To continue with my series of articles about the Red Rebels forgotten by history, here is the incredible story of Magdalena Menasse Rovenskaya. Her story is a bit of an exception. She was not exactly a Red rebel in the way that Louise Berger was, nor was she an acquaintance of Angelica Balabanoff*, as were Raya Duanevskaya and Bianca Tosconi-Pittoni, about whom I wrote in previous articles. Nonetheless, Magdalena’s life was a rare and impressive twist of fate between Russian and Cuban revolutions, which is worth recounting.
The only place which reminds people of Magdalena today is the Hotel La Rusa, across the Malecon River in the city of Baracoa in Cuba. She was born in 1911 in Liberia where her father, Alexander, worked for the Russian Government. A few years later, the family moved back to Russia. When the October Revolution broke out in 1917 her father was killed, but Magdalena and her mother escaped the Bolsheviks. Leaving behind the family fortune, they travelled to the Caucasus— as did many other refugees who hoped that the Revolution was a temporary event and that the Caucasus would provide a safe refuge for a few months or even 1 or 2 years, until the Tsarist army could gain back power. When in 1924 it became clear that the Bolsheviks would stay in power longer than expected, Magdalena and her mother went to Istanbul. There she met Albert Menasse, a diplomat, with whom she travelled to Java, Italy and France. They got married in Paris. Albert worked as a jeweler; ‘Mimi’ sang and danced in France, Italy and Spain. I tried to obtain more information about Mimi’s career in the Opéra de Paris; however, they did not have anyone listed under her name. So she might have used a different name. After Albert’s father died, the couple inherited a business in the Caribbean and visited Cuba. In love with Cuba, they decided to settle there. Albert opened a jewelry business, a bar and restaurant, and joined a Masonic Lodge, the Works of Orient, eventually becoming a Worshipful Master (senior officer). In 1953 the couple decided to open their own hotel, Miramar, later renamed La Rusa, after Magdalena. The hotel enjoyed the patronage of well-known guests like Errol Flynn, but mainly American soldiers and businessmen (and in the later years Ché and Fidel). When the revolution broke out in Cuba, Magdalena supported the revolution. She helped the rebels with money and medicine, knowing that if the revolution succeeded and her property was be nationalized, she would lose it, as she had her family fortune in Russia during the October Revolution. It is difficult to know what she really thought about it. She most likely lacked the strength to move to another country and start a new life. After the revolution, Mimi remained in the hotel as a manager. She passed away in September of 1978.
Today, the restaurant on the last floor of the hotel has turned into one of the most visited places by the local population thanks to its incredible view of the ocean.
Renowned Cuban writer Alejo Carpentier used his inspiration from the history of La Rusa for the creation of one of the characters of his novel entitled La Consagración de la Primavera, or The Consecration of Springtime.
To learn more about Angelica and the book, consult the page About Angelica.
Photo and information from http://www.baracoa.org/famous-people/la-rusa.html