Friday, March 19, 2010
CUBA: THE DUPONT MANSION
When I first went to Varadero, Cuba, in 1990, I was blown away by its twenty kilometres (1.2 miles) of almost unbroken white coral sand beach. At that time the last hotel, the International, was at about the halfway point. Then one took a moped out a dirt path which ended up at a golf course which is part of the old duPont estate. After that, the mansion and more sand. Now hotels extend the full length of the peninsula. However, unlike most major beach destinations, with the exception of the small downtown, only one row of hotels line the ocean. It's the busiest of Cuba's resort towns, but extremely quiet by most standards.
Dupont arrived in 1930 and built his million-and-a-half dollar estate in the middle of the Great Depression. Its elaborately carved railings and supports are all mahogany, and it includes a pipe organ and one of the first private working elevators. He also bought up lots of beach to keep his privacy. This is the view from his balcony looking over his golf course. When he was here, the resort in the distance didn't exist. (There was also a private airport runway.)
Dupont introduced potable water to the area -- unlike some other Caribbean destinations, its tap water is safe to drink. And he provided schools for the area's children. When the local church was destroyed, he rebuilt it:
He was an acquisitive/philanthropist of the old school. When he left at the revolution he asked the authorities not to destroy it: "Let history know I was here." The beaches are now all public and the mansion is a restaurant, although many of the rooms are exactly as he left them. Here's the dining room with organ:
Oh, and here's his bedroom. Actually, his wife's. He slept just off it as he drank a lot and snored:
A lot of my first (adult) novel, The Phoenix Lottery, is set in this mansion. Next post, will be the chapter that introduces Vardero and then some posts on my experiences with santería.