The New York Times, March 20, 1871, p.2:|
DOMINICAN PICTURES.Marketing in San Domingo City—The Dogs and Birds of the Place—
A Town of Chimes—The Dominican Flag—Night Sketches—
At a Ball—Local Theatricals—An Historical Myth.
From Our Special Correspondent.
SAN DOMINGO CITY, Saturday, Feb. 18, 1871
The market-place of San Domingo City—I begin with the substantial part of life—presents a busy scene every morning, between the hours of 5 and 9 o'clock. The butcher brings his meat in leathern skins, picturesquely thrown over the sides of small donkeys, the most patient and submissive-looking animals I ever saw. The general market woman, in loose gown, which, like the gown of TOM MOORE'S Nora, leaves every beauty free to sport as Heaven pleases, bears in long wicker baskets her little stock of fruits and garden produce, peas and bananas and oranges and peppers; the baker comes with his bread; the fisherman with his fish; the farmer's wife with her poultry and her eggs, and that is about all.
Those market people are real Yankees, so far as turning an honest or dishonest penny is concerned. A few mornings ago I accepted an invitation from Capt. MCCOOK of the United States steamer Nantasket to breakfast, but he imposed one condition, namely, that I should go with him and buy it.
It was a delicious experience. We went to the market, just inside the city walls. There were oranges in all their lusciousness of gold, bananas, as many as one and two hundred on a single branch, sweet potatoes and poultry and eggs and beef, pigeons and turkeys and,—but I cannot enumerate the long list. The men were jolly—that is the word. The women were eager to sell to us, but they were quite as eager to drive hard bargains and asked us double the ususal price.
I endeavored to make my purchases in bad Spanish, and Capt. MCCOOK let me have my own way for a little while, but when I asked his purser to pay the silver and gold, he positively objected and told me that I had been cheated most unmercifully. The Captain has had a long experience in the tropics, a matter of sincere regret to him, and understands better than any man I know here value and prices... I gave up the attempt to buy my breakfast in despair, and placed the matter entirely in his hands.
I cannot describe how he did it. He swore—no, he did not swear, he vowed that he would pay only one-fourth of what was asked, became indignant, went away, came back again, protested, entreated, and finally the contract was closed.
When we had purchased all our breakfast supplies he went to a store: "PEDRO, I want you to give me a box to take my supplies off to the ship."
"You can have this box for two dollass, Captain." This with the blandest smile in the world.
But anger mantled on the brow of the Captain. "Two dollars for those old boards after all the money I have left with you."
But PEDRO was unmindful of past favors, and thoughtful only of present gain. The two dollars were paid, but the awful threat was made that trade between the Commander of the Nantasket and PEDRO would be no more in the future.
That morning I had a magnificent breakfast, for the chef of the Nantasket is fully as great a master of his profession as the chef of the Tennessee, whom Capt. TEMPLE seduced away from his allegiance to Delmonico and Washington Welker.
DOGS AND BIRDS.
If this city is famous for anything except its revolutions, it must be for its dogs and birds. Every family has two or three birds, and every other family has two or three dogs. The birds are very beautiful; the dogs are very ugly.
There are some streets in which the very air is resonant with bird-music. There is one street in particular, that which leads to the western gate and out into the country, which is a regular aviary. The walls of the houses, outside and inside, are covered with cages containing sometimes one, and sometimes as many as three birds, of different species and plumage, some beautiful, and some as plain as a linnet or lark.
Mocking-birds appear to be the favorites with everybody. Parrots walk on the sidewalks or call at you from windows, but although mocking-birds and parrots are quite numerous, it is impossible to purchase one except at exorbitant prices. I have seen thirty and forty dollars refused for a parrot, and mocking-birds are absolutely not to be purchased, unless one wants to spend a small business capital.
The dogs are as ugly as the birds are beautiful. I have never seen more horrible looking brutes in my life. Chinese dogs without hair and with mottled skins are quite numerous, and appear to be pets. There are small dogs, with long hair, white and silky, which are very pretty, but they are rather rare.
The natives set as high a value on these animals as they do on the birds. I do not think there is a single one of them in the whole city that I would admit into my house; but, for some unaccountable reason, they cannot be bought...
BELLS! BELLS! BELLS!.
I believe there are more bells in this city than in the whole United States. The first thing I hear in the morning about 6 o'clock is the chiming of bells, and on Sunday hardly another sound is heard but the rhyming and chiming of the bells. Every church here—and they are more numerous than I can count—has at least a dozen bells, and it appears to be the grand order to ring them all at the same time...
THE DOMINICAN FLAG.
The door of my room opens on a balcony—every house here has a balcony—which looks out on the military head-quarters. At the corner is a round sentry-box; alongside the box is an antiquated cannon; near the cannon is a sentry; near the sentry is a flag-staff, running up the gable of a house; in the house lives the brother of the President of the Republic, who is now absent commanding the troops near Azua.
The precious little bit of bunting which symbolizes the glory and the greatness of the Dominican Republic is raised on this flagstaff every morning with all the military honors imaginable. Just before the sun rises over the eastern hills, three or four men, with muskets, cotton jackets and pantaloons, straw hats, and, generally, no shoes, draw up in line before the flagstaff. A bugler soon joins them, and then a drummer. One soldier holds the halliards, and in a few seconds the colors go up, the bugle gives the glad tidings to the waking city; arms are presented, the old cracked drum rolls and rattles, and finally the ceremony is over.
This dear little flag, about two feet square, is saluted at 3 o'clock in somewhat a similar fashion, and again about 7 o'clock there is another grand demonstration over it, then it is hauled down...
THE CITY AT NIGHT.
The night is not all moonlight in the tropics, and it is sometimes very dark in San Domingo City at 7 or 8 o'clock in the evening. The sidewalks, the widest not more than four feet broad, and for the most part raised two feet above the street, are very uneven owing to the numerous old palaces, ruins and houses with steps ascending or descending, as the case may be, to their entrances.
There are a few lamps in the street, quite as well made as our own street-lamps, which is not high praise, but gas is unknown, and the sickly kerosene flame only serves to make the shadows of the old ruins more drear and spectral. They who are obliged to be abroad after dusk usually carry small hand-lamps, and for the most part take the middle of the street.
The door of every Dominican house of any pretensions is of enormous size, resembling the gate of a large warehouse or barn,—fully as rude and strong. When the parlor is on the ground floor, which of course is always the case when the house is only one story high, the doors are open in the evening, and the family may be seen inside in a large room, sometimes fifty feet long and thirty or forty wide.
From this room or hall branch off smaller rooms in all directions, but instead of doors of wood or iron, rich curtains, or curtains of plain white muslin, and sometimes colored cloths, are used to separate one room from another. The floors are nearly all of tile or brick, which is cool and pleasant.
But at 9 o'clock all the doors are closed, and the city is silent and deserted. There is not even a barroom open—in fact there are only two that I know of in town. All the business they do is done in the morning, with the market men and women.
A few nights ago, about 10 o'clock, in company with a friend, I walked through the principal streets of the city in the pooras well as in the richer quarters, and we did not meet four persons in our long stroll. Here and there we heard the sound of a piano, and the hum and buzz of conversations; lights moved about inside the houses, but as a general thing, the whole people were in bed—a ghostly stillness hung over every thing.
Turning into one street, however, we heard the mingled sounds of a clarionet, a small drum, a fife and a violin, and our guide—a colored boy from Baltimore, who spoke English very well—told us that it was a ball. Fancy immediately painted glittering halls, filled with fair women and brave men, and we promised ourselves,—well, no matter what we promised.
A few moments and we were in front of the house—and old ruin, at one time an elegant mansion, but which now is cut up into four or five houses. The open door disclosed the ball-room and the gay dancers. A few kerosene lamps were fastened to the walls, and about a dozen colored men and women were dancing to the most melancholy music I ever heard. It was some sort of a waltz, so slow that the dancers almost crept along the floor without the least animation, enthusiasm, or, apparently, pleasure.
The room was rather small, and the twenty or thirty persons who were the participants in the festivities were more crowded that was either comfortable or convenient. They were all colored people, with here and there a Spanish face, all belonging to the poorer classes. A crowd of black boys, young lads of fourteen and sixteen, crowded around the door outside. In a corner of an adjoining room was a sort of refreshment saloon, where a filthy fellow sold rum and horrible-looking cakes and candies.
The men were pretty well dressed; the women wore white gowns of muslin, and—the only favorable thing I can say about it—there did not seem to be anything like vice or immorality. They were enjoying themselves in their own way, which, I am glad to say, is not our way.
I do not know how long the ball lasted, but I am told that parties of this character rarely break up before 2 or 3 o'clock in the morning.
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Explored and claimed by Christopher COLUMBUS on his first voyage in 1492, the island of Hispaniola became a springboard for Spanish conquest of the Caribbean and the American mainland.
In 1697, Spain recognized French dominion over the western third of the island, which in 1804 became Haiti. The remainder of the island, by then known as Santo Domingo, sought to gain its own independence in 1821, but was conquered and ruled by the Haitians for 22 years; it finally attained independence as the Dominican Republic in 1844.
In 1861, the Dominicans voluntarily returned to the Spanish Empire, but two years later they launched a war that restored independence in 1865. A legacy of unsettled, mostly non-representative rule followed, capped by the dictatorship of Rafael Leonidas TRUJILLO from 1930-61. Juan BOSCH was elected president in 1962, but was deposed in a military coup in 1963. In 1965, the United States led an intervention in the midst of a civil war sparked by an uprising to restore BOSCH.
In 1966, Joaquin BALAGUER defeated BOSCH in an election to become president. BALAGUER maintained a tight grip on power for most of the next 30 years when international reaction to flawed elections forced him to curtail his term in 1996. Since then, regular competitive elections have been held in which opposition candidates have won the presidency.
Former President (1996-2000) Leonel FERNANDEZ Reyna won election to a second term in 2004 following a constitutional amendment allowing presidents to serve more than one term.
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