So my Mom and her friend lead me out of the house and to the covered sidewalk that runs parallel to the Prado.
Last time I was here the most courageous thing I could do was stick my iPad out the barred windows and record people going by. Now, I’m ready to join them, even though I have no idea whatis going on.
We turn left out of the house (away from Marti park and the central square and the Cathedral) and walk about ten steps before I see something strange coming towards me. I think I recognize her, but it couldn’t be. It is. It’s my cousin Mayulis wearing her spiffy white doctor lab coat, walking towards TiaLourdes house.
Kiss kiss kiss, hug hug hug. She looks shocked to see us walking, and I’m shocked to see her. She tells us she finished early so she’s READY.
This is not good. I’m so confused. Our time is broken into pieces like a cake; this much for you, this much for you. Her slice starts at 4. It’s 11:15am.
Mom doesn’t miss a step and invites her to join us where we are going, and I still don’t understand where we are going.
Down three steps and there’s a huge door.
Mom points at it and announces, The Obispado! They have it open for you Missy!
I smile and Mayulis looks at us like we are crazy. All my graduate work in colonial latin American history is paying off like crazy. In a matter of seconds I realize we are visiting the archbishop’s residence, which is only three doors down from “home.”
A bored looking curly haired woman sits at a desk and stares at us. Dora greets her, explains who I am (an American professor! A historian! A Cuban!) and she brightens up and waves us in without getting off her stool. The man who runs this is only here certain times and they kept it open for me to see. OK, I wasn’t expecting this.
I whisper to mom, why are we here?
You’ll see, she elbows me.
We cross the entry and end up expectedly in the courtyard. Of course all colonial buildings are that way – publicly plain, privately splendid, with grand fountains and gardens and hidden space away from the dirty streets. I start taking pictures of this, of that, not knowing why.
A plainly dressed man greets us, was expecting us and particularly me, and brings us up a flight of cracked marble steps (not so cracked; the Syrian revolution and the Egyptian revolution make the Cuban revolution look nonviolent – I’m still constantly shocked at how little violence really tore through this town) to the tiny Archbishops chapel, which was locked behind ornate black iron gates.
There;s the flower I keep seeing, the 4 petaled one. There, there, there. It’s in the floor, it’s in the iron, it’s on the woodwork by the communion chalice.
As we step in, I reach next to me for holy water to genuflect and cross myself before walking in. It’s dry. Weird. I let that go and walk in quietly with Mayulis shadowing me by two inches. If I stopped too fast, she would crash into me. We’re like long lost twin sisters separated at birth.
Once we are all in the chapel Mom tells me this is where Abuelo and Abuela were married in 1944, during WW2.
I know they had a civil ceremony and she wouldn’t sleep with him and he spent the whole night outside her door, drunk, wanting to be with his wife. The next day they had their REAL marriage, the religious one, but somehow I thought it was in the cathedral.
But I should know better; cathedrals are for huge occasions and Abuelo was raised to never show his money. Better to have $100,000 hidden than flash $10,000, you know? So of course they wouldn’t have a huge flashy wedding. Of course. But also they would have been on a first name basis with the Archbishop, politically and economically and socially. It all makes sense in a way I couldn’t have imagined; he lived two doors down the street on the Prado.
So I take a million pictures; some of the floor, some of the art. We leave the chapel and Dora shows me where the Monks (brothers, hermanos, whatever) ate. I take pictures of the clean empty room filled with tables that would bring tens of thousands of dollars in the US. Then we go to the hallway and there is a huge painting that pulls me in – it’s a scene of a procession towards the cathedral – all the people in the painting are white and well dressed.
I take 10 pictures of that picture and notice there are two HUGE ornate vases below the painting.
Mayulis is still standing next to me and I push her into one of the vases and then pull her back just before she knocks a piece of 19th century treasure into a million pieces.
She looks at me like I’m crazy and I shake my head and say “Bad girl! You’re supposed to be a DOCTOR! You almost got us in trouble!” then the two of us laugh so hard it seems inappropriate for such sacred grounds.
Dora tells us she needs to lock the place up and we start to scamper downstairs. I take a few more pictures and mom asks me, whispers, “Do you remember any of this?” and I tell her bluntly “Not at all.”