Wednesday, November 30, 2005


Read a great post today written by my friend and Blog-Brother Val at his Babalu blog site. As you know, "y'all" can link to it here. Anyway, the post had to do with reserving the pig to be roasted for Nochebuena - that's Christmas Eve dinner, a beautiful tradition which brought together family and good friends, in Havana and throughout the Island. This brought back fond memories of Nochebuena at home, or, usually, at my grandmother Maria's. Who as you already know was a helluva good cook. She could have taught Emeril a thing or two, believe me! As long, of course, as it wasn't Cajun cookin.'

I don't want to elaborate too much on Nochebuena right now, because I hope to - next month - do a post with photos of Christmases Past in Havana. Pray God give me 48 hour days for a month so this can be accomplished...besides which, Val's post on the subject is quite good and filled with humor.

However, this creates another opportunity to feature yet another excerpt from Nitza Villapol's cookbook (for you trivia types, originally printed by La Habanera Printshop, Mercaderes 208, Havana) for your enjoyment, and to acquaint the readers with the humorous drawings featured in each chapter. The artist was-or maybe-which would be nice-is Mario Masvidal. What became of him, one wonders? Since the subject here is a dissertation on roast pig, decided the first page of the chapter on meats - "Carnes" would be apropos. And so, heeeeere's Johnny! Or, Porky Pipp-ppippipeeg!

For some reason, my brain is in Evil Mode tonight. It happens, and this is a function of the Warped Mind gene which no doubt is in my DNA code. So, here is a playful suggestion for those of you skilled in image editing, using Photoshop, or whatever your favorite software happens to be: suppose you replace the piggy's head with the face of a certain grouchy old bearded scrooge...thereby creating a new cartoon symbolizing the kind of swine today's Cuban mothers, grannies, and housewives would just love to whack! Twack! Thud! Chop! Boy! Were that fantasy to become reality, that would be a Nochebuena to remember in Havana.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Mom's Kitchen and the One-Minute Cook

We're now entering the "eatin' season." Thanksgiving is over; like the Pilgrims, we thanked God for the blessings he bestowed on us, including the freedom to gather with our family and friends to share His gifts. Freedoms that Habaneros once had.

Cubans enjoy good food and good eating. This they share with other ethnic/national groups, such as Italians, Spaniards, and Southerners. As in the American South. And don't tell me I don't know what I am talking about! I am married to a Tarheel who's a "heyul of a good cook." And I LIKE grits.

From a young age, I remember mom's good cooking, learned from her mother, my grandmother Maria Fernandez de Granja, who made a "picadillo" which was second to none. Grandmother Maria was ably assisted in the kitchen by one of her sons, my uncle Mariano Granja. See? Cuban guys can cook!

Around holiday time, and in fact, throughout the year, the wonderful smells of picadillo, carne asada, boliche, bistec de palomilla con cebolla, masas de puerco, arroz y frijoles, platanos fritos o salcochados, papas fritas y rellenas, yuca con mojo, boniato, etc, etc, would permeate the household. Mom and dad also enjoyed their salads with lettuce, tomatoes, "berro," oil and vinegar. Salad is where I drew the line, though. At least back then. I couldn't see any reason for munching on something that seemed suitable for cows only.

Forgive me for not translating the above-mentioned food items and descriptions, but much would be lost in translation. Besides, I am no gastronomic expert, and my descriptions and feeble attempts to describe the smell and taste experiences of these wonderful dishes would not do them justice. Respectful suggestion: Find a good Cuban restaurant in your home town - and I mean a REAL Cuban restaurant, not those that advertise aberrations such as "Cuban burritos"-ain't NO such thing-and try Cuban cuisine. If you've found the right place, you will not be disappointed.

Failing in that, the next best thing is to find a good Cuban cookbook. And, in fact, mother acquired the "Bible of Cuban Cuisine," Nitza Villapol's "Cocina Al Minuto," when we still lived at calle LaCret 378 in Santos Suarez. Mother still has her original copy, having made sure she packed it in the suitcase when we left Havana-she knew it would come in handy, whether in Havana or Hialeah. Most Habanero households had a copy of this cookbook, usually kept close at hand, ready to be consulted as needed. Nitza Villapol could be described as "the Julia Child of Cuba," and like Ms. Child, had her own cooking show on Cuban television, which I watched more than once, in glorious black-and-white. I know why I enjoyed watching it: it made me hungry and ready to dive in as soon as dinner was ready. And don't think you can't learn to "do" good Cuban cuisine - the Tarheel in my life can whip up a MEAN picadillo with rice-n-black beans. Blessed with mom's Seal of Approval, which is as difficult to get as it is to get your gadget approved by Underwriter Laboratories.

Since Cubans enjoy desserts, "Cocina Al Minuto" had many dessert recipes. Since we are now in that time of year where dessert takes a more prominent than usual role at the dinner table, here are 3 Cuban desserts enjoyed by Habaneros and other compatriots from the 6 provinces, circa 1954-you may want to try your hand at replicating them; point to the image and click on it so you can get a more readable version:

Yes, the recipe is in Spanish (or Cuban?); sorry, but decided it was best not to attempt a translation of the original-and an original it is, as attested to by the stains on the page, a testimony to the fact this was and still is a well-used cookbook. My poor translation skills would be a recipe for...culinary disaster.

Cubans celebrated their relationship with their cuisine by writing songs about food and the fruits of the land. No doubt other cultures do the same, but can't help but recall the many songs and ditties about food and eating, while still a sprout back in La Habana. Artists such as Celia Cruz and orchestras/musical groups such as Orquesta Aragon sang and played songs about national gastronomic delights.

And in fact, there is even a song about one of the desserts in Nitza Villapol's book, made popular by one of my favorite comic duos back in Havana, Leopoldo Fernandez, nicknamed "Pototo," and Anibal De Mar, nicknamed "Filomeno." The nicknames are untranslatable, but funny to those of us who "were there." So, click on the link, sit back, relax, pretend it is 1956, you are in Havana listening to Radio Progreso ("La Onda de la Alegria") and you've tuned in to a song about dessert-which you may enjoy-the song and the dessert-together with a sweet cafe Cubano...or perhaps you heard this first on "Radio Suaritos." And if you remember "Radio Suaritos," you're even older than I am!

Tune-in here. You may need a plug-in to a media player-sorry, no technical advice and no recommendations here-dealing with my own screw-ups is enough. Please consult your local Technical Expert, as needed.

Que lo disfruten. Long live Havana, Cuba, el boniatillo, Pototo y Filomeno!

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

On blogging, comments, links, and all that-some straight shootin'!

Having indulged in traveling through the web and blogosphere more and more intensely the past few years, and while slowly and methodically preparing for a-hopefully soon-website launch, yours truly decided to try his amateur hand at blogging. Thus was born this blog, which hopefully will not be taken as a work of vanity, but as a work of preservation and education, and, yes, a labor of love-love of family, friends, a time, a doubt the reader understands where this is going.

When listening to Humberto Fontova's talk at the Miami Book Fair last Saturday, I realized how much "on the money" he was when he said that, and forgive the paraphrasing as my powers of recollection are not perfect, "he wrote 'Fidel-Hollywood's Favorite Tyrant' in English, because the Cubans already know this guy but there are a lot of Americans yet to be educated about him." At first I had thoughts of doing this blog in Spanish, but also realize that there are a lot of folks out there in the English-speaking world that should be educated a little bit about the Cuba that was, so they can understand there is or was another Cuba besides the one the grouchy old guy with the beard and his mouthpieces promote. People should have a chance to see what Cuba was before it was taken under "new (mis)management." It was a country with problems, but also full of potential and possibility. The problems could have been fixed in such a way that the end results would have promoted the common good. Instead, groucho-marxist came along and decided to destroy the village in order to save it.

Another thing to be made perfectly clear: this is not about the Quirogas. It is about our beloved La Habana. Therefore, contributions to this blog about the Havana of those times are greatly appreciated, and will receive proper attribution. Help us preserve memories of a great city and its good people. Our city wasn't perfect; we weren't perfect. Still, if we're going to talk about us show what La Habana was, before el maximo loon-atic wrecked it. Another of his many crimes.

Regarding comments: they are most welcome and appreciated, and will be posted. However, to put it bluntly, as I commented on another blog, "sinister-leaning trolls and their fellow-traveler fungi" need not apply. In this great country, a man's home is his castle, a man's blog is his cybercastle. Therefore, the master of the castle/cybercastle decides who is a welcome guest, and who is not. When the fashion of putting up those silly signs which read "Fidel, esta es tu casa" started in 1959, the Quirogas bucked that tide and refused to soil the walls of our home with such pseudo-revolutionary drivel. Grouchy wasn't welcome in nuestra casa, and it certainly was not his casa. And, by the same principle, this ain't his blog, nor is it his fawning followers'. So, ye who think you can use this as a forum to apologize for and/or defend a grouchy old guy who thinks he knows everything-abandon ye all hope! As for links, the ones listed are the ones to sites we like and admire. No apologies are made for our choices, and none are required. Visit them, or not.

In the end, our goal is simple:

We aim to please.

And Happy Thanks-to-God-Giving!

Monday, November 21, 2005

A request from a friend...cannot be ignored

So we take another fork on the road to the past. But all for a good cause. My good friend Jorge of The Real Cuba website happened to be a neighbor back during the time we lived in our last digs in Havana - and we did not even know it until earlier this year.

We met by chance in cyberspace, when I sent him a feedback email complimenting him on the website and mentioned having lived at the Edificio Focsa, 17 and M streets, Vedado, Habana, Cuba, and added my parents had owned/managed a jewelry store there. Next thing I knew, I got an "excited email (I suppose an email can get electronically excited when certain things happen - positively!)" from him because he too, had lived at Focsa and was happy to connect with an old neighbor. Clarification: we were neighbors then, but we did not know it. However, he clearly remembered the store, which he and other family members had browsed and shopped in, many a time. My mother clearly remembered his aunt, after I mentioned "meeting" Jorge who had provided some relatives' names to jog mom and dad's memory.

One of the comments sent to this blog was from Jorge, in reference to the November 10, 2005 posting. He asked for "more photos of Palladium." I saw him this weekend, and he reminded me of this request. Well, although I was saving these for the proposed website about El Focsa, this is one request which cannot be refused. Therefore, on with the show!

The photos above, which open this post, date from February 1957, when the store was inaugurated. By coincidence - a macabre or chilling coincidence, perhaps - the publicity photos were made by Estudios Korda in Havana. Yes, the same Korda who did the so-called "iconic" photograph of a certain asthmatic Argentinian who met his end when sticking his nose into what was none of his business in Bolivia, October 1967. Ironically, Mr. Korda's closeness to the grouchy bearded old man and his cronies did not keep him from-eventually-losing his business to the grouchy bearded old man and his cronies, but as Mr. Korda became the grouchy bearded shakin' old geezer's personal photographer, I suppose he did OK in a "revolutionary" sort of way.

The next photo - also from Estudios Korda, was taken the very day Palladium opened for business. Notice there had not been time to letter in the store's name on the glass facade. Mother and father can be seen inside, with their friend, Ernesto Gomez Sampera, architect/designer for the Focsa building project, on the right.

All kinds of "neat stuff" were sold at Palladium - fine watches of different brands - Juvenia, Benrus, and others; clocks by Imhoff; figurines from Hummel of Germany; perfumes by Lubin. Dad remembers that the mother of the architect Gomez-Sampera, who lived in the building, loved a perfume called "Nuit de Longchamps," by Lubin.

The decor for the store, according to my mother, was inspired by what they saw at the lobby of the Fountainebleau Hotel in Miami Beach, in one of their trips there. The Fountainebleau had been inaugurated in 1954.

And, you may ask, what was Palladium's fate? You might refer to the posting for November 10th, where I said my aunt, Josefina Prego, was left in charge. She was there, valiantly holding the fort against the inevitable when, sometime in 1961, after the Bay of Pigs fiasco (a fiasco of a certain President's doing, and not on the part of the brave men of Brigade 2506), from what I remember she wrote in a letter to us, "la interventora" - meaning some female "revolutionary" official, walked in with her entourage and seized the store, no doubt in the name of the "revolution." My mother had said she did not want to be there when that happened, and, thankfully, God granted her wish.

And today you can behold the ghost of Palladium, in these photos taken by my cousin, Ana Prego, on her visit to Havana in the summer of 2004...

Palladium is now a drugstore - with mostly bare shelves; a mute comment on the bearded old man's "revolutionary achievements." Dad's comments, on seeing these images was: "Well, the glass shelves are still there - they were designed to be sturdy." The icon of a certain asthmatic Argentine who died of lead poisoning in Bolivia, October 1967, hangs on the wall. Something which, of course, would not have been the case when Palladium was Palladium. Woulda clashed with the decor, you know.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Saturday, November 19, 1960 - and 2005...and a slight correction

"Well, there you go again..." As good ol' President Reagan would have said - because again, am violating my own "chronological order rule." But another 45th anniversary has crept up on us. Today marks 45 years we arrived in Miami, F-L-A. And we've been Floridians ever since. Not that we weren't somewhat familiar with our beloved Sunshine State already, as we had vacationed in "la Florida" in the 50's.

Had a chance to rummage through the Quiroga-vault today, and dug up my Cuban passport, which tells its own tale through the stamps of the bureaucracies and related powers-that-be, found throughout its pages.

I promised to explain why we left Havana for Aruba instead of, logically, for Miami or other destination in the USA. It goes like this. Due to our frequent travels to the USA, we already had tourist visas issued by the US Department of State, which were good until 1961.

Starting after January 1960, and accelerating through the spring and summer of that year, Cubans started lining up outside the United States embassy, many desperately seeking visas to the 'States. Let's just say the "revolutionary atmosphere" was starting to feel choking and oppresive to many Habaneros, and others throughout the island. We were able to see the snaking lines of people from our perch at the Focsa building, as the embassy was within walking distance from the building.

The photograph of the United States embassy was taken by father from the Focsa building sometime in 1957-1958, with his trusty Kodak 35mm camera-he enjoyed photography, for which we are grateful. Otherwise, we would not have these images. Notice there were no lines of desperate people looking for visas, in those pre-1959 days. The embassy is the rectangular building almost all the way to the shore line, by the Malecon, or seawall.

Since we already had tourist visas, no sweat, thought mom and dad - we can get on a plane, fly to Miami, and then do what needs to be done in order to stay. Stay until the "revolutionaries" leave, or, more realistically, are kicked out. My mother was getting anxious about leaving, more so when the rumors started making the rounds, that the (mis)government was going to take over the entire educational system, public and private, and, worse, take away parents' rights over their children. That was referred to as "perder (lose) la patria potestad" over one's child.

On January 28, 1960 dad went with our passports to the US embassy, in order to explain we were thinking of going to the United States for a while, and ask what needed to be done on our part so that everything would be in order. "Oh, so I suppose what you really want to do is emigrate to the United States,?" he was asked by Consul Benjamin F. Houck. Dad, being a straightforward, honest type, answered something like "Well, I suppose so; you could say that." Whereupon good Consul Houck, before dad could react, grabbed the passports, and thumpingly stamped each tourist visa with a big, black "CANCELLED" stamp. He then looked up at dad and said, I gather in a nonchalant way, "We'll put in paperwork to have immigrant visas issued." Of course, dad was pleased as punch to find out this process might take MONTHS. Meantime, things would continue to deteriorate between the United States and Cuba - as they did - and we might wind up trapped between a "revolutionary" rock and Consul Houck's hard ass.

Question to you, Consul Houck, sir: Why did you do this? Were you a closet "barbudo" sympathizer? Or were you afraid we were going to Miami to become deadbeats and live off Uncle Sam's largesse? Or did you lose your ability to think straight after thumping passports with your "CANCELED" stamp for too many years? By now, only God knows the answers to these questions.

Needless to say, my mother was apoplectic about all this. She said to dad: "When it comes time to leave, I want to leave, as quickly as possible, no matter where to, or what it takes!" And so, as the winter melted into spring, and spring sprung into summer, and the "revolutionaries" got crazier and crazier vis a vis Uncle Sam, the level of desperation in our household increased. Of course, this I learned later. Mom and dad, at the time, and understandably, kept much of this from lil' sis and I.

This much I remember: I could not understand why the babbling, ranting man with the beard wanted to pick a fight with the Americans. Americans, as far as I was concerned, were A-OK people. What's with being friends with all these creepy looking Russians, anyway?

Dad kept trying to figure out which way we could exit this bad movie before it was too late. The rumors about the loss of parental rights kept increasing, and my mother insisted we all had to leave together. Finally, they found that Cuban nationals could fly to Aruba as visitors, NO VISA REQUIRED. Eureka! That was the answer. Because, at that late date, and this was already October, out of good Consul Houck's mahogany desk had come - nothing...

So, off to Aruba on November 10, 1960. And here is where I correct myself because, as the header for this blog states, "errors are the responsibility of the blog author and will be cheerfully corrected upon submission of valid and relevant evidence." Earlier I had written that we had flown out of Havana on Cubana Airlines. No! Nyet!
Nein! We actually flew good ol'Pan American World Airways (remember them?), the tickets being purchased by dad, on the 30th of September 1960, at Velasco Travel Bureau, formerly located at Plaza de la Catedral, Habana, Cuba. Now no more. I told you the stamps on the passports told the story. So, PAA flew us to Aruba - not KLM. KLM did fly us from Aruba to Miami.

In Aruba, we had the fortune - God looks after his own, I suppose - of dealing with American Vice Consul Richard S. Thompson and his beautiful, blonde secretary (funny how a 10 and-a-half year old started noticing...girls...we're supposed to hate them at that age, no?); mom and dad explained why we had come to be in Aruba and why we needed their help. I recall that the pretty blonde lady spoke fluent Spanish, and spoke at length with mother, who filled her in about all the doings and goings on of the man with the beard and his rude, screeching followers.

Whatever it was, whether the Vice Consul and his secretary felt pity for us, or felt bad about what good Consul Houck had done in Havana, on November 15, 1960 he issued us nonimmigrant visas so that we could go to the United States "on vacation," as he put it. No doubt he winked when he said that. God bless you, Vice Consul Richard S. Thompson-the AntiHouck. God bless you too, beautiful blonde lady - wish I remembered your name.

The required tickets were bought for our flight to Miami on November 19, via KLM Airlines. Mom and dad, having breathed a sigh of relief after obtaining the visas, decided we should loosen up a bit and enjoy the rest of our time in Aruba. I cannot emphasize enough that the people of Aruba were quite kind and hospitable towards us, and helpful throughout. One example was the attitude of the owner/manager of the hotel where we stayed, Hotel Strand. At first, when it looked as if we might be stranded (no pun intended) in Aruba for a while, dad worried about being able to pay the hotel bill. The rate was $25 USD daily. It seems ridiculously cheap now, but in 1960 that was not so cheap, when you consider that the newest hotel on the island then, a Sheraton, was going for $42 USD daily - and that seemed a fortune to us! You see, Aruba was on the expensive side because of the high cost of providing fresh water to the island through de-salinization. There were no fresh water wells, although Aruba did boast a working oil refinery. Getting back on track, dad asked the owner or manager of the hotel, who I believe was Chinese, "if he might consider giving us a break on the room rate," explaining the situation we faced. The owner said he would consider it, but had to talk to his wife, who obviously had a say-so in the matter. Well, in no time he came back to tell mom and dad it would be no problem to grant a reduction if it became necessary. But, in the end it was not necessary. God bless this nice couple for their consideration and kindness, at a time when these were in short supply on the other island we had just left...

Dad decided we should get to know Aruba a little bit, since we would not be there long. He hired a combination tour guide/chauffeur, a Mr. Moreno, whom I recall as a dapper man, in suit, tie, and fedora, cigar in hand. A good tour guide he was, driving us around the island, describing landmarks and telling us about Aruba's charms and peculiarities, such as the twisted divi-divi trees. He drove a beautiful, green 1959 Cadillac - Fleetwood? Sedan DeVille? I don't know anymore. I do know that when dad complimented him by telling Mr. Moreno "I think you have the most beautiful car on the island!," Mr. Moreno beamed and glowed, and, sounding very pleased, answered the compliment with "Gracias, gracias!" No, Mr. Moreno - gracias a usted. Thank you for showing us your beautiful Aruba, for your courtesy and professionalism,for the pleasure of your company-and, yes, to this day, I think you had the most beautiful car in Aruba in November 1960.

One last memory of Aruba, before this post is closed. At the Hotel Strand lobby, there was a TV set, and most nights we would drift to the lobby after supper, to catch the doin's on the boob tube. There was a comedy show from Venezuela, the name of the show lost to memory. The show might have been broadcast nightly, or perhaps 2-3 times a week; again, memory fails. I do recall the sponsor was Parliament Cigarettes - yes, it was legal to advertise lung torpedoes on the telly in 1960. And may as well mention the memorable - to me - Heineken beer commercials, featuring animated puppets, with a catchy tune that went something like "Heine-heine-Heineken, heine-heine-Heineken, heine-heine-Heineken!" Followed by a jingle in Dutch as the little gentleman and lady puppets enjoyed their beer. Don't worry, these black and white commercials did not warp me. I never smoked, and drink with discipline. Do enjoy an occassional Heineken, however.

Let's get back to the show after a word from our sponsors. The main character was a Venezuelan comedian named Amador Bendayan, who, with his Cuban sidekick, nicknamed "El Jiniguano (and please don't ask me the meaning of "Jiniguano" - I have no earthly idea, but perhaps a reader will enlighten us later)," entertained us with antics and situations which made us smile and laugh. Mr. Bendayan; Mr. Jiniguano, wherever you are-God bless you two, too. You brought us the gifts of humor and laughter at a time when we badly needed them. And that is why we do not forget.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Thursday, November 10...1960 and 2005

I intended these postings to be in chronological order, starting with May 1950. However, decided to break the rule (probably will not be the last time) to point out a curious coincidence:

November 10th fell on a Thursday, in 1960 - it also falls on a Thursday, in 2005. So what?, one might ask. November 10th, 1960 was the day mom, dad, sister Marta, sister-to-be Grace, and I left Havana, probably forever...a black day for us, although we were, in fact, leaving the descending darkness behind, for a new and welcoming land of light, promise, and freedom. At the time we thought our absence would be short - "6 months at most," my mother says to this day. Alas, it was not to be.

There are no photos I know of from that day - only images of the bureaucratic stamps of the authorities in our passports. Perhaps I will display these later after rounding up the passports, still in our possession.

These are the images of that day, firmly (to use a cliche) "etched into memory:"

-The tears of Lucia, who worked at home helping mom in the kitchen - and how she hugged my sister and I; can't help but think she knew, deep down, she would never see us again. Years after we had left, she kept inquiring about us, through my grandmother who was still in Havana. We never saw her again. She died in Cuba.

I remember being a little embarrassed at seeing Lucia cry - the way children get when they see tears in an adult. After all, we think adults are strong and above all that. At the time, I did not understand why there was so much unhappiness-after all, we were only going to be away "for a little while."

-Going downstairs and stepping into Palladium Jewelry, at the ground floor in the Focsa building. This was my parents' business, which they had run since early '57. My aunt Josefina was being left in charge, together with Migdalia Gonzalez, who had worked at the store several years. There were more tears and hugs. I experienced the same feelings I had when seeing Lucia cry.

The photo of Palladium dates to April 1959. Dad is on the left, followed by aunt Josefina to his right, then Migdalia, and finally, mother.

Then off to Rancho Boyeros airport (now called "Jose Marti International Airport"), driven there by my uncle, Josefina's husband, Fernando Prego. My cousin, his son "Fernandito" was with us. After we got to the airport and settled in the waiting area, Fernandito winked at me and said: "Why don't you sling your suit jacket over your shoulder, you know, in the AMERICAN style?" He said it loud enough to be overheard. My mother admonished him - "shhhh! - you know not to say certain things these days..." Fernandito liked to taunt the "revolutionaries." We said goodbye - don't remember more tears, except maybe from mom. Grown men don't cry - or didn't back then. Besides, uncle Prego was always the optimistic sort. His take on the whole thing was: "You'll be back before long, you'll see." It was not to be, and had I any idea it would be so, I would have tried to say goodbye to my classmates in Prof. Duran's 5th grade class at Colegio Baldor, as well as to my playmates at the Focsa building, among them my close friends Mario Garriga and Jorge Soto, with whom, thankfully, I managed to reconnect over the years. One thing I forgot to mention: credit for the photograph of Rancho Boyeros in the 50's goes to my good friend Jorge, author/creator of - check it out.

Dad recalls that, as we were going through Cuban customs on the way out, he had to declare personal belongings, currency, etc. At the time, while you pretty much could still take your personal belongings out, strict currency limits were in place. I believe you could only leave with $50 per person. In late 1960, the Cuban peso was still worth one U. S. dollar. Dad had 60 cents in his pocket, in addition to the paper money allowed. The revolutionary customs official, upon hearing dad declare the 60 cents, solemnly stated "coins cannot be taken out of the country." Dad asked him what to do about the 60 cents...the official "helpfully" suggested the coins "be donated to the Revolution." Whereupon dad gave him the coins and the official dutifully and with bureaucratic finesse wrote out a receipt for the "voluntary donation."

Eventually, the family would wind up "donating" everything else to the revolutionaries. Except for ourselves.

The prop plane - maybe a DC-6, I don't know - was, am pretty sure, a Cubana Airlines plane. Mom cried as it lifted off the runway. I still remember the tall royal palms that could be seen as the plane lifted off. We flew to Kingston, Jamaica, landing there sometime in the afternoon. From Kingston we switched to a KLM flight and flew to Aruba, where we arrived before nightfall. Why we had to go to Aruba instead of directly to Miami is another story which will be told later. The photo of Havana's waterfront, which dates to around 1958, symbolizes the last view we would have had of that beautiful city as our plane took off. The Focsa building, with its curved architecture, is to the middle-right. Adios, Habana.

The people of Aruba were very warm and welcoming to us; the smiles and their helpfulness were in stark contrast to the grouchy faces and curt, rude manners of the "revolutionaries" back home. I will later tell of our 9 days in Aruba in detail - Aruba, the Happy Island. An oasis after leaving The Unhappy One.

After obtaining the necessary immigrant visas at the American consulate in Aruba, on November 19, 1960 we arrived in Miami, courtesy of KLM Airlines. I still recall fondly the excellent food served on the plane, which included FILET MIGNON and potatoes - no cheap bags of pretzels or peanuts in those days! Gracias, KLM.

45 years...even Moses and the people of Israel wandered in the wilderness for "only" 40 years. Yet, as November 10, 1960 was a dark day for us, it was also a bright day of promise. We left our home, our family, our friends behind. But we gained something precious, which could not be taken away: freedom and the promise of a new opportunity in what would become our adoptive country. Gracias, Tio Sam!

November 10, 1960-November 10, 2005 - Ying and Yang in the lives of the Quirogas...

Sunday, November 06, 2005

It started here...for me, at least. At Calle LaCret 378, corner of LaCret and Figueroa streets, Santos Suarez (Celia Cruz's neighborhood too), in the merry month of May, 1950. Well - correction - I came into the world via Sagrado Corazon (Sacred Heart) Hospital in Havana - sometime after 9:00 PM. The first of 3 'lil Quirogas.
Marta was to come in October '55, and Grace in June of '61. Grace - the first gringa in the family, born in Miami. A true Florida Cracker.

This was the first home owned by Nicanor, known as Nick or Nicky by most family and friends, and Teresa aka "my parents." It was built in 1949. The architect was Aquiles Capablanca, brother of the famous chess champion Jose Raul Capablanca. The "lawn man" was a Mr. Tain, a Spaniard (from Galicia - a gallego) who later also tended the tiny piece of lawn in our apartment at the Focsa building, our last home in Havana. Kinda hard to keep a lawn mower in an apartment - and sheep weren't allowed.

My father relates that, interestingly, the land for the home was purchased from a Cuban woman who had married an Englishman and moved to London. She had to return to Havana for the closing on the lot. At the closing, she commented to my father that "she could no longer abide the informality of the Cubans." Evidently the tea and crumpets had by then gotten the best of her...

The home had some advanced features, including a circuit breaker box, instead of the usual glass screw-type fuses more common at the time, and also a cistern. Mom and dad lived there from '49 to '54, selling the home to a family who later ran the now defunct Glorified Restaurant in Miami.

From there we moved to El Nautico. However, that story will have to wait. The tale will be continued, after some needed searching of the Quiroga photo vault, and of course, still being a working stiff, as time permits.