Saturday, May 20, 2006

Nostalgia de Cuba...y de La Habana

Old bloggers never die - but they just do not seem to go away either. So, will pester you briefly today to let you know I will be off to Cuba Nostalgia. Wish there was more time to fill you in on this wonderful event, but need the time for...Cuba Nostalgia. That is more or less what this blog is about, no?

For details and all you want to know about this experience, go here -
  • Cuba Nostalgia 2006

  • Should your bloggin' pest find some interesting memorabilia related to this theme - Havana, Cuba, nostalgia, the whole gamut - will be most happy to share the treasures with you in these pages. Caveat: The success of this treasure hunt will largely depend on the strength of your writer's wallet...

    Today is Cuban Independence Day. The island became independent May 20, 1902. Some will try to tell you that was not so, that Cuba became an "American colony" on that date. Be that as it may, Cuba is certainly the fiefdom of a bastard plantation master with dynastic delusions on this May 20th. Pray that Cuba may fulfill all her aspirations for true independence some day, and may that day dawn very soon.

    Sunday, May 14, 2006

    Feliz Dia de las Madres!

    That translates to Happy Mother's Day!

    And here's the Happy Mother with her rambuncious "little bundle," at LaCret 378, 1950.

    The "little bundles" then proceed to grow up, and become obnoxious teenagers. Believe me, I know. But said obnoxiousness sometimes creates an opportunity for a wise parent to provide a "teaching moment" to his or her offspring. Such as the time when your blogger - in his teen years - aggravated his mother, whereupon his father proceeded to lecture him on the meaning of motherhood, stating firmly "la madre de uno es lo mas grande que hay." "One's mother is the greatest thing there is." Wise words, not forgotten.

    And God, with his infinite sense of humor, eventually decreed payback time for that once obnoxious teenager, as he now is the father of a teenager who, on ocassion, is also known to be obnoxious. Lesson learned: Love your mother, be good to her. God is watching. God's Mother is watching.

    Speaking of God's Mother made me think of the little medallion kept at my bedside in my room at Focsa, which made the journey with us into exile in November 1960.

    Don't know what possessed me - or, more likely, mother - to place it in the suitcase.

    Since the Virgin or Lady of Fatima first appeared to the three youngsters in the month of May, the month marking the arrival of yours truly on the planet, She had always been considered this once obnoxious teenager's, now annoying adult's, unofficial protector. And protection he has needed, as no doubt Her Son has felt like giving this blockheaded Taurus a good whacking more than once, much as He did to a certain Saul or Paul on the road to Damascus...suffice it to say, whether you choose to believe in these things or not, your blockheaded writer is convinced he would not be here writing this unless the Mother of all our mothers, stated in American football terms, had done some serious blocking on his behalf. And our earthly mother, together with our father, definitely ran some serious interference on our behalf, when they made sure they took my sisters and I far away from the clutches of a certain, notorious bearded, sociopathic child abuser on the 10th of November, 1960. Thank you, mother! We can never repay you, even if we made every day Mother's Day for you.

    Therefore reader, it would be a good idea to honor your mother and your Mother on Mother's Day. Even if May is not your birth month. But, that is entirely up to you.

    And there are other mothers we should think about this Mother's Day, and every day...

    They are "Las Damas de Blanco." "The Ladies in White;" it would take much time and space to tell you the story of their quiet, determined courage in opposing the son of Hades in Havana. Therefore, simply suggest you satisfy your curiosity by searching for them in the world of the 'Net, something which they are barred from doing, for the "crime" of struggling to bring freedom, human rights, and civilized decency, not only to their children, but to all mothers, fathers, sons, and daughters in Cuba. Honor, respect, yes, love them too. They need our support, our prayers, our action, on Mother's Day, every day.

    And another one, who has suffered much, and must not be forgotten on Mother's Day...

    Introducing, if you do not know her, or of her, Marta Beatriz Roque Cabello, who directs the Assembly for the Promotion of Civil Society in Cuba. On April 25, 2006 she was beaten by a mob, incited by the maximum abuser of Cuba, for "crimes" of essentially the same nature as those "committed" by the Ladies in White. The least we can do for her and others like her is to make them known and their cause publicized. So, we are doing just that. The image comes from - you may wish to go there and learn something about this heroic woman, abused by a dying coward who cared little for his own mother. But then, he is a bastard, literally and in every other sense of the word.

    These extraordinarily courageous Cuban women do have one thing they can ALL be extremely proud of: None is responsible for bringing that abomination into the world. And, who knows, it may be some yet unknown Cuban mother who takes him OUT of the world...

    We cannot sincerely wish these ladies, these mothers, a happy Mother's Day, because of the circumstances in which they find themselves. But certainly they deserve a Blessed Mother's Day. Let us pray the Mother of all mothers moves her Son to bless, protect and, through His Love, finally free them - and all Cuba - from a bad spawn who has kept that beautiful island and its people from experiencing Happy Mothers' Days far too long.

    Saturday, May 13, 2006

    Happy Birthday!

    You get to a certain age, and you start becoming too aware of the clock - tick, tock, tick, tock. Time seems to gather momentum and speed up, no matter how hard you try to apply the brakes. Tempus fugit, as the Romans would have said. You realize you are no longer growing up, more like "growing down."

    Therefore, since anything is possible in Blogworld, decided to reverse the seemingly inexorable March of Time, at least in the parallel cyber-world in which we all live these days. No need to resort to Black Holes, Worm Holes, travel at the speed of light, and other such theoretical devices to take us back to the past. Such is supposed to be possible, but I leave that to far greater intellects - Einstein and Stephen Hawking come to mind. Uh, yes, realize Dr. Einstein is no longer with us, at least in this Universe. Maybe the Time Travelers will run into him - hopefully not run him over - as they Time Warp in their Delorean. In the end, as good Dr. Einstein might have put it, "all is relative." And thus I enjoyed my first birthday, at LaCret Street, Number 378, Santo Suarez neighborhood, Havana, Cuba...surrounded by loving relatives - and neighbors, and friends -
    I'll make this easy for you - you do the math: May 1951. Everyone seemed to be having a good time. I looked somewhat bewildered - perhaps thinking all these noisy, happy people around me were actually wild, tribal types, getting ready to stick me in a cooking pot, the cake being the bait they had so dastardly used to entrap a poor little boy...OK, letting my imagination run a bit wild here. At that age, one probably does not have any idea what these rituals are all about, except for an innate or instinctive understanding that...cake is GOOD!

    Seems someone forgot to put balloons or a sign outside to let the partygoers and revelers know where the festivities were being held, however - so stop right there and knock on the door! Come on in, it's time to whack the pinata...come to think of it, don't remember a pinata that day...don't remember anything, actually. Thank God for these little snatches of light we capture in photographs, which enable us to travel back to a fun day, and perhaps jog memory a little bit.

    Oops! Looks like we Time Warped inadvertently - that's birthday Number Two, but same venue. Again, you can do the math...that looks like mischievous cousin Fernando, dapperly dressed - get a load of the tie - also notice how he's positioned himself strategically, next to the cake...wonder if the cake was from La Gran Via, a great bakery from whence many tasty birthday and other ocassion treats came to many Havana households. La Gran Via years later went into exile, continuing successfully to cater to the sweet tooth, in Miami. Not Miami, Ohio. Miami as in F-L-A.

    And a year later, the Last Birthday in LaCret Street...The kid looks particularly happy - is it because he has the cake all to himself?

    Time warp again, a few years into the future...your bloggin' Taurus found himself accompanied by another little Taurus, in a place and time far from Havana. But one thing they were found to have in common: The Enjoyment of Cake.
    The fruit does not fall far from the tree, does it? Except it appears daughter was messier than father. But, who cares? As Marie Antoinette said, "let them eat cake!"

    Maybe someday the two of us could pose for a photograph in front of LaCret 378, holding a cake, then diving into it. 'Cause you can't have your cake and eat it too, you know...

    And to all of you Tauruses of Havana, and everywhere else, for that matter - Happy Birthday!! May you be blessed with the best birthday gifts one can have: Loving family, loving friends, good health, and, last but not least; in fact, most important, God's blessings.

    Sunday, May 07, 2006

    La Ciudad Perdida - but never forgotten

    On Saturday the 6th, our extended clan gathered to celebrate, with much love, joy, and pleasure, the passage of another year for nuestra querida madre - our beloved mother, should a translation be helpful. Despite her complaints regarding the ravages of age and time, "we," meaning all friends and family who have had the pleasure of her presence in our lives, believe she's still holding her own well. A helluva lot better than that old curmudgeony, scaly, malodorous chameleon who's been hunkered down far too long, south of the 24th parallel.

    We repaired to quite a good eatery, at least in yours truly's opinion, where we've feasted before, never leaving the place hungry or otherwise unsatisfied...

    You may wonder, "why did they not patronize a Cuban restaurant?" Well, for one thing, many a time we DO patronize the many mmmmm...good! Cuban eateries near and not so near. But variety being the spice of life, and since there are quite a few good if not great Cuban food cooks in the family already, we felt it was just - and tasty! - to honor our shared Spanish heritage - as from the Iberian peninsula, and specifically Galicia. And in this eatery, we have not yet been disappointed - so, an Honorable Mention, call it free advertising if you will, is in order.

    In deference to mother's wishes, well expressed with one of her favorite expressions, "le meto miedo al susto!," meaning the sight of her "scares fright away!," shall not post any images of the happy event. But since this blog deals much with past, happy images, and to prove that, at heart, she likes to party, we will share an image from good times past, in a once happy place -

    That joyful group gathered, sometime in 1956, at "El Sitio," literally, "The Place," just outside Havana; a country-like restaurant in a countryside setting. The exact location was at Wajay - same place where Quiroga Brothers held their 1947 celebratory luncheon - if you missed it, go back to the March 31 "Return to Wall Street" post.

    To the left, Rene Iglesias, friend and colleague from Quiroga Brothers, remembered as a fun-loving "character;" good friend Dargelo Garcia, from Manzanillo, later one of our neighbors in the Focsa building "beehive;" Carmen Casanova, raised by my maternal grandmother as if one of her own; aunts Josephine and Dolores, and, rounding up the party cast, Teresa and Nick - by now you know who they are, right? The photograph was likely taken by uncle Prego, Josephine's husband, with his trusty Leica.

    Unfortunately, cannot tell you what became of "El Sitio." Like many of its kind, it would have succumbed to the mismanagement of clueless commie types sometime in the '60s. If it still operates today, it most certainly is a hangout for foreign tourists only - "natives need not apply for reservations, thank you." And, if for no other reason than the irrefutable fact Cubans cannot attend, you will not see any of us there, including mother and father, regretfully, except for Ms. Casanova, the only ones now left out of that congenial group back in '56. Would you not find it shameful if you, dear tourist, visited the United States and Americans were barred from their own establishments? Could you then in good faith and conscience patronize such places? Think about those things before you plunk down your hard earned money for a Cuba trip and a table reservation at "El Sitio," assuming that reserving a table there is still possible...

    After the tasty repast and celebration, we headed to mother and father's where we visited and enjoyed our usual round of storytelling, small and not so small talk, rambunctious grandchildren - mom and dad's, that is - if I ever make it to grandpa status, I may be close to the century mark - the usual Cuban social and sociable gathering.

    Later, 3 of us - your blogger's Better Half, cousin George the photographer/artist, and yours truly - broke away for a while, as we had planned to see Andy Garcia's "The Lost City." Which, thankfully, we managed to do - although it seemed for a while our plans would be laid low by the difficulty in finding a parking spot; that in itself perhaps suggesting a theme for a movie about Miami - "The Lost Parking Lot." OK, it's not as bad as finding parking in Manhattan.

    The three of us liked the movie. The story seemed to flow at a steady, almost dreamlike pace for its two-and-a-half hours, at the end of which there was applause from the audience. The theater was packed, and it is a good thing we purchased our tickets in advance, as the show had sold out by the time we arrived, barely on time.

    Your blogger is no movie critic, so no comment or opinion herein should be taken to heart. Each individual should judge independent of anyone else's opinion, more so if said opinion, like that of NY Times critic Rex Reed, proves nothing more than the critic is woefully ignorant, or misinformed, about the subject being criticized. Often, I have found that movies panned by so-called "professional critics" were the ones I enjoyed most. So there is definitely a disconnect between these legend-in-their-own-mind "professionals" and your average moviegoer. Suffice it to say that this movie should be seen at least once, if nothing else, so people can begin to get a tiny glimpse and understanding of the dynamics involved in late '50s Cuban politics, and the divisions, with their tragic consequences, many Cuban families experienced before and after the arrival of the olive-tinged darkness.

    Mr. Garcia created a remarkable movie, given the financial and time constraints under which he operated. The events portrayed are essentially accurate, although also meant to be allegorical and instructive, as the film can be said to be a cautionary tale, or as Christ says in the Good Book, "let those who hear, understand." There are moments of terrible sadness and tragedy, as indeed there were in Cuba in '57-'59. Gruesome, newsreel execution scenes are shown unedited, such as Cornelio Rojas,' whose gray matter splatters the wall behind at the moment the bullets find their mark...and whose last words, as documented in a Bohemia magazine of the time, were: "There you have your not lose it!" Ah, Mr. Rojas - I think you knew that bunch was lost from the beginning, and Cuba was lost with them. He was shot without a trial, without a chance to defend himself. Even notorious Nazi criminals at Nuremberg had their day in court - many days in court, in fact, with all the legal civilized niceties followed to the letter. Don't give me the "business" that Batista's men "murdered people without evidence, without trial." That does not justify more murder. See how much good that mentality has accomplished in the Middle East...

    The movie also portrays well the family dissensions and divisions so masterfully exploited by the evil political genius from the hills, who, applying the ancient Roman imperial concept of "divide et imperas" - "divide and conquer" - thus managed to quickly subdue and enslave an entire society, as those few who understood what he was doing were frustrated and rendered impotent to stop the growing cancer.

    In the background, always Havana - our subject; the unfolding tragedy seen by this fictitious, but symbollically representative, Habanero family. My heart jumped every time familiar scenes flashed by...the Malecon with the Focsa building in the background, among others. Other times, the images were less pleasant; "che" in particular came across as the cold-blooded, cowardly and asthmatic reptile that he, God be praised, WAS. The music of the period is fantastic, stirring many beautiful memories enhanced by the exciting sounds. Memories of parties where the adults danced to stirring rhythms - and making one regret poor dancing skills; listening to music with father in the car, the radio tuned to Radio Progreso, perhaps. The scene where Beny More shows up to belt out "Que Bueno Baila" gave me goose bumps and I only wished the movie "Beny" would have been allowed to do a couple more numbers. But there are limits to a director's time and money.

    A shortened version of "Que Bueno Baila" is in the film - so here's a treat for you and me, an original recording of "El Barbaro del Ritmo" - the "Barbarian of Rhythm;" don't get too carried away dancing, now...oh, go ahead!

  • Que Bueno Baila-Beny More


    This album cover was first seen in Havana, back in the fateful year of 1959, and was always my favorite album cover featuring the Barbarian himself, "rhythmically" exiting an MG TD - the photo has been edited a bit over the years. For one thing, in the original album, for those who are detail-oriented fanatics, there was a small round decal on the lower part of the windshield, on the driver's side...if one looked carefully, the decal displayed the image of a certain distasteful bearded character, which no doubt the MG's owner affixed in the initial weeks of euphoria over the arrival of what would prove to be the REAL barbarians. The decal is no longer to be seen in the present-day album or CD cover. Remember - no CDs or DVDs then - you bought a big album with a big, black LP inside - Long Playing 33 1/3 RPM record. And you played it on your turntable. Audio freaks out there should still know about turntables.

    By the way, to call Beny a "barbarian," was no Cuba, this was slang for somebody who was GREAT! OUTSTANDING! FANTASTIC! GROOVY! COOL! AWESOME! Have I covered all the terms in vogue over the generations? If not, suggest some more. Beny More was all that, our Beloved Barbarian, one of many in the Cuban Musical Pantheon.

    Well, do not want to bore you with a two-and-a-half hour posting, so after the enjoyable musical moment, it is time to wrap things up.

    In the end, Fico says it best, as he hammers the point home to his beloved, who has fallen prey to the deadly "charms" of the "revolution: not only does his family come first - "his loyalty is to Havana." Not an exact quote, but the point comes through loud and clear. And a reminder, to her and indeed all of us, of the dangers of flirting and dancing with evil, seduced by false promises which play on our selfish egos, expecting to outwit the devil. But the devil's craft was too much for Havana, for the people of Cuba.

    Havana - The Lost City; never forgotten, a love forever in our hearts.