BY MIREYA CASTAÑEDA |Granma International staff writer | [url=http://www.granma.cu]http://www.granma.cu[/url]
DO you consider it a heresy to say that you can discover your own native city? Don’t be skeptical. You think that you know it all and that is not the case. An idea as wonderful as Rutas y Andares (Unguided and Guided Walks), conceived by the City Historian’s Office, can contest to that. Rutas is a program whose aim is to acquaint Havana families and any interested visitors with the heritage of Havana’s historic quarter, declared a World Heritage Site in 1982.
To announce its innovations and traditional activities, the Office recently called a press conference, with the added good fortune of a meeting with the City Historian himself, Eusebio Leal.
If anyone, including the collaborators, thought that the program began in 2001, Leal was there to confirm the error, as he explained that its genesis dates back to 1982, initially with the seminars on Havana’s history that he gave in the City Amphitheater, which quickly became crowded without any publicity. And then: “I began by departing from the Plaza de la Catedral at midday on Saturdays, said a few words, and ten people would follow me; then 20 and then 200. That meant I had to give explanations from a balcony, without a microphone. And we have to go back to those experiences.”
Without Leal himself, with his verbal style and knowledge, but with highly specialized guides, that adventure has recommenced.
Touring any of the Rutas or Andares is a unique and enriching experience for Havana families. If figures can be taken as an indicator for a project, last year close to 10,000 people took part.
According to Eusebio Leal, the Rutas and Andares have been something more than an experience; a practice that has obliged researchers, architects and other specialists not to rely on guides, but to participate personally, “giving an explanation that is not pedantic, boring, or know-it-all. It should be an engaging explanation, for families.”
The idea, as already explained, is to bring people closer to knowledge of colonial Havana by taking families to little-known places. “Because,” as Leal pointed out, “the city itself is like a museum if it stays with what it has and does not experience new emotions and then it ceases to be interesting for the generation that knows it. Hence the importance of the temporary rooms, the different motivations.
“That is what Rutas and Andares proposes, a different motivation on the basis of values that are here, like those of the so-little-known mural painting of Havana, the values of urban architecture, the importance of restoration as a theme, as a work that requires multi-disciplinary participation. To be able to go where there is no access, like the restoration cabinets. To get to the places where great paintings are restored, to be able to talk to the restorers.”
The city historian added that it would doubtless contribute to “attain a disposition to be part of the restoration work underway in the historic quarter, and that’s where the sale of tickets comes in (5 Cuban pesos); it does not have a funding vision per se. For example, collection boxes have been placed in the museums, not to ask for money, but to ask for identification starting from family generosity. It has an educational and participative aim more than an economic or statistical one, and for that reason we have put a note that reads: ‘If you appreciate our work, respect it and believe that it is good and beautiful for everyone, please contribute to it.’”
For Leal, one of the nicest things about this program has been to see grandparents with their grandchildren receiving hospitality and friendship. “This is the spirit. Contributing to ensuring that a work that exists for a very long time can be known, loved and served. We are constructing without anyone having been able to detain it or hinder it.”
The city historian moved on to offer both information and appraisal. “The most beautiful restored work is the old Santo Domingo monastery which is undergoing a process of transformation: going from the past, in search of its roots, to the future, to seek a new image, for new purposes, because that is where the library, our archives, cinematographic arts, culture, ecology, photography and a large conference room will be located. Everything is very close together. The tower has been raised, with the university bell at its top. Next year, a large archeological excavation site will be visible, forming a spacious new plaza, between Santo Domingo and the former government palace.”
He also spoke of the upcoming inauguration of La Reunion Pharmacy (previously Sarrá), “which I can assure you is really wonderful, a meticulous restoration project.
“Right beside it is El Salvador College, founded by Jose de la Luz y Caballero in 1853, which was destroyed and then converted into business premises and which is now making a comeback as an elementary school for 400 pupils with the name of El Salvador.”
Leal affirmed that the Numismatic Museum’s new venue in Obispo Street is almost finished. “It is in a building that is a national monument in itself and which houses precious Greek, Roman, Chinese, Latin American and Cuban collections, which will make it a favorite among Havana residents.
The next reminder was the inauguration of the Hispano-American Cultural Center in the former house of the Cariátides, following on from the work of Fernando Ortiz, Emilio Roig and other historians when they created the Hispanic-Cuban Cultural Center. “It falls within the context of renewed and restored buildings on the Malecon, something that the Cubans appreciate very much. One street has been completed inside and outside. It’s not just about repainting facades; it’s more complex, more difficult; one has to work from within, making great transformations.”
Leal announced the opening of housing complexes in the Plaza Vieja, Oficios, and Mercaderes Streets to coincide with the 485th anniversary of the founding of Havana on the northern coast of the island, as well as other small, great, significant and symbolic works, like “the placing of a statue, the gilded point of a lance, the castle revived by cleaning up its moat, and everything that is done on a daily basis for culture and for the well being of Cubans.”
THROUGH THE STREETS OF OLD HAVANA
This year, the Ruta walks have been organized tracing some of the historical quarter’s emblematic streets; for example, Oficios, which takes you to the San Francisco Convent and the Museum of Sacred Art, the Government Palace and Alejandro de Humboldt Casa.
Passing through Mercaderes you can appreciate the Cigar Museum and the Asia, Benito Juárez, Simon Bolívar and Obra Pía Casas; while Obispo takes you to the City and Numismatic Museum, and the Orfebrería Casa.
THE FIVE ANDARES THEMES
In company with the guides you can do the Restoration Andar, from archaeological sites to picture restoration workshops; a Historical Andar brings you closer to Havana families, famous persons, streets and their names; the Architectural Andar takes you to houses, their epochs and styles, libraries, the publishing process and the Cecilia Valdes route; and finally the City Culture Andar reserves theater and music bookings, exhibitions and fashions shows.
“Our interest,” Eusebio Leal concluded, “is that people arrive and enter; after that it is our affair, to convince, persuade, to bring love and life to those sentiments. And that is the raison d’être of Rutas and Andares, so that we don’t sit at the gate and wait.