Monday, February 13, 2006

El Dia de Los Enamorados

That literally translates to "The Day of The Lovers." Sounds nice, doesn't it? We know it better as Saint Valentine's Day, February the fourteenth. In Havana, "bc" - stands for "before crap," excuse the scatological digression, Saint Valentine's Day was celebrated as "El Dia de Los Enamorados." The rituals were very similar, if not identical, to those followed in the United States - the cards, the flowers, the candies, dinner dates, champagne, soft lights, candle lights...OK, better stop here. After all, this is a family blog. At least, it is intended to be one. Nothing wrong with making it a sweet day for your beloved, however you choose - or chose in those days - to do so.

The stores had their sales and promotions for El Dia De los Enamorados, then as now. If you were looking for something special for your sweetie, you could go to El Encanto, and in one of its many departments, no doubt you would find that special gift.

Unfortunately, El Encanto is no more - consumed by flames April 12, 1961. We won't go into the reasons why, as that would take us into another subject altogether. Suffice it to say the loveless, heartless Un-Cupid of Havana would have destroyed El Encanto as well. It would just have taken him a little longer.

Nevertheless, that was some store, let me tell you - classy, elegant - beautiful. Of course, in those days, as Valentine's Day meant nothing to a certain bratty boy, going, or in his mind, being dragged, to El Encanto was like having teeth pulled...but now, looking back, one appreciates the store's beauty and elegance - the kind of place you would want to go pick up a suitable present for your sweetheart. This brings to mind the very nice gentleman, Benjamin, who worked in the children's and/or men's clothing department. He would cheerfuly help the little grumpy kid's mom shop for suitable clothing, and even take measurements when adjustments and/or tailoring was necessary. We saw him last in an outdoor cafe in Madrid, summer 1976. Cheerful and nice as ever, and joyful at the unexpected encounter. He had not forgotten the grumpy kid.

If not El Encanto, one could head to another nice department store, which your blogger still recalls, as he seems to remember this was his aunt Josefina's - the one who stayed behind holding the fort at Palladium Jewelry, if you recall from an earlier post - favorite store: Flogar. The founder and owner, Florentino Garcia, combined his name and surname to give the store its moniker.

Or maybe I have it wrong and her favorite store was La Epoca, although I can tell you she also loved El Encanto. Then again - is my mind playing tricks? No, just the ravages of time on memory...maybe it was Fin De Siglo. Truth be told, if you could not find something for your wife, girlfriend, "significant other," whatever, in one of these stores for Valentine's were in major trouble, friend!

Before forgetting to give credit to our good sources, the images above all come from our friend at - look at the sections called "Cuba B.C." and "Ads from Cuba B.C." for a treat. Get an idea where you could have gone on your Valentine's day shopping and associated outings in the Havana that was - you had many choices then...and while you are at it, check out his Humor Page. Most will appreciate it. I think humor is an expression of love. Have you noticed how the loveless are invariably humorless?

No "malls" or "shopping centers" back then - so you became more intimately acquainted with the neighborhood, the atmosphere, the people, the particular zones where certain businesses were to be found. I don't know - guess am kind of old fashioned, but liked it better that way. There was more life to the process - leading to more love of life; and isn't that part of what Dia de Los Enamorados is about?

If you decided to get the Very Important Person in your life some jewelry, perfume, china, or whatever else inspired you, there are a couple places to recommend...and pardon the fact that you will quickly realize these recommendations fall in the area of The Shameless Plug. Remember, it is Saint Valentine's Day, so forgive the display of pride, love, and affection for these places and the people who made them so special, to your Shameless Plugger, in any case.

You could have stopped at Palladium Jewelry, found on the ground floor of the Focsa Building, 17th and M streets - that's in the Vedado neighborhood. Sound familiar? If you needed directions and picked up a copy of the Focsa Building's in-house publication, "Algo" magazine, around June 1958, Palladium's advertisement would have told you what you needed to know.

Where you would have been ably assisted in your search for just the right ring, the perfect stone, by Mr. Nicanor (Nick) Quiroga, or aunt Josefina, to his left, or their colleague, Migdalia. The photograph was labeled by mother, and it came courtesy of a Dr. Comas, who lived at Focsa and gave mom and dad quite a few photos of the comings-and-goings in the building, including the many business and social activities there.

On the other hand, perhaps you were into fine china and tableware - no problem; Palladium Jewelry has it for you too...
(Promotional/advertising photo - Palladium Jewelry, 1959)

Now, the food and the fine wine to go with the china and tableware - that you must provide.

If you had trouble making up your mind, you could peruse the little figurines and other knick-knacks your heart - or your sweetheart's - could desire...
(Palladium Jewelry file photo - 1959)

If you are still having problems deciding, and want to make sure you get the right gift for the ocassion, you'll be steered to a very nice lady, who is also quite a capable saleswoman, and really knows her stuff...whether the "stuff" is perfumes, china, figurines, knick-knacks, what have you.

Perhaps the face is familiar - have you been at Palladium before? Well, the face is familiar to your blogger - meet Mrs. Teresa Granja Quiroga, or Mrs. Quiroga, if you go with the "American Custom" - of using the husband's surname, that is; and Unlike her boy, she could probably have sold fridges to eskimos.

Well, still can't find that special gift? Want a recommendation? These Quirogas will be happy to recommend another family business - "Quiroga Hnos." What the heck is "Hnos.?" It's shorthand for "Brothers." Quiroga Brothers, that is, situated in the heart of Old Havana, since 1941, at Calle Muralla number 458 - literally, "Wall Street number 458." Did you know there was a Wall Street in Havana? But no stock exchange. Quiroga Brothers is where dad first cut his teeth in the jewelry business, starting February 1934. The Quiroga side of the family had purchased the business from the widow of the original owner, Mr. Charles Irving, an American. Originally known as "Charles Irving & Co.," it naturally became "Quiroga Brothers" in 1941. And here is a love story for you, on this Dia de Los Enamorados: a certain gal named Teresa Granja went to work in the 1940's for Quiroga Brothers...and met a certain Quiroga, known to his intimates as Nick or Nicky, who also happened to work there. And the rest, is history.

Later, dad went on his own, and thus Palladium Jewelry came to be in February 1957.

Now, I truly wish there were some photos of Quiroga Hnos. from those days to share with you now. In fact, there are, in possession of other family members, and possibly some in our Images Vault. But possession being nine tenths of the law, have none to show you yet. However, the memory of the place is captured through the imagination of Cuban artists and painters, specifically, the Scull sisters. Ever heard of them? They specialize in painting, using 3-dimensional techniques, slices and vignettes of Cuban life and personalities "bc." Their work is wonderful and very nostalgic for those of us who "were there" and remember.

Here is Quiroga Hermanos, Calle Muralla 458, through the artistry of Haydee Scull.
This lively portrait of a slice of life in La Habana Vieja - Old Havana - came by way of cousin Manny Quiroga, whose father, Manuel Sr., my uncle, was one of the brothers in Quiroga Brothers. Manuel Sr. is standing to the right, next to the iron security railing - pay attention to that feature and you will enjoy an interesting surprise later. His wife, whom we knew as "tia" or aunt Cuca, is at the wheel of what appears to be a '58 Chrysler or DeSoto. No, must be a '59, because it has twin headlights. His sister, my cousin Esther, is the passenger. The little mischievous blonde boy is Manuel Jr. or Manny.

The store seen across Quiroga Hermanos was "Los Tiroleses," kind of a small five-and-dime store. The owners are depicted inside, although unfortunately I cannot tell you who they were. All the businesses portrayed were real and existed right in the locations shown in the painting. Another uncle, also one of the Quiroga Hermanos, Dario, whom you met in an earlier post, and who was possessed of a photographic memory, provided the details about these locations so Haydee Scull could paint this evocative scene.

Want to know more about the Scull sisters, Haydee and Sahara, and their magic images of a bygone era? Want to meet some of the characters and personalities of the Havana That Was? Link up here:

  • Haydee and Sahara Scull

  • If you visit Joe's Stone Crabs restaurant in Miami Beach, you will see an example of their work. They recreated the foyer at Joe's, portraying the maitre'd who worked there many years, other employees, and members of the owning Weiss family. All real people. Speaking of Dia de Los Enamorados, if stone crabs you and your sweetie crave, this is THE place to get them. OK, it is just this non-gastronome's opinion, but I would take my wife there. And she would love to be taken there, on Valentine's or any other time.

    Oh, I forgot. What would you find if you now returned to Havana and tried finding Quiroga Hermanos, 1958 now a distant, blurry memory?

    You find something akin to an empty, Egyptian tomb. No one there anymore, to help you find that special something for your beloved. And all courtesy of the slowly mummifying and unraveling, moldy pharaoh of Havana. No love left there. Would it do any good to ask Cupid to shoot one of his magic arrows into pharaoh's hardened heart? No - there IS no heart...

    But there is something interesting about the image. The same iron security railing my dad used to raise and lower at Quiroga Hermanos, when he began working there as a 14-year-old is still there. One solitary unbroken link to a time still lovingly remembered.

    If you are curious, the photograph was taken in summer 2004 by a cousin, who made a point, in her travels, of visiting most, if not all, of the places which had meaning and significance to us, during our Havana years.

    Back to 1958, a time when Cupid still shot his arrows into lovers' hearts in Havana.

    If you have finished your shopping, there is still one more thing: don't forget flowers. Go to Jardines Goyanes and pick up some.

    You have seen this ad before - it was printed in Nitza Villapol's cookbook, "Cocina Al Minuto," the 1954 edition.

    And there is one more thing that you have seen, but, since we are now speaking of flowers for Dia de Los Enamorados, this is quite apropos for closing this post, more or less elegantly. You see, there is a special person who also should get flowers in this Dia de Los Enamorados...

    This was a great cover for Zig-Zag in exile, February 1963. Bet Jardines Goyanes would be willing to donate the many would be tripping all over themselves for that honor, in fact.

    To Habaneros, then and now, consider this: Perhaps for some, for many of you even, it is not possible to say "feliz Dia de Los Enamorados." But that day, the day you can say "happy Valentine's Day," will come. For in the end, Love conquers all evil.


    At 12:31 AM, Blogger Carmen said...

    What a great post!! thank you for bringing back those "dusty" memories of my early chilhood in La Habana...My grandfather would take me shopping to Galiano and San Rafael Street...Muralla, La Manzana de Gomez etc...
    We would also visit my mother every Saturday afternoon at El Encanto, back then she was the head nurse there and everyone in that store LOVED HER!
    When my cousin got married, the biggest thrill was my dress as the flower girl that came from "El Salon Frances" from El Encanto!! I still had that little dress years later.... After the fire, there was no more thrills, no more El Encanto,maybe Fin de Siglo, Flogar,little by little all those beautiful stores whithered away slowly and became old skeletons in sight, and memories of a lifetime not yet lived completely.

    At 6:54 AM, Blogger Albert Quiroga said...

    Thank you, Carmen, for sharing your valuable and beautiful memories with us. For you and your family, obviously the loss of El Encanto was a very personal thing. This was a symbol of what happened to Havana after the catastrophe of 1959 - the beautiful city lost its Encanto...its Enchantment. May we see the day when The Enchantment returns to Havana and to all Cuba.

    At 12:25 AM, Blogger ziva said...

    I can't figure out how I managed not to see this for two days! Alberto what a perfect gift for el Dia de Los Enamorados- a guided tour of the real La Habana. The one that lives in the hearts of her offspring, free and untouched by a dictator's destruction. What a treat, thanks.

    At 8:26 PM, Blogger Mark James said...

    Alberto -- You are a very fine writer. Did you have an uncle or great-uncle named Alvaro Quiroga who lived in New Orleans and married Ona Belle "Fitzie" Tynes? This couple were my mother's aunt and uncle, and she remembers visiting a jewelry store in Havana run by Tio's relatives (BC of course). I found your blog by Googling bits of her story.


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