At ten-thirty a.m. this Tuesday, April 22, actor Ivan Lopez—outfitted as Cuban poet and revolutionary José Martí in a black suit and a moustache grown for the occasion—paced beneath the trees overhanging the parking lot of the iconic Versailles Restaurant. His ride for the day, an Appaloosa named Samantha, stood nearby being groomed by her smiling owner. Soon a saddle pad bearing the legend O, Miami / José Martí was placed over Samantha’s back, followed by a saddle, and Lopez, now fully in character as José Martí, climbed onto Samantha’s back, transforming her into Martí’s famous white steed, Bacanao.
O, Miami founder P. Scott Cunningham—who kicked off a fundraiser for the project with the promise that if financial goals were met, he would personally follow behind and pick up the horse poop—stood at the ready with a plastic bag and shovel.
Sitting astride Bacanao, Martí led a procession of photographers and O, Miami supporters to Versailles Restaurant, where he dismounted, walked to the counter, and ordered a cafecito. While volunteers distributed white roses to Versailles customers (each stem had Marti’s “I Have a White Rose to Tend” tied to it with a ribbon) Martí finished his coffee, then remounted Bacanao and recited several poems from the Versailles parking lot.
At 11:45 a.m. with onlookers hanging out of car windows, and iPhones pointed at the iconic horse and rider, Martí and his white horse rode down Calle Ocho.
Flanked by people waving flowers and Cuban flags, they rode past the Tower Theater, and continued on to Maxim Gomez Park, where horse and rider entered the crowded “Domino Club” space, its tables all occupied by chess and domino players, and Martí recited several poems.
Poet and horse then exited the small space and regained Calle Ocho, skirted by their followers. A woman rushed over to one O, Miami volunteer, saying: “Thank you so much for doing this! I wish my daughter was here to see!”
P. Scott Cunningham trailed at the rear with his newly baptized shovel and a nearly full plastic bag. “They come out fast,” he said, wiping sweat from his brow. “They come in bunches.”
Martí led the procession onward, stopping to recite poems in front of an eternal flame commemorating the "Martyrs of Giron" (a reference to the botched Bay of Pigs invasion), a statue of the Virgin and Child, and a wall commemorating José Martí.
At this final destination he dismounted and shook the hand of every person present, flipping a carrier handle aside to gently kiss an infant in its bassinet. Seated alone on a bench was a white haired man with a cane. Martí approached and reached out his hand, and the man rose to a standing position. He and Martí hugged like brothers, and the man—visibly moved—patted Martí on the back.
Martí returned to the commemorative wall to have his picture taken, and, with that, his last ride came to an end.