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Isn’t It Romantic?
The door of the beauty parlor swung open and the client
flew in, a big, red bow falling over her left shoulder, her
straw hat over the right. “Titico, honey! They found
Lolita’s tomb!” She then immediately and instinctively
rearranged her bow and hat.

At that very instant, Titico, formally known as Robertico


de la Cerda del Corral, dropped his scissors, put his
pinkish palms flat up against his cheeks, and let out a
high-pitched little scream like no other ever heard at
“Titico’s Salon of Beauty for High Class Ladies, Est’d
1863”, namely Camagüey’s pre-eminent beauty parlor
and rumor mill.

As soon as he screamed, Titico stopped working on his


other client, a snooty-looking lady from Havana. Titico
cried out, “No! I don’t believe it! When? Where? How?!
Are they sure she’s dead? I mean, this is Camagüey, and
sometimes it’s hard to tell … “

“I’m telling you, Titico, they found it! Or, more


accurately, the peanut-vendor found it.”
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“The peanut-vendor found a lost tomb? Girl, you finally


lost your marbles! And no less than Lolita’s tomb. Of all
the dead people in Camagüey the peanut-vendor was
able to go and find the one tomb that the whole town has
been looking for. No way!”
“Titico, I’m telling you, the peanut-vendor went today to
have a smoke, like he does every morning after he’s done
with all that singing that ‘He’s going, he’s going, the
peanut-vendor is going!’. Well, this morning he finally
went. To the cemetery. And there, among all those dead
people, as big as life, was a sign!”

“A sign from God!” gasped Titico.

“Well, not exactly,” indicated the messenger. More likely


from some guy or other that Lolita turned down during
her ‘long career’ before she got small pox …” sniffed the
messenger.

“E pluribus unum … ‘Among many, one’,” solemnly


declared Titico, who pretended to be a Latin-speaking
cosmetician and who never missed High Mass at Our
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Lady of Mercy, where all the ladies of high society


worshipped and most of his clients came from. It did not
matter to the hairdresser that his erudite E pluribus unum
did not appear anywhere in the Mass.

At this point the client whose mane Titico was curling


lifted her aristocratic head and commented, “A dead
woman, a sign, E pluribus unum, not to mention the
peanut-vendor and the measles… Titico, you have not
introduced me to this very interesting young lady so
overflowing with news…”

“My apologies, Countess!” the hairdresser groveled


before the lady occupying the barber’s chair like Queen
Isabella on the throne. “Countess, permit me to introduce
to you Señorita Agustina Perpetua Angustias Dolores de
Cangas de Lamar y Torreón de Arteaga y Ponce del
Carrasco y Lazo de la Vega del Tejar y del Pozo,”
managing to get it all out just before he finally ran out of
breath.

“But they all call me Bon-Bón at the Casino Español!”


cheerfully piped in the beautiful Camagüeyan lady,
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sending the other lady a bright and grinning smile, full of


teeth.

(“Well, that’s a relief …” muttered the countess to


herself.)

“And you would be …?” Bon-Bón then added, her eyelids


already beginning to droop with hauteur.

Noticing this, Titico jumped in and, in an experienced


manner, and taking an even deeper breath, he
announced that the lady on the barber’s throne was a
new client, a most distinguished lady from Havana, who
has recently married a Camagüeyan count. Titico had the
truly district honor to introduce to Bon-Bón Señora
Caridad de las Mercedes del Carmen del Boniato y
Peñalver de Cárdenas del Calzado y Agravida de Los
Lazos, Countess of (and here Titico did have to take a
second breath) de las Cabezas del Regino y Orbachea de
Izarregui y Sarriegui, managing to get all this out just
before he finally collapsed.
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“But at the Club, they all call me Kikí,” interjected the


gorgeous Habanera, the newly revealed Countess Kikí.

(“God be praised …” whispered , Bon-Bón looking off to


the side.)

Then turning to the subject at hand, Titico turned to Bon-


Bón and asked her with great insistence, “But tell me,
darling, about Lolita, how ever did the peanut-vendor find
her?”

“It’s like this, the peanut-vendor knew of this little plot of


land at the cemetery that he had believed for years to be
unused. Well, for the last twenty years or so he has gone
there just to lie down and have a smoke every morning
after his rounds. This morning, though, he goes to the
same little plot and—wham! He sees this sign, painted
white like a corpse, with black letters of death all over it,
and Lolita’s name and surname, and a poem written on
the sign!” concluded Bon-Bón.

“A poem for the dead!” cried out the countess Kikí.


“Now, this is the Camagüey I came here to experience!
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And what did this poem say, Señorita Bon-Bón ? I’m a


great lover of literature, you know! Especially when they
write it to dead people …”

Upon hearing Kiki’s innocent question, Bon-Bón lit up like


a Christmas tree. This was the moment she had been
waiting for since she burst into Titico’s temple of beauty.
Quite slowly, Bon-Bón moved to the center of the beauty
parlor; once there, she stood perfectly still; then she
linked her hands below her ample bosom; and finally
raised her head as if she were addressing the Royal Box
at the Teatro Principal. She then began reciting with little
talent but great pomposity the poem she had made sure
she committed to memory before leaving the peanut-
vendor back at the cemetery and taking off for Titico’s
beauty parlor and rumor mill.

Bon-Bón commenced, affecting a phony Spanish accent


and making a lot of sounds that no one who spoke Cuban
Spanish ever made.
Here lies Dolores Rondón,
Her life now come to an end.
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Draw nigh, oh man, and ponder (peering at


her audience)
The earthly pursuits, to wit:
Pride and Vanity, (she lifted one index
finger; then, the other) Wealth and Power. (ditto
for the movements)

At this Titico and Kikí looked at each other, knowingly,


and nodded their heads smugly, in agreement. Bon-Bón
resumed her oratory:

To naught each one shall come.


And immortalized will only be
The evil that is rejected
And the good that in fact is done!
Bon-Bón immediately closed her recitation with a slight
step back and a curtsy. She adopted a downcast and
tragic look, now pondering the verities she had just
prophesied and then steadied herself by resting one of
her well-manicured hands on a cabinet full of curlers.

Immediately, encores and kudos from her audience of


two. Titico even fell to his knees before our Camagüeyan
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Melponene, offering her a bouquet of roses in the form of


a feather duster from the shop.

The Tomb of Dolores Rondón,


Camagüey/
La tumba de Dolores Rondón,
“How wonderful! How marvelous!” cried out the
countess Kikí. “The folly of love! The tragedy of passion!
A love so strong that it overcomes death and separation—
not to mention small pox! My breast could beat with such
a love! But just don’t tell my husband … he would only
take advantage …”
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“Me, too! Me, too!” chirped in Bon-Bón. “I know I could


be loved by a man just as passionate! But, first, being
single, of course, I need to meet one …”

“Ladies! Ladies! Of course, we can all feel that love and


inspire such passion—we’re Cubans!” added
nationalistically Titico. And then he whispered in an
enigmatic tone, “On this island, the Tropics weave their
magic spell …” he trailed off, mysteriously, never quite
explaining exactly how the Tropics weave that spell or
what they could do for Cubans and their love life.

Suddenly, out of the blue, but returning them all to


reality, this observation from Kikí, “It must have been a
very big sign, don’t you think? I mean, for God’s sake, all
those words!” deduced the lover of fine writing.

“Well, I’m sure she deserved every last one of them,” put
in Titico, diplomatically. The women agreed—and then
pursed their lips.
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Then the Habanera, the “foreigner”, blasphemed, “But


what does it matter, anyway? Who was this Dolores
Rondón?”

Titico and Bon-Bón were stunned, stupefied. “Oh, my


dear! In her day Lolita Rondón was one of the most
beautiful people in Camaguey!” remarked Bon-Bón, still
in awe.

“And are there many of those?” asked dryly the countess


from Havana.
“One or two,” came back the opening salvo from Bon-
Bón, her eyes narrowing.

Titico, perceiving this impending civil war between the


Capital and the provinces, jumped in, cleared this throat,
and explained. “In her day, Lolita Rondón was indeed the
most gorgeous woman in Camagüey, already a land of
beautiful women,” and here he threw a smile at Bon-Bón.
“She was shapely and had large, green eyes, and long
black hair, very straight, which always surprised me
because, you know … Lolita had a touch of the tar brush,
if you know what I mean …” said the hairdresser, who
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was himself a light-skinned mulatto. “When Lolita had


money and was ‘somebody’ in this town, she was my
client and, believe you me, her hair was as naturally
straight as the Empress of China’s.”

“Indian blood!” came back in unison from Kikí and Bon-


Bón.

“But,” Titico continued, “in her final days she ended up at


El Carmen Hospital, that last stop for the poorest of the
poor,” the hairdresser indicated by way of explanation
to the Habanera. “And that’s where the poor thing died.”

“They say she was then buried in a pauper’s grave. They


even took her to the cemetery in the Owl Cart,” Bon-Bón
whispered conspiratorially, leaning forward, as if this
aspect of Lolita’s death and burial was too awful to even
be said out loud.

“The Owl Cart?” said Kikí, now more perplexed than ever,
as any “foreigner” to Camagüey would have been.
“What, in Heaven’s name, is that?”
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“It’s about the worst thing that can happen to you in


Camagüey!” sighed Titico, remembering his own
childhood in the slums and looking down, very
melancholic, while pulling gray hairs out of a black brush
full of dandruff. “It’s for the poorest of the poor. It’s an
old hearse pulled by this old nag that’s on her last leg.
That’s how they buried poor Lolita Rondón, or at least
that’s what they say,” he concluded in a quiet, tinny
voice, looking like a sad and lost little boy.

“Well, true, but it’s not all bad, her end, I mean,” said
Bon-Bón, trying to lighten the mood. “She did get to
meet up with an old flame towards the end, didn’t she?”

“While riding in the Owl Cart or once she was dropped off
at the cemetery?” asked Kikí, now really more confused
than ever.

“No! At the hospital for poor people, at El Carmen!”


corrected Titico, making a distinction without much of a
difference.
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“In a hospital ward! How splendid! Like in The Lady of


the Camellias!” remarked Kikí, undeterred in her
romanticism and now showing off her love of great
drama.

“As Fate would have it,” philosophized Titico, “an old


beau, one Juan Francisco de Moya y Escobar, barber and
phlebotomist, was making a few extra pesos at El Carmen
Hospital drawing blood, when one day, during his rounds,
he walks innocently into Infectious Diseases while
carrying a huge jar of African leeches and—boom! Who
do you think he runs into if it isn’t Lolita Rondón! But, of
course, she didn’t look the same.”

“Who would?” chanted in unison Bon-Bón and the


countess, looking at the gilded mirror and then fixing
their hair in perfect synchronicity.

“Well,” Bon-Bón picked up the tale at this point, “Moya


had carried a torch for Lolita forever. Some claimed he
was still in love with her even after she got small pox,
which, according to what they say, is what landed her in
the hospital in the first place.”
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“Oh, yes, small pox! Dr. Finlay! The vaccine! The cows!
Why, I remember that in Havana, we …” the countess
began to retell, dreamily, yet another tale of her youth.
The fact that Dr. Finlay’s research involved yellow fever
and not small pox did not deter her in the least. This new
tale, though, was something that immediately sent Titico
and Bon-Bón into such convulsive fits of coughing in a
desperate attempt to stop the story that one would have
thought that they both belonged at El Carmen, anything
to prevent his Habanera from drifting off into her own
novel.

“Moya had known la Rondón all his life,” explained Titico,


desperately trying to get them back on subject. Bon-Bón
nodded in confirmation. “When they were young—but
before she hit it big and became my client—Lolita lived on
Céspedes Street and Moya had this little barber shop
somewhere around the corner. I, being a hairdresser, and
Moya, being a barber, we knew each other but only
slightly. Well, Lolita’s father also had a shop on that
street, something to do with cloth, or rope, or something
that he sold to the Spanish military. Her father loved her
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tremendously and he would spoil Lolita rotten but he


never officially recognized her as his daughter. Despite
that, Lolita was very popular around the neighborhood,
especially when she sang and—oh my!—how she loved to
sing! Moya, working nearby, would drop whatever he was
doing, whether in his official capacity as a barber or as a
phlebotomist, and would run around the corner to hear
Lolita sing, just to sit there and listen to her siren’s song.”

“Ah! The Song of Love! Why, I remember that when I


was young, back in Havana …” the countess was off and
running again. However, once again she was soon
reduced to silence by Bon-Bón’s chronic and incurable
coughing fits, obviously an infectious disease Bon-Bón
had caught from Titico.

Picking up the thread from Titico, Bon-Bón continued,


“And a siren is all she ever was with poor Moya. He would
send her love notes; he’d send her flowers; he’d send her
gifts; and nothing. Lolita was as cold as a glass of
guarapo; she was holding out for bigger game.”
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“And she got it!” Titico took over the story now; this was
his favorite part. For the Habanera it was like being in
an operating room and in the presence of two prominent
surgeons, watching them take turns while doing an
autopsy of poor Lolita’s life. “Yes, one day she finally hit
the jackpot!” Titico was so excited over this part of the
story that he had started to jump up and down, clapping
his hands with tiny, little claps. “The man she met was to
die for, just to die for!” The two women lowered their
heads and exchanged a knowing glance.

But Titico was not to be stopped. He continued


rapturously, “He was handsome, and rich, and an officer,
and white! And so rich! Lolita’s life changed, I mean, it
changed completely! Now she was married to a Spanish
officer and every day it was an endless series of parties,
and balls, and high society, and the Casino Español, and
parades, and even those festivities that celebrated the
restoration of the King in Spain! Oh, the glamour of it
all!” Titico then finally landed. The two women were not
saying anything. They were just staring at him, fixedly, a
certain coolness now descending like a glaze over their
eyes.
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Titico became more subdued with his storytelling from


that point on. “Of course, not all was happiness with that
man … of course. One day husband and wife decided to
take a trip back to Spain, where the husband was from,
since he had just made Captain. Well, during what was
supposed to have been the trip of a lifetime, the Captain
up and dies on poor Lolita! And soon after that came the
worst part: Prince Charming had left her penniless,
absolutely ruined! He had actually gambled away all
their money during those nights of glamour at the Casino
Español! Men!”

These memories were just all too much for him. Titico
took an old rinse pan with some dirty water in it and,
looking disgusted, threw the water down the drain. He
then sat down and sighed again, this time deeply,
remembering … how men can be.

Bon-Bón saw her chance to regain the spotlight and


grabbed it. “Lolita then came back to Cuba, now a
penniless widow, and eventually, she turned up again in
Camagüey. From then on began what they call ‘the Lost
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Years of Lolita Rondón’ because, incredible as it may


seem in such a small town, no one has ever found out
what happened to her between the time when she came
back to town and when she got small pox and ended up
at El Carmen. Some wagging tongues say (but not us, of
course!) that during those years Lolita had to rely on ‘the
kindness of strangers’.”

“In that case, what landed her at El Carmen wasn’t small


pox, honey …” Titico observed from experience, putting
away the rinse pan.

“Be that as it may, at the end of her days, “ continued


Bon-Bón, “there she was, and there was Moya again, ever
faithfully in love, right by her side. Loyal to the end!”
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From the “Caprices”, by Francisco de Goya (18th c.)/


De los “Caprichos”, por Francisco de Goya (s. 18)

“Oh! Camagüeyan men can be so romantic!” exclaimed


the lady from Havana, now married to a Camagüeyan
count. Why do you suppose that is, Bon-Bón?”
“Personally, I think it’s from drinking all that rain water
from the ‘tinajones’,” observed the single Señorita Bon-
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Bón. To which Titico retorted, “Personally, I think it’s from


wearing pants so tight that they squeeze their …”
“Titico! You hush, now!” Bon-Bón tried to appear very
severe while giggling and tapping the naughty
hairdresser with her fan.

Bon-Bón then added, “Well, I have to run. Titico, I adore


you!” Then to Kikí, “Countess, it has been a pleasure and
an honor. I will look for you at the Casino Español. And
welcome to our Camagüey, warts and all! Love, death,
tombs, and poems. And now Dolores Rondón. I’m sure
she will become legendary! Who knows, maybe it was
Moya who wrote that sign, don’t you think?”

Titico agreed, “It was obviously someone who knew her


and who loved her, ‘warts and all’.”

“Abur, abur!” cried out Bon-Bón, as she jetted out the


door of the beauty parlor (and rumor mill) the same way
she had come in, then running across Avellaneda Street,
trying to catch up with someone she knew to rehash all
over again the latest on Dolores Rondón. She had
completely forgotten about her hair appointment at
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Titico’s. Before she left, though, she looked at Titico, then


at the countess, and then back at Titico. Titico
understood perfectly. Next time, Bon-Bón wanted the
really juicy details about that countess Kikí. Titico winked
back at her.

“What a positively charming young lady …” Kikí said


casually, looking up at Titico in the mirror as he was
finishing her last curl, staring at him as if she were asking
him for something. Titico quickly sized her up: he figured
that she would probably be a good-paying client and that,
after all, she would be living in Camagüey from now on.
So, he decided to “initiate” her. Titico very quietly leaned
forward pretending absolute confidentiality, finally
hissing, “Yes, very charming, of course … and yet, about
ten years ago, there was a rumor going around town that
…” and just like that—just like that!—they had moved on
from the life of Dolores Rondón.
Epilog
In 1933, a marble monument, though of modest
proportions, was set up at the expense of the city
government of Camagüey to replace the old painted sign
that had first appeared in 1887 carrying la Rondón’s
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epitaph. However, before then, whenever the sign had


shown a need for restoration, the repair would be done
overnight, mysteriously, and by unseen hands. The
marble document may still be seen to this day in the
main cemetery of Camagüey. On the eve of the
Communist take-over in 1959, virtually all Camagüeyans
knew the poem by heart—and loved it. Some among the
older generation to this day still remember the verses
perfectly. For them, Dolores Rondón and her tragic story
of love personified Camagüey. Bon-Bón had proven to be
an unwittingly accurate prophetess: Lolita had indeed
become a legend.
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Notes

Warning to the reader: the author of this collection is a native Camagüeyan.


Here follows, therefore, some guidance: regarding the Church of Our Lady of
Mercy, see “The Hardest Thing” in this collection. Céspedes and
Avellaneda Streets are major streets in the historical center of Camagüey.
Regarding El Carmen Hospital, see “Heaven-sent” in this collection. The
Teatro Principal was among the main theaters in Camagüey, where great
performances such as opera, city-wide events, etc., were held. Tinajones
were very large clay pots where rainwater was collected for drinking and
other household uses. This was done almost exclusively in Camagüey and,
therefore, the tinajones became the very symbol of Camagüey. “¡Abur,
abur!” is “Camagüeyan” for “Bye-bye!” All translations from the original
Spanish or into English are by this author.

The theme of this most famous Camagüeyan poem is an ancient and


venerable one: the “vanitas vanitatis et omnia vanitas” of Classical
antiquity, dating back at least to the Old Testament and the Book of
Ecclesiastes. In Spanish literature, all the great poets have felt obliged to
pay homage to it. Among them are two of this author’s favorites: Pedro
Calderón de la Barca (“These that were showy and joyful/When at morn they
first awoke,/at eventide vain pity shall be/Asleep in the bosom of the cold
night…) and Luis de Góngora y Argote (“Learn, oh blossoms, from me/The
changes from day to day,/Yesterday a wonder was I,/Today, would that a
shadow I’d be”), both major luminaries of Spain’s “Golden Age”.

Lolita’s father was a Spaniard, one Vicente Rams. The name of Lolita’s
mother has been lost to History and there is only speculation as to who she
might have been. As Lolita did not carry her father’s name, it is assumed
that she was illegitimate.

The Casino Español and colonial politics: a very exclusive club in


Camagüey, which, during the 1800’s, was patronized especially by
sympathizers of Spain’s continuing domination of Cuba. Its patrons,
therefore, were mostly Royalists and not Cuban nationalists. Politically,
Dolores Rondón may well have been on the side of continuing Spanish
domination of Cuba and not in favor of Cuban independence. Her father was
Spanish and he had regular business dealings with the Spanish military, one
of his clients. In addition, Lolita herself married a Spanish officer (“Captain”,
legend says). Finally, Lolita, as a Royalist, reputedly celebrated the
restoration of the Spanish monarchy under Amadeo I of Savoy, in 1870, in
Madrid. To Cubans of the Republican period (1902-1959), however, Lolita’s
political inclinations certainly took a back seat to her dramatic life of passion
and death.
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History records that in 1863 Camagüey was ravaged by a small pox


epidemic. This is about the time when Lolita was said to have been seen at
the El Carmen Hospital. This poses a problem of chronology for the
historian. How could she have been enjoying her best days in 1870 when
she celebrated King Amadeo’s coronation as well as the restoration of the
Spanish monarchy but seven years earlier be dying, a penniless widow, in a
Camagüeyan hospital? Regardless, for the legend this apparent
contradiction poses no problem whatsoever.

There are many sites on the Internet with additional information (and
some speculation) on Dolores Rondón and her legend. A good and
established source is Dr. Abel Marrero Camponioni’s essay in
www.camagueycuba.org.

* * *

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