HAVANA: A Social Sunday
To-morrow, I am to go, at eight o’clock
either to the church of San Domingo, to hear the military
mass, or to the Jesuit church of Belen; for the service
of my own church is not publicly celebrated, even at
the British consulate, no service but the Roman Catholic
being tolerated on the island.
To-night there is a public mascara
(mask ball) at the great hall, next door to Le Grand’s.
My only window is by the side of the numerous windows
of the great hall, and all these are wide open; and
I should be stifled if I were to close mine.
The music is loud and violent, from a very large band,
with kettle drums and bass drums and trumpets; and
because these do not make noise and uproar enough,
leather bands are snapped, at the turns in the tunes.
For sleeping, I might as well have been stretched
on the bass drum. This tumult of noises, and the
heat are wearing and oppressive beyond endurance,
as it draws on past midnight, to the small hours;
and the servants in the court of the hall seem to be
tending at tables of quarrelling men, and to be interminably
washing and breaking dishes. After several feverish
hours, I light a match and look at my watch.
It is nearly five o’clock in the morning.
There is an hour to daylight and will this
noise stop before then? The city clocks struck
five; the music ceased; and the bells of the convents
and monasteries tolled their matins, to call the nuns
and monks to their prayers and to the bedsides of
the sick and dying in the hospitals, as the maskers
go home from their revels at this hideous hour of Sunday
morning. The servants ceased their noises, the
cocks began to crow and the bells to chime, the trumpets
began to bray, and the cries of the streets broke
in before dawn, and I dropped asleep just as I was
thinking sleep past hoping for; when I am awakened
by a knocking at the door, and Antonio calling, “Usted!
Usted! Un caballero quiere ver a Usted!”
to find it half-past nine, the middle of the forenoon,
and an ecclesiastic in black dress and shovel hat,
waiting in the passage-way, with a message from the
His Excellency regrets not having
seen me the day before, and invites me to dinner at
three o’clock, to meet three or four gentlemen,
an invitation which I accept with pleasure.
I am too late for the mass, or any
other religious service, as all the churches close
at ten o’clock. A tepid, soothing bath,
at “Los baños publicos,” round
the corner, and I spend the morning in my chamber.
As we are at breakfast, the troops pass by the Paseo,
from the mass service. Their gait is quick and
easy, with swinging arms, after the French fashion.
Their dress is seersucker, with straw hats and red
cockades: the regiments being distinguished by
the color of the cloth on the cuffs of the coat, some
being yellow, some green, and some blue.
Soon after two o’clock, I take
a carriage for the bishop’s. On my way
out I see that the streets are full of Spanish sailors
from the men-of-war, ashore for a holiday, dressed
in the style of English sailors, with wide duck trousers,
blue jackets, and straw hats, with the name of their
ship on the front of the hat. All business is
going on as usual, and laborers are at work in the
streets and on the houses.
The company consists of the bishop
himself, the Bishop of Puebla de los Angeles in Mexico,
Father Yuch, the rector of the Jesuit College, who
has a high reputation as a man of intellect, and two
young ecclesiastics. Our dinner is well cooked,
and in the Spanish style, consisting of fish, vegetables,
fruits, and of stewed light dishes, made up of vegetables,
fowls and other meats, a style of cooking well adapted
to a climate in which one is very willing to dispense
with the solid, heavy cuts of an English dinner.
The Bishop of Puebla wore the purple,
the Bishop of Havana a black robe with a broad cape,
lined with red, and each wore the Episcopal cross and
ring. The others were in simple black cassocks.
The conversation was in French; for, to my surprise,
none of the company could speak English; and being
allowed my election between French and Spanish, I chose
the former, as the lighter infliction on my associates.
I am surprised to see what an impression
is made on all classes in this country by the pending
“Thirty Millions Bill” of Mr. Slidell.
It is known to be an Administration measure, and is
thought to be the first step in a series which is
to end in an attempt to seize the island. Our
steamer brought oral intelligence that it had passed
the Senate, and it was so announced in the Diario
of the day after our arrival, although no newspaper
that we brought so stated it. Not only with these
clergymen, but with the merchants and others whom
I have met since our arrival, foreigners as well as
Cubans, this is the absorbing topic. Their future
seems to be hanging in doubt, depending on the action
of our government, which is thought to have a settled
purpose to acquire the island. I suggested that
it had not passed the Senate, and would not pass the
House; and, at most, was only an authority to the President
to make an offer that would certainly be refused.
But they looked beyond the form of the act, and regarded
it as the first move in a plan, of which, although
they could not entirely know the details, they thought
they understood the motive.
These clergymen were well informed
as to the state of religion in the United States,
the relative numbers and force of the various denominations,
and their doctrinal differences; the reputations of
Brownson, Parker, Beecher, and others; and most minutely
acquainted with the condition of their own church
in the United States, and with the chief of its clergy.
This acquaintance is not attributable solely to their
unity of organization, and to the consequent interchange
of communication, but largely also to the tie of a
common education at the Propaganda or St. Sulpice,
the catalogues of whose alumni are familiar to the
educated Catholic clergy throughout the world.
The subject of slavery, and the condition
and prospects of the Negro race in Cuba, the probable
results of the coolie system, and the relations between
Church and State in Cuba, and the manner in which
Sunday is treated in Havana, the public school system
in America, the fate of Mormonism, and how our government
will treat it, were freely discussed. It is not
because I have any reason to suppose that these gentlemen
would object to all they said being printed in these
pages, and read by all who may choose to read it in
Cuba, or the United States, that I do not report their
interesting and instructive conversation; but because
it would be, in my opinion, a violation of the universal
understanding among gentlemen.
After dinner, we walked on the piazza,
with the noble sunset view of the unsurpassed panorama
lying before us; and I took my leave of my host, a
kind and courteous gentleman of Old Spain, as well
as a prelate, just as a few lights were beginning
to sprinkle over the fading city, and the Morro Light
to gleam on the untroubled air.
Made two visits in the city this evening.
In each house, I found the double row of chairs, facing
each other, always with about four or five feet of
space between the rows. The etiquette is that
the gentlemen sit on the row opposite to the ladies,
if there be but two or three present. If a lady,
on entering goes to the side of a gentleman, when the
other row is open to her, it indicates either familiar
acquaintance or boldness. There is no people
so observant of outguards, as the Spanish race.
I notice, and my observation is supported
by what I am told by the residents here, that there
is no street-walking, in the technical sense, in Havana.
Whether this is from the fact that no ladies walk in
the streets which are too narrow for comfortable
or even safe walking or by reason of police
regulations, I do not know. From what one meets
with in the streets, if he does not look farther,
one would not know that there was a vice in Havana,
not even drunkenness.