Monday, June 05, 2006

Cuba Nostalgia Musings and Images

This may not be strictly related to Havana and its environs, but after all Cuba Nostalgia is about things Cuban and Havana is in Cuba, your bloggin' ex-Habanero has the opportunity to bore you with the equivalent of a digital slide-show, like those slide shows which made you cringe in pre-digital photo days. You know, the kind you were required to politely endure on a Sunday visit your parents dragged you into, when you visited that one friend or relative who was constantly snapping photos and inflicting the images on the neighborhood.

But if it weren't for those would we be able to remember, and thus live again? Notice the nice-looking couple in the photo above...most likely Cuban. The gentleman is carefully composing the image of his lovely lady next to the Caddy. I think they are remembering and re-living. There is a story there. So, for this post, and for the sake of those who would have liked to attend Cuba Nostalgia but could not due to circumstances of time, place, and distance, will keep the comments to a minimum and let the images speak for themselves. Maybe you will have some nice, nostalgic but beautiful recollections of your own as you view them.

First, the cars - ah, the cars of Cuba...those beautiful behemoths; land yachts of the '50s, in which a kid could easily get lost - who needs an SUV when you can lounge in luxury in the back seat of a Cadillac Eldorado or a Buick Skylark?

The Cadillac Eldorado is very nice - it may be a '59, but am not sure...did the double headlights come in '59 or '60? It does bring to mind Mr. Moreno's green Caddy, in the island of Aruba, back in November '60. You may want to re-visit the November 2005 archives for that tale.

I really go for this red '53 Buick Skylark, except studies have shown traffic police tend to notice red cars - more or less the same effect as waving a red cape in front of a bull, I suppose. Wonder how many tickets it would have garnered back in Havana, from la Policia Nacional?

This beautiful convertible reminds me of the time "we" - meaning dad, yours truly, and my cousins Alvaro, Dario, and Oscar rode their father's - uncle Dario's - Buick convertible in a Havana carnival, oh, maybe in '56 or so. I don't remember the model, other than it did have portholes on the body, and the color might have been green. One thing I do remember is the car stalling out frequently and having to be push-started by other helpful drivers following, using the "bump-and-move" method. Bumpers back then could stand that, except the chrome might have gotten a little scratched. As dad relates the story, "your uncle, as he's giving me the keys to the car, casually mentions the battery is weak..." By then, it was too late - we already were dressed up - we were costumed as Basques, white pants, shirts, red berets, red scarfs - so it was grit your teeth and go for it. I remember it was a sunny, warm day, guess in February when carnival time rolled around. And we merrily rolled in uncle Dario's '52 - I think - Buick convertible, with its often-dying battery. But we had fun. At least, the kids did.

Here is another Nifty Fifties Buick for your viewing pleasure, this one a '54, complete with period license tag or plate. Guess this makes me appear old, and maybe I am, but I have a fondness for the autos, or "carros," as we called them in Cuba, of that decade. They had personality and you could tell at a glance what was what.

At least we did not run out of gas while in the Carnival queue in uncle Dario's Buick. If we had, there might have been a handy Shell station nearby. And in those days when you received real service in Havana gasoline stations, no doubt a gas can would have been provided free of charge.

I do not know where uncle Dario purchased his Buick, but it might have been at Ambar Motors, not far from our last abode, the Focsa building. This particular image is dedicated to good friend Carmen, who had a "family connection" to Ambar Motors. The name came from the owner's, a Cuban-Italian, or perhaps Italo-Cuban, Amadeo Barletta - AMadeo BARletta - get it? We did buy our last car there, a 1960 Corvair. Anyway, that is too much information. I want to save these bits and pieces for a later posting on the cars of Havana.

Friend Jorge, author of The Real Cuba website, has a wonderful, evocative image of the automotive era in the Nifty Decade - and you can see where Ambar Motors was located, in a zone known as La Rampa, which included the sites for the CMQ TV broadcasting station and Radiocentro - the media center of Havana. Ambar Motors is on the ground floor of the large building to the left. All elements of auto culture are seen - the dealership, the streets, the cars, the service stations. Going by the body styles of the autos, my guess is the photograph dates from about 1955.

Flyin' around the wonderful booths and exhibits brought me to the one for the pre-you -know-what Cubana de Aviacion Era. "Cubana," as we knew the national airline in those days, was the pride of the nation, and rightly so, flying state-of-the-art aircraft within the island, and to many international destinations, with competence and professionalism. Those were the days when good customer service was the pride of an airline, and, from my recollections of the flights I was lucky to be on, Cubana was second to none when it came to satisfying the customer.

This particular advertisement reminded me of several trips taken to Miami, and New York, back in the 50s, in Cubana's sleek and shiny "prop jobs." To this day, I miss the sounds of firing pistons, galloping valves, and other rotating, meshing, and clashing mechanical elements typical of the radial aircraft engines of that era. And, by the way, you were served real food in those flights - none of the crappy little bags of salted peanuts or tiny "mystery meat" sandwiches you are grateful to have now.

And here we have an image of air mail from Spain arriving, courtesy Cubana de Aviacion, in Havana, 1950. Hey - that's my year! But I arrived via Stork Airlines. You do realize I am pulling your leg, right? The photo somehow reminds me of our flight to Spain in 1956 - Havana to Lajes airfield, in the Azores, then Barajas airport in Madrid...18 hours in the air via Super-G Constellation, a beautiful airplane, then and now. My parents were brave to make such a trip with a 6-year old and a 9-month-old. I will share something with you, which perhaps provides an insight into your blogger's personality. On the flight back, in an Iberia Airlines plane, a rambunctious 6-year-old was running through the aisles, as no doubt many of the adults secretly wished to do, after being confined in an alloy cylinder flying miles above the ocean, for 18 hours. A stewardess, in her best Castillian, admonished the little boy to stop "lest we put you out through that door we have for bad little boys like you!" I distinctly remember the ominous-looking door had a round porthole, and I could see clouds through that opening. Discretion being the best part of valor, and not wanting to test the testy lady further, the 6-year old discreetly retreated back to his seat. Do not worry - this caused no trauma. I still love aircraft, flying, and all that goes with it. One thing must be said: don't remember the Cubana Airways stewardesses being cranky and nasty like the lady from Iberia - maybe on the shorter Cubana flights the little boy had no time to misbehave and get the "azafatas" - stewardesses - worked up to a ballistic frenzy.

Traveling through Cuba Nostalgia's many stops brought me to a familiar place, where I found good friends, some whom I only knew through the blogosphere. It was great to meet them in the flesh.

There's Pat Texidor next to one of his fine drawings - if you've paid attention to the postings made since March, you should have an idea who he is; also enjoyed speaking with friends Val and Maggie Prieto, and having the pleasure of meeting Val's very nice parents; meeting George, "Ziva," Robert, Henry, Steve, and others. Babalublog had some very nice postings about Cuba Nostalgia, beginning May 19th, and through the end of the event. You should take a look - it will be worth it. Come on, don't be lazy - there is a link right in this blog.

To prove this is a small world, in speaking with Pat Texidor, we found, to our mutual surprise, we had both attended the same school in Havana, Baldor Academy. He was in fourth grade when I left in 1960, having just started fifth grade. Since I was wearing a golf shirt with the Baldor emblem, given to me by a former classmate with whom I had the pleasure to reconnect after...46 years, it was surprising how many people came up to me to inquire if yours truly was a former Baldor student. That was nice, although bittersweet, as I found out through one of the inquirers, a very nice lady who asked me to name some of my former teachers, that my last teacher, professor Duran, whom I greatly respected, had died about 2 years ago. At least there was the satisfaction to know he too had escaped the bearded bastard's claws.

Walking and exploring Cuba Nostalgia further, brought me to another familiar place - literally familiar.

Yep, that is cousin Jimmy's business, carrying on the Quiroga jewelry trade tradition, since the original site at Muralla 458, Havana, Cuba is no longer available. Quiroga Brothers was located at Muralla and Cristo streets in Old Havana - hence the street sign on the Lido Jewelry exhibit; on the other side, not depicted here, is the sign for Muralla. And if you want more details and background, the more or less complete story on Quiroga Brothers and successors, refer to the posts for the month of February.

And here's the man himself, proudly standing behind the counter, carrying on as would have his father, my uncle Manuel, my other uncle, Dario, and my dad, Nick - the brothers in Quiroga Brothers.

One of the exhibits was based on a 1953 map of Havana, depicting all the major streets, neighborhoods, and other significant features. So now I can show you the neighborhood where I grew up, well, were my first four years were spent - Santo Suarez. As you should recall, if you have been following the story for the past six months, my Havana days started at General LaCret street, seen clearly on the map. Find Figueroa street, which crosses Avenida de La Libertad, or Liberty Avenue. Follow Figureroa - the "F" is missing from the less-than-professional photo - upwards or in a "northerly" direction. The house at LaCret or La Cret, as you prefer, was right at the intersection of Figueroa and LaCret. Ah, pardon the foot - hard to avoid as the map was placed on the floor so one could literally "walk" through Havana.

And this section is Vedado, the last neighborhood where these Quirogas lived, at the Focsa building, on 17th and M streets - directly across the Hotel Nacional and the Maine Monument park. We were there from 1956 to 1960.

Here is a view of the Focsa building - the one on the very left of the photograph - from Maine Monument park, a view well remembered. I went with father to Maine park, an easy walk from the building, many a time. The monument was defaced by the revved-up "rebels" in 1961, at the instigation of their cranky boss. The skinny apartment building in the middle, completed in 1957, was the Someillan Building, popularly nicknamed "El Palillo," or "The Stick." This photograph dates from about 1958; unfortunately, cannot give credit or attribution to anyone or any organization, since there is no information I have about the photographer or publicity agent. At least none to be found for now. It is a nice image, which has been published elsewhere.

It is getting late, and have "talked" too much. Apologize for breaking the promise to keep the comments to a minimum. One loses track of time and tongue - or keyboard - when doing something enjoyable, getting together with good friends, and remembering good times. So, time to say goodbye to Cuba Nostalgia 2006. Can't wait for Cuba Nostalgia 2007. Maybe we will see you there.


At 1:11 AM, Blogger ziva said...

How did I miss the Quiroga Designs booth?!! Albert is was such a pleasure to meet you and put a face to all the writing and jokes. Reading this wonderful post, I'm nostalgic for Nostalgia 2006. It was wonderful, thanks for this great recap.

At 4:07 PM, Anonymous seguin said...

The Cadillac is actually an extremely rare 1957 or 58 Cadillac Eldorado Brougham. Technically, GM started dual headlamps in 1958, but they added duals on the Brougham and the Brougham alone one year earlier, although they were technically illegal in some states. Beautiful car. I've never sen one in person.

At 10:40 PM, Blogger Alfredo said...


Wish I could of been there, sounds like you had a very enjoyable time.Enjoy your writing and heartfelt emotions of your past.


At 12:10 AM, Blogger Henry "Conductor" Gomez said...


It was a pleasure meeting you at CN. Keep up the great work with this blog.

At 2:38 PM, Blogger bruce king said...

great shot of the CMQ building, Albert

At 9:48 PM, Blogger John said...

I grew up in Miami and now live in Greenville, NC, At a local antique shop here I found an Esso Road Map of Cuba dated 1950. Those were some pretty heady days man.

At 12:42 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Amadeo Barletta wasn't Cuban He was an Italian Inmigration arrived to Domiican Republic on 1920 and in the begin of Trujillo Goverment was deported from Dominican Republic and he chosee Cuba to live. After Trujillo dead in 1961 he return back to Dominican Republic and Died on 1975.


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