Friday, December 30, 2005

Back to the Future!

Fooled you with the title? This isn't about movies involving mad professors who time-travel in flying Deloreans - in case you wonder "what is this, Delorean, you speak of?" It was the Edsel of the 80s...

We'll cut out the car talk and leave it for another day. We're not actually going to the future - we are going to the past, because sometimes you need to know where you've been before you understand where you are going - or where Havana could have been and become if not fated to be enveloped in darkness.

I am afraid this posting will have to be done in the manner and style of those old 50s' TV serials enjoyed in that decade, serials such as "Flash Gordon" and "Don Winslow, USN." Otherwise, fear the post would be a bit lengthy - besides, it is fun to bring out a sequel. Hollywood does it all the time, right? Actually, just because Hollywood does it don't make it right. One could do an entire blog on the fawning, groveling habits of certain "Hollywoodies" in the presence of a certain stinkin,' old bearded dinosaur. But we leave that to the Freudian psychologists.

The images of late 19th-early 20th century Cuba displayed here came courtesy of a long-gone, distant relative named Pedro Pablo Peralta, who collected and kept them until one day he gave them, or mailed them, to my great uncles, on my father's side, Alberto and Constantino Quiroga. Alberto and Constantino were Pedro Pablo's uncles. Who, in turn, passed them on to father, who in turn provides them here for your enjoyment.

Dad describes Pedro Pablo as a "Bohemian" type - we would have called him a "hippie" today. He eked out a living designing, making, and marketing hand-drawn and decorated cards, including Christmas and other kinds of greeting cards. He employed his calligraphic skills doing this, a sample of which you shall see soon enough. Regretfully, we have no samples of his other work, which in light of all the desktop-and-web-based designing and publishing tools available today, would have been something no doubt to admire, since real craftmanship was involved, not just an understanding of cut-n-paste.

He also wrote passable poetry, and, from father's recollection, frequented Havana poolhalls where he enjoyed the game - and placing bets. Somehow, he got by and enjoyed life well enough - until...well, that's in the past.

Where he obtained the photos featured here, taken between 1899-1903, we do not know. It is clear, however, he cherished them, and made sure they were passed on, not just buried and forgotten - maybe even destroyed - in a decaying Havana. We are fortunate that he annotated each and every one, giving location, names of buildings, sometimes throwing in a little historical detail or two. Which reminds me to remind you: Do this for every photo in your possession, no matter how trivial/unimportant you think the images are - it brings meaning and memory to each image, making each priceless. And we are not talking dollars and cents here. Does this make sense?

And now, courtesy Pedro Pablo Peralta Productions, and in his own words, presenting...

"Laying the cornerstone for the Center for Dependents (Centro de Dependientes) in 1902 - the honorable (although not specified, it appears the order is left-right) Joaquin de Freixas, Carlos M. de Cespedes, Juan R. O'Farril, Riuz Rivera, Emilio Nunez, Alejandro Rodriguez." Names of men who played their part in Cuba - and Havana's history; it would be impossible to tell what each did, or describe the significance of their contributions. Here is your opportunity to do some research and learn about them - curious?

Here is another image from the same event, which took place September 28, 1902. Cuba had become an independent republic earlier, on May 20, 1902. There are more names, and again, it appears the individuals named appear from left to right. I could be wrong, as on September 28, 1902 at best, I was a "work in progress"-or chaos-in God's mind...

"Laying the cornerstone Center for Dependents; the honorable Carlos M. de Cespedes, Juan R. O'Farril, Emilio Nunez, Joaquin de Freixas, Romagosa, Riuz Rivera, Berrier, Valdez, Gonzalez de Mendoza, Manuel Garcia del Valle, Alejandro Rodriguez."

Of course, independent republics need an army and defense works, to protect their independence and keep order for the public good. At least that is the ideal role for a nation's armed forces.

"The first Cuban soldiers." They appear to be equipped with Mauser rifles, left over from the Spanish colonial army. But I could be mistaken - rifle experts out there may be able to help us. They do not appear to be Krag-Jorgensens, issued to American troops. The men look sharp, no? And probably sweltering under the tropical sun with their tight collars...we've come a long way in uniform design since then.

Havana harbor required suitable defensive works to stave off foreign foes - once before, in 1762, a British fleet brought an army which landed there and took the city. Sometimes, however, no defense can withstand enemies from within...these walls being silent witnesses to the worst enemies Havana ever had, back in January 1959...

"The Queen's Battery (Bateria de La Reina) today Maceo Park." Here's an interesting bit of family lore, related by dad, the Living Encyclopedia of All Things Connected to The Quirogas in Cuba: his father, my grandfather Dario Quiroga, together with two other brothers, Alvaro and Nicanor, had left Spain sometime in 1897, to - am embarrassed to admit - avoid military service. In a way, can't say I blame them, as the war against the Cuban insurrectionists was going on, hot and strong, since 1895, no end in sight. The thought of facing machete-wielding "mambises" in the hot fields of Cuba was evidently not a palatable prospect.

For whatever reason, and the logic escapes me, that is, if you wanted to avoid fighting Cuban rebels, they went to...Cuba. Lo and behold, after being there for a while they were DRAFTED! And were forced to take the "King's shilling," or the "Queen's peseta," as the case may be. Grandfather got lucky - as he had flat feet, he was posted to artillery, and was sent to serve in an artillery battery at La Cabana fortress, guarding Havana harbor. He did not have to fire a shot at anyone, since, when the Americans landed in Cuba in 1898, most of the fighting took place far from Havana.

His brothers Alvaro and Nicanor were given their marching orders and sent to the infantry. Their feet were not flat. So, they became what today we call "ground pounders." They had a close call, when the troop train in which they were being transported to the fighting zone was derailed by Cuban rebels. Someone was looking out for them, however, as they suffered nary a scratch. And so, these three Quiroga brothers wound up serving honorably albeit on the wrong side, only for a short time, and best of all - getting out of the whole mess in one piece. Which may have made a difference as to whether or not this blogger would be here today writing about these things.

"Pit or fosse of the Laurels (Foso de los Laureles) - a place of execution for many Cuban patriots." And within those ominous-looking walls, many more Cuban patriots would fall, almost 60 years later, by firing squads commanded by barbarians clad in olive-green fatigues, many wearing crucifixes around their if symbolizing how they had come to crucify an entire people. The sign on the wall back then, circa 1902, read: "In Eternal Memory, and by the will of the People, will be affixed here a bronze plaque in the same proportions, to remember the sacrifice of those who perished here for the independence of the Homeland." The words ring as true today as they did then.

And speaking of visitors to Havana harbor, there was a certain ship...

"Remains of the battleship Maine - to the right, center, sargent York, later commander." Unfortunately, I cannot tell you what sargent York became commander of, later, except to say it would have been infantry. I can tell you he is not the same sargent Alvin York of Tennessee, who, in 1918, during the Great War-wars, by the way, are not great, although sometimes they are necessary-dispatched to Valhalla about a couple Baker's Dozen's worth of the Kaiser's boys with well-aimed shots from his '03 Springfield - earning a Congressional Medal of Honor in the process. For you Gary Cooper fans, he played sargent York in the movie by the same title, back in '41. Good movie too.

Pedro Pablo wrote on this one "Victims of the Maine." The photograph is of a cemetery - possibly, but without certainty, the big cemetery in Havana known as "Colon," where casualties of the battleship Maine, perishing in the explosion of February 1898, were buried. Serious and somber-looking US soldiers and Navy men pay homage to their comrades in arms; unfortunately, none of the men in the photograph, including the civilian, are identified.

Other famous-or infamous-ships paid visits to Havana harbor. One was the German Navy's Schleswig-Holstein, which paid a call in the spring of '39. Dad recalls seeing many German sailors on shore leave, some of whom, together with their officers, laid wreaths at a monument to Jose Marti, resulting in protests from anti-Nazi groups, offended by this gesture from Hitler's sailors. Too bad there weren't enough Habaneros to mount similarly vehement protests at the presence of Khruschev's Soviet sailors, not too many years afterwards...

The Schleswig-Holstein, as she would have appeared at the time of her Havana visit-from Photo dates from 1937-1938.

And about five months later, at 04:47 AM on September 1, 1939 she became an instrument of the mad Fuehrer's plans for conquest and subjugation, when she became the first warship to fire her guns in anger, against shore positions in Polish Westerplatte...

"Beschiessung der Westerplatte" (Bombardment of the Westerplatte) by Klaus Bergen, 1940-from

And then there was the tragic St. Louis in June 1939, ironically following the visit from Hitler's ship-bringing refugees trying to put an ocean between themselves and the mad Fuehrer, to no avail. Twenty years later, many Habaneros would themselves become refugees, trying to put at least 90 miles between themselves and the closet Hitler-lover of Havana...

A view of the S.S. St. Louis surrounded by smaller vessels in the port of Havana (USHMM Photo)-

About mid-1957, a little boy beheld in awe, from his bedroom window at apartment 26L, Focsa building, a powerful, impressive United States Navy aircraft carrier. It may have been the USS Forrestal, CV-59. Unfortunately, the little boy's brain has grown older, not necessarily wiser - memory has dimmed here and there. It could have been another carrier. But he could not stop examining this magnificent ship, which he did in detail, thanks to his dad's telescope, aimed from the balcony towards the harbor. Later, he was thrilled to go on a small launch, with his dad and his cousin Fernando, circling the carrier, admiring it from all angles, impressed with its purposeful look. Years later, interestingly, the little boy was to marry a gal whose father was a Navy Man - a carrier man, indeed, having served on board the USS Lake Champlain, CV-39, during the Big One. That's World War II, for the history-impaired.

All these interesting historical connections and coincidences - how did we start with Havana and wind up talking about harbors and ships, famous and infamous? But in fact, the harbor made Havana, for better or worse; the harbor and its history cannot be ignored or glossed over.

Ships of peace, ships of war, ships of fools, ships of tragedy. Are we done with ships and their connection to the heart of Havana and its harbor? Not quite. There are two other classes of ship we must discuss: ships of Fate and Sinister ships.

On December 2, 1956 a small yacht with an innocuous name, "Granma," landed certain characters who would work their way to Havana a little over 2 years later, in Oriente province. A ship of Fate. A fatal Fate, for Havana and the rest of Cuba. The chain of consequences brought by that little boat, smaller than the Maine, very small compared to the Schleswig-Holstein and the St. Louis, extremely small, compared to the Forrestal, are being felt in Havana, the rest of Cuba, and indeed much of the world, almost 50 years later.

And the leader of that dastardly band once in power, began beefing up his military and internal terror apparatus, despite pious protestations that his intentions were peaceful, and Cuba needed no weapons. "Armas para que?," he would hypocritically proclaim - "Weapons, for what?" And in early March 1960, a Sinister ship entered Havana harbor. The ship was named "La Coubre," and it was filled to the bilges with weapons and explosives. Mysteriously, on March 4, 1960 the ship exploded violently; twice, in fact.

Aftermath-La Coubre explosions - Havana harbor, Friday March 4, 1960 - from CUBAN INFORMATION ARCHIVES -

A young boy, arriving at his grandmother Maria's place at the end of another week in Baldor Academy, remembers the black-and-white images of the destruction and carnage on TV. Images repeated and discussed, ad nauseam, by the news commentators, for hours and hours. Funny how, years later, so-called "mainstream media" in the USA have a predilection for also beating their subject to death, specially if by so doing they believe themselves to be advancing politically-correct agendas...

The bearded self-proclaimed leader, his followers and propaganda mouthpieces, for weeks afterwards, tried to portray the explosion as "sabotage," the United States directly and indirectly blamed for the alleged "sabotage." This became the pretext-under the guise that "the revolution was under attack by the Yankee imperialists"-used by the bearded one to seriously begin clamping down on the opposition, thus tightening the screws relentlessly, following his plan for the enslavement of the Cuban people. More and more, the USA would be turned into the "boogeyman" against whom all "revolutionary stalwarts" had to stand, firmly and fanatically. And so, the La Coubre's explosions signalled the implosion of Cuban society, shortly to be finally shattered and dismembered, and scattered to the winds.

You know what I think you did, you closet Hitler-lover of Havana? You contrived to have La Coubre blow up so you could have YOUR Reichstag Fire...

The German Reichstag (Parliament) building burns, February 1933-from

To be continued...

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Christmas Greetings and Wishes...

Christmas cards come in many sizes and shapes, with a variety of greetings. Not everybody "does" Christmas, I realize that. But we did - and still do. If I could take you back to Christmas 1951, you might have gotten a personalized greeting from a proud couple, who happened to be baseball fans. Which reminds me: We'll need to talk about Cuban baseball another time. That is a subject worthy of its own web log.

Anyway, getting back on track to Christmas...had you been invited to come in and visit at calle LaCret 378, you would have enjoyed a cheerful, typical and boisterous Cuban gathering of Quirogas, Granjas, friends, and neighbors. If it was Nochebuena - Christmas Eve - likely you would have enjoyed a meal of tender, roast pork, beans and white rice, maybe yuca, sweet fried plantains, sweet desserts, ranging from natillas to pudines, flan, and some traditional Spanish turron, or almond nougat. And of course, some nice drinks, perhaps cerveza. For me, am sure it was milk. In later years, Christmas Eve dinner tended to gravitate to my abuela or grandmother Maria's...she lived, as extended Cuban families tended to do, with her 2 sons, 2 daughters, a son in law, and her grandson, my cousin Fernando - the one who later liked to taunt pompous, legend-in-their-own-mind types dressed in olive drab. Her cooking skills were well appreciated at these warm, family gatherings, and she usually kept me, and later, my sister, as the adults went off to enjoy adult time, including, no doubt, attending midnight Christmas Eve church services. I still remember mother putting on her "velo" or veil, at church.

Wish I'd had the time to really go through the photo vault to bring you more images of fondly-remembered times for this post. One could write pages about celebrating Christmas in Cuba, in those pre-El Grincho times. And since, after all, we have the tradition here in the good ol' USA, of the 12 Days of Christmas, perhaps before the 12 Days of Christmas are over, it may be possible to delve deeper into this wonderful time, back then, in more detail so as to do it justice - maybe even in living Technicolor. But if not this year, then maybe next - who knows, next year, Christmas in Havana?

And by the way, one gift the little boy in the photograph never received was the gift of athletic prowess, Havana baseball league suit notwithstanding. No throwing arm, no batting, infield, outfield, pitching, catching, umpiring ability. Nada. Yet, the little boy was to have a daughter who excels in athletics - perhaps proving that, if nothing else, God has a sense of humor...

And for you sports fans from those days, this question: What was Havana's big rival in the baseball wars of those days? Sorry, no prizes for answering the question correctly. Just the satisfaction of remembering those days of friendly rivalries, settled skilfully and enthusiastically in the various baseball fields/stadiums dotting Havana and its environs.

And for you collectors of vintage Christmas tree ornaments - those hanging from the tree in the photograph were likely German-made, of that fragile glass which seemed to break if you just looked at it the wrong way. I have some vague memories of these ornaments, and seem to recall gold, blue, and silver as the prominent colors for these - to me anyway - beautiful decorations. In later years, "bubbling lights" made their appearance, and now are even being reproduced. Except now, most of the decorations are stamped "made in China."

The last Christmas we celebrated in Havana was Christmas, 1959. By then, El Grincho was showing his displeasure at this, to him and his band of spoilsports, "bourgeois, Yankee-imperialist superstitious practice." I remember one day, playing in the garden level of the Focsa building with a couple of my 'lil buddies, around Christmastime, when we started talking excitedly about what Santa might bring. One of them, out of the blue, said: "Are your parents putting up a Christmas tree? You know, Fidel does not want people putting up Christmas trees." I looked at him, feeling something like shock and anger - after all, I thought - why would "that man" have something against Christmas? I think I blurted out something like, "well, he doesn't tell my mom and dad what to do - WE are putting up a Christmas tree!" How naive was that 9.5 years old boy, wasn't he? But in fact, we did celebrate Christmas that year, as we had every other year before 1959. Little did we know it would be, for us, and no doubt for many others, the Last Christmas In Havana. Sounds like the title for a book or a movie. A sad book, a sad movie.

El Grincho, although making noises of displeasure over Christmas trees, had not yet managed to interfere much with daily commerce. Goodies from-and actually made in-the USA were still coming in. So Cuban boys could still look forward to Santa's visit and their toys. Of course, we had the option of receiving gifts from the Three Wise Men on Epiphany, January 6. The best of both worlds. And so, mom and dad did their shopping for sis and I - or rather, they told us Santa was doing the shopping. And we believed in Santa and the 3 Wise Men, although one of my classmates at Baldor school, maybe the year before, had expressed his belief that the Three Wise Men were in fact "papa, mama, y el bolsillo." Meaning: "Dad, mom, and their pockets." Today we might say "mom, dad, and the benjamins." Or the euros, yen, pounds, or whatever passes for currency these days.

And that year Santa Claus left a "Sons of Liberty" rubber soldier playset for me. A playset through which a boy's imagination could recreate exciting skirmishes between American colonials and George III's disciplined ranks. And here it is, no, not mine, someone else's, but this will have to do:

I believe in at least giving attribution for borrowed images, and in case one of you collectors hunger for such a set - this came from - except their website indicated this particular set was - sold. Sorry. Didn't mean to get you too excited.

The playset came with a colonial stone house/stronghold; plastic trees, rocks or emplacements from which determined Continentals could fire their muskets against equally determined battle-hardened British and Hessian troops. Colonials, or Continentals, as you wish,like these -

The colonials done in blue - Carolina blue, to be exact. Do not mean to offend anyone, but understand my better half is a North Carolinian. And from North Carolina many hardy revolutionaries joined the fray, a long long time ago, to fight the tyrants of their day. "If God is not a Tarheel, then why is the sky Carolina Blue?"

Their worthy foes, determined British and Hessian veterans, such as these -

By the way, the manufacturer, Louis Marx and Company was no marxist. Just a good 'ol free-enterprise firm which made lotsa fun things for girls and boys - and here in the USA, too.

The 2 images came from - if you are into toy soldier collecting, you may want to look them up. Maybe these could be under YOUR Christmas tree.

After the battle,the brave American Continentals and their worthy British foes could gather for tea, or rum? Or whisky? In the cozy stone house/redoubt, in a civilized setting, and toast each other's courage...


And you are getting bored by now, with tales of these bloodless battles between rubber men, horses, cannon, and painted metal "stone" houses. I'm sorry to do this to you, but if you've read this far - courage! Stand your ground amidst the gunpowder smoke, the flashing flints, the grim bayonets! We're getting to the point.

The set included this little flag:

46 years later, given the atmosphere of the Season in 1959, I wonder: When mom and dad bought this wonderful playset for my last Cuban Christmas, did they intend the gift to convey a certain message? A Sons of Liberty game...a little boy playing games with little Sons of Liberty men, blue ones against RED(!) ones, as Cuban sons and daughters of Liberty were losing their freedom, little by little, every day, to a grinch who would have made George III shine as an enlightened, benevolent ruler in comparison.

I left these childhood things behind, when we took the final journey into exile on November 10, 1960. But wait - that's not the whole story. The night before, or maybe that morning, as we were doing last-minute packing, I realized I needed to take something along to keep me entertained in the weeks to come. So I found a plastic bag, and stuffed it full of as many of the little rubber army men whose commander-in-chief I was; WWII army men, frontiersmen and cowboys, Indians, Continentals and Redcoats. About 30 of them, or so. And off to Aruba and into exile they went. Never to return to their happy hunting grounds.

And 45 years later, this Christmas, one lone survivor from that Sons of Liberty set still stands proudly, still in my possession; maimed, but still wielding the remains of his broken musket, grim determination mixed with fear in his face, survivor of many bloodless battles and skirmishes, surviving the claws of El Grincho. Not to worry, my little rubber friend - no more battles to fight for you; just a happy, well-earned retirement in peace, aging - hopefully in a graceful manner - alongside an aging kid-at-heart. Sons of Liberty, both of us, all of us. Reminding us of one of the greatest Christmas gifts we have ever received from Him, the Reason for the Season - LIBERTY.

And what would I like to have for Christmas 2005? Well, I don't need anything. The Christmas Child has given me many gifts and blessings over the years. It would take another blog to detail them all. This is all I want for Christmas 2005, and I will address this not to Santa Claus or the Three Wise Men. I will address the request, in the name of the Christmas Child to El Grincho de La Habana:

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..."