Friday, December 09, 2005

And now, a word from our sponsors...

No, we have no sponsors. But Nitza Villapol and Martha Martinez's cookbook did have ads in it. At least, the editions from 1954 through 1959-60 did. Afterwards the ads disappeared from the book reflecting the disappearance of private enterprise and the free market in Cuba. This concept of placing ads in a cookbook is interesting, and probably made the publication pretty much self-funding. Many of the ads are tied to recipes found in the book. Pretty smart marketing, in my book.

The ads reflect the variety of products and services available in Havana at the time, and until the early '60s, when the maximum sourpuss decided to start embargoing Habaneros and everyone else on the island. Please don't rant and rave to me, eyes poppin' outta their sockets, tongue flickin' in an out, snake-like, while spittin', in the typical apoplectic fashion of those out-in-left-field admirers of senile, dying "revolutionary icons," about "yankee imperialist blockades and embargoes!" The real embargo came from within. By summer 1960, I remember there were no apples to be had in grocery stores; autos were no longer to be imported; more and more things began to disappear from daily life and commerce; there were rumors of shortages to come. Massive expropriations began, culminating with the infamous Laws 890 and 891 of October 13, 1960 which essentially wiped out private enterprise, banking, and finance. Yet, Cuba and the USA still had full economic and diplomatic relations at the time...embargo? O grab me! That's what el groucho wanted to do to us and everyone else - grab us - starting with the vibrant economy of the island.

But our Nitza Villapol cookbook was not embargoed, thanks to the fact mother packed it in her suitcase. Through this medium, we get a small glimpse into the world of advertising, marketing, and consumerism in the Havana that was. All the ads displayed are from the cookbook, except for the Pasta Gravi logo, the one from La Casa Grande, and, obviously, the Burma Shave sign.

Who knows, these quaint but interesting ads may even give you ideas for your next shopping expedition. Remember: only 14 shopping days left to Nochebuena!

And, of course, Bacardi is a familiar brand all over the world. Can you replicate the drink recipe?

But if beer is your preference, there is always Hatuey; Cristal was another popular beer brand

And you might have gone out for some Bacardi or Hatuey in your '54 Imperial, but best not to drink and drive

Of course, you could have ordered an aperitif before dinner - the Dubonnet ad literally says Dubonnet "is a French kiss." Really? Sounds like a pick-up line to me..."ahh, ma cherie, shall we do like Dubonnet?" A line Pepe LePew would love!

J. Gallarreta and Company could have easily filled your "spiritual" order, more so if you were looking for some fine wines...

Then again, it is not all about spirits. You might have wanted to put together some appetizers for your company; "Queen Of The Caribbean" was there waiting to help you with canned tuna and lobster

And if poultry was your preference, you headed out to get a nice chicken from "La Dichosa"

Now, some folks prefer convenience, so if you needed quick chicken soup, Knorr was there for you! They're still around, if you need quick chicken soup in the 21st century

But perhaps the family clamored for pasta - and if pasta is what you want, presto! Pastas from La Pasiega to the rescue!

Since we're on a carbohydrate binge, let's not forget some butter for our Cuban bread...or as an ingredient in one of the rich desserts we hope to get - but ONLY if you eat all your dinner

Ah! Need some dry cooking wine to fix dinner! Run to J. Gallarreta and Company for some, quick!

Now, the kiddies can't have cerveza, or vino, or aperitifs with dinner - but there's Materva - I'll have one; still being made and sold. Sorry, no longer in Havana - the closest place to find one is Key West...

And where there are desserts to be had, you can be sure Crisco is ready to help! Still going strong in other latitudes and longitudes - except Havana's

Of course, if anyone is going to bake and decorate a cake, better make sure you go by "La Mariposa (The Butterfly)" and pick up your baking and decorating supplies

Said Marie Antoinette: "Let them eat cake!" But no, her subjects did not feel like cake. Perhaps she would have kept her head if they'd had other choices - like Royal gelatins, flans, and puddings. Well, Marie Antoinette may not be around, but Royal products are still with us. Sweet!

Should you care to chase down your sweet cake or pudding with some sweet malted milk, just open the jar of "Fenix (Phoenix) Malteado" and mix it up! Think Ovaltine with a malted-milk flavor - which reminds me, remember Kresto? Another Ovaltine-like product

In order to do all this cookin' and bakin' you need to crank up your "grate" (couldn't resist that one!) Osterizer blender - when Nitza tells you to "osterice" something in one of her recipes, now you know what she means

Then you need your Pyrex mixing and baking glassware in order to make it all happen.
Pyrex - another oldie but goodie, still going strong. And if it wasn't for the Pyrex beakers in my old A. C. Gilbert chemistry set, I would never have invented barf-gas! I know you are horrified at the thought, so let's save that story for a later posting. My younger sister Marta was the guinea pig for that experiment - heh, heh! I hope she is not reading this...

And to help you outfit your modern 50's home and kitchen, General Electric of Cuba was there to help with state of the art appliances, televisions, air conditioners, and all the wonderful products that help make life easier. Some may find this "bourgeois and decadent." To them I say: don animal skins, outfit yourselves with flint spears and knives, and return to the Neolithic Age-have fun!

In the kitchen, you need a good fridge to make sure your food stays fresh and edible-so go down to Humara and Lastra, purchase a nice Leonard, or Frigidaire, or Westinghouse, as you wish; sorry - no icemaker or water dispensing models available at this time...

The bad thing is, after dinner, the dishes must be washed...but OSO (literally, "Bear") Soap to the rescue! Did OSO stand for something, I wonder? "Bear" is an interesting moniker for soap. I suppose one could argue doing dishes by hand is a BEAR of a chore - specially if you have a small sink like the one in the illustration

And then there were those special occassions which called for flowers from Goyanes Flower Shop - or any of the many others scattered throughout La Habana

Better keep track of fleeting time with your fashionable Ultramar Swiss watch - Ultramar means "Overseas." That is a good name, since the watches crossed the Atlantic to get to Havana - and speaking of time, time to turn on the Philco, or Zenith, or RCA TV set - or did you have a Stromberg-Carlson? In glorious black and white...and most made in the USA...uh, what's a "Sony?"

And what shall we watch tonight? "Mi Familia!" with German Pinelli - more or less "Life of Riley," Cuban style. Or "La Taverna de Pedro - Pete's Tavern?" Filled with humor and slapstick - imagine "Cheers" featuring the 3 Stooges and you get the idea. Or perhaps "El Circo De Valencia - Valencia's Circus?" Well, there's no History Channel back then, so we'll settle for "Victoria En El Mar." That's the "Victory At Sea" series. Or perhaps cartoons, cowboy movies - yes, I watched Roy Rogers and Dale Evans sing their way through the West on CMQ-TV, Havana

Let's not forget grooming and "looking pretty" are important - your hair must be just right. No one wants to play with the Ugly Duckling until Toni magically fixes everything...

And, finally, the 1954 Cuban version of the Food Pyramid - except it is really the Food Circle. Today's version on the island more resembles an empty circle...or a circle showing the many staples available in better times, but with a diagonal slash through it. But there are rumours the ill-humored guy with the beard's got rice cookers for sale. Good deal! Provided you can find the rice...

After supper, you should brush your teeth - 3 times a day, in fact. Pasta Gravi was a "native" toothpaste, made by Gravi Laboratories. As with many of the products displayed here, Pasta Gravi was advertised on TV, and I still remember part of the jingle, circa 1959. First you were told there were 3 things you had to do for healthy teeth, then the jingle followed: "Uno! Tomar mucha leche...Dos! Comer alimentos variados...Tres! Lavarse los dientes tres veces al dia, con Pasta Gravi!" In other words: "One! Drink lots of milk...Two! Eat a balanced diet...Three! Brush your teeth 3 times daily with Gravi Toothpaste!"
I will not sing the jingle to you or anyone else, even under pain of death. It would not be pretty and dogs would howl in pain...nor will I sing you the jingle for Ipana Toothpaste, whose TV commercials I enjoyed seeing on visits to the US - remember the beaver brushin' and going "Brushy, brushy, brushy with new Ipana Toothpaste!"

Throughout our travels through Cuba's media and marketing past, we've forgotten that we need furniture too, as it is tiring to have friends over for dinner and have nowhere to sit - so we can pick up what we need at La Casa Grande. Plastic furniture, no less! This little ad actually came from a newspaper clipping in our collection, the daily Prensa Libre from Havana, May 3, 1959. It should be noted that Prensa Libre disappeared from the map a year later, victim of the whims of an old scrooge who wanted to hear no other voices but his own...

And we close our commercial interlude with a fantasy ad I would like to see posted on the crumbling walls of Havana today: "If you've grown tired friend, of your dictator's rant-and-rave, then time to stuff his gullet fulla..."


At 11:55 AM, Blogger Carmen said...

This is like going thorugh memory lane in a race car!!
Let's not forget Partagas, H Uppman (cigars) Ambar Motors(the car dealership where my grandfather use to take us when they had the car races in Havana)OlgaChorenz and Tony Alvarez and their daughter Lissette on TV "El ratoncito Miguel", German Pinellis "El palo encebado"TV show on CMQ. Radio Reloj all day long...
Jabon Candado,Nananina y tres patines (La tremenda corte)
Those are the things I remember the most of Cuba between 59 and the mid to late 60's our lives had totally changed! we no longer had TV's that functioned due to lack of parts to fix them, we had Radio Rebelde, No Cocina al Minuto, since there was NO FOOD to cook!no Nitza Villapol!
Rosita Fornes,Gina Cabrera,Alberto Gonzalez Rubio, Blanquita Amaro,and a few others were the only actors left from my parents era...Damn...that is a whole other post!!
Thanks Alberto! you give us back a little of "us" with your writing!!
Happy NEW YEAR!!

At 10:17 AM, Blogger Albert Quiroga said...


Don't drink and drive - specially if you really are driving a '54 Chrysler!


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