Alberto Yarini: Legend and mystery of a pimp
07/29/09 – Cubarte: News Service (Havana)
By Graziella Pogolotti
A CubaNews translation.
Edited by Walter Lippmann.
Among my most distant memories, the name of Alberto Yarini comes to mind. Grown-ups would mention him with a wicked smile, which aroused my curiosity. I gradually came to learn that he was a famous pimp who had been killed in a fight by his French rivals in the San Isidro neighborhood. Supremely elegant, he projected a singular image, that of an aristocratic pimp riding around the city. Later Carlos Felipe turned the legend into myth. With his famous Requiem, he gave a tragic flavor to the announced death of a hero of a nocturnal and marginal Havana, a recurrent obsession of the author, who also wrote El chino. The director Gilda Hernández, however, provided quite a different perspective of the production on the occasion of the premiere of the play. The realistic approach showed the character-portrayed by Helmo Hernández-in his underpants in a sordid setting. Social referents were emphasized by this point of view, including the stage curtain which served to project obituaries of the family of resounding names and of the Conservative Party, signed by generals and commanders of the Liberation Army as well as by notorious San Isidro pimps.The character has come back to the present in the recently premiered feature film, Los dioses rotos (The Broken Gods).
The second edition of San Isidro 1910, by the researcher Dulcila Cañizares, was launched at a recent book fair. Supported by numerous testimonials and a conscientious exploration of archives, the book reveals the character’s environment, located in the limited urban universe where he exercised control. The examination is intentionally made from the bottom in a republic which had hardly freed itself of colonial ties.
The neighborhood is brought back to life by a meticulous reconstruction of squalid tenements, cheap eateries, small stores, movie houses where musicians, who would some day be famous, play, places where pornographic images are viewed. From the background of this sordid everyday life emerges the indistinct figure of Yarini, settled in his house on Paula Street, surrounded by his harem, flanked by his staunch friend Basterrechea, an ambiguous bond of unknown origin.
Self-contained, the neighborhood lies on the city’s fringes, just as Carlos Felipe sensed it in his classic Requiem. But strong and subtle steel threads connect him to the ruling classes of the newly-formed republic. Barely a silhouette designed in the background, Yarini represents the link between these two worlds. Hence the reason for his actual strength and his lasting symbolic image. Deep down, beyond any differences imposed by social conventions, a common substratum converges in the field of values, a trap that subjugates whoever gets involved in politics, where no one manages to avoid the mud stains on their white attire. Yarini goes through the concentric circles of the Havana society of the time. Born into a well-established family, both financially and professionally, he stops by the bohemian and semi-parasitic scene of the “Louvre sidewalk”-also suggested by Estorino in some of his plays-where white slave trade and the commerce of journalism subsist, to establish his personal domain in San Isidro.
Coinciding with the pattern devised by Carlos Felipe, the anthropological perspective adopted by Dulcila Cañizares constructs the character as seen through the eyes of others. Unlike the playwright, the researcher places the neighborhood and its memories at center stage. The main character will grow and will be recognizable following his death with the significance of his remains and complicities extracted from the impersonal prose of legal documents. Here, as on the stage, class differences are noted in the refinement of the wardrobe and the value of the pendants, in contrast to the vulgar striped shirts and pants worn by small-time pimps. The quick execution of the French victim takes place by way of a pearly pistol and an accurate shot to the middle of the forehead.
The search for the truth is carried out through the disclosure of successive layers that hide new, perhaps unfathomable, mysteries. In Dulcila Cañizares’s book a key character, unknown until now, is outlined. Basterrechea, the inseparable shadow of the famous pimp, the handsome young man with green eyes who lacks trade and lineage will be his avenger. A shadyarea in his sexuality is sensed in the “San Isidro macho” with his harem of women that never included virgins. The documents of the period hint at actions taken by powerful political authorities to abandon the legal process and wipe Yarini’s avenger’s record clean. Jail will be for others, for the second-class perpetrators in the settling of scores with the French pimps. Basterrechea survived the republic in total obscurity, living on small government positions that were always available to him despite the frequent dismissals, hurricane winds that were inseparable from every electoral process. His silence was, without a doubt, part of the commitment made to the people who ultimately freed him from the administration of justice. At the time of the outcome, he left the scene in the same manner as the mysterious lady in black restored by Carlos Felipe. They left no trail. Memory and legend preserved only the reminiscence of the surprising social pact represented in the funeral where the neighborhood prostitutes and the representatives of the so-called active classes of the nation, representatives of high politics and high society, converged. The great show removed the stains, dressing the most sordid complicities in clean clothes. From a multiple set of voices and documents, Dulcila Cañizares opens up the silent zones and gives us back a disturbing vision of a past that is also a part of our cultural heritage. Because the yesterday that is within us has dazzling luminosities of struggle, generosity and creation. Inscribed in a context of values forged in the needs of survival, the memory of a sordid past, the source of a corruption that permeates society, interacting with the high and low strata of society, still lives on. These are the ones that are revealed in Carlos Felipe’s universe and, with more restrictive precautions, in Miguel de Carrión’s as well. Let us welcome then this necessary evocation of San Isidro 1910.