Firstly, please accept my apologies for the belated post. I returned today from Cuba , where the inefficiencies of the state-run Internet system proved as frustrating as ever. Not least, hotels without scratch cards. Out-of-date Windows systems that prevented access to my Word docx. And an inability to access the hard drive or download programs to convert the docx.
All conspired to prevent being able to post to my blog from Cuba!
Meanwhile, many years ago, in the early days of researching my Moon Cuba Handbook , my “family” in Havana —Jorge Coalla Potts and his wonderful wife Mari (see their website )—told me about an old tramp known affectionately by Cubans as the ‘Gentleman of Paris.’
This venerable character was well-known throughout Havana.
Dressed in a trademark black cape, with shoulder length curly hair, a long straggly goatee, and a large aquiline nose, he resembled a latter-day Don Quijote  roaming the streets.
As often happens with such characters, many myths evolved and eventually became cemented in local lore, not least as to the enigmatic caballeros’ real identity, adding to the mystery and charm. Not least, many Cubans believe he was a French nobleman who had abandoned a fortune for the love of a woman.
In fact, José María López was born in Vilaseca, Galicia, Spain , on December 30, 1899. At the age of 12 he ran away from home and set sail for Havana aboard the German steamship Chemnitz. He settled in Havana and was employed as a waiter, book seller, and in such hotels as the Sevilla and Telegrafo.
Alas, in 1920 José was unjustly imprisoned in El Castillo del Principe for a crime he supposedly never committed.
Adultery… Selling a false lottery ticket… A false accusation of murder. The circumstances are unclear. What is known is that the experience unhinged the young Spaniard.
Thereafter he wandered the streets as a tramp for five full, long decades.
He was nicknamed the ‘Gentleman of Paris’ because of his gallantry and gentlemanly ways with women and children, and for his love of discourse on current affairs, politics, and poetry.
He was generous with everyone he met. His eclectic gifts include verses of poetry, flowers, and words of advice for the young. Likewise, he offered such tokens in exchange for donations and food, although it is said that he never actually resorted to begging.
Habaneros took him affectionately to their bosom.
Eventually, however, his physical health declined alongside that of his mental stability.
In 1977 he was admitted to Havana’s Mazorra psychiatric hospital, near the José Martí International Airport , in Santiago de las Vegas . Here he died in 1985 and was buried in the local cemetery.
One figure who remembered the Caballero de Paris was Eusebio Leal, the Official Historian of Havana .
In 2001, he commissioned artist José Villa Soberón  to create a life-size bronze sculpture of the Caballero (José Villa Soberón is also known for the statue of John Lennon  in Havana’s Parque John Lennon; that of Ernest Hemingway  in the Floridita  bar; and other similar life-size works around Cuba ). It today stands outside the entrance to the Iglesia y Convento de San Francisco de Asís  in Habana Vieja  (Old Havana), where José’s remains were interred the same year.
Cubans passing by the statue touch his now-shiny outstretched finger or even his straggly beard in the belief that doing so will bring them good luck.
Now that you’re ready to travel to Cuba, buy Moon Handbook Cuba 
For further information on Havana, buy Moon Spotlight Havana .
Learn more about Christopher P. Baker .
Disclosure: I occasionally accept free or discounted travel when it coincides with my editorial goals. However, my opinion is never for sale. The opinions you see in Cuba & Costa Rica Journal are my unbiased reflection of the good, the bad, and the ugly
Copyright © Christopher P. Baker