Sunday, June 18, 2006

Feliz Dia de Los Padres!

(Father and son moment - LaCret 378 Santo Suarez, Havana 1950)

Or: Happy Father's Day! Almost did not write this post in time - hard to blog when you're on the road, staying in different places...that is what vacations are all about, but now time to take vacation from my vacation. It would have been unforgivable to forget the man who used to take the little Habanero kite-flying - he'd find an empty lot somewhere, and away the kite would go. Not one of these fancy manufactured kites you can buy today, to indulge your flights of fancy with dragons, dragonflies, Red Baron triplanes, and all kinds of fantastic kite-forms. No, just a simple, wood cross-member, tissue paper, or "papel de china" kite with a tail. I still remember - this was when he still smoked, a bad habit he gave up about 50 years ago, thankfully - when he took the inside foil lining from a cigarette pack, punched a hole through it, threaded the kite string through the hole, and sent the silvery foil to join the kite high up. Maybe you laugh at this, but I through it was, well, neat. Once he told about jousting with kites - tying razor blades to the tail of a kite, and taking on similarly armed opponents to see who could cut the other fellow's kite string first...or demolish the thing altogether.

And on one of those kite flying trips dad lost the keys to his '55 Chevy Bel Air...and bravely tried to start it by pulling the ignition wires and crossing them. But something failed, and we wound up returning home via taxi to get spare keys and retrieve the good ol' green-and-cream top Chevy. Dad has not lost his car keys since then.

And there were other fun things I remember doing with him. Flying gas-powered model airplanes; a little rides...going to amusement parks - not all in Havana. Remember when we'd go play miniature golf at Fun Fair in Miami Beach during some of our vacation trips to Florida dad? That was fun. I still remember winning a free golf game because this unskilled golfer somehow managed to get the ball right into this miniature windmill with a small trap door, easily blocked by the windmilling blades. The ball, on that occassion, went right through the trap door - a buzzer rang and - free golf game! Did not need fancy video or computer games to receive a real thrill, back then.

But I think the most fun I had with dad was playing with the electric train set - an American Flyer - which he lovingly put together, building a nice little town on top of an old ping-pong table, grass and all. Fake grass, that is, which he glued onto the table using a sticky concoction he mixed - must have been fish glue, 'cause in the recesses of my mind a fishy smell lingers. Hours of pleasure were had with this train set, which included a diesel and a steam locomotive. Silhouetted passengers could be seen through the windows of the silvery passenger coaches, lit from inside. There was a town news stand; a searchlight - where we expecting an air raid, I wonder? There were tank cars, cargo cars, log carriers, the whole works. The transformers used to run the set were a little tricky, as the aspiring train engineer usually managed to speed things up too much, causing more than one derailment. No harm done, however; no one was ever hurt. The passengers continued sitting right were they were. At least their silhouettes did.

Like many other things of childhood - but not the cherished memories - the American Flyer set stayed behind when we left Havana, initially in the custody of my good uncle Manuel, the one who saved the memories preserved in our photo images. Where it is now, is hard to say. Hopefully it is still giving pleasure to someone, although with Havana's frequent power outages, it would be hard to make the train run on time...if it runs at all.

And as I think of these happy times spent with dad, back then, and since then, cannot help but think of others who are not so fortunate and do not have the freedom - as most of us do - to celebrate and remember Father's Day, whether from the perspective of a father, or that of a son honoring and cherishing his father on this day.

I am thinking of men like Guillermo Farinas...and Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet...

Biscet's image comes from the Cuban American National Foundation's website -, if you wish to do some reading and research there.

These two men suffer in Cuba due to a capricious man, a bad son, a bad father. We know who he is, and no need to repeat his faithless name. The important thing is to remember these fathers, these sons, who unlike you and I are not free to celebrate and enjoy a happy, blessed Father's Day. Remember that if you are fortunate to be in the company of your dad this Father's Day, Anno Domini 2006. Pray these gentlemen and others who suffer unjust persecution and imprisonment for merely wanting and fighting for the normal things free human beings wish for and have in more fortunate parts of the planet will share the same gifts of freedom, justice, and the right to live a dignified life when Father's Day 2007 rolls around. And to the good fathers of Havana and other places in Cuba...a warm, heartfelt, Feliz Dia de Los Padres. If not a happy one, at least a blessed one. God be with you.

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.

Saturday, June 03, 2006


I figure this would get your attention. Pardon me, I did not mean to be rude. But fellow bloggers have asked that Guillermo Farinas' plight be placed on the front burner again. Yes, once in a while all of us have to pause and be soberly reminded that life is not all fun, and games, pretty pictures, and nostalgia. Not while good men and women suffer under petty, cowardly, terrified and dying tyrants. Paradoxically, it seems that the more arbitrary power is exercised by abusers like the puke green bastard of Havana, the more this becomes a reflection of the fear growing ever more inside the soul-less creature. Because, as Guillermo Farinas is a man of no fear, his oppressor is tormented by it, regardless how vociferously he might deny it.

One clarification - the image used was previously featured in the March 23rd post titled "A brief digression to honor a VBM - Very Brave Man." The drawing is by the talented Pat Texidor. By now, obviously Mr. Farinas has been on a hunger strike much longer than 50 days. However, this image, at least to me, speaks so much of the essence of Mr. Farinas' struggle and the soul of the man, featuring it again was unavoidable.

So, Mr. Farinas is still unjustly imprisoned, ill, in pain, starving - whether by choice or not, is not the point. The point - his point - is freedom - not anarchic, irresponsible "freedom" as malpracticed by many who think freedom is indolence, indifference, a sense of entitlement, exercising rights without taking on responsibilities, and so on. The freedom Mr. Farinas is laying his life on the line for is the freedom to exercise the simple right of self-expression through this medium even now being used to let the world know of his plight. And, as opposed to the fear the tyrant feels, Mr. Farinas is calm, at peace, unafraid. This is the source of his power to endure and struggle for what too many of us take for granted.

We will not abandon you, Mr. Farinas. We will not abandon or forget others who suffer - Dr. Biscet, the Ladies in White, Marta Beatriz Roque Cabello; too many others to mention, from 1959 to the present.

I'm gonna take off the Christian gloves now. I'm going to set aside all the good lessons I learned from my parents, my Catholic teachers, priests, and peers. The lessons Jesus taught. Perhaps many who read this will not think well of me, but sometimes one has to face one's true feelings, and accept inescapable truths about one's imperfections. In the case of one particular individual, I regret being unable to NOT wish him ill. Not when it is obvious he is responsible for an unmeasurable amount of suffering and destruction, as illustrated by what has happened to Guillermo Farinas, and also indeed to Havana, to all Cuba.

I pray you do not make it to your 80th spawn-day, putrid, cowardly degenerate. I pray Mr. Farinas, Dr. Biscet, the Ladies in White, and Marta Beatriz Roque Cabello will have the satisfaction of seeing you choke to death on that coca cake your buddy Evo the Bolivian is supposed to bake for you. I pray that event will represent, for these good, brave people, for all of Cuba, if not - to paraphrase Churchill - the beginning of the end of your obscene regime, at least the end of the beginning of the process which will bring it to its well-deserved collapse...

Pray for Farinas - and take some action, for his sake, for the sake of those who suffer under the cowardly green geezer. Write letters to your elected representatives; call them, call international organizations. Publicize his condition and struggle; ask for sanctions and action against those who torture him and the Cuban people. No deals with tyrants! Death to tyrants. Sic Semper Tyrannis!