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Talking Location With author Teresa Dovalpage – HAVANA

21st August 2021

Teresa Dovalpage#TalkingLocationWith… Teresa Dovalpage, author of Death Under The Perseids – HAVANA

Little corners of my heart

A piece of advice often given to starting writers is “write about what you know.” Though Google—and your imagination—can take you far and wide, my two cents is to write about where you know to avoid embarrassing mistakes. I once read a story, published by a reputable press, about a character taking the subway in Havana. And it wasn’t sci-fi.

In my books, I depict places that I know and love. They are rinconcitos del corazón, as we say in Spanish, little corners of my heart where I have walked, cried and laughed. La Quinta de los Molinos, Havana’s Botanical Barden, is one of them.

A magical space of about twelve acres full of huge trees, like cannonball and ceibas, shrubs and a fishing pond, La Quinta is located three blocks away from the house where I grew up. My parents would take me there when I was a child, and it was my favorite outing. There were butterflies, parrots, cockatiels, rabbits and other, more exotic critters that I have yet to identify. Not really what you expect to see right off a busy street like Salvador Allende Avenue!

I remember visiting La Quinta later, as a teenager, with members of a metaphysical group who prepared a “spiritual tea” boiling a local plant known for its hallucinogenic properties. Afterwards, they swore they saw the elves and fairies that dwelled in La Quinta’s astral plane. I’d have something juicier to report, had I tried the tea.

In any case, I highly recommend visiting La Quinta de los Molinos. It now has an enclosed butterfly garden, scattered statues and benches, and a museum devoted to Máximo Gómez, Major-General during the Cuban War of Independence. You can pay $ 5 dollars for a guided tour, or stroll around on your own.

Teresa DovalpageThe Havana cemetery is another rinconcito I often feature in my books. This is how I described it in Death Comes in through the Kitchen (Soho Crime, 2018):

The Colón Cemetery is the final home for over one million quiet residents. Founded in 1876 at El Vedado’s heart, it has retained the neighborhood’s elegant and expansive feel with its sprawling layout, tree-lined avenues, and discreet side streets. The necropolis stretches for one hundred and forty acres of chapels, mausoleums, graves, urns, and vaults.

Queen of Bones (Soho Crime, 2019) is partly set there too. The title is a reference to the Afro-Cuban orisha Oyá, a deity considered the gatekeeper of cemeteries.

When visiting the Colón Cemetery, you can purchase a map at the entrance. Some days, a tour can be arranged as well. Make sure to visit La Milagrosa’s grave, always covered in offerings of flowers and candles. The Miracle Woman, who died while giving birth, is the go-to mediator for expecting mothers who fear childbirth complications and women wanting to conceive.

Quijote Park

And there is El Vedado, the most famous neighborhood in Havana, home to the iconic ice cream-parlor Coppelia. One section, with long queues and few flavors, sells in Cuban pesos, whereas the dollar-only area has a more varied offer and less waiting lines, or none at all. If you are in a hurry, by all means use the dollar area, but if you want to have a totally Cuban experience, stay in the peso-only grounds. You will hear some colorful Cubanisms!

Just a few blocks away, in 23 Street and J streets, is a delightful park devoted to Cervantes’ most famous character, Don Quixote. He is riding (naked!) on his equally famous horse, Rocinante.

There are too many rinconcitos in Old Havana (a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1982) to mention all. In Death under the Perseids (Soho Crime, 2021), I take readers for a walk from a cobbled street named Empedrado to Cathedral Square. And this is what the tour guide says:

Teresa Dovalpage“Notice, ladies and gentlemen, the swirling facade described by Alejo Carpentier as ‘music turned to stone.’ The cathedral currently serves as the seat of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of San Cristóbal de la Habana and houses the San Carlos and San Ambrosio Seminary.”

Not far is El Malecón, the seawall that goes from Old Havana to El Vedado. It’s around five miles and most Habaneros just walk from one end to the other. But if you are tired and don’t want to splurge on an almendrón (vintage American car) ride, hop in a bicitaxi and get ready for a fun, bumpy ride.

Teresa Dovalpage

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Enter the 2021TripFiction 'Sense of Place' Creative Writing Competition!

A story in which the location plays as important a role as the rest of your words.

2,500 word maximum, 750 word minimum

Judges include Victoria Hislop and Rosanna Ley

First Prize of £1,000 / US$1,350

Prizes total £1,750 / US$2,362 

Winning entry published on TripFiction site and publicised on Social Media

Entries close 6th November 2021