Aug 10, 2016

Dr. Antonio Martinez, Polymath

A polymath is someone who knows a lot about, and is very good at, many different things. My grand uncle Dr. Antonio Ricardo Martínez y Martínez (1905 – 1982) was certainly a polymath. He was — at times simultaneously — a lawyer, professor, philosopher, historian, archaeologist, psychoanalyst, lecturer, musicologist, Roman Catholic Deacon, photographer, writer, poet, freethinker, modernist, and patron of the arts.

Antonio Ricardo Martínez y Martínez
~ 1945
He ranks in the Maryland Prats Generation Zero, the brother of Mariana's father, Ventura Martinez and in Camaguey he resided at No. 208 Republica Street with Ventura and Elia and their children and the Martínez spinster aunts. He was a life-long bachelor (more about that later).

In Maryland he lived with the Prats, with the Lopez, and in retirement at the Waverly House in Bethesda. He lived in Puerto Rico with the Mestas while he taught Spanish to Peace Corp workers as he segued into retirement; and earlier in Frederick Maryland when he taught Spanish and Spanish literature at Hood College; and in Bridgewater Virginia when he taught Spanish and Spanish Literature at Bridgewater College. My first long-distance trip in my new Mercury Capri in 1973 was to Virginia to fetch him from Bridgewater at the end of the term.

1922 Diploma — 
Bachelor of Arts and Science
A relation of ours on the Martinez side of the family, Roberto Méndez Martínez, a Cuban historian who lives in Havana, wrote a short biography of Antonio Martinez that he read at the Second National History Conference, held at El Cobre, Santiago de Cuba in 1998. Here is my English translation:
Antonio Ricardo Martinez y Martinez was born June 9th, 1905, at 109 Villegas Street, Havana. His father, Joaquin Ventura Martínez Días, was of the Jaruco Martínezes and the infant was the grand nephew of Felicitas Martínez Elizarán, the mother of Mariana Lola [Alvarez]. Felicitas and her husband, Nicasio, were the godparents at his baptism, which was held at the Santo Cristo parish.
1926 Diploma — Doctor of Civil Law
 One or two months after his birth, his family moved to Camagüey, where the small one would begin his studies, first in the Cristina Xiques’ kindergarten, and then at the primary school called El Lugareño. He continued his education at two institutions of note: First at the San Agustín School, where he was the pupil of its founder, Narciso Monreal—honest and upright—a true Cuban native who created an institution where civic spirit was joined with a well-oriented Catholicism. The second was the Garay Academy, where he prepared for admission to university. The Garay Academy was run by Graciliano Garay, a man of the black race—proper, cultured, progressive—shaper of a number of generations. His prestige was such that even during periods of the most shameful racism no one would have stopped Don Graciliano at the door of even the most exclusive club; the entire city understood that they owed him something. In these institutions Antonio was steeped in tolerance, a wide range of interests, forthright speech, and a modern forward-looking spirit that became his character—virtues that were not always conferred in certain religious institutes of the day that were marked by a certain backwards-looking conservatism whose imprint can still be found in certain minds today.
1926 Diploma — Doctor of Public Law
 His pleasant nature belied the ample pain he experienced: On November 1st, 1914—when he was only nine years old—his mother died and four years later, his father. The adolescent was left in the charge of his paternal aunt, Mercedes Martinez Días. She apparently mothered him well, because no more than 40 days after he lost his father, he sat for and passed the Secondary Education entrance test given at the Camaguey Provincial Institute. Later that year on the Feast of Our Lady of Charity, he began his studies at the Belen Jesuit College in Havana. There he began a rapid intellectual maturity, which permitted him later to pursue at the University of Havana Civil and Public Law Degrees, as well as a Doctor of Arts in Philosophy.
1934 Diploma — Doctor of Arts and Philosophy
One should not assume that this young man would be one of those withdrawn persons that take refuge in studies for fear of the world. To the contrary, it was easy for him to make friends, especially with other inquisitive persons, whether their areas of inquisitiveness matched his or not. He could relate equally with the promoter and essayist Jose Maria Chacon y Calvo as with the poet, playwright and archeologist Felipe Pichardo Moya who dedicated one of his compositions to him. Antonio assisted him in Indo-Cuban archeological excavations at Limones and other areas in the south of Camaguey province. He also befriended the modernist-expressionist painter Carlos Enriquez (1901-1957), the tormented alcoholic, who left many of his works of art at the Martinez residence at 57 Republica Street. It was not out of the ordinary to see the artist roam about the house with a half-empty bottle of rum, painting in odd corners of the colonial mansion or in the typical Camagueyan central courtyard garden, without this odd activity scandalizing the legion of spinster aunts that lived there.
This painting hung in the corredor
24x30 inch 1949 oil on canvas
“Funerales de Papá Montero”
by Mario Carreño
A mayor collection of Cuban art grew in this house. The walls were covered top-to-bottom with works by Landaluce, Chartrand, Melero, [Romañach,] Victor Manuel, Ponce, Amella Pelaez, Lam and many others; some more noteworthy than others. Then there were the archaeological pieces, antiques, an extensive 78 RPM record collection, and a wonderful library. Today, 50 years later, his collections have reached mythical proportions in the recollections of older Camagueyans.
The sala at the Republica house
Works of art and objets d'art were in all the rooms.
This is his nephew Juan Antonio Martínez.
Through the doorway is Antonio’s library.
His intellectual curiosity was inexhaustible. He traveled to 27 countries in Europe and America but not as a common tourist. He would speak with the same enthusiasm of an opera he saw in New York as of a play in Paris by the celebrated Spanish actress and popular singer Raquel Meller. He returned with curious antiques from many places and was one of the first in Cuba to travel to Haiti to acquire primitive paintings from that country when they were virtually unknown among the great collectors.
1948 Award — Knights of Columbus chapter founder
ten years earlier
 In his understanding, there was no conflict between faith and science. He knew to give each their place. He was a frequent collaborator with the exceptional parish priest Monsignor Miguel Becerril in his pastoral obligations; was a distinguished Knight of Columbus; spent time on the lecture circuit. None of this impeded his interest in—and self-education of—psychoanalysis. He opened the first consulting room in Camaguey, with its Freudian divan that worried a number of timid souls. There he mastered the use of certain tests like the Rorschach and the Thematic Apperception Test when these were just arriving in Havana. His incursions in the profundities of the unconscious never weakened his militant faith. He was consulted by many priests, seminarians and bishops as the most trustworthy psychologist to see when discerning a vocation or during a crisis of conscience.
 Considering his being a person with a tendency towards obesity; a calm, unhurried person and friend of a well-laid table—in spite of his diabetes he maintained at bay—his sense of discipline permitted him to achieve many disparate things. He was professor at the Guardian Angel School through the recommendation of his close relative Mariana Lola, and followed by decades as chair of the Logics and Psychology department at the Secondary Education Institute in Camaguey, [today the University of Camaguey].
Institute for Secondary Education, Camaguey, Cuba

It was this last institution—the highest from the point of view of the educational profession in the area with a council of professors that with some exceptions was extremely prestigious—that Antonio made many friends. But he maintained himself true regarding discussions of faith in a time when religion was believed to be the domain of women and persons of “limited culture.” Therefore it is not surprising when around 1937, in the midst of the agitation for structural changes that Cuba was suffering through, and in the midst of revolutionary restlessness not yet extinguished, the historian
Emilio Roig de Leuchsenring
Emilio Roig de Leuchsenring was invited to hold a conference in the Main Lecture Hall at the Institute where the eminent historian attacked the Church and its clergy simply to score points. Antonio and a group of catholic professors published a protest against his statements in the daily newspaper 
El Camagueyano together with respected laypeople like Dr. Manuel Beyra, the sisters Angela and Margarita Perez de la Lama, and Elisa Arango. Other freethinker professors who were against any restrictions on speech responded to their opinion piece, among them Dr. Luis Martinez, the brothers Aguero Ferrin, and others. Both documents were very respectful and behind the crossed swords the controversy died, since both sides were friends and nothing ever disturbed their picnics, excursions and get-togethers.
Dr. Martínez at a lecture
~ 1955.
Seated: Dr. Benito Prats; Mons. Riu Anglés, Bishop of
Camagüey; Fernando Rivero, Diocesan Deacon; 
and Flor de Maria Sarduy de Rivero
City institutions like the old Liceo, the Camaguey Tennis Club, and the Lyceum had hosted Antonio as invited lecturer, where he spoke about subjects like psychology, archaeology, geography, and art. He supported theater groups that arose, the activities of the Concerts Society, the foundation of the Camaguey Museum, and many other initiatives that were drying up the city’s secular drowsiness.
Antonio Martínez in 1964
 After the success of [Castro’s] revolution in 1959, this maestro continued to feel himself useful. He worked on the educational reform initiatives, convinced changes were needed to establish a new Cuban school model. But circumstances took a different turn. In spite of his dialogistic talents, the new authorities at the Institute did not like the Catholic, learned, erudite and mature professor. He could have left, but nothing was more foreign to him than being left on the sidelines. He preferred, since he was tenured, to continue working in the same office of the same establishment, where he continued to receive the respect of most.
Mons. Adolfo Rodriguez
In 1963 he became the
then youngest bishop of the
Roman Catholic Church. In 1998
he became Archbishop of Camagüey.
He died in 2008.
In the most disturbing moments of our Church, Antonio’s actions were heroic. He protected priests. In his house he preserved what became the only reserve of the Consecrated Host in the city for many weeks in an improvised chapel where visitors could secretly visit to pray and receive communion. He served as Deacon [in the Church] in our pre-conciliation world when holding such a post could not be dreamed of. During the sad days of the infamous UMAP (Military Units to Help Production), his residence became a center for the collection of assistance for people from throughout the Island that were incarcerated, whom he visited with other laypeople. He was a close councilor to the young Bishop Adolfo Rodriguez, and was the person who designed his Episcopal coat-of-arms, for which he had to urgently study heraldic law. He dedicated himself to the study and propagation of the Second Vatican Council documents, to whose reforms he gave his sincere and convincing support. He collaborated first with the leaders of Catholic Action (a charitable organization) and later in the preparation of the Organized Secular Apostolate (a diocese lay group). He may not have had a lecture room, but he continued teaching.
Antonio Martinez in retirement
In retirement as he did all his life, he put on
suit and tie every day without exception.
Finally, one of those conflicts that his psychological knowledge could not mitigate presented itself. His elderly aunts had passed away, his brother, nieces and nephews had decided to abandon the country. Should he stay, now older and in delicate health, alone in that large house? With a heavy heart he went into exile March 18, 1966. He resided in Puerto Rico and Maryland. He was Professor of Spanish in Hood College and at Bridgewater College. But he never managed to adapt himself to that other country, where he died of a stroke August 25, 1982.
Roberto Méndez touches on Antonio’s diabetes. His mother died of it when he was nine. Antonio was diagnosed with what is now called Type 1 diabetes as a young child and in those days before insulin was discovered, it could only be controlled by diet. When purified animal-source insulin became available in the 1920s he had (and traveled with) a tiny alcohol-powered autoclave to sterilize his syringes, a practice he continued when synthetic insulin became available and and after he moved to the U.S. His diabetes never slowed him down.

In his 30s, Antonio fell in love with an intelligent and lovely woman and, after a proper courting, he presented her with a ring and proposed. She accepted. His sister-in-law Elia Rodriguez could not have been happier: the house at No. 208 Republica Street was in Antonio’s name, and she and Ventura and their children would have to move out if he got married. In her own house Elia could finally decide what was going to be served at dinner and make all the decisions the lady of the house was supposed to make. The spinster aunts that were in charge of the household at No. 208 never relinquished their control to the new bride and it chafed. Even the monogrammed bath towels they had gotten as wedding presents were not allowed to be used!

But it was not to be. What with loosing his mother at a tender age and his diabetes, he had always been spoiled by his aunts and by Concha Noriega, his nursemaid and surrogate mother, now cook and head housekeeper. As his fiance learned more about Antonio’s non-negotiable requirements, and his aunts’ meddling ways, she wavered. “It was the socks” — “por unas medias” — family lore tells, that broke the camel’s back. When she was counseled on how Antonio socks were to be folded and tucked into each other, she broke off the engagement on the pretense that her family was moving to Havana and she did not want to be away from them. By all accounts that was his only brush with love, and a life-long bachelor he would stay.

 As Roberto Méndez concluded, Antonio did not fully adapt himself to his country of exile. He was in his 60s when he emigrated to the United States, so that did not help, and he was used to being excellent at everything he did. He did not consider himself an expert in the English language, and he therefore shied away from interacting with his peers in this country, perhaps in fear of being at a disadvantage in a learned argument. But he was otherwise content with his new lot in life and made the most of it in the salons (now held in modest living rooms) of other Cuban exiles in the Washington Metropolitan Area, especially with his dear friends from Camaguey, Chalon and Isabelita Rodriguez then living in Falls Church, Virginia, with whom he had many interests in common. 

Antonio and his niece Ofelia
He arrived in the United States in the midst of the so-called sexual revolution and was not all that pleased with what he heard, read, and saw. I have a draft of a short speech he was going to give at his brother’s 50th wedding anniversary celebration. Using Ventura’s and Elia’s marriage as an example of faithful, proper and Catholic matrimony, he contrasted it with the evil of what he thought was the new normal in sexual relations that had the older generation up in arms in this country at the time. He should have simply stopped after detailing and praising their exemplary marriage and he would have had the room in tears of pride.  In full it read like the classic generational-divide divisive lecture that was de rigueur in the 1960s and ’70s and would have been a major downer at the party had it been read. But wiser heads prevailed — or perhaps he changed his mind — and Antonio did not read it. A great time was had by all, young and old, in the cafeteria at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic School in Bethesda that afternoon and evening in 1975.

The older Maryland Prats from Generation Two and their cousins remember Antonio Martínez holding court in the corredor — the large open-air room overlooking the central courtyard — at No. 208 Republica Street, cigarette in hand. If you were young enough the highlight of visiting was sitting on his lap and begging him to let the ash on his cigarette get longer and longer to see if it would fall off. It would not and eventually he would flick the cigarette to deposit the ash in your hand as your mother or grandmother complained weakly, and you would grin as you examined your palm and then dropped the ash into the floor-stand ash tray, feeling like you got away with doing something wrong in sight of your parents who rushed to wipe your hand clean before you had a chance to wipe it on your starched clothes.

Antonio Martínez holding court in the easy chair
Fast-forward to Maryland and Antonio would hold court in an easy chair in the living room of whatever house he was living in, Arlington Road or Camelot Street. I visited him in Santurce, Puerto Rico, when he lived with the Mestas and his seat was the center of the conversational area there too.

It was in Santurce that I was surprised when he agreed with something the Castro government had done. To Cuban exiles, any change the Cuban government did was automatically wrong, bad, or worse. News had arrived that Cuba's six provinces, their boundaries dating from colonial times, had been split into fifteen. “It's about time,” he exclaimed, and proceeded to explain why this was an excellent idea.

Tio Toto, the name his nieces, nephews and grands called him, was a great listener and generous with advice when asked. The breadth of his knowledge was constantly surprising. What I most remember is how he genuinely wanted to know what you — to the rest of the adults just another insignificant child — what you were doing and thinking and planning and dreaming. No advice was proffered unless you asked. And it wasn’t just with me because he was my godfather. I saw this interaction with my brothers, sisters, and cousins and anyone else who engaged him.

And one sunny May afternoon in 1973 at Bridgewater College in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, on the quad right after the graduation ceremony, I pulled up after a four hour drive from Maryland and found Professor Antonio Martínez in his cap and gown, being greeted by his gowned students who you could see genuinely loved their Spanish professor. He knew them all  by name and nickname, conversing with them and their parents in what I thought was perfect, if accented, English.

Professor Martinez and a student, graduation day 
May 31, 1970, Bridgewater College
Photo courtesy Raymond Andes Photograph Collection, 
Bridgewater College Special Collections

Dr. Antonio R. Martinez
Professor of Spanish 1967-1973, Bridgewater College
Yearbook photo in Ripples, 1972,
Bridgewater College Special Collections

Dr. Martinez at Bridgewater College
Photos from Bridgewater College Special Collections

Yearbook photo
in Ripples, 1968,
Bridgewater College
Special Collections
He was always a good sport.
Spanish Professor Dr. Martinez, French Professor Dr. Huong
with Virginia Andes, wife of Professor Raymond Andes
at the Mexican Fiesta sponsored by the Languages Department
Photo courtesy Raymond Andes Photograph Collection, 
Bridgewater College Special Collections