He roamed the streets of Havana in bizarre clothing but could quote classic Spanish literature. Today his bones rest in an unlikely place. El Caballero de Paris (the Gentleman from Paris) was a familiar sight in the mid-20th century of Havana.
He was a thin man with wavy blond hair and a long beard who dressed in elaborate costumes reminiscent of the elegant European upper classes; a black cloak over a black suit with a flower in the jacket’s lapel. Because of his appearance, Havana residents christened him the Gentleman from Paris. Although he slept in the streets of Havana and depended on the largess of kindhearted Havana residents for his daily meals, he could recite passages from classic Spanish literature unerringly and with dramatic flair.
Jose Maria Lopez Lledín, A.K.A. el Caballero de Paris, was born in Lugo, a major city in Spain’s northwestern autonomous region of Galicia. The Spaniard was rumored to have emigrated to Cuba as a young boy of 14. He labored at odd jobs in restaurants and hotels doing work typically done by the Spanish immigrants that poured into Cuba at that time.
Years later he was unjustly convicted of a crime and sent to prison, an experience that caused him to retreat to a fantasy world from which he would never return. Once out of prison, he wandered the city giving little drawings to the occasional passersby. Over the years he became a beloved figure within Havana.
Although never violent, he became increasingly irrational until a compassionate doctor admitted him into Havana’s local psychiatric asylum. Eight years later he died there, still quoting classic Spanish poetry and literature.
In 2001, the city of Havana began its restoration of the colonial sector of Old Havana. The city’s official historian had the Spaniard’s bones exhumed and buried with much fanfare in the church of San Francisco in the beautiful plaza of the same name. This was one of the Parisian Gentleman’s favorite places to roam.
But the citizens of Havana were still not ready to let the Parisian Gentleman go. This symbol of Havana lives on in a bronze statue of him placed at the door of San Francisco church in Old Havana. Parts of the statue have been polished to a shine as visitors stroke his beard and index finger for good luck.
Know Before You Go
What to know before our go. The statue is directly in front of San Francisco church in San Francisco plaza in Old Havana, Cuba. The church is now a museum.