Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Cuban Peculiarities


Some of the Curious Customs That Confront a Visitor to Havana.

Ben Stern, a New York theatrical man, tells some amusing incidents connected with a visit he made to Havana.

"Talk about yellow fever," said Mr. Stern, "you have it in Cuba. It is full of it. You have to be very careful how you live, what you drink, and then you are fortunate to escape. In the hotels — such as they are — you find marble floors. In your room you will find a little rug near your bed, and you are supposed to stand on this rug while dressing.

You are warned to keep off the marble in your bare feet. You may catch yellow fever. Carpets you have not. They hold the germs. Ninety per cent of the houses are but a single story high. The streets are just wide enough to allow two small vehicles to pass, and the sidewalks are about two feet in width.

"But what impressed me is the system of taxes — bribe taking and tipping. If you register at a hotel, you place a stamp opposite your name. If you use a sheet of paper, you stamp it, and if you go into a public park somebody will ask you for 10 cents before you sit down. Then the stamps are only kept in limited quantities. I asked a hotel clerk why they did not keep a better supply. He declared it was because the next Spanish steamer arriving might bring a new design, and the old ones would have to be destroyed at the cost of the holder of them. So you see Spain's way of doing business with her Cuban subjects. They hate their mother country — I mean the native Cubans. Of course, the Spaniards, strictly speaking, are more loyal. Unfurl an American flag in Cuba, and the people fairly go wild over the stars and stripes. Unfurl the emblem of Spain, and there is not much enthusiasm.

"The rules of the theater are queer: You pay so much to get in and then pay for your seat afterward. No difference if you had a $20 box seat, you would have to pay an admission fee. The system is full of bother to the patrons of the places of amusement. There are, I believe, about 30 newspapers printed in Cuba, but only about five attract much attention. All are printed in Spanish. About the only Americans you see are in one hotel, and when you leave there you are among the Cubans entirely. The system of collecting duties is very lax — full of temptations for bribery, which, I am told, is one of the worst evils of the island. The Spanish government has everything of an official character under its control, which makes Spain hated all the more. There is really but one city wherein theatrical attractions pay — that is Havana. It takes as long to get 400 miles into the interior of the island sometimes as it does to go from here to Cuba. It is a great country in its way." — Cincinnati Commercial Gazette.

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