By Aaron J. Jordan*
HAVANA TIMES — As a citizen of the United States and a resident of metropolitan New Orleans, Louisiana, I am excited about the easement of restrictions and the thawing of relations between the U.S. and Cuba, two estranged neighbors. New Orleans has several Cuban restaurants and many Havana-styled cigar bars, as both cities are sister-cities in that they share busy seaports, grow sugarcane, have humid weather, endure mosquitos, and are regularly threatened by hurricanes in the Caribbean.
Over the past year, I began to educate myself about life in Cuba and the history of the Cuban Revolution of 1959 by watching documentaries and videos posted and shared on the website “You Tube.” I began to find out about Cuba’s contributions in fighting apartheid in South Africa and volunteering their doctors, nurses, and teachers to countries in the Caribbean, Latin America, and Africa.
I came across The Havana Times.org and began reading articles, written in English, from Cuban writers and ordinary Cuban citizens, openly discussing matters. Some articles were controversial some were not, other articles were about public issues, some were about private matters. However, their expression was real, open, and honest; not repressed, not censored.
I also noticed that in the photos posted of old-Havana was an architecture that I’ve seen before, the architecture in New Orleans’ “French Quarter” neighborhood. The historic districts of both Havana and New Orleans are filled with brightly colored, Spanish-built stucco buildings. The buildings are only a few stories high and very close to each other, seemingly almost on top of one another. These buildings and these neighborhoods, having stood the test of time for a few hundred years, show a similarity between two historic cities, separated by only 670 miles of distance but 53-years of politics.
The name “French Quarter” is somewhat misleading. Although French explorers settled New Orleans and founded the city in 1718, ownership had changed hands between the French and Spanish twice before finally being sold to the young United States government in 1803 through the Louisiana Purchase. This history is also somewhat misleading because when the French landed in the early 1700’s, there was already an indigenous people called the Chitimacha, a Native American tribe, living in the territory that eventually became known as New Orleans.
In its history, the original architecture of New Orleans was French-styled wooden buildings. As a result of two major fires in 1788 and 1794, the French architecture was destroyed and the area known as the French Quarter, now under Spanish control, began to rebuild using brick and stucco instead of wood. These rebuilt Spanish structures, painted in vibrant colors, are the very same buildings that make up the French Quarter today.
Since its rebuilding, the French Quarter has withstood countless hurricanes, war, and pestilence, including a Yellow Fever epidemic in 1853. The Mississippi River, which fuels the city’s busy seaport, is controlled from flooding by way of an elaborate system of manmade levees and canals. Despite being the highest plot of land in New Orleans, the French Quarter is geographically located below sea level, as the nearby Mississippi River snakes across the city. This snaking of the Mississippi River creates a distinctive crescent shape of land, thereby giving New Orleans its nickname, “The Crescent City.” New Orleans is also known as “The Big Easy” and “The City that Care Forgot,” due to a friendly and carefree European attitude among its people.
At no time is this friendly attitude more noticeable than during the “Mardi Gras” or “Carnival” season, which has just started and lasts until Mardi Gras Day or “Fat Tuesday,” on February 9, 2016. New Orleans is a majority Catholic city, as the Mardi Gras season coincides with “Ash Wednesday” or the beginning of Lent each year. At the center of the French Quarter is the Saint Louis Cathedral, which is the oldest cathedral in North America and one of the most iconic landmarks in New Orleans.
The French Quarter is home to some Cuban culture as the “La Habana Hemingway” Cigar Bar, is located on Toulouse Street and the “El Libre” Cuban Cafe, is located on Dumaine Street. There is even a large monument to the great Latin American liberator Simon Bolivar, located at the outskirts of the French Quarter on Basin Street. However, the most interesting object is a small monument located in New Orleans’ central business district on Poydras Street. This tiny monument is a tribute to Gen. Narciso Lopez, the designer and creator of the modern Cuban flag. The engraved metal placards affixed to the stone base read:
“The liberating expedition to Cuba under general Narciso Lopez with hundreds of soldiers from Kentucky, Louisiana, and Mississippi, carrying the Cuban flag to cuba for the first time in history, left from New Orleans, May 11, 1850, on board the US steamer “Creole” Capt. Lewis and triumphantly hoisted the flag at Cardenas, Cuba, on May 19, 1850.”
“The Cuban flag was first flown in 1850 from this site, the home of The Daily Delta, 52-years before Cuba became an independent republic. -The Lions Club of Cuba.”
*A Havana Times reader from New Orleans, Louisiana.
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