The Brooklyn Rail

OCT 2022

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OCT 2022 Issue
The Miraculous The Miraculous: Music

25. 20th Century; Havana, Cuba

She is the toast of Havana, a wealthy courtesan who consorts with presidents and generals, who owns numerous houses and nine splendid automobiles, which she drives herself (she is said to be first woman in Cuba to possess a driver’s license). Composers write songs in her honor, poets and writers pay tribute to her, comparing her to a greyhound and a fawn, describing her as “a revolutionary” who carries “revolvers and daggers with jeweled and ornithological Florentine handles,” who rides a horse, who hunts deer, who drives at high speed around the city in “her precious white machine, a gift from a lover,” outwitting the police at every turn. One day a young female singer from Mexico temporarily domiciled in Havana catches sight of her stepping out of her Hispano-Suiza and is rendered speechless. By now, the courtesan is past her prime and gradually selling off her houses and cars to survive (she will end her days in a shabby Havana rooming house) but this doesn’t phase the singer, who sets to music a male writer’s poem celebrating the older woman’s erotic allure. Significantly and scandalously, she doesn’t change the pronouns; when she sings the song, it is unambiguously describing—enacting—the desire of one woman for another. Later she tells the aging courtesan, “I'm going to take you around the world with me. You are going to go through many seas and distant lands with my hand.” The Cuban smiles. It’s unclear whether or not she believes the singer from Mexico, but by the time she dies, at the age of 85, the song, an international hit, has indeed come and gone around the world.

(María Calvo Nodarse, a.k.a. La Macorina; Vigil Díaz; Alfonso Camín; Isabel “Chavela” Vargas Lizano)

Contributor

Raphael Rubinstein

Raphael Rubinstein is the author of The Miraculous (Paper Monument, 2014) and A Geniza (Granary Books, 2015). He is currently writing a book about the Jewish-Egyptian writer Edmond Jabès. A Professor of Critical Studies at the University of Houston School of Art, he divides his time between Houston and New York.

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The Brooklyn Rail

OCT 2022

All Issues