"The patio was like an abbey cloister, with a stone fountain murmuring in the centre and pots of heliotrope that perfumed the house at dusk ..."
Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Love in the Time of Cholera.
Ever since reading Love in the Time of Cholera, the idea of a traditional Spanish patio has entranced me. An interior courtyard enclosed by galleries and arcades, sheltered and intimate: this is what drew me to the Palacio de los Capitanes Generales in Havana.
The word 'patio' conjures up an everyday part of most gardens these days, even the smallest ones. It has come to mean a hard surface, usually adjoining the house, where you can put tables and chairs. The traditional Spanish and Latin American patio is so much more romantic! It's a place of light and shade, of cool and sunshine, of shelter from swelter, bluster and squalls.
Imagine the pleasure of sitting on the edge of sunshine and shade, feeling the caress of both. Imagine peeking from beneath the shelter of the arcade and allowing drops of cool rain to fall on your face. Imagine inhaling the perfumes of flowering plants, heady and intensified by enclosure. Imagine the sense of secrecy, privacy and tranquility in the closeted garden.
We visited on a sultry day, shortly after a rare shower of rain. The sky pressed down. It was a joy to sit on the cool marble steps leading up to the galleries and listen to the bustle of activity on the Plaza de Armas outside. I felt as sticky as the humid air: we merged into one. Amongst the ferns and tropical greenery the King of the patio, a peacock, stood lazy with heat, the jewels in his feathers weighing him down. When, finally, he found the energy to move, he dragged his tail along the dusty ground, too oppressed to care if the silky threads got snagged and dirty.
In the centre of the patio is a statue of one of the city governors. I envied him a little: made of pure white marble, he is eternally cool even beneath a blazing sun.
For me it was all about the magic of the patio.