The Gentleman from Paris Returns to Old Havana

Yenisel Rodriguez Perez

HAVANA TIMES — El Caballero de Paris (the Gentleman from Paris) is back in Old Havana as a living statue. He has returned to alleviate the nostalgia for fabled characters that Havanans endure.

His life is a quixotic oasis in the rigid colonial history of the historic center of Old Havana.

 

The “Gentleman from Paris” was a man who cultivated his daily life in public spaces of the city. Some remember him as a beggar – but he wasn’t. He always reciprocated the handouts offered by passersby with his arts.

He’s remembered for his parables, his maxims and especially for those aristocratic titles that he claimed to have won in adventurous stays in Europe.

With the passage of time his fabled legacy has managed to strike a magical balance between counterculture, cynical wisdom and madness.

This is why there coexist so many ways of constructing and reconstructing his myth: as a madman who died in the psychiatric hospital due to government neglect, as a prophet/savior of Cuban identity, or as a surrealist hippie of Real Socialism.

The living statue of the Caballero de Paris comes out every morning onto the streets of the historic district to consummate his arduous fate: to immortalize the vivid image of a provocative urban myth.

He has come to replace that another statue of the Caballero…a failed statue…one that petrifies and distorts the virtuous spirit of the Havanan Diogenes.

Let’s visit him.

He lives in the streets of the historic district with other living statues. He’s waiting for us there to exchange his art for the handouts of us passersby.

 

Yenisel Rodriguez

Yenisel Rodriguez Perez: I have lived in Cuba my entire life, except for several months in 2013 when I was in Miami with my father. Despite the 90 miles that separate Havana and Miami, I find profound reasons in both for political and community activism. My encounter with socio-cultural anthropology eight years ago prepared me for a commitment of love for cultural diversity.


2 thoughts on “The Gentleman from Paris Returns to Old Havana

  • July 26, 2012 at 1:18 pm
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    Watch out for categorical assertions: The Caballero de Paris was a bum by his own choice, by virtue of hallucinations that accompanied his mania for greatness. These made him reject and escape from any hospital. In fact, he was almost the only beggar who was allowed to wander the streets of Havana when begging was eliminated in the early 70’s. At the grocery stores in his route they were given orders to provide him with food at no cost. And when he was deathly ill, he had at his disposal the best medical care. Anyone who doubts this should take a look at the press of that time, especially the special reports in the magazine Opina, where his doctors gave statements. When someone gave him charity or treated him kindly, he would give them a little note that would read: “God, peace and Fidel.”

  • July 26, 2012 at 1:14 pm
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    I used to be terrified of the Caballero de Paris whenever I saw him when I was a little girl. He was always sitting under the porticos of the building at the corner of 12th and 23rd streets, always dirty and wearing torn clothes. Every time I saw the poor beggar I would hide behind my mother or my grandmother.

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