Chapter 12: The Queen: There You Are

The phone rings in our L'Union hotel room in Cienfuegos, Cuba.

 It's Mom's cousin, the one with Abuela's eyes. She is here to be with us today. Its dawning on me that Tita and I haven't set foot out of the hotel without a relative to keep and eye on us and wonder if we are allowed to be unescorted, if somehow she received a government notice like "Hey, your crazy relatives are coming to town - keep them in line. Love, etc."

She's downstairs, so is Machete, who will be driving us around again today. After a kiss kiss hug hug, she shows off that she's wearing new shoes, the ones my Mom took off for her to try on last night as she left when the rain stopped.

 My Mom loved those shoes but what the heck, next week she can go to Steinmart and  buy some more. They have 50 years of Christmases and Birthdays to catch up on anyway.

Machete is parked where the huge European bus had been.  I walk out, take one good smell of Cienfuegos air, and duck into the airconditioned Kia minivan, the one we rode in on our way from the airport a lifetime ago.   I slip into my same seat in the back, next to my Mom's cousin who holds my hands and hugs me a lot.

Mom confirms with Machete that we are going first to the old cemetery. He takes us out of the colonial downtown, out of all I'd seen of Cienfuegos, and off through a long street lined with house that looked very much like the mix tiny and grand Coral Gables (one that had never recovered from Hurricane Andrew, that is) and after that down an industrial area.

The further out we drive from the city center, the worse off the houses seemed to be.

We passed horses pulling carts and people pulling carts and people carrying food, and people carrying wood.

We passed people who were walking off to get something to carry home.

On the second floor of an old apartment I see a Dalmatian jumping up up up trying to get into the shady house through the window.

A teenage girl weaves out into the road and off on a side street, holding an infant with one hand and steering the bike with her other.  No one around her looks shocked, they just go on with getting things, getting rid of things, getting through another day in Cienfuegos.

By the time Machete rolls us down a rocky gravel road that looks to me like a low, small, cemetery I'm under the impression there is some sort of bold survival lawlessness among of the Cubans that I hadn't expected.   I like it.

My Abuelo has showed me a picture of this, and pictures of other landmarks in this city, I'm sure, but now, here, this is real and it is beyond delightful.

It is U shaped, with the top of the U closed off (mostly) to limit entrance.  Dark muscled men wearing blue colored jump suits walk on top of the wall, carting this and that, shouting down to a woman who looks very much in charge.

We slip out of the minivan, leaving Machete in the air-conditioning, and walk towards the entrance. The lady in charge says only Welcome, Welcome (in Spanish) and we pass by.

 I'm sure she lets us go in because we have flowers, we are here to visit Someone. Which means WE must be Someone. I like that and give her my best ladylike walk, even though I needed a shove at first because I I could have stood at the entrance for an hour.

 Rising up from the rubble is a colonial cemetery in a city founded by someone from New Orleans is cemetery that compete with any I've ever seen Uptown and by the French Quarter.  Because the site is above sea level, city founders got permission to bury their loved ones above ground, but only just a little.

The inside of the cemetery held about four rows of shamelessly ornate expressions of neoclassical grief and with a light touch of religion, like a dash of salt.

The interior of the outside wall was lined with markers. I was pretty sure it was soldiers and I checked back and bingo, I was right.  Cuba rose up for independence in the 10 Years War (1868-1878) and the 1895 Revolution (you know the one I mean - the one with Teddy Roosevelt, and Jose Marti,  the one we renamed the "Spanish American War") and only now,  here does it dawn on me that the Spanish soldiers, caught in what must have felt like a Civil War, died here.

I wonder if their families know where they are, I wonder if their granddaughters and greatgrandsons know to follow me, come here, come to Cuba.

Why did the Cubans rise up?  It's complicated, but standing here in a cemetary named "The Queen,"  I feel like that's the cue I'm supposed to start this story with.  The cemetery was built during the reign of Queen Isabella 2, the one I bet you haven't heard about.

The namesake of Spain's most beloved (to Spaniards) Queen Isabella, wife of Ferdinand, mother of Spain and a dynasty, Queen Isabella 2 was born into a complicated post-Napoleonic Europe. Her mother was Maria Cristina, a Bourbon from Austria, related to the Bourbons in France (and namesake of Bourbon Street).

Well, unmarried Isabella 2's ascension to the throne was enabled by the Spanish Cortes' suspension of Salic Law, the code that says that excludes women from inheritance and titles.

 When she took the throne her father's brother lead an uprising against her. She would eventually be ousted in the 1868 Revolution and her son would later rule.  History remembers this queen as having had twelve kids, none of whom were suspected to have been related to her French husband, who she publicly scorned.

So while Spain was going through her issues in the 1860s-70s, some people in Cuba rose up for political and social and economic equality. And by that, they meant equality with other nations, not equality among people in the Island, although the abolition of slavery was on the table at the time.  It didn't work, and she remained Cuba's colony until the next revolution, a generation later.

Mom walks down the cemetery's main aisle to almost the last spot before we hit the bottom of the U shape.

"There you are!" she proclaims and we hug and do a little victory dance for ourselves and for Abuela.