by Jose Prieto

Cuban genius patriot José Martí eyes were “zarcos” (blue, clear and pure), but the few photos of him do not show it, since there was no color photography at his time.

In my youth, while a high school student, at the same building where I lived in El Vedado, Havana, Cuba lived “coronel Cantillo” veteran of the glorious Mambí army, who liked painting, much respected by all in the neighborhood, including the youngsters like me that revered him. At his modest apartment –traditional and in good taste- waiting for him to correct a composition of mine, I noticed three small drawings about a hand in size each. One of them was the face of José Martí with a Cuban flag as background. The first and only one time I ever saw Martí with blue eyes impressed me, the blue bands of the Cuban flag blended so right with Martí blue eyes. Noticing his signature, Cantillo, I congratulated him for matching the color of the eyes to the blue bands of the flag.

It wasn’t an artist license… He replied that was the actual color of Martí eyes, which he knew because he was a secretary to Gonzalo de Quesada, who was in turn Martí secretary. Then, he showed me the other two small paintings: an oil render of a peaceful river bend nested on intense greens and the other one a pen sketch with firm and skilled traces. And he made me note that both were signed by…… José Martí.

Many years later, at U.S. Key West Club San Carlos, during a conference where I was lucky to be, a local lady researcher mentioned his “zarcos” eyes, during the reading of a detailed literary portrait of Martí. The description was published locally because of his first famous fund raising visit (01/03/1892) to the small island city, a thriving cosmopolitan center of cigar factories and traditional families of Cuban tobacco experts in the several steps of the delicate confection of a “puro”.

Conversing with Dr. Santiago Rey Pernas (who was a Senator, a Governor, and a Minister to the Republic) in a small restaurant of Miami “Calle Ocho”, I asked him about Martí blue eyes. “…I never met Martí; but, yes ”Azulitos” would tell me General Loynaz Del Castillo, who did meet him.” His elder face glowed mimicking the General…

Biographer Jorge Mañach, in spite of his exact style, mentions sort of almond–clear?-eyes in: “MARTl, THE APOSTLE” (p-174). But (p-247), among the last pages of the same book –the most terrible ones- he writes: “Ximénez de Sandoval, incredulous, examines the corpse; practical Oliva…a captain…Chacón the messenger (agree the corpse is Martí). Under the bloody blue loose jacket, the papers leave no doubt. It had –writes Ximénez de Sandoval- the pupils “blue”…

Martí deserves the world to see, as I did, the majesty of his quite gaze and his eyes matching the color of the flag for which he will die… Will the Internet carry Cantillo vision to the world?

José Prieto, (comments are appreciated).

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