Sunday, February 04, 2007
A Cuban in St. Augustine...
... is like a lechon asado on Christmas Eve... for a Cuban. They go hand in hand.
Unfortunately Cuban, even Spanish presence in the old city is minimal.
I love going to the Old City, and just spent 2 days there with my father. We went to sight-see and check out things that only history nerds like us could get into.
St. Augustine is the oldest European established city in the USA. It was established by the Spanish in the 1500's. The Spanish would trade and use the shipping lanes from Spain, through the Caribbean and up to St. Augustine. Many Cubans were educated in St. Augustine (including Padre Felix Varela, who also spent the last years of his life and passed away in the Old City).
Unfortunately, it seem that most of the Spanish and Cuban presence has been whittled down to re-constructed Spanish colonial homes, and white Anglo Americans dressed in Spanish garb to commemorate the early days of the city.
Don't get me wrong. I am so grateful for the people of St. Augustine, and their love for the history of the place and the people who founded it. They have really done an incredible job at keeping the history alive. I'm just saying it would be nice to see some REAL Spanish restaurants, and REAL cigar shops (Columbia Restaurant is a tourist trap pretending to be Spanish, and the cigar shops have over-priced, low quality cigars).Speaking of cigars, I took one of my own from Miami and happily smoked it outside Cafe Hidalgo. A Torano Exodus 1959. First one I smoked was at Berkley Boricua's going away BBQ (yes Rick... the night I fell back on the rocking chair and you laughed as my cool points drifted off with the smoke from my cigar). This is an AMAZINGLY smooth cigar, but not for the novice smoker.
The demitasse you see photographed is from Cafe Hidalgo. One thing that St. Augustine does not have a shortage of is cafes, most of them with EXCELLENT espresso. So if you're Cuban, don't worry about packing up the cafetera for your trip. St. Augustine's got you covered. Cafe Hidalgo also had great gelatto and tiramisu.
One of the tourist things we did was take a ghost tour. We took the walking tour in the evening. I had never been on a ghost tour so I thought I'd check it out. The neat thing about a ghost tour is you hear stories you might not hear otherwise, because they are usually based on real people who had some sort of tragedy befall them, but are minor characters in history. They lost me when they started talking about "orbs" and "sensitivity" and little girls hanging around city gates 100 years after they died. Can you imagine how horrific that would be? For a child's soul to be trapped for eternity on a busy street corner on AIA, waving at people? I don't know how many in the group actually believed it, but one guy was going nuts taking pictures with his flash, trying to catch the ghosts on film. The guide was very entertaining though, and it was a good way to end the evening.
One of the highlights of the trip was visiting the Mision Nombre de Dios at the crack of dawn. I took this picture by the altar built on the location where the first Catholic Mass was held on mainland North America. It's such a peaceful place. You get a real sense of history, but also of the beauty of creation. Not to mention, the beauty of the Cross.
Finally, one of the cooler moments of the trip was in the re-built home of a Spanish soldier. My dad saw the kitchen, and was really taken aback because it was almost identical to the one in his house in Santiago de Las Vegas a suburb of Havana. His childhood home was a Spanish colonial home, and still had the original concrete coal oven. He recalls how his grandmother (my great grandmother) would heat up the coal and make amazing dishes. He remembered that they would stick a boniato (sweet potato) wrapped, directly on the coals, and how it would come out completely cooked through, almost syrupy. He could smell the sweet potato, the memory was so vivid.
We really had a great time in the Old City. Thanks Papi, for sharing this time with me. It meant a lot.