Wednesday, February 14, 2018

History of El Historiador



My Spanish is limited. I had never realized that the Spanish word for historian is historiador, historiadora.  I liked the term immediately for its echoes of toreador and luchador. That historical work is and should be a struggle -- and with faintly heroic overtones -- seems true to my life.

In Havana Vieja, the Office of the Historiador is everywhere. For about forty years, the City Historian, Eusebio Leal Spengler, has also been the principal entrepreneur in preserving, restoring, and putting to productive use the built environment of the district.

The City Historian's holding company owns many of the buildings in the old city. It generates revenue from rents and tourism businesses, and recycles it into more of the preservation activities that are evident throughout the area.  Last week that all seemed a heroic achievement to me. The staff of the Historiador even sweeps the streets -- as the logo at right shows -- and hey, getting rid of the trash is also a good historical activity.

Update, Feb 16:  Russ Chamberlayne draws our attention to Bennett Freeman's article "History of the Present: Havana," in the journal Places, which explores (amid much more) President Batista's plan, just before the revolution ended all his plans for Cuba, to rase Havana Vieja to build a new financial district.  It's worth noting, perhaps more than Freeman does, that Havana's decayed urban fabric is not a consequence of Castro's rule alone, but was already well advanced in the Batista years, as any reader of Our Man in Havana will recall.
 
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