Imagining Cienfuegos

By Alicita Rodríguez

Perhaps because of the French influence, Cienfuegos is a city dominated by outlandish color. It is called the Pearl of the South for its beauty. It should have been called the Mother of Pearl of the South, for its painted houses. There is a neoclassical farmacia festooned with bas-relief scrolls that is a cloying shade of mint. A cyan hotel, a cathedral in goldenrod, a violet girl’s school, and a great green mansion. Every year they paint the Arco de Triunfo a different brown. It has been wheat and lion; sand, copper, and fawn. Next year they have proposed liver. Some universitarios started a campaign to paint the triumphant arch Baker-Miller Pink, a color invented by two Navy officers who tested its effect on sailors. When they painted prison cells in the pink, they recorded “no incidents of erratic or hostile behavior.” Even if the coloring campaign succeeded, and the arch were dripping in Baker-Miller, it would remain unpalatable. The subduing effect lasts only “during the initial phase of confinement.” And the confinement of the residents of Cienfuegos is well beyond that.

Alicita Rodríguez is a Cuban-American writer born and raised in Miami. Her fiction, poetry, and nonfiction have been published in Sentence, TriQuarterly, Palabra, and Sudden Fiction Latino, among others.