Sunday, March 15, 2009

Caridad de Baldor

In September 2006, a formerly young Havana gent - formerly young, formerly from Havana - published a post about his school, a place which had much meaning in his life, then and now - Colegio Academia Baldor. One of the things written therein expressed not just nostalgia, but much regret...

"My buddies and I started at something equivalent to a Kindergarten level - 'Pre-Primario B,' as defined by the school administration, but more challenging than Kindergarten. Call it preparation for First grade, if you like. The classes were subdivided into groups, A, B, C, D, and so on, depending on how many 'lil students were registered. Our teacher - whom we loved - my friend Carlos B admitting recently he 'had a big crush on her' was Mrs. Caridad Lobato. Many years ago she popped into mom and dad's pharmacy, in Miami, and left a phone number, asking that yours truly contact her...did I do so? Of course, being an obnoxious teenager or too-busy young man then, the answer is - NO. To my shame! And then the phone number was lost...and now, of course, 'we,' meaning the four of us who have reconnected from Pre-Primario B and who were fortunate to have her as our teacher and mentor are desperately looking for her.

Moral of the story: When your beloved teacher comes calling, call your teacher!

And if anyone who reads this can help with this quest, we will be forever grateful."

Well! There is much joy in being able to report that we now are indeed forever grateful! For our much-loved Caridad Lobato Meunier has been found, and she was literally under our noses! And for this we are forever grateful to Joaquin P. Pujol, former Baldor Academy student, whose comment to the post on Baldor of September 2006 reads thus:

"You mention a former teacher of you at Baldor. She now lives in Miami and her address is

Caridad Lobato Meunier
(Address and phone not shown for privacy reasons)
I tought you may want to get in touch with her
Joaquin P. Pujol"

Did we ever want to get in touch with her, Mr. Pujol! If you read this, Profesora Lobato's "kids" profusely and with gratitude thank you for letting us know her whereabouts.

When the blogger emailed his Band of Baldor Brothers with the news, a joy-filled response from Carlos Bidot, who confessed to having "a big crush on her" back then, included a caveat, which went something like this: "Everybody hold off contacting her...I must be the first to do so!" And of course we honored brother Bidot's wishes. He both dutifully and duly contacted our teacher, and then reported back to his friend Quiroga: "She is very happy to hear from us - I'm gonna get us all together at my place. You must call her, as she remembers you well."

"She remembers you well..." I was honored! Must have done something right in her class and not been much of an annoyance, as most 5-6 year-olds can be. Sometimes annoying ways can be the hallmark of the 55+ set as well. This time, the former student did not fail in his duty and he called his beloved teacher; after a very pleasant conversation during which the meeting date and venue were confirmed, the student could not help but be impressed by his teacher's power of recollection and clear-as-a-bell mind.

Maybe she remembers the writer well because he was probably the shortest one in her class and she had to gingerly watch her step lest she accidentally step on him...

And so, after much anticipation and preparation, the students and their teacher experienced a wonderful reunion, indeed a love fest, on Saturday the 7th of February...over five decades after we had experienced the warmth, comfort, and love of Caridad Lobato Meunier's teaching in her "Preprimario B" class.

This is how she remembered us then - one only wishes the image was as clear and bright as her mind still is...

Baldor Academy Yearbook - 1955-1956 school year

Perhaps she remembered the blogger-to-be as this little pint-sized student, hauling his briefcase into her class - no "backpacks" back then...you carried what today might be considered a small suitcase, full of books, writing paper, pencils, erasers, pencil sharpeners and other tools of the learning trade...

...as he waited to get a ride to school in September 1955, aboard his dad's nifty '55 Chevy BelAir, accompanied by his aunt Dolores Granja, another much-loved woman in his life - another mother, really. Truly and painfully missed, aunt "Loli," as the little boy and his sister used to call her, is and will be until the day of our joyful Reunion; only God knows the day. His dad, no doubt seeing the "Kodak Moment" of his little boy off to his first day of school in Baldor, took his Kodak and recorded aforesaid moment in front of the apartment building where we then lived - Number 1303, Calle 42 - yes, 42nd Street, but not New York's - Miramar neighborhood, Havana.

No doubt she remembers her smart boys thusly - am speaking of my Baldor brother-friends Carlos Bidot and Carlos Cueto, proudly standing in the yearbook graphic with their medals earned for academic excellence - they were the "math whizzes," envied by their friend "Quiroguita" for that skill, in which he was lacking.


True, this was First Grade, a year after we were blessed to be in Caridad's class, but physical appearances were very much the same; she laid the groundwork for the pair's academic achievement - indeed, for all her "Pre-primario" boys' progress, including the writer's.

And this is how we remembered her, as she appeared in the 1956-1957 school yearbook...by then, we were first graders at Baldor.


Looking at that page in the yearbook, the blogger was reminded of another fellow blogger and indeed, Baldor Brother - for as far as this writer is concerned, all of us who shared the Baldor experience whether from the Class of '32 or the Class of '61 can be said to be one huge family of Baldor-eans, brothers and sisters all. The writer is speaking of Patricio Texidor, who with his twin brother Roberto is featured on the page, graced by Dra. Lobato. If you pay attention, you'll note Patricio's blog is linked to this one. A good one it is - you should take a look at Texidor Blog.

Havana Blogger had the good fortune to meet fellow Baldor Brother Patricio at Cuba Nostalgia in Miami, back in May, 2006...


Another Baldor student done good! Grammatically correct that statement may not be, but it is just a way to convey the feeling - the writer cannot help but think Caridad Lobato Meunier had something to do with that success. One wonders if Patricio remembers her as well as we do; perhaps the page from the yearbook helps recover treasured memories.

And in our group, in that year before first grade when we met our wonderful teacher, also were present Warren and Willie, who 53-54 years later once again reconnected with their classroom mother - "classroom mother?" - you wonder if that is not carrying it too far but...no...because that is who our teachers at that tender age stand for - our parents; our mothers and fathers away from home - in loco parentis.

This is how Caridad would have recognized them, were we able to miraculously reverse the Hands of Time and go back to 1955-1956...


Warren appears in the bottom image, first row, first on the left - your left, reader. The Holy Mass and Communion were held at San Juan de Letran church, 11th of May 1957. In poring over the pages in the yearbook, Baldor blogger, who himself did not make his first Communion that year - it would not be until May 1958 - noticed friend Wilfredo - "Willie," as we affectionately know him now - was absent from the lineups. Nevertheless, we did not want to leave Willie out of the picture, so here he is, as Caridad Lobato recalled him...in the days when, like the writer, he had copious hair.

The image is not very clear; apologies to the readership - it is a "photo of a photo," done in the best ad hoc state of the art technique; he was not taking Communion at the time but was present at a family baptism. And, wouldn't you know it? Of our group he is the true poet, as you shall see and indeed hear before you finish reading this post.

Throughout the afternoon, we engaged in pleasant conversation and exchanged reminiscences of our student and city life with our teacher, who also became acquainted with the spouses and children of her "kids."


And one could tell she much enjoyed reminiscing and re-telling, bringing back her memories of a long-ago time which yet seemed just like yesterday, as is clear from her focused conversation with her former pupil Carlos Cueto. We asked her many questions, and she kindly opened her Memory Vault, sharing anecdotes and facts from those days with us.

"So, Profesora - where did you live in Havana?" "It was on 25th Avenue, between N and O Streets." That was the first of many queries - so we'll summarize the rest and let her tell her story.

"I liked working at Baldor; the students were well-disciplined, the teachers well-treated, respected, and appreciated by the school administration. Good teachers received public recognition from the school administration. My salary was $115 monthly in the mid-fifties, and that was considered good pay at the time. My teaching career began in the late '40s - 1947 in fact; I was working in the town of Bauta. Later I was hired by Baldor, and taught there until 1961, when the school was taken over by the revolutionary government and closed. Fortunately, I was not there the day they swept down on the school and, therefore, did not witness the sad end of Baldor Academy.

The Baldors were good to me; in fact, Aurelio Baldor was one of the witnesses at my wedding to Carlos Meunier in 1950. I knew the Baldor family; Aurelio's brother Daniel was principal or director of Belen School in Havana; then there was Carmen Baldor, and Jesus, who ran the Baldor girls' boarding school."


Aurelio Baldor, Director - Baldor Academy; from the 1956-1957 yearbook

Well, as it turns out, this bloggin' Baldor boy got to know a few Baldors himself...not bragging, just glad to have made their acquaintance. One was - IS - my cousin; by marriage that is, to a blood cousin - Azucena is her name, daughter of Jesus Baldor, but our family and her friends call her "Susi."


Can you find a Fifth Grader we will call "Singing Susi" in this page of the yearbook? If you find the Lily, you find Azucena. One hopes Susi will not mind this flowery play on words and names - assuming she reads this, that is...

Now, back to Caridad. "After some false starts, my husband and I finally left Cuba December 5, 1966. First, we went to Spain and spent five months there - I worked in a factory making women's purses in Madrid. When we left Spain, we traveled to Portland, Oregon and stayed with my sister and her children until eventually we made our way to Miami."

We asked her to tell us a little bit about her husband. "We were very close, perhaps because we never had children, unlike my sister who had six. He was born in Belgium. As a young man, he traveled to Cuba, liked what he saw, and decided to stay. He was a musician and founded a cuartet, 'Los Bucaneros;' they made TV appearances, in variety shows such as Casino De La Alegria and Jueves De Partagas.


This was in the late '50s. Unfortunately, 'Los Bucaneros' did not last very long - castro came and...well, we know what happened; it was all over by 1961."

The DVD case title image is from Cubacollectibles.com - this is not an ad for Cubacollectibles; however, should curiosity get the better of you, order the video and watch the 1954 debut of Jueves De Partagas. Unfortunately, 'Los Bucaneros' are not featured; this was before their time. Since we are speaking about schools, teachers, and learning new facts here, time for a quiz: Who is the actress holding the Jueves De Partagas sign?

"After we arrived in the United States, eventually my husband went to work at Les Violins Supper Club in Miami, on Biscayne Boulevard. He was one of the 'Singing Waiters.'" If anyone reading remembers spending a nice evening at Les Violins from the '60s through the '80s, you may have seen Mr. Meunier perform. The writer was fortunate to enjoy several such evenings at Les Violins, but regretfully neither idea nor recollection which of the Singing Waiters was Mrs. Lobato's Other Half. No doubt the oblivious young blogger enjoyed his performances. This was a fun place; unfortunately the club closed down about 15 years ago.


Cover-souvenir photo holder - Les Violins Supper Club, 1966 - courtesy Nick and Teresa Quiroga

"I guess because we had no children of our own, my husband and I were very close." Compenetrados is the word she used. "I miss him much." Profesora, we cannot come close to replacing Mr. Meunier in your heart...but beg to differ on the children part...you do have them; your Preprimario B Kids are here for you.

"And what did you do after settling in Florida, querida profesora,?" the "kids" asked. And she graciously shared that experience with her attentive audience.

"I taught public school in Miami for twenty years, from 1972 to 1992 and retired from the Dade County Public School system. I spent fourteen years in Miami Shores Elementary and then my last six teaching in Sweetwater Elementary." "Sweet!," thinks her former Baldor student-cum-blogger; she returned to the profession so clearly loved.

Perhaps one or more of her former students from these schools who remember her as fondly as we do will read this and "drop in" to send a warm greeting to his or her teacher Caridad.

The reminiscing, story-and-anecdote telling continued; we remembered when she taught us-reading, for example...


From little readers, for little readers; thanks to our dear classmate Willie Hernandez, you get a small glimpse into our classroom day, when in Baldor, and throughout Cuba, First Graders would read and recite from this small book. "El Nuevo Lector Cubano," reads the title - "The New Cuban Reader;" indeed created for new and upcoming little Cuban lectores in those Fifties days. The lectores now in their fifties, together with their teacher, wistfully remembered those nostalgic times when they took their first tentative steps into the world of the printed word.


What memories were elicited, one wonders, as she paged through the little treasure Willie had conjured up for this occassion? No doubt happy ones, as evidenced by the frequent, easy and radiant smiles constantly written on her face as the evening wore on.

One memory she shared with us, about our first steps taken to acquire essential reading skills. "You may not remember," she said, "but we also used a reading book titled Elena y Danny." Elena y Danny, blogger tried recalling - then it hit him! "Profesora," asked her former student, "was there not a dog in the stories, their dog, named Sultàn?" "I believe so," she nodded. Then from the vault of blogger's memory, a memorable sentence, a command to Sultàn really, which somehow he still recalls, welled up: "Salta, Sultàn, salta!" "Jump Sultan, jump!" Or as this would have been expressed in the popular Dick and Jane reading series in the USA - "Jump, Spot, jump!"

And as the evening inevitably and irresistibly moved on, we spoke nostalgically about our beloved school, the source of our common, undissolvable bonds, our raison d'etre - the reason for our being together this unforgettable day. Then our friend, brother, and classmate - interchangeable terms, all - brought out some images, captured fragments of light enlightening us and helping in the reminiscence, recollecting, remembering, with the joy and the pain inherent in those acts of remembrance. "Recordar es vivir." "To remember is to live again;" to live the joy and also the pain of our childhood.



By April 2001, when these photographs were taken by Carlos, the name "Baldor" was no more, at least when it came to the physical location of Academia Baldor. The school had been re-named by the "revolutionary educators" after some minor entity in the pseudo-pantheon of the castro-cult. Somehow, the rusting bars give the place the appearance of a prison...a prison of the mind, no doubt. The middle image would be familiar to Baldor students - the main building with the marble stairs; the building where many of us in the elementary grades had our classrooms and where we dutifully assembled in the mornings for our orderly entrances into class.

The bust of Jose Marti still stands across from the same steps; somehow Carlos created an eerie, ghostly image of Marti...the ghost of Cuba's greatest patriot may perhaps wander the grounds and wonder how evil men could misappropriate his thoughts, his ideas, and pervert them in the pursuit of tyrannical control and for poisoning the minds of innocent children as well. "A school is an anvil for souls," reads the inscription beneath the bust. Except that, school in Cuba has become an anvil for hammering free souls into the oppressive mold crafted by the madman headmaster; the ideals and ideas of teachers like Caridad Lobato betrayed by a man - if he can be called that - who himself was blessed by a good, and religious, education in Belen School, under the Jesuits; alas, he did not learn from Jesus, but from satan...


Carlos' camera recorded yet more Marti aphorisms recorded on the walls of our school; these were already up when our little band was brought together in 1955; much meaning in few words, words regretfully unheeded by those who should have taken them to heart. One is not speaking of the girls and boys, men and women, of Baldor here - the writer's experience is that the vast majority of Baldor-eans he has known indeed have walked the talk expressed in these few words.

Let the former Pre-Primario B student translate, albeit poorly, from top to bottom. Perhaps if Caridad reads this, she will graciously grade her student - as she once did; he will accept said grading gracefully and gratefully.

"Who says educate, is saying love"

"Children are the ones who know how to love"

"Children are the hope of the world"

Beautiful, pithy statements...centered around children and love...as exemplified by the example of our loving teacher Caridad Lobato, one who practiced what Marti preached, on the grounds of Baldor Academy.

Perhaps this should now be engraved on the same walls, as a warning to those who have turned these great thoughts upside down in the pursuit of power for power's sake...

"If anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a large millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea." This, as Jesus Himself so succintly put it, is recorded in Mark 9:42 - for those who wish to be reminded; you will not read this in the turgid pages of Das Kapital, Mein Kampf, Granma, or other such delusional drivel which is crammed down the throats of helpless, regime-compliant students in Cuba's mind-prisons masquerading as schools, in other unfortunate places, in other times too.

Perhaps none of us will live to see this - certainly, as Caridad herself said, "I do not expect to live long enough to see Cuba again" - but we hope and pray someday a new generation of Cuban children will attend a newly-risen - from the ashes of the revolutionary "educational" trash-heap - Baldor Academy, as we remember it to this day...


...the memories of time and place evoked by this page from the 1956-1957 yearbook.

"At least," as our profesora had previously mentioned, "I was blessed in that, when Baldor was taken over or intervened, which was the term then used by the authorities, in April 1961, I was not there to witness that tragic event." Blessed too was the blogger and former student, by then having been exiled with his parents and sister, for almost six months, at that time attending Riverside Elementary School in Miami, Florida - where he felt much like a fish out of water, yet still harboring hope he would once again re-unite with his beloved buddies from Baldor; unbeknownst to him, said reunification would not take place for over 40 years! But take place it did - and he sees it, and will regard it for eternity, as another personal victory against fidel and his minions. It is our victory, brothers, sisters, profesores y profesoras de Baldor - to have escaped the claws of the beast, now prostrate and impotent as his miserable life ebbs away.

Time kept flying by as the conversation and good cheer both flowed, as if we had seen each other just yesterday, in class. We were hungry and thirsty, not only for beautiful and bountiful memories, conversation and camaraderie, but also for food and drink. "Man does not live by bread alone," but let us remember that companion and companionship come from the Latin cum panis - "with bread," referring to those we break bread with, in fellowship and with affection. So the Baldor companions made sure la profesora did not go hungry or thirsty.


Mrs. Bidot, ever the gracious hostess, made sure our teacher did not go thirsty, pouring her a refreshing, classic drink, as friend Cueto watched, possibly thinking of adding some fine Bacardi rum to his Coke. The blogger-photographer certainly thought this would be a fine thirst-quencher to pour for himself, but he had other assigned duties to fulfill.

La profesora was getting hungry, and so were the rest of the attendees; not to worry - good old American Entrepeneurship, taken to heart by Caridad's students, to the rescue!


Our quasi-official photographer Carlos Cueto's camera captured the debut of the Baldor Brothers' Barbecue Stand! Franchises available? Sorry, no...this is a labor of love, and too many cooks spoil the kitchen. Master Chef and host Carlos Bidot, more or less assisted by his apprentice Igor, oops - Freudian Slip - Albert - ensured no one starved, especially Caridad, who had already been exposed to a restricted diet courtesy fidel's hell-kitchen for several years.

Emerils or Bobby Flays we may not be, but no one beefed about the vittles!

The reminiscing and anecdote-telling continued; time seemed to have stood still, after all...we felt as if we were back in Pre-Primario B in 1955. Profesora Lobato was enjoying her "kids" once again.


Willie posed with our teacher, his shirt pridefully pinned with one of the medals Baldor would award students for excelling in different fields of scholastic endeavor, and for demonstrating good character and study habits as well.




This is the medal Willie wore, a beautiful gift which each of us in our Beloved Band received from our absent classmate Nelson, a bit more than a year ago. This award Baldor students would have received for "Aplicación," literally "Application," but more accurately translated as "Scholarship."

Some of the "brainiacs" in the group - not counting the Baldor blogger-boy - who sometimes unconsciously whistles the Scarecrow's song from The Wizard of Oz - "If I Only Had a Brain!," found ourselves suitably decorated by the end of the school year, when awards and medals were handed during special ceremonies. A young man could be weighed down by all that medal metal, but this did not seem to faze our class brother Bidot when he proudly posed with his in 1956.



You wonder where all this decoration, achievement, and medal talk is leading to...remember earlier it was said we were reminiscing and telling anecdotes, laughing about amusing classroom moments and such. Well, the subject of Willie's Scholarship medal gives us the opportunity to relate one of these amusing, indeed funny, stories. Willie won't mind; he is kind and possessed with a good sense of humor - which you need when you hang around us!

Here is Willie's Baldor report card - we informally referred to them as "boletines" - which recorded his academic achievements in Caridad Lobato's Pre-Primario B class. No, dear reader - you do not need glasses; the image is blurry - again, chalk it up to less than optimal, improvised "field photography conditions" - no scanner available at the time. Give the blogger-photographer a barely-passing grade here, if you wish. Perhaps it will be possible to provide a better graphic later.


This is the front of the "boletin." At the time - 1955-1956 - Willie's family lived on San Francisco Street, No. 464-462. This is for those of you readers who might be familiar with Havana. Maybe this was your neighborhood too?

The grading system should be explained a bit, so things will make some sense. The grading scale was numerical. The system is explained in the boxes at the bottom of the document. The leftmost square box provides the number scale for "Disciplina" - class behavior; 1 meant "Terrible;" 2 was "Bad;" 3 was "So-so;" 4 was "Good;" 5 was "Excelent." The box labeled "Aplicacion" - scholarship - explains the grading system for academic subjects; no grading "on a curve" either; if you scored less than 60, you flunked the subject. Period. No whining! If you scored 90 to 100, on the other hand, you were classified as "Sobresaliente," or "Outstanding." If you were a Sobresaliente student in Baldor, give yourself a well-deserved pat on the back.

This sets the stage for the amusing part of the story, illustrated by the well-worn document.

Now let it be said it was Willie himself who pointed out the creative modifications he made to the entries in the report card telling the tale without inhibition. As he put it at an earlier gathering of our tight band, when he had first shown us this memento, "I wasn't the greatest student back then, so I tried to make it look like I'd done better than I had. I did not want my mom and dad mad at me." So, since in those days we were given the report cards to take home for our parents to review, sign, and return same to the teachers, wily Willie changed and/or added some numbers to make some things look better.

He might have gotten away with it, except when he decided to add some creative comments about his academic prowess. In the block on the lower right side of the document, above Director Aurelio Baldor's stamped purple signature there is a short statement: "Muy buen alumno." Translation: "Very good student." "Problem was," Willie explained, "mom and dad decided the writing looked too much like my handwriting...so I got in trouble anyway!" Nevertheless, thanks to the kind, academic ministrations of Caridad, all was well in the end - Willie and his friends went on to First Grade in September 1956.

Blogger has this to say about his friend Willie...in the School of Life, from what little Quiroga has seen, Wilfredo has passed all arduous tests with flying colors. Our other marvelous mates have done so as well - not to say it has been an easy ride.

Well, let us backtrack a little bit. All good things must come to an end. After our obviously very warm and enjoyable year in Caridad's class, we more or less eagerly trudged into First Grade.


We had a new Profesora, or teacher, Srta. - meaning "Ms." - Elsa Delgado. Funny, we do not seem to remember much about her; this is not to cast aspersions or make anyone think we did not like her. Her face in the yearbook page seems to convey calm and kindness; we certainly have no negative memories of her. Perhaps one's first teacher has a greater impact on memory, for good or bad. For us, the memories of our first teacher are good plus ultra! We do hope and pray life has treated Ms. Delgado well and that, like Caridad Lobato, she had a successful career as a teacher or whatever other profession she chose to pursue. May she also have been blessed to escape the castro-claw...

As we lined up for our yearbook pictures in 1956-1957, so we lined up for a VIP - Very Important Picture - moment with our much-loved Profesora Lobato in 2009.


OK, guess it is not fair to make you work hard at guessing who's who...people change a wee bit in half a century's time; so here is the line up, left to right: Willie, Carlos, Carlos, Albert, and Warren; Caridad in front, as it should be. Ladies first, teachers first.


The unforgettable evening was coming to a close, but Carlos Cueto's camera once again captured another magic moment, recording our teacher's enjoyment over the small tokens of affection we had given her.


She surprised us with a tasty token of affection, lovingly made by her own hands - this luscious - call it a combination flan-and-pudding loaded with fruit - was delicious and quickly disappeared; but its sweet memory is preserved by photography forever! Our Profesora has obvious and considerable talents in the dessert-making arts. But the best evidence of her love and appreciation for us were her words: "If God were to call me Home tomorrow, the memory of this day would live in my last earthly thoughts..."

In Baldor-blogger's personal opinion, the nicest, most poignant token of affection towards our teacher was the poem Willie composed for her. A wonderful poem it is; yet he does not think of himself as being academically gifted...methinks he is too modest. Here are the words of our Preprimario B Bard's poem, dedicated to Caridad Lobato. Fear not, reader - it will be translated for you, to the best of the editor's ability, fearing nevertheless the translation will not do justice to the original.

Willie's Poem to Caridad

A LA BELLA PROFESORA CARIDAD LOBATO:

CON EL MISMO NOBRE DE LA VIRGEN
NOS EMPEZO A MOLDEAR

VINO EL MONSTRUO A LA ISLA, MAS BELLA EN ESTE MAR,

ELLA PENSO QUE AL SEPARARNOS SU TRABAJO NO PUDIERA TERMINAR,

38 AÑOS HAN PASADO Y PARECE QUE FUE AYER

Y SEGUIMOS VISUALIZANDO NUESTRO QUERIDISIMO BALDOR
CON SUS EDUCADORES EJEMPLARES E IDOLOS PARA NUESTRAS SIGUIENTES GENERACIONES.

AUN LOS QUE NO SACABAMOS BUENAS NOTAS NOS SEMBRARON LAS SEMILLAS DE RESPETO, ORGULLO, VALOR, Y BONDAD ENTRE MUCHAS OTRAS CUALIDADES,

LE DAMOS GRACIAS A ESA "CAMPESINA" QUE NOS ENAMORO PARA ESTE UNICO GRAN VIAJE DE LA VIDA,

Y COMO VE NOS EVOLUCIONAMOS Y CULTIVAMOS MUY BIEN.


" ENCANTADO DE LA VIDA"

Forgive blogger for doing a bit of editing, adding some punctuation here and there in a desperate attempt to preserve the essence, the "flavor" of the original; a small caveat as well is in order: Where Wilfredo speaks of 38 years going by - regretfully it should be 53...but this all-too human error is understandable; after all, we are desperately seeking to recover a very significant fragment of our past. If only it were 38 years, Willie!

TO THE BEAUTIFUL PROFESSOR CARIDAD LOBATO:

WITH THE SAME NAME AS THE VIRGIN
SHE US BEGAN TO MOLD

CAME THE MONSTER TO THE ISLAND MOST BEAUTIFUL IN THIS SEA

SHE THOUGHT WHEN WE PARTED HER WORK WOULD NOT BE COMPLETE

38 YEARS HAVE GONE BY, YET IT SEEMS IT WAS JUST YESTERDAY

WE CONTINUE VISUALIZING OUR BELOVED BALDOR
WITH ITS EXEMPLARY EDUCATORS, IDOLS FOR GENERATIONS FOLLOWING

EVEN IN THOSE OF US NOT BLESSED WITH GOOD GRADES, THE SEEDS WERE PLANTED WHICH
BLOSSOMED INTO RESPECT, PRIDE, COURAGE, AND KINDNESS, AMONG MANY OTHER QUALITIES

WE GIVE THANKS TO THAT “COUNTRY WOMAN” WHO MADE US FALL IN LOVE, FOR THIS AND ONLY GREAT JOURNEY THROUGH LIFE

AND AS YOU CAN SEE WE EVOLVED AND WERE WELL CULTIVATED

"ENCHANTED WITH LIFE"


Now, you are offered the opportunity to enjoy the live reading - the Baldor Poetry Hour - well, more like a minute and a half or so. Just point your "mouse" arrow to the box with the right-pointing triangle, bottom left, and "click"...the "mouse" that is. It is a "left" click, for you sinister types...


video


"Enchanted with life" indeed, my Baldor Brother Poet...and with this day of celebration, with our enchanting Profesora, and the enduring, unbreakable friendship of our Preprimario B Band; with our school and all Baldor-eans, past, present...and future; with that beautiful place and time, never to be forgotten. This is dedicated to Caridad Lobato, to you my Brothers and Sisters of Baldor, the Baldor family, and all the great educators there from whom we were privileged to receive instruction. God Bless and keep you!

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Why Havana Had to Die...

A sweet Sunday Memory, Havana 1950

...is the title of the article, here fully reproduced, sent by a friend, an Habanero friend and former schoolmate. It originally appeared in New York's City Journal a few years ago, but it is still topical. It is not policy, ordinarily, to reproduce and republish articles from other sources verbatim in this blog. An exception is being made here for two reasons.

First, and most important, the writer captures the essence and philosophy of the purpose for which this blog was created - not only as a means of preserving family history and lore, albeit of an ordinary and even unimportant family, but also because it dovetails neatly with the primary focus of Havana5060 - preserving the memory of a once beautiful and unique city which came to a state of ruination because of a madman's hatred of everything Havana and its people stood for; but Mr. Dalrymple the author of the article expresses said essence and philosophy best, so let us allow him his say.

Second, since your blog author has become heavily involved in helping preserve other memories, via a high school class reunion, and he has become intricately involved in the planning, organizing, and all the fun things that go into successfully launching the event, after this post it will be necessary to place the Havana5060 blog in a "dormant" state - not comatose, mind you...but the already sparse postings will probably appear on an other than monthly basis, at least during the next two to three months. Perhaps some will be relieved at these news. But, to paraphrase General McArthur, "Havana5060 shall return." And so will Havana, Cuba - The Once and Future City.

Savor the read. It provides plenty of food for thought. Pray you will also enjoy the accompanying images, grainy, evocative dreamscapes of a Lost City, yet one who still lives vibrantly in memory, preserved by my father with his robust Kodak and the magic of Kodachrome.

Habanera mom enjoys her day under a beautiful Cuban sky -1949

Theodore Dalrymple
Why Havana Had to Die
Decay, when not carried to excess, has its architectural charms, and ruins are romantic: so romantic, indeed, that eighteenth-century English gentlemen built them in their gardens, as pleasantly melancholic reminders of the transience of earthly existence.
Summer 2002

Decay, when not carried to excess, has its architectural charms, and ruins are romantic: so romantic, indeed, that eighteenth-century English gentlemen built them in their gardens, as pleasantly melancholic reminders of the transience of earthly existence. But Fidel Castro is no eighteenth-century English gentleman, and Havana is not his private estate, for use as a personal memento mori. The ruins of Havana that he has brought into being are, in fact, the habitation of over 1 million people, whose collective will, these ruins attest, is not equal in power to the will of one man. “Comandante en jefe,” says one of the political billboards that have replaced all commercial advertisements, “you give the orders.” The place of everyone else, needless to say, is to obey.

Havana has changed a little since I was last there, a dozen years ago. The vast Soviet subsidy has vanished; the economy now depends on European tourism. The influx of tourists, most of them in search of a cheap holiday in the tropics and cheerfully oblivious to Cuba’s politics, has necessitated a slight degree of flexibility. Small private family restaurants, called paladares (paladar is Spanish for palate), with no more than 12 seats, are now tolerated, though the hiring of non-family labor, deemed exploitative by definition, is still not permitted. Only certain dishes are allowed—not fish and lobster, reserved to the state restaurants—and those paladares that break the rules operate like speakeasies in the time of Prohibition, the fish-bootlegging owners keeping a nervous eye out for informers. (Committees for the Defense of the Revolution still operate everywhere.) The owner of one such that I visited—with no sign outside to mark its exi stence —anxiously looked through the peephole of the door before letting anyone in. The taking of a simple meal at one of the three tables turned into a scene from a spy novel.

Flea markets are also now legal in Cuba, and a petty trade in cast-off clothing and household goods takes place. Twelve years ago it was unthinkable for anyone to buy or sell anything in the open, for buying and selling were symptoms of bourgeois individualism and contrary to Fidel’s socialist vision, in which everything is to be rationed—rationally, as it were—according to need. (In practice, of course, this meant rationing according to what there was, which was not much.)

Openings to small-scale commerce have occurred before during Castro’s 43-year rule, but they have always soon succumbed to periods of “rectification,” after it became all too apparent that people were responding more vigorously to economic incentives than they ever had to the “moral” ones praised in the adolescent theories of Che Guevara. But this time the commercial activity is more secure, because it is essential to the regime’s economic survival. When last I was in Havana, even the dollar-laden foreigner couldn’t find food to eat outside his hotel—a situation that hardly encouraged mass tourism. Now, of necessity, cafés and bars aplenty cater to the visitor.

The economy is now extensively dollarized, a curious and ironic denouement to decades of impassioned nationalism. When I asked in my hotel to change money into pesos, I was told—quite rightly, it turned out—that I would not need them. The few dusty shops that were prepared to exchange goods for pesos—for moneda nacional—advertised this extraordinary fact in their windows, as if performing a miracle, though the goods for sale were few and of the lowest quality. Last time I was in Cuba, the possession of a dollar by an ordinary Cuban was a crime, virtually proof of disloyalty and disaffection, if not of outright economic sabotage of the revolution. Dollars were handled as if they were nitroglycerine, liable to blow up in your face at the slightest jolt; but now they are merely units of currency, which anyone may safely handle.

The sheer number of foreign visitors to Cuba means that, though the hotel lobbies are still patrolled by security men with walkie-talkies to ensure that no unauthorized Cubans enter, relations between Cubans and foreigners are more relaxed than they once were. To talk to a foreigner is no longer a sign of political unreliability, and conversations do not have to be carried out in a hole-and-corner fashion, behind walls, with one nervous eye open for spies and eavesdroppers. I even received a few requests that I send medicine, since none was available in the local pharmacies—an admission, unthinkable a few years ago, that all is not well in the much-vaunted health-care system.

People will even speak of lo bueno and lo malo, the good and the bad, of the revolution—usually adding that lo malo was very, very bad. One man, brought up in the 1970s, told me that he had been fired by revolutionary romanticism, with Che Guevara and John Lennon as his heroes (he told me proudly that Havana was one of three cities with memorials to Lennon, the others being Liverpool and New York). He thought then that a new world had been in construction: but he knew now that it had been a dead end. And old people in particular are inclined to murmur jabón (soap) as you pass, in the hope that you might have some of this rare and precious commodity to give away. When the first old lady came up to me and said jabón, I thought she was mad; but she was only the first of many.

There are now signs of a slight intellectual opening. In La Moderna Poesía, a bookshop in an art deco building on the Calle Obispo, I found a Spanish translation of Karl Popper’s The Open Society and Its Enemies. The price in dollars was unlikely to attract many Cuban buyers. Perhaps it was there only to convince foreigners of the regime’s intellectual tolerance; perhaps any Cuban who tried to buy it would be reported at once to the authorities: but even so, the mere public presence of a work so antithetical to the regime’s philosophy would have been unthinkable a dozen years ago.

By contrast, the newspapers, Granma and Rebelde, have not changed at all: to have read them 40 years ago is to have read them today and tomorrow and in ten years’ time, if the regime lasts that long. The incessant recital of social progress in Cuba in the face of adversity, and horrible social breakdown everywhere else (especially, of course, in the United States), would bore even the truest of believers. No doubt that is why I saw not a single Cuban reading a newspaper or taking any notice of the aged itinerant salesmen, each with about five copies to dispose of. When I expressed an interest in buying one, the old men took the opportunity openly to ask me for money: selling the newspaper was only a pretext to approach and beg. The question “How much is the newspaper?” always drew the answer “Whatever you would like to give.”

Forty-three years of totalitarian dictatorship have left the city of Havana—one of the most beautiful in the world—suspended in a peculiar state halfway between preservation and destruction. For myself, I found the absence of the most grating aspects of commercialism aesthetically pleasing: McDonald’s restaurants (and their like) would ruin Havana as a townscape as comprehensively as time and neglect. And the comparative lack of traffic in Havana demonstrates how mixed a blessing the inexorable spread of the automobile has been for the quality of city life. Had Havana developed “normally,” its narrow grid-pattern streets would by now be choking with traffic and pollution, a suffocating inferno like Guatemala City or San José, Costa Rica, where to breathe is to grow breathless, where noise makes the ears sing, and where thoughts turn to escape as soon as possible.

The streets of Havana, not like that at all, are pleasant to walk in. The air is clean, and there is no honking of horns. You can hear yourself think and talk. Most of the few cars that pass are American relics of the Batista era, battered but much restored; they rattle and wheeze like beasts of burden driven forward under duress. Some seem to progress crabwise, not straight ahead but sideways; and with the patina of time, these vehicles, which once would have seemed the commonplace, throwaway mass products of an industrialized society, have taken on an aura of romance, almost of personality. They are loved and treasured as irreplaceable old friends, and when you look at them you wonder how many of the objects that you take so much for granted might one day be regarded in like fashion. It helps you to see the world anew.

Few new buildings have been added to Havana, which is just as well, of course, since those few are in the style of totalitarian modernism, and ruin the neighborhood. In the very center of the city, moreover, which UNESCO has declared to be part of humanity’s patrimony, tasteful restoration work is under way. In the Plaza Vieja, a grand colonial building has been transformed into luxury apartments for tourists to rent, with an excellent restaurant downstairs (the very idea of an excellent restaurant in Cuba was unthinkable 12 years ago). The bourgeoisie is thus a little like nature: though you pitch it out with a revolution, yet it will in the end return.

But the scale of the restoration of Havana is as nothing compared with the scale of its ruination. It is quite literally crumbling away. One of the most magnificent of its many magnificent streets is known as the Prado, a wide avenue that leads to the sea, with a central tree-lined marble walkway down which people stroll at night in the balmy air. Some of the beautifully proportioned mansions along the Prado have collapsed into rubble since the last time I was there; others have their facades—all that remains of them—propped up by wooden struts. The palace along the Prado that houses the national school of ballet is a mere shell, the ground floor containing nothing but rubble: it is extraordinary to hear the sound of répétiteurs emerging from the upper floor of this shell. Havana is like Beirut, without having gone through the civil war to achieve the destruction.

No words can do justice to the architectural genius of Havana, a genius that extended from the Renaissance classicism of the sixteenth century, with severe but perfectly proportioned houses containing colonnaded courtyards cooled and softened by tropical trees and shrubs, to the flamboyant art deco of the 1930s and 40s. The Cubans of successive centuries created a harmonious architectural whole almost without equal in the world. There is hardly a building that is wrong, a detail that is superfluous or tasteless. The tiled multicoloration of the Bacardi building, for example, which might be garish elsewhere, is perfectly adapted—natural, one might say—to the Cuban light, climate, and temper. Cuban architects understood the need for air and shade in a climate such as Cuba’s, and they proportioned buildings and rooms accordingly. They created an urban environment that, with its arcades, columns, verandas, and balconies, was elegant, sophisticated, convenient, and j oyful.

Of course, not every Cuban shared it: there were large shantytowns outside the city, and in the countryside much of the peasantry lived in grinding poverty. In 1958, Cuba might have had Italy’s overall levels of consumption per capita, more or less, but the consumption was unevenly distributed. Yet what is so striking about Havana’s grandeur and beauty is how extensive it is, and how wealthy (as well as sophisticated) the society that produced it must have been. The splendor of Havana, rather than being confined to a small quarter of the city, extends for miles.

The splendor is very faded now, of course. The city is like a great set of Bach variations on the theme of urban decay. The stucco has given way to mold; roofs have gone, replaced by corrugated iron; shutters have crumbled into sawdust; paint is a phenomenon of the past; staircases end in precipices; windows lack glass; doors are off their hinges; interior walls have collapsed; wooden props support, though not with any degree of assurance, all kinds of structures; ancient electrical wiring emerges from walls, like worms from cheese; wrought ironwork balconies crumble into rust; plaster peels as in a malignant skin disease; flagstones are mined for other purposes. Every grand and beautifully proportioned room—visible through the windows or in some places through the walls that have crumbled away—has been subdivided by plywood partitions into smaller spaces, in which entire families now live. Washing hangs from the windows of what were once palaces. Every entrance way is dark, and at night the electric lights glimmer rather than shine. No ruination is too great to render a building unfit for habitation: Havana is like a city that has been struck by an earthquake and its population forced to survive among the wreckage until relief arrives.

It cannot be said, however, that the inhabitants of Havana appear notably unhappy—far from it. The children play baseball cheerfully in the street with balls of compressed rags and bats of metal piping. (Curiously, the Latin American countries with the strongest anti-Yanqui political tradition are those where baseball is most enthusiastically played, as if the politics aimed to assuage the guilt at having taken up the pastime of the enemy.) There is plenty of social life in the streets, much smiling and laughter, and it isn’t hard to find a small fiesta with music and dancing. When you look into the homes that the people have made among the ruins, there are the small, heartbreaking signs of pride and self-respect that one also sees in the huts of Africa: the carefully tended plastic flowers and other cheap ornaments, for example. A taste for kitsch among the well-to-do is a sign of spiritual impoverishment; but among the poor, it represents a strivin g for beauty, an aspiration without the likelihood of fulfillment. Only the old look downcast or crushed: old people’s thoughts turn naturally to the past, and the contrast between the Havana of their youth and the Havana of their dotage must be painful to contemplate.

The evident contentment of the population among the ruins, though, does not lessen my profound sorrow (and worse than sorrow, it is something indefinable that weighs on the heart) to see the destruction of a masterpiece of collective human endeavor down the ages, Havana. On the contrary, I find the very unconcern profoundly disturbing. What can it mean that people should live contentedly in the ruins of their own capital city, the ruination having been wrought not by war or natural disaster but by prolonged (and in my view deliberate) neglect? They are not barbarians who actively smash or destroy what they do not understand and value; nor do they fail to notice—how could they?—that the buildings in which they live are on the verge of collapse. It is not difficult to get people to show you the ramshackle ruins they inhabit, a service they perform with a laugh and a smile; it is simply that to live thus has become natural for them, and the collapse of walls and st aircas es seems no more avoidable than the weather.

An artist to whom I spoke, who was tentatively trying to use his photographs to draw the attention of his countrymen to the decay and destruction of their architectural inheritance occurring all around them, explained the neglect of the city as a manifestation of the government’s priorities. It had always been more concerned about education and the health service, he said, than with preservation of the fabric of Havana. Though he understood why the government should have considered the reduction of the infant-mortality rate to be more important than the care of mere material objects such as buildings, he himself had gradually come to see the importance of preserving that inheritance: once gone, it was irrecoverable. But in his opinion, most people were unconcerned by it.

Alas, I suspect that the neglect of Havana has a deeper and more sinister rationale than the one the artist proposed. It is not difficult to imagine Castro’s angry response to the accusation that he has let Havana fall into ruins. He would argue that, largely because of the American embargo, he had always had to establish clear spending priorities, and that schools, hospitals, and medicines mattered more for the life of a people than the upkeep of a capital city in which only a minority of the population lived. Life itself was more important than objects: and Cuba’s low infant-mortality rate and high life expectancy were justification of his policies.

But this answer would not, in my view, be entirely honest—even beyond the question of whether Cuba’s progress in literacy and public health necessitated Castro’s policies or justified the evident lack of freedoms enjoyed by Cubans. I suspect that the neglectful ruination of Havana has served a profoundly ideological purpose. After all, the neglect has been continuous for nearly half a century, while massive subsidies from the Soviet Union were pouring in. A dictator as absolute as Castro could have preserved Havana if he had so wished, and could easily have found an economic pretext for doing so.

Havana, however, was a material refutation of his entire historiography—of the historiography that has underpinned his policies and justified his dictatorship for 43 years. According to this account, Cuba was a poor agrarian society, impoverished by its dependent relationship with the United States, incapable without socialist revolution of solving its problems. A small exploitative class of intermediaries benefited enormously from the neocolonial relationship, but the masses were sunk in abject poverty and misery.

But Havana was a large city of astonishing grandeur and wealth, which was clearly not confined to a tiny minority, despite the coexistence with that wealth of deep poverty. Hundreds of thousands of people obviously had lived well in Havana, and it is not plausible that so many had done so merely by the exploitation of a relatively small rural population. They must themselves have been energetic, productive, and creative people. Their society must have been considerably more complex and sophisticated than Castro can admit without destroying the rationale of his own rule.

In the circumstances, therefore, it became ideologically essential that the material traces and even the very memory of that society should be destroyed. In official publications (and all publications in Cuba are official) the only positive personages from the past are rebels and revolutionaries, representing a continuing nationalist tradition of which Castro is the apotheosis: there is no god but revolution, and Castro is its prophet. The period between Cuban independence and the advent of Castro is known as “the Pseudorepublic,” and the corrupt thuggery of Batista, as well as the existence of poverty, is all that needs (or is allowed) to be known of life immediately before Castro.

But who created Havana, and where did the magnificence come from, if before Castro there were only poverty, corruption, and thuggery? Best to destroy the evidence, though not by the crude Taliban method of blowing up the statues of Buddha, which is inclined to arouse the opprobrium of the world: better to let huge numbers of people camp out permanently in stolen property and then let time and neglect do the rest. In a young population such as Cuba’s, with little access to information not filtered through official channels, life among the ruins will come to seem normal and natural. The people will soon be radically disconnected from the past of the very walls they live among. And so the present ruins of Havana are the material consequence of a monomaniacal historiography put into practice.

Yet foreshortened memory can be made to serve an ideological turn, as has happened with the restoration of a small area of the city—a much-needed restoration, for inhabited ruins will not long attract mass tourism. And so a large and glossy book has appeared, recording by means of before-and-after photographs the Herculean efforts of the regime to restore some of the buildings of old Havana that had fallen practically into ruins. Entitled Lest We Forget, the book omits to mention how the ruination came about in the first place. The restoration is thus one triumph more for the revolution.

The terrible damage that Castro has done will long outlive him and his regime. Untold billions of capital will be needed to restore Havana; legal problems about ownership and rights of residence will be costly, bitter, and interminable; and the need to balance commercial, social, and aesthetic considerations in the reconstruction of Cuba will require the highest regulatory wisdom. In the meantime, Havana stands as a dreadful warning to the world—if one were any longer needed—against the dangers of monomaniacs who believe themselves to be in possession of a theory that explains everything, including the future.

Ladies and toddler enjoy a beautiful afternoon at El Malecon - 1950


Sunday, February 24, 2008

We will miss you, dear, dear friend...

On February 24, 1996 a great guy, a "mensch," as author Humberto Fontova referred to him in an e-mail exchange with this writer a couple of years ago, was lost over the Straits of Florida, above international waters, at the 24th parallel. Armando Alejandre Jr. was his name; like the writer, another Habanero and a contemporary. We were school mates at Immaculata-LaSalle High School, Miami, from 1964 to 1968. He had many, many friends there and all of us who are still around will miss him greatly at our planned 40th graduation anniversary reunion later this year.

This is how we remember Armando during those - to us - nostalgic, sweet, and golden years.

The image comes from the Immaculata-LaSalle Signum yearbook published in 1968 - at the time of publication, our graduation loomed closer, and from there many of us would walk divergent paths through life. We had hopes, ideas, and dreams for creating a fulfilling and happy life, to the betterment of our future families, communities, and ourselves. For Armando, no doubt many of these dreams and hopes were realized, but other unfulfilled dreams and hopes were cut short that February day.

It is not the intent to retell and rehash the tragic story of that day here. That has already been done and better than this writer is able to do it. Other young men who had dreams and hopes - as did Armando - for a free Cuba perished that afternoon with him. They must not be forgotten either; as is true for Armando, they and their families wait for the full measure of justice which must be meted out to the perpetrators of this criminal act. They were Carlos Costa, Mario De La Peña, and Pablo Morales.

The last time the writer had seen him was at our graduating class' 20th reunion in 1988; we had a wonderful night, all of us, reminiscing, dancing, reconnecting at the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables.

Armando stands in the next-to-last row, fifth from the right, in front of the gentleman wearing a red tie - you cannot miss him; he was tall and stood out in many ways.

Of course, he will not be present at our reunion this year - the 40th, for the Class of '68. Well, let me qualify that. He may not be physically present, but he will be there. It is just a feeling...

The blogger has been drafted to play a part in making the 40th reunion reality. In connection with that, a blog for the Class of '68 was created. One of the first posts was dedicated to Armando, not just to remember and honor him, but also to help promote the movie/documentary his daughter, Marlene Alejandre-Triana produced. In the interests of completing this post in time for publication on the anniversary of his death, and because of constraints both of time and obligations, decided to feature the article from the Immaculata-LaSalle blog here. The original publication date was January 29, 2008.

"We do not want to have too many "tearjerker" moments during our reunion, or as we prepare for it. Inevitably, these moments will come. At some point, an "In Memoriam" post will be necessary to remember and honor those who sadly, are no longer with us.

One of our classmates, Armando Alejandre Jr., unfortunately became well known, in an entirely unintended way, when he and three other men were murdered by kaSStro's cowardly "puffwaffe" pilots on the twenty-fourth of February, 1996.

You could not help but notice Armando's lanky, 6-foot plus frame around campus during our sojourn at Immaculata-LaSalle. He and "shorty" bantered and kidded a lot about our respective heights, lack thereof in the case of the writer, exchanging witticisms, such as - "Hey, Seven Floors - how's the weather up there?" "Guys be careful - don't step accidentally on Quiroga!"

[Armando put his tall talents to good use playing basketball for LaSalle in '64-'65 - the image is from Signum, the school yearbook, 1965]

I miss the guy, and remember all too well when classmate Nelson Orta called, sounding very upset, to relay the news about the shootdown. The wave of shock which went through yours truly's short frame will never be forgotten.

The reason this is being written is because a documentary about this tragic incident has just been released. Here is the email received via a childhood friend - no, not an ILS classmate - which provides the details you need to know about it.

'Dear Friends & Family:

I'm writing to let you all know that SHOOTDOWN, a documentary film about the downing of two Brothers to the Rescue planes in February of 1996, one of which was carrying my father Armando Alejandre Jr., will be opening in theaters this Friday, January 25th. It was written and directed by my cousin Cristina Khuly. It will be the second largest documentary opening in the last 12 months, only after Sicko, Michael Moore's last film. It has been shown in numerous film festivals around the country and won Best Documentary at the Sonoma Valley Film Festival this year.

It is extremely important that if we all want the truth about what happened that day, and the simple truth about the Castro regime to be heard all over this country and hopefully one day the world, that we do our best to support this film on its opening weekend. Ticket sales have to be high on the first three days of showing (simply put, the only thing the film industry looks at) and will determine the future of this film into which my cousin has poured three years of her life. In case some of you saw a version of the film on the 10th anniversary, please note, that it is a completely different film from the one you screened. It has been worked and reworked until they produced the simplest, most concise grouping of facts which tell the story of February 24, 1996.

Even if you are not interested, please forward this e-mail to anyone you know who may have the desire to see this movie. Below is a list of theaters around the country where it will be playing. Three years ago people in the industry told my cousin this movie would never make it into even festivals because of its subject matter, Friday, January 25, it will be seen around the country.

Thank you so much for taking the time to read this message and hopefully support Shootdown.

Marlene Alejandre-Triana'

There is a website for "Shootdown;" you can access it here: The Shootdown






The January 29th post in the Immaculata-LaSalle blog ends thus:

"Armando was part of our lives, our history during those four wonderful years at Immaculata-LaSalle, he being one who helped make those years memorable. See the movie if you can possibly do so, and spread the word everywhere. We do not forget our friend and neither should anyone else. The world must know and be reminded about this heinous murder, so that someday for Armando's sake, the perpetrators will be brought to justice."

There is nothing more than can be said about Armando Alejandre Jr. - at least not from this side;
much has been written about him...all one needs to do is enter his name for any half-capable search engine to find hundreds of references about him. There is one more subject the writer is compelled to touch upon. It is relevant, although some may think not - but as for the ones who think not, their opinion is totally irrelevant.

One of the unfortunate strengths possessed by Cuba's maximum criminal, fortunately not including the power to stave off the pathetic death which will soon come for him, has been the ability to size up and accurately judge the character of his adversaries, including their strengths and weaknesses. On the day of the shootdown, a certain sneering, leering, master of solipsism and narcissism occupied the White House, filling it with his self-appointed, self-important legend-in-his-own-mind presence. His name was then, still is, William Jefferson Clinton.

No one will ever convince the writer that Mr. Clinton, whose often-sneering visage will not dis-grace this post, could have been oblivious to the unfolding events on the 24th of February, 1996 and done something to either warn the criminal of Havana to make sure "it" did not try perpetrating any of "its" dastardly tricks, or better yet, ordering the professional and extremely capable pilots of the United States Air Force to blow down kaSStro's "puff-waffe" out of the skies over the 24th parallel. On that day, the only casualties should have been the rude, crude pilots of the "kubanski puff-waffe;" what heroes, they were...shooting down unarmed civilian aircraft.

Bet these "glorious revolutionary air heroes" would have crapped their flight suits and howled in terror had they been "locked onto" by F-16s from Homestead air base...no doubt their last thoughts would have been of their "glorious kommandant." What kind of thoughts is another matter. Unfortunately, that is not the way it turned out, being you had a vacillating, ne'er do well "commander in chief" sittin' pretty near the Potomac.

And today, Mrs. Clinton has pretensions to be the next Commander in Chief of the United States Armed Forces, hubby taking on the role of the eminence grise in that new administration, should such a thing regretfully come to pass. Well, mi querido amigo Alejandre, and am not speaking for your short blogging friend only, we're gonna do the best we can to make sure such a thing does not take place, rest assured. You do not want to contemplate, even remotely, the possibility of the tragic events of February 24, 1996 being repeated. Neither do we, your friends, your family, all who cared about you and do not forget you. Rest assured we will work hard to shoot down the electoral prospects of the pompous and pretentious, of those who do not even deserve to look at the White House, never mind occupy it for four years. Some day they will be forgotten, and rightfully so; let us pray instead, you will always be remembered and that your sacrifice will not be in vain. You will be honored and remembered in a free Havana, your birthplace.

Monday, January 28, 2008

A Lion Falls

Luis Aguilar Leon was indeed a Lion of a man. He passed away earlier this month. The Quirogas were privileged to call him our neighbor for about three years, during our too brief sojourn at the Focsa Building in Havana. With his spouse, the lovely Vera Mestre-Aguilar and his two sons, they made their home on the 31st floor, under the "La Torre" - literally, "The Tower" Restaurant site. If you look at the building's "spine" in this period photograph, dating from about 1957-1958, "La Torre" being at the very top, you'll see their former abode.

This is meant to honor and remember, not merely a neighbor, but also someone who had an impact on, and was part of Cuban history - and who did his best to fight the good fight against the murderous, gangster regime of one fidel castro. The words of this writer are poor and inadequate; much better tributes have been written, and there are many more to be found on the Web. All you have to do is type Mr. Aguilar Leon's name into the text box for your favorite search "engine" and you will see for yourself.

In fact, some of the articles and tributes are best left to speak for themselves.



These were published in The Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald, after he passed away, on the 5th of January. Time, energy, and skill are lacking here to allow for accurate translation of the articles/tributes - needless to say, though Alberto may be the blogger's moniker, he's no Carlos Alberto Montaner when it comes to powerful, incisive writing.

During his and Mrs. Mestre-Aguilar's years at Focsa, they participated, as was true for most of their friends, acquaintances, and neighbors there, in the building's active social life. No aloof, pompous types needed to apply back then; not that there weren't some of those...nothing is perfect. But that was certainly one description you could not hang on Mr. and Mrs. Aguilar Leon.

You can catch a glimpse of his profile in this photograph of a lunch sponsored by the condominium's Homeowner's Association, in 1957. He is sitting diagonally across the gentleman with the sunglasses, Rafael Aguirre; wife Vera sits next to Mr. Aguilar Leon, but unfortunately just the top of her head is visible.

And, needless to say, his good-looking sons were welcomed guests at Quiroga family events.

As they were welcomed for sister Marta's birthday party in October 1959. They are sitting in the front row, wearing striped shirts - Jorge on the left, as you look at the photograph, sitting to his brother Luis Enrique's right. Their nanny too was in attendance, Luisa - seen on the very left of the photograph, her head touching the photo's border. "She would not stay in Cuba, but came with us into exile - she was family," related Mrs. Mestre Aguilar once. "She was still with us when she passed away."

To those who might see this image as a symbol of "bourgeois exploitation of the working class," suffice it to say that Luisa, at least, appears not to have felt in any way exploited and no doubt understood well she was appreciated and loved. Obviously she KNEW who the "maximum exploiter of Cuba" was - and unfortunately is still - and wisely chose not to wait around to be truly abused and exploited by that gangster "family."

Jorge and Luis Enrique, together with the other participants that happy, innocent day, enjoyed the magic show put on by "Serpa The Magician," who enlivened many a kiddie party during those happy years in our congenial "beehive" at Focsa.

That day, Serpa called on cousin Oscar Quiroga to help with the wizardry...and here a brief pause for another remembrance, a small tribute to a then young boy who, still a young man full of life and dreams was taken from us by that insidious killer -cancer- in December 2002. We miss you dear cousin!

The roving blogger asked his parents for some recollections. some anecdotes about Luis Aguilar Leon, from those days. Mother said she remembered how, after the film The Bridge On The River Kwai was released in 1957, Aguilar Leon "many a time would be seen walking outside the building, out on some errand or what, whistling that catchy tune from the movie." That catchy tune was the Colonel Bogey March; a certain boy was privileged to watch the movie which popularized it, at a Havana film house, the name now forgotten - the Rodi, perhaps? And he even owned a 45 RPM record - remember those? - featuring aforesaid tune, and played many a time. Although now he sometimes cannot remember where he puts his keys, he still recalls the obverse side of the record held a no doubt very obscure piece of music, The Teenage March. Mr. Aguilar Leon did not go around whistling that one, though. Strangely, the blogger's brain still recalls it, and in fact it is playing inside his head even as this is being typed. Perhaps it should be renamed The Senior Citizen March at this point.



"Yes, I remember him well, walking by Palladium, whistling that march from the River Kwai...whenever I heard the whistling, I knew that had to be Aguilar Leon."




(Still from The Bridge On The River Kwai, featuring the late greats Alec Guinness and Sessue Hayakawa-from www.sensesofcinema.com)

Palladium Jewelry, Edificio Focsa - February 1957 - original print by Estudios Korda, Havana; Focsa architect Ernesto Gomez Sampera speaks with the propietors - as did Luis Aguilar Leon many a time, his happy whistling announcing his arrival.

Speaking of Leons, or Lions - do not think it inapropriate, and believe the Aguilar Leon family would agree - to remember another Leon we were honored and privileged to know at Focsa.

That refers to Vicente Leon Leon - twice a Lion - Focsa's classy, capable administrator and building manager, 1956-1960, fondly recalled, respected, and esteemed by many who made their home there. He kept things humming well around the place during his short tenure. He is seen here in the pages of Algo, the building's in-house publication, in the June 1958 issue. Leon Leon fell, fighting for Cuba's freedom, at a place called Playa Giron, April 1961 - thus living up to his name. Aguilar Leon fought fidelismo with his intellect and pen; Leon Leon fought the good fight with his skill, courage, and weapon in hand. Sed miles, sed pro patria.

May both Lions rest in peace and dwell in the Peace which never ends.

Mrs. Mestre Aguilar was kind enough to share some recollections as well, during her visit on the occasion of dad's birthday back in September - which unfortunately her husband could not attend, as he was no longer able to leave the house. "Indeed, the Focsa years were happy ones for us as well as for you. We moved in early 1960 to a house we had purchased; ironically, five months or so later we had to leave, quite suddenly, after Luis published an opinion piece which angered the regime." Yes, that is the kaSStro way, isn't it? Destroy or attempt to destroy the truth and those courageous enough to wave it in front of "its" face. As we know, ultimately this was not successful...Aguilar Leon's pen-and-intellect continued the struggle against, as a fellow blogger has put it so well, "castrianism," the religion of hate.

A beautiful tribute, written by one of Vera's cousins, niece of Vera's uncle Goar Mestre - if you want to recall who he was you may want to revisit this post about Delia Carballo - was kindly shared by the Mestre Aguilars; translating it would be impossible because yours truly would be unable to capture the meaning, the heartfelt feeling, and emotions expressed therein.

Lundi para mí

Luis Aguilar León

"Lundi, mi querido, admirado Lundi. Hace tiempo ya que te estábamos perdiendo, pero no por previsible tu partida, deja de ser menos hondo el hueco que nos deja. Si tuviera que señalar el rasgo más significativo para mí, de tu riquísima personalidad, no hablaría de tu sabiduría, ni de tu maravillosa relación con las palabras, aunque vienen sin remedio a mi mente tu cuento El Profeta, o ese extraordinario poema tuyo que recitabas como nadie al ritmo de cacerolas a modo bongoes, describiendo a una mulata sudorosa y ardiente que camina contoneándose bajo el sol del Malecón.


Las letras, nuestro país y nuestro bendito continente, eran sin duda tu pasión, el tema de tu vida. Pero si yo tuviera que recordarte por una sola cosa, sería por tu incondicional y entrañable amor por Cuba. Por una Cuba que conocías como nadie, con sus virtudes y defectos, su historia, su política, su geografía, su idiosincrasia, sus ciudadanos ilustres y su gente común. Esa Cuba que fue una dolorosa daga incrustada en cada uno de los días de tu exilio y que no pudiste volver a pisar ni a ver libre. Y es esa justamente, la profunda desazón que me provoca tu muerte.


Vislumbrar el comienzo de un cambio, ver aflojarse las ataduras para dejar resurgir la libertad de nuestra tierra, hubiera sido lo único que te hubiera compensado toda una vida de desarraigo y añoranzas. No pudo ser Lundi, ni para ti ni para tantos otros como mi padre. Y ese dolor que sin querer se me mezcla con rabia, será el más difícil de sobrellevar.

Ani Mestre

8 de enero de 2008"


Given his profession and talents, and how he used said gifts fighting for the cause of freedom and human dignity, another gentleman's epitaph, one who was also a prolific writer, another strong intellect, who also employed his talents in the cause of freedom for his country - our beloved, adoptive land - the United States of America - is quite suitable for Luis Aguilar Leon; do not believe either party would be offended, but instead rather honored, with the idea of said suitability...

The Epitaph of Young Benjamin Franklin

                         The body of
B. Franklin, Printer
(Like the Cover of an Old Book
Its Contents torn Out
And Stript of its Lettering and Gilding)
Lies Here, Food for Worms.
But the Work shall not be Lost;
For it will (as he Believ'd) Appear once More
In a New and More Elegant Edition
Revised and Corrected
By the Author.

This is an inadequate tribute and remembrance for someone who was a significant figure in Cuba's history, and by whom hopefully many will be inspired to follow his example, continuing the battle for the cause of Cuban liberation. Perhaps, in closing, we can give "Lundy," as he was affectionately nicknamed, a not inappropriate and cheerful send-off.

March on the River Kwai-Colonel Bogey March - Mitch Miller 1958

Maybe this is presumptuous, but there is a strong feeling he would approve, and perhaps impishly whistle the tune as he strolls within earshot of St. Peter...