June 8, 2011
debs harvest
Southern Debutantes, 1951 (source)
Sugarcane Harvest, Cuba (source)


There is no better word to describe the American South, than ‘sweet’. Southern hospitality, the wedding cake lace of Southern Belles in their debutant finery, the birthplace of the worlds most popular sugary beverage, Coca-Cola, a region lauded for its many confectioneries, and the only climate inside of American borders tropical enough to support the growth of cane sugar.


There is, however, a duality to so much sweetness, all too familiar to anyone who suffers from a sweet tooth (chocolate cake, ice cream and glazed donuts are some of my favorite things). I use the term ‘suffer’, because the sensual experience of these types of confectioneries is all too fleeting. They linger on taste buds only as long as it takes to masticate, which is never long enough, only to disappear into the taste bud-less void of the gut, the concentrated saccharine flavor gone to waste (literally) at the end of the digestive cycle. The sweetness of the confectionery is soon replaced with the shrill whirring of the dental drill and the bitterness of pulverized teeth; rinse. Nevermind the endless hours of physical labor required to burn the extra calories ingested for such a short moment of pleasure.


Just as the sugary confection eventually dissolves into the pain of cavities and exercise, so do the comforts of the American South. The revered kindness towards strangers is found to be disingenuous, the Southern Belles are found to be sirens scouring life commitments, Coca-Cola, while delicious, is found to make us all fat (the world over), and the labor intensive Louisiana sugar cane plantations of the 1800s, which made possible the sugary desserts that were the hallmark of the region, were founded on forced labor.


E. Sean Bailey


The best known landmark in Cuba’s Valle de Los Ingenios (Valley of the Sugar Mills) is the Iznaga Tower, located on the estate of Manaca Iznaga. Built by rich colonizers exploiting a once booming sugar industry, the Tower was once the tallest building on all of the island, with its height designed to enable surveillance over the plantation below. Its tiers are equipped with bells which ring in various arrangements to indicate the schedule of a workday, to warn of slave uprisings, escaped slaves and even pirate invasions.


Currently, the building operates as a living museum, ensuring that the local history is not lost. The Tower and its associated factories have become symbols of the surrounding region, their images proliferated through various media aimed at tourists including pamphlets, postcards, keepsakes and even the welcome sign into the nearby city of Trinidad (an urban testament to the wealth of the sugar trade).


While architectural icons are often associated with a measure of celebrity and, in turn, are often objects of celebration, these buildings have historically dark underpinnings which situate their fame in a somewhat perverse territory.


Erandi de Silva





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