IV. THE OLD HAVANA
Among the many pictures, stored away in the album of my memory, there are two that stand out more vividly than any others. The subjects are separated by half the world's circumference. One is the sunsets at Jolo, in the southern Philippines. There the sun sank into the western sea in a blaze of cloud-glory, between the low-lying islands on either hand with the rich green of their foliage turned to purple shadows. The other is the sunrise at Havana, seen from the deck of a steamer in the harbor. The long, soft shadows and the mellow light fell on the blue and gray and green of the buildings of the city, and on the red-tiled roofs, with the hills for a background in one-half of the picture, and the gleaming water of the gulf in the background of the other half. I had seen the long stretch of the southern coast of the island, from Cape Antonio to Cape Maisi, while on an excursion with a part of the army of occupation sent to Porto Rico in the summer of 1898, and had set foot on Cuban soil at Daiquiri, but Havana in the morning light, on January 2, 1899, was my first real Cuban experience. It remains an ineffaceable memory. Of my surroundings and experiences aside from that, I have no distinct recollection. All was submerged by that one picture, and quickly buried by the activities into which I was immediately plunged. I do not recall the length of time we were held on board for medical inspection, nor whether the customs inspection was on board or ashore. I recall the trip from the ship to the wharf, in one of the little sailboats then used for the purpose, rather because of later experiences than because of the first one. I have no purpose here to write a history of those busy days, filled as they were with absorbing interest, with much that was pathetic and not a little that was amusing. I have seen that morning picture many times since, but never less beautiful, never less impressive. Nowadays, it is lost to most travellers because the crossing from Key West is made in the daytime, the boat reaching Havana in the late-afternoon. Sometimes there is a partial compensation in the sunset picture, but I have never seen that when it really rivalled the picture at the beginning of the day.
The visitor to Cuba, unfamiliar with the island, should take it leisurely. It is not a place through which the tourist may rush, guide book in hand, making snapshots with a camera, and checking off places of interest as they are visited. Picturesqueness and quaintness are not at all lacking, but there are no noble cathedrals, no vast museums of art and antiquity, no snow-clad mountains. There is a charm of light and shade and color that is to be absorbed slowly rather than swallowed at a single gulp. It is emphatically a place in which to dawdle. Let those who are obliged to do so, work and hurry; the visitor and the traveller should take it without haste. It is far better to see Havana and its vicinity slowly and enjoyably, and look at pictures of the rest of the country, than it is to rush through the island merely for the sake of doing so. In his essay on The Moral of Landscape, Mr. Ruskin said that "all travelling becomes dull in exact proportion to its rapidity." Nowhere is that more true than it is in Cuba. There is very little in all the island that cannot be seen in Havana and its immediate vicinity. It is well to see the other places if one has ample time, but they should not be seen at the expense of a proper enjoyment of Havana and its neighborhood. In Havana are buildings as old and buildings as beautiful as any in the island. In its vicinity are sugar plantations, tobacco fields, pineapples, cocoanuts, mangoes, royal palms, ceibas, peasants' homes, typical towns and villages, all the life of the people in the city and country. The common American desire to "see it all" in a few days, is fatal to the greatest enjoyment, and productive mainly of physical fatigue and mental confusion. It is the misfortune of most travellers that they carry with them only the vaguest of ideas of what they want to see. They have heard of Cuba, of Havana, the Morro, the Prado, of a sunny island in the midst of a sapphire sea. While it is true that almost everything in Cuba is worth seeing, it is best to acquire, before going, some idea of the exhibition. That saves time and many steps. The old city wall, La Fuerza, and La Punta, are mere piles of masonry, more or less dull and uninteresting unless one knows something of their history. The manners and customs of any country become increasingly interesting if one knows something about them, the reason for them.