The mysteries of Avenida de los Presidentes
TXT: YOSS PHOTO: ROLANDO PUJOL / ALEJANDRO ASCUY
Which habanero (or well informed visitor) doesn’t know G? A broad avenue that springs from the sea by the Malecón and heads up the hill towards the Faculty of Arts and Letters, cutting through, blessing and refreshing Vedado with its verdant and well groomed park-borders.
Not so many remember, or ever knew, that the birth name of this central street is the Avenue of the Presidents, just like the Avenue of the Mayors, its parallel sister street now known only as Paseo. Not surprising when until recently the only things to remind us of its distant baptism were odd inscriptions on street-corner-stones forgotten even by the passage of time.
But thanks to the tireless efforts of Havana historian Eusebio Leal, the street seems determined to earn its majestic name. Let’s wander down G from the Faculty to the sea below and meet some of its distinguished inhabitants.
After a short, stiff climb, the only one, we arrive at G and 27th and the monument to José Miguel Gómez, second President of the Republic. Infamous for his somewhat liberal use of the public purse, the so called “shark” (who to the delight of his party faithful bathed himself in gold and generously splashed all around him) honoured himself with a classically lavish statue built of snow-white marble brought all the way from Italy. Not only the raw materials came from overseas: the semicircular colonnade and overall pomp owe more than a passing nod to the Altar of the Homeland in Rome, although the ex-general of the War of Independence turned president shied away from erecting an equestrian monster like that of King Vittorio Emmanuelle II in the Italian capital.
With the triumph of the Cuban Revolution in 1959 the statue of the spendthrift president disappeared from its pedestal (for ever?) and the lofty monument became a favourite home for all kinds of visitors: the shady lower chambers became a meeting place for the underground; the columns and corners sighed with furtive nocturnal lovers and the no longer snow-white marble expanses were scrawled with a rainbow of eternal graffiti. It was in this state of sorry disrepair that the monument appeared in a scene from the award-winning film Madagascar by master Cuban director Fernando Pérez.
Then 20th century curtains closed, restoration funds appeared and one fine day habaneros woke to find the marble gleaming and, lo and behold, the old president was back, as if he’d only been away for the evening, not for more than forty years.
+ information pág. 68-73 The H Book 2007 08