Havana Dreams

Since I was a child, I’ve been regaled by tales (apocryphal or not) of the colorful life of a great-great aunt, Catalina Lasa, and a memorable love story that leaves what passes as high romance in the entertainment headlines these days in the dust.

Renowned for her beauty (a rose is named in her honor), Catalina’s romantic trajectory culminated in the official recognition of divorce in the island nation of Cuba, in 1917. Her great passion for a wealthy widowed landowner, Juan Pedro Baró (pictured with her above), and abandonment of her then-husband (a Latin “Le Scandale“), traversed the seas, as, shunned by Havana society, she and Baró escaped to Paris, where they were allowed to marry. (Lasa was subsequently awarded the first divorce decree under Cuban law.)

By most accounts a fascinating woman of many interests (including helping to save the dog breed, Havanese bichon, from extinction), she had a magnificent mansion built for her by Baró — who knew no bounds in pleasing his adored wife —  in Havana’s Vedado section (above left), after their eventual return to Cuba. She died in 1930, aged circa 55, after seeking medical attention in Paris, her embalmed remains eventually entombed in a striking mausoleum (at Havana’s Colón Cemetery, right) commissioned by her husband and designed by Art Nouveau/Deco master Rene Lalique. (Supposedly situated so the sun would be shining upon her when Baró visited every morning.)

It’s said that before he died ten years later, Baró requested to be interred standing up, so as to oversee his beloved for eternity.

They just don’t write ’em like that anymore…

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