hats, backpacks, dozens of photos of men without labels or information, a Russian truck, parts of a shot-down airplane.  We floated in the information vacuum and decided it did not matter much.  Some counter-revolutionaries had been beaten back by Fidel at some point, somewhere.  So many opportunities to educate all those willing and interested foreigners are lost.  And there is no google…

We had a funny encounter at the tower.  At the top platform, we met a couple from Iowa.  They and Celibeth engaged in a spirited conversation about our two states, some movie stars, what brought them here, and so forth.  I looked around.  A single woman, about my age, had sat down in one of the arches and just about as I smiled at her, she jumped up saying in a British accent:  I just can’t stand those Americans talking pop culture!  And off she stomped.  I was flabbergasted, but had the presence of mind to respond:  Of course not.  That would be way too much for a Brit to handle.  You’d better run!   That, in turn caught Celi and the Iowan’s attention and I filled them in on the outraged Brit who just could not handle our presence.  It reminded me of a British friend of mine who too, can blow the fuse at the weirdest moments and over the most insignificant things, turning from a most pleasant individual into a pouting pain.  Are Brits just like that?   I met her two more times.  The first time we were heading toward another and I jokingly said:  Oh, oh!  Here they come again, the Americans.  She responded something like:  Too bad for me.  And turned a corner.   

The third time I saw her, I just smiled.  She actually came up to me and apologized, admitting, that she tends get upset easily. And then she poured her heart out over the loud voices and the bombastic nature “Americans” projected.  I defended “Americans” and told her that I was both American and German and that Germans are not exactly known either for tactful and considerate behavior abroad.  Turns out, she is not British either but South African.  I told her how pleased I was that we actually met.  Her name was Rebecca and we had a pleasant 5-minute conversation about Trinidad’s architecture, the frescos, the town.  And we parted with a smile.

The most promising place in town, the Museo Romantico, had not opened its doors.  As usual, there was no sign, no information, no nothing.  Was it under construction?  Did it close permanently?  Would it be open tomorrow?

Now that I was on my own, I ticked off the three remaining museums aside from the one we had done together already.  There was the Museo de Arqueologica  Guamuhaya, the  Museo de Arquitectura Trinitaria, and the Museo Historico Municipal, all of them underwhelming. 

Two darkish rooms with some bones and stuffed animals — don’t even bother.  The architectural museum had a few floor plans and a few architectural fragments of doors, walls, and ceilings and could actually have been a real gem if information had been prepared in English.  The most interesting feature was an original gas tank in the courtyard that provided the house with hot water.  A 19th-century shower apparatus that looked like a cave of tubes and pipes was also cool.

The fanciest of them all, the Museo Historico Municipal had fully preserved frescos, wooden ceilings, and furnishings giving the fullest insight into the living standard of the wealthy during the 19th century.  That was worth a look.  It had been owned by a doctor whose patient, a wealthy sugar baron, mysteriously died.  After he married the widow of the man and put his hands on all of her wealth, she too, died rather suddenly…  The house attests to how well he did for himself with all the money that now was his. 

Celi and I united at our casa for a wonderful dinner out on one of the terrace restaurants near the central plaza.  Obviously a favorite spot for tourists, we had a great dinner that almost could be called classy!  Boneless fish, a crab cake appetizer, home-made flan.  And all of that under a full moon! 

Good night.