William Shakespeare is probably the greatest writer that England has produced; more than that he is probably the greatest ever writer in the English language. Curiously he had a Spanish contemporary of similar stature, and in the same way that Shakespeare is revered not just in the UK, but also in the US, so Miguel de Cervantes is honoured in Cuba. Both New World countries fought bitter wars to gain independence from their European masters, but both clearly retained much of their original culture.
So you will find a statue of Cervantes in a small park that also bears his name in Havana Vieja. Placed here in the first decade of the 20th Century, not so long after independence was gained, it was paid for by public subscription. There is something very wrong about the sculpture however.
Cervantes’ military knowledge comes from personal experience, and he took part in one of the most significant naval battles of the Mediterranean, the Battle of Lepanto, where the expansion of the Ottoman Empire was halted by an alliance of Catholic states in the Holy League fleet. These galley battles were dominated by infantry forces firing crossbows and arquebus (early rifles) and Cervantes took three shots from the latter, two in the chest and one in the left arm. A number of accounts refer to the loss of his left hand, and though it seems that it was never amputated it was certainly maimed to the point of being rendered useless. Cervantes remarked:
“The loss of my left arm is for the greater glory of my right.”
He was 24 at the time.
But it’s not just the writer who is feted. So too are two of his heroes.
Halfway down Obispo you will find Leo D’Lazaro’s bronze of Sancho Panza borne by his long-suffering donkey. The bronze was created in the final decade of the 20th Century so creates a nice symmetry, though the two monuments couldn’t be more different in style. Reverence and Ridicule.
Of course this post couldn’t be complete without reference to Cervante’s protagonist Don Quixote. The deranged knight, to whom Sancho Panza was squire, could not be overlooked, though he is some distance away from his friend and creator. Sergio Martinez’ work features him naked astride his horse Rocinante; two gaunt figures who are each past their best. Why he is here in Vedado, near the ice cream emporium of Coppelia, is rather puzzling when you would expect this man who revered history to be in the old quarter.