Friday, 22 May 2015

Cuba. Antonio Gades watches La Plaza de la Catedral, Havana

Antonio Gades leans on a column in the Plaza de la Catedral and stares out at the square. His gaze is penetrating and he cuts a confident figure, even as a bronze.  I am drawn to him every time I pass.  

To me, he looks more like the bullfighter he might have become, but he is immortalised here on the square, subject of tourist photos and the perch of an occasional pigeon, because he was an incredible dancer and choreographer; flamenco and ballet.  It is said that he possessed a sensuous fluidity of movement and I am astonished at how much his statue insinuates that ability: the reason, I suspect, for its magnetism.

He was Spanish, not Cuban, and grew up a communist under Franco's fascist regime.  Perhaps Cuba could be described as his political home; he supported the Cuban revolution and received, from Fidel Castro, the Order of Jose Marti, a state honour here. He danced with Alicia Alonso (see my post Cuba 12: Ballet Nacional de Cuba), married in Cuba and his ashes were scattered in Santiago de Cuba.*

A performer on the world stage, he is reported to have described himself as 'the greatest male dancer alive'.  After a life in the limelight, he stands now in the shade of a beautiful arcade, a spectator.  But he does have a lovely spot from which to watch the world.  The Plaza de la Catedral is one of several beautifully restored squares in Havana.  This one has an intimate feel.

It is dominated by the cathedral, known as 'Havana Cathedral', the 'Cathedral of San Cristobal' or the 'Cathedral of the Virgin Mary of the Immaculate Conception'.  I note the different names because they confused me; I wondered if I should be looking for three different places to visit.  They are all the same one.

Havana, with its diverse menu, has whetted my appetite for architecture, and so I can tell you that the cathedral, started in 1748 and finished in 1777, is considered one of the best examples of Cuban Baroque.  It reminds me of a squatting toad and, for the record, I love toads, but that's not the recognised definition of baroque style.  I believe this is more regularly characterised by the use of curves, pilasters and pediments.  The interior is simple by comparison.
For 1 or 2 CUC you can climb up the bell tower; it's a grand spot for taking photographs of writers with notebooks down on the square.

*  For two fascinating accounts of Gades's life, take a look at these obituaries from The Guardian and The Telegraph

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