Friday, September 29, 2006

Be True To Your School!

When some loud braggart tries to put me down
And says his school is great
I tell him right away
Now whats the matter buddy
Aint you heard of my school
Its number one in the state

So be true to your school now
Just like you would to your girl or guy
Be true to your school now
And let your colors fly
Be true to your school...

The lyrics are by the Beach Boys, one of my favorite rock groups, back when, now, and probably all the way to the grave. The theme of the song is that of pride and loyalty to one's alma mater, something which should come naturally. Assuming, of course, one's school is indeed worthy of being recalled with pride and loyalty, and beyond that, love.

And there was such a school during my Havana years. I had thought at one time that, eventually, the wheel would turn and the blogger would get around to talking about his educational years in Havana. When that would happen, however, was open to speculation. But recent events, dictated by fate or coincidence - perhaps both - changed the priorities so to speak. So now it is time to reminisce and explain, with love, pride, and loyalty why I am still true to my school, and always will be...

For many years I wondered about the fate of my school mates, whom I had left behind, alongside Havana, in November 1960. There were no goodbyes, because mom and dad, for one thing, did not want to attract too much attention to the reality of our imminent departure, for wise and logical reasons tied to the times and circumstances. And thus, like Havana itself, Colegio Baldor - Baldor School or Academy - became another fond memory of a lost era.

So, one day, poof! I was not there. And, as one of my good friends - my best friend, like a brother, really, told me later, when we reconnected in Miami, "all of a sudden, you were gone. We all asked each other, "Where is Quiroga; what happened to him?" And even my good teacher, professor Duran - we respectfully addressed our teachers as "professor" or "doctor" in those days - I heard tell later, wondered what had happened to little Quiroga.

Ah, but this year - having not seen most of this crowd since 1960 - I reconnected again with more of my class buddies, a joyous and somewhat amazing re-encounter. And so, this post, dedicated to them, our friendship, our brotherhood, our good memories which cannot be taken away by a dying has-been who seemingly did not profit from his own education.

Here's to you, beloved Colegio Baldor, and to the two Carlos, Wilfredo, known as "Willie," Nelson, Warren, and those friends we hope to still find. Indeed, maybe some out there will notice and we will re-establish our ties through this reminiscence.

We are able to recover our memories thanks to a "Memoria." Yes, a play on words. You see, in Cuba we called school yearbooks "memorias." Literally, "memories." And that is what they are. A memory or remembrance of your school, and the good times hopefully you spent there. Thanks to my friend and former school mate Carlos C, we have some pages of a "memoria" from Baldor to share with you and weave this story. Regretfully, only photocopies of the subject pages were available, original yearbooks being difficult to find. But, as has been said, "half a loaf is better than none."

This is the cover page of the 1955-1956 yearbook. A then little blogger started his loving relationship with the school in September 1955. The school day began with a short assembly on the school grounds and the raising of the flag.

Yes, you read right. September is when school started in Cuba back depicted, Norman Rockwell style, on this cover of Bohemia magazine, published September 13, 1959 - the image comes from

Isn't that just the way you feel - or felt - the first day of school? Just as exemplified by the young man bravely trying to awaken at breakfast, one sunny day in Havana, on his way to Baldor, circa 1955...

But, never underestimate the power of a good breakfast - the young man now seems chipper and ready for his day at Baldor Academy!

My buddies and I started at something equivalent to a Kindergarten level - "Pre-Primario B," as defined by the school administration, but more challenging than Kindergarten. Call it preparation for First grade, if you like. The classes were subdivided into groups, A, B, C, D, and so on, depending on how many 'lil students were registered. Our teacher - whom we loved - my friend Carlos B admitting recently he "had a big crush on her" was Mrs. Caridad Lobato. Many years ago she popped into mom and dad's pharmacy, in Miami, and left a phone number, asking that yours truly contact her...did I do so? Of course, being an obnoxious teenager or too-busy young man then, the answer is - NO. To my shame! And then the phone number was lost...and now, of course, "we," meaning the four of us who have reconnected from Pre-Primario B and who were fortunate to have her as our teacher and mentor are desperately looking for her.

Moral of the story: When your beloved teacher comes calling, call your teacher!

And if anyone who reads this can help with this quest, we will be forever grateful.

Presenting the 1955-1956 pre-school Pre-Primario B class! Can you find the perpetrator of this blog amongst that clean-cut group? And you, reader - might you coincidentally be one of the boys in that little band? Yes? You gotta let us know - "we" - Carlos B, Carlos C, Wilfredo - AKA "Willie" and yours truly are looking for you. That is our quest.

Although, in the strictest sense, Baldor was not a religious or church-affiliated school, religion instruction was part of the curriculum. The founder, Aurelio Baldor, believed a good religious foundation was essential in a civilized society - there was no issue involving allowing prayer in the classrooms - or not; agree with it or not, God was present there and the school was better for it. The quiet piety of the "Baldorians" I know, and knew, is testimony to that. Thus, the yearbook contained a page, which might be called the "consecration page" - the students dedicating their thoughts, words, and deeds to the Lord, in return asking his favor and blessing througout the school year. I can tell you God is always present in hearts and minds when students are faced with difficult tests...the military variant of that exemplified by the saying "there are no atheists in the trenches."

Aurelio Baldor, lawyer and mathematician, was the founder and director of Baldor. Indeed, he even taught in the school and authored what is described as a "terrifying" algebra textbook, titled simply "Algebra" in 1941. It is still in use in many Latin American schools. I suppose I was fortunate in not having to wade through its terrifying pages, but, on the other hand, the effort might have shored up my brain somewhat.

I remember him well. For one thing, every Friday, the school week would close with an assembly, outdoors - weather permitting, which was usually the case in our semi-tropical climate - in the schoolyard where we had recess. This gathering was referred to as an "acto civico," which you could translate to "civic assembly." Basically, it was an opportunity for us to be appraised of issues and things pertinent to our school and our country. There was usually a short play or act, having to do with some significant event in Cuban history, perhaps a vignette depicting the battles of the "mambises" or Cuban guerrillas, against the Spaniards. Dr. Baldor usually spoke at these assemblies and of course he became a familiar figure to the students.

Once, I even wound up in his office! No, no - it was a happy occassion - I had not done anything wrong. There had been a schoolwide spelling and grammar contest, which a certain cocky little boy actually won. I say cocky because - the pint-sized speller was in 3rd grade - the kid remembers telling his teacher, Prof. Alpizar, right after taking the spelling and grammar test, "I'm gonna win this contest!" Professor had a wry smile on his face, as if saying "Yeah, right!"

A few days after that, Dr. Alpizar asked the young man to step up to the front of the class. The mischievous kid thought something was wrong, but then Dr. Alpizar, beaming, and putting his hand on the boy's shoulder, simply said: "This young man has won the contest and has earned a scholarship." His classmates went wild, shouting, clapping, jumping, yelling...that was so deeply satisfying and such an honor...and the young man may be almost 50 years late, but this has to be said: Thank you guys, for cheering me on so enthusiastically! I will never forget that.

Afraid we have veered from the path; was not trying to be a braggart, just filling in the story - and remembering one of life's sweeter moments in a wonderful place. Anyway, some days after the classroom congratulations, dad and I dutifully marched into Aurelio Baldor's office to receive the scholarship award and a "well done" pat on the back. And it was thus the lil' guy saved his parents a year's tuition at Baldor. Not bad for a 3rd grader. You know, I still remember one of the trick sentences we had to write on the test for the contest-although the accent marks will have to be forsaken for the sake of avoiding display problems with your browser. Here 'tis: "Se cayo, y no dijo nada; se callo." "He fell, but said nothing; he was silent." You see, "cayo" - to fall - in Spanish - sounds the same as "callo" - to be quiet or silent. The letter "o" is accented in each word. No doubt some fell victim to that tricky sentence...

Oh, before I forget - the kid had another reward from his proud parents. He was taken to dinner shortly after, the venue being the La Torre (The Tower) restaurant at the Focsa building. The beautiful nightime views of Havana from the 32nd story and the good food are still fondly remembered, 576 months later. This contemporary photo from gives you an idea of what a goggle-eyed kid saw that memorable 1958 night from behind La Torre's glass panes.

This page from the yearbook introduces Dr. Buigas, Assistant Director - call him Assistant Principal; Dr. Rebollar, Inspector or Superintendent of Baldor's Elementary grades and the Academy's Business School; Dr. Martinez, another Superintendent over Baldor's Elementary School.

I remember them all, but specially Dr. Martinez. He was the "enforcer" at recess, vigilantly patrolling, eyes hidden behind his sinister-looking sunglasses...sinister at least to impressionable "muchachos." If he saw you misbehaving, acting up, fighting, what have you, he would declare, in stentorian voice: "Pa' la pared!" - "To the Wall!" Fear not, reader - not the same wall of shame at Cabana Fortress where starting in 1959, Cuban patriots would bravely end their days in front of firing squads composed of thugs clad in mold-green garb. No, this was a "time out" wall, where you stood in boredom, deterred by invisible bars, until Dr. Martinez decided it was time to parole you. Don't get me wrong. I bear him no ill will, but I still think it unfair that, one time, eyeing me and a buddy suspiciously, he peremptorily ordered the two of us "to the wall," adding insult to injury with this rejoinder: "Just in case!" By God, preventive detention! A precursor of the "revolutionary" method of detaining folks for the concocted "crime" termed "dangerousness" by the maximum mold-green thug and his stormtroopers? I am sure Dr. Martinez would have been horrified at the idea someone would actually implement such lunacy. Alas, lunacy did come to pass.

And in fact, speaking of unjust detentions, Dr. Buigas and other Baldor faculty members were arrested and confined at La Cabana fortress prison in April 1961, when the school was seized - illegally and without just cause - by the mold-green slugs-and-thugs. Fortunately, most if not all were able to leave Cuba and escape from the clutches of the "revolutionary" carrion-eaters.

Let me just get something off my chest now, which Aurelio Baldor would not approve of, because he believed that education should include promoting good manners, proper behavior, and the use of appropriate language. At the risk of violating Baldor tradition, this is what I say to those slugs, if any are still around, who seized Dr. Buigas and other faculty members at gunpoint that fateful day in April 1961: YOU WERE, ARE, AND ALWAYS WILL BE COWARDLY BASTARDS WHO DESERVE TO ROT IN HELL. There, I feel better.

In the schoolyard we gathered for recess and to eat our snacks and drink the beverages our mothers had dutifully packed in our metal lunchboxes - remember those? I think I had a "Hopalong Cassidy" lunchbox at one time; there were others differently themed, such as one seen depicting "Wild Bill Hickock and Jingles."

The sound we did not want to hear was the sound of breaking glass insulation when one had the misfortune of dropping the thermos bottle out of the lunchbox...there went your delicious "cafe con leche" your mom had lovingly fixed for you. Yes readers, we drank coffe-and-milk. And we're still alive and well. Most of us, anyway.

Here is the Baldor schoolyard, summer 2004...photograph courtesy my cousin Ana, whose mother, Susy, is a niece of Aurelio Baldor.

So sad to see the almost-empty yard - as if the spirit of Baldor had left, never to return. The children now wear "de rigueur" communist "pioneer" uniforms with the obligatory blood-red scarf. The little concession stand where I would purchase "jawbreaker" candy is shuttered. The auditorium where our class would go see movies about nature, or other educational subjects - always a treat - is on the left. Ah, got another anecdote for you, about a little amusing incident which took place right in front of the auditorium - involving yours truly and Susy Baldor.

Who is shown here, the studio photo dating from around the time of the "incident," 1958 or 1959. It goes like this. One sunny day, my class was marching into the recess yard when we noticed some teenage girls in their Baldor uniforms looking out the auditorium window. Susy, whom the young man barely knew but had heard of, fixed her eyes on her target, and called out for the whole world to hear: "Are you Albert? I am your cousin's girlfriend!" Imagine...there I was at that age when you HATE girls, except maybe your mother or your lady teacher - and here is this OLDER GIRL shouting something embarrassing about boyfriends and girlfriends.

Then, to make matters worse, my classmates started laughing, jabbing me in the ribs, shouting "She's YOUR girlfriend! She's YOUR girlfriend!" "No she's NOT! No she's NOT!," yelled back the beet-red kid who wanted to hide inside a shell...I felt like punching them all out and telling that GIRL to LEAVE ME ALONE!

To this day, Susy and I reminisce about that and we have a good laugh about it. Eventually, I got over hating girls. I had to - am surrounded by them now...

OK - let's move on. And speaking of moving on, let's take a look at Baldor's bus fleet - because unless you were fleet of feet and lived within walking distance - or your dad drove you there, you would have relied on one of these nice buses to get you to school on time. All 32 of them, to be exact.

The yearbook proudly touted the features of the buses - 14 of them acquired, at $10,000 apiece for the '55-'56 school year - "for the safety and comfort of your children." The body maker, Blue Bird, is still in business. These workhorses were no doubt "trashed" under their "new mis-management" after the school was taken over in 1961. They're good at that, those puke-green slugs - good at turning everything into trash.

Towards the end of my years at Baldor, I rode Bus Number 7, or as we called "her," "La Siete," from Focsa at 17 and M streets, to Baldor at Avenida De Los Presidentes - Presidential Avenue; these images from the yearbook help me recall the pleasant ride, and the "ambiance" on the bus.
Maybe this is a good time to tell you about another unique thing-some would call it a privilege-we were lucky to experience during our Havana school years. We had a loooooong break during the day. School began at 8:30 AM; we then broke for rest and lunch at 11:30 AM. The break or lunch period lasted THREE hours - three hours of freedom! Those of us fortunate enough to be close to home, as yours truly was, or to have a wonderful grandma living across the street - at G street, number 358, to be exact - would go home, or to grandma's for a nice lunch - grandmother Maria could fix a mean "picadillo con arroz, frijoles negros y platanos fritos;" that's beef hash, Cuban style with black beans, white rice, and sweet plantains - a meal fit for a king, forget foie gras, pheasant under glass and all of that junk. So, many times, promptly at eleven, I'd find one of my uncles waiting for me, and we'd cross G street and head here...

The photo was also taken by cousin Ana in summer, 2004 - the place seems to somehow be holding up. Unless memory fails, I recall grandma's apartment was in the middle of the building, left side, the balcony facing north towards Malecon, the thoroughfare bordering the Havana coastline.

On the other hand, perhaps dad would show up in his '55 Chevy Bel Air and take me home to Focsa, where after lunch and only after doing assigned schoolwork, I could watch cartoons, shows, adventure serials and such on this very TV set...was it a Phillips?

Well, we have visitors! Aunts Josephine and Dolores, who both also lived at G street, number 358...and there's little 'sis. Well, nice to see you all, but please don't block my view 'cause I wanna see my favorite space adventure series...
Raise your hand if you watched Flash Gordon episodes during your 3-hour "r and r" period between classes at Baldor! Do you remember Flash, Dr. Zarkov, Dale Arden, Princess Aura and, of course, Flash's nemesis, Emperor Ming the Merciless? I think I remember having a little bit of a crush on Dale Arden, even though the snotty 7-or-8-year-old wasn't supposed to like GIRLS.

"Time is up; turn off the TV and get your books. You are going back to school!" And back to school it was until 5:00 PM.

Before blogger boy forgets - these images of the Flash Gordon series - titled "Space Soldiers," came from the website created by Larry "Buster" Crabbe's granddaughter, Lindsay Crabbe. Larry played Flash in the series; if you are a Flash fan, set aside some time and space, head to for a true Flash feast.

Tempus fugit. The first year for our Kindergarten or "Pre-primario" class ended in June 1956. And on 9th and 10th June, there was an awards ceremony at the school auditorium/theater, as documented in the yearbook.

Seems as if that particular class had a bunch of smarties in it - or maybe smart alecks? Like the one best known to me...heh, heh. Do you see your name on that list? By all means, please drop by via the "comments" feature - we of the Baldorian Pre-Primario B Brotherhood would love to re-connect with all our classmates.

You received small prizes, medals, and such at these award ceremonies. I no longer have mine, but at least can show you two small relics from those days.

For good behavior, you received a "Conducta" or Good Conduct medal - this one I found at the Cuba Nostalgia event in 2004. Believe it or not, actually earned a couple of those here and there, during the Baldor years. The lapel pin actually came with me into exile in 1960, and needless to say, it is greatly treasured. Lo and behold, it is NOT made in China, but was manufactured by the firm of Fuentes and Alvarez in Havana. No outsourcing to China or India, back then. Made In Cuba.

The graduation ceremonies for the upper classmen - and women - took place at the America Theater in Havana, on Sunday, the 24th of June 1956. Fortunate were they, these young men and women, in that they finished their education at Baldor without interruption. The June 1960 class was the last one to graduate from the school, amidst the turmoil caused by the green slugs and Cuba's own version of Ming the Merciless...actually, that is an unfair comparison. Ming had more class, and some semblance of humanity.

The started in 1959; early that year, after Cuba's takeover by the green slug (Flash Gordon - where were you when we needed you to vaporize that alien creature?) and its minions, some of Baldor's faculty - 32 of them, in fact - struck against the school. Supposedly this involved disputes over pay, but needless to say the politics of the times were intertwined. Some thought the pay issue was a pretext to oust Aurelio Baldor, and then solicit "revolutionary intervention" to "save" the school. For almost two months Baldor was shut down, many students having to enroll in other schools so as not to ruin their academic year. I was one of them. Mom and dad enrolled me in a small school, owned by a certain Angel Del Cerro, located in an old mansion within walking distance of Focsa. That school was called "Colegio San Pablo," that is, "St. Paul's School." I was out of sorts during the entire period of attendance at San Pablo - it was a nice place, but it was not Baldor.

Fortunately, the strike was settled after the 32 striking faculty members agreed to resign. A certain individual who fancied himself Cuba's greatest teacher, leader, know-it-all, etc. etc. got involved in the negotiations, and supposedly was instrumental in "resolving" the problem. Of course he would be instrumental - when you are backed up with an army of green slugs toting guns all over the place.

The story is documented in this article published by the newspaper "Prensa Libre," that is, "The Free Press," on May 3, 1959, which fortuitously was saved when mother cut it out of the paper because there was another article of interest to her printed on the other side. Regretfully, cannot offer the readers a translation - it would take up too much space and be too time consuming. But those of you who read Spanish will no doubt be able to read between the lines...

Mom and dad fully supported Dr. Baldor and the school throughout this period, and manifested their support openly, as you can see if you view the sign affixed to the plate glass in the facade of their jewelry store.

See the sign? On the left - the reflection on the glass hides part of it - but it says, above the Baldor logo, "We support the students of Baldor School."

The strike ended, the school re-opened and the little guy was happy as a clam to get back to his familiar and warm environment, reuniting with his friends. Little did he know that a short 18 months later, he would be saying goodbye to Baldor forever.

The Baldor Alumni Association in Miami recently sent me copies of their publication, "CABI." There are some wonderful photographs of the school, which evoke good memories for those who walked the Academy's halls. I hope the good folks of the Alumni Association will not mind if this former Baldor student posts some of them in the blog.

The large house - known as Tarafa Palace, until leased by Dr. Baldor for the school in 1941 - you see on top of the photo set is where our Pre-Primario B classroom was located. We went up the staircase, seen on the left side, evey morning - a very prominent feature; most "Baldorians" I come across remember the staircase well.

The black-and-white photograps date to the '40s; the color image is from 1999; the passage of time and "revolutionary" neglect is evident. Rest assured Aurelio Baldor or his successors would not have allowed such deterioration to take place.

If you wish to compare and contrast, look at these images, courtesy of cousin Ana, from 2004 -- you have already seen one of the schoolyard.

You could call the format a "cascade of Baldor graphics."

Here's one from another "Baldorian," Gilda - we met through cyberspace because of our common bond and interests as former and proud students of Academia Baldor.

This is "Aula 2," or Classroom 2, according to Gilda, who took the photograph during her trip to Cuba in 2000. "This was my classroom," she said in the email accompanying the photograph. Peeling paint, broken windows - truly a sad picture.

Oh, but the curmudgeon of Havana has more or less refurbished the school since then - notice things looked better in Ana's 2004 photographs. The school has also been renamed "Colegio Espanol" - "Spanish School." It caters to students from the European Union. My question to you, "Mr." ill-educated curmudgeon: Why is it that Cuban children cannot attend? Not good enough for you? I tell you, "Mr." puke-green dying are getting your just desserts these days. Someday, after you are - hopefully soon - gone, a new Baldor will rise from the ashes in a free Cuba, to carry on the tradition of properly educating future generations - for God, for family, for Cuba. And there is not a damn thing you will be able to do about it.

1959-1960 was my last full school year in Baldor. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, maybe the unsettled times had a hand in it, the 'lil guy did not do so well in math and had to attend summer school in order to graduate into 5th grade. However, thanks to capable instruction from another Baldor teacher, Professor Duarte, the young man "aced" the mathematics test at the end of the summer and graduated to 5th grade, attested to by the sole document we managed to keep from those days.

And so, school began in September and our little band was together again in 5th grade - for the last time. And another little Quiroga joined the Band of Baldorians, although she would only enjoy the privilege for a little less than two months.

Yep, little 'sis became a "Baldor Girl," as you can see by the presence of the school logo on her blouse. Wonder why she looks pissed in the photograph? Maybe I was bugging her. Or maybe she did not want her photograph taken. Regardless, you too are one of us, sister!

You run into Baldor people everywhere...this year had the pleasure of meeting Patricio Texidor - heard of Texidor Fine Art? You can also find a link to his blog here. Patricio was another Baldor student, as we found out during our conversation - we met at Cuba Nostalgia. He was in 4th grade when this Baldorian started 5th. The quality shines through, Patricio! But, that is what we expect when you say: "I was an Academia Baldor student."

Are you exhausted from this educational experience? Remember, to get a good education sometimes you must work exhaustingly hard. Not to worry, recess is upon us! One more thing before closing this post. All of us Baldor boys and girls should keep the memories alive of a very special school, which we were fortunate to be part of, in a unique time and place. One way to do that is to keep connected through the Alumni Association. They welcome all former students - the common bond is Baldor, and nothing else is needed. This guy has been procrastinating, but will be joining them in the next few days. For you, Baldorians who may stumble upon this ramblin' rant, here's your "snail mail" link to the school's Alumni Association - perhaps someday there will be a website.

Evil men may think they can erase the good works and subjugate the good men and women of an institution like Baldor. This has not happened, and will never happen. Evil will pass, but the spirit and goodness of Baldor shall live on. We the Baldorians of 1932 to 1961 are living proof of that.

This is dedicated to my friends from the Class of '55-'60, the ones reunited and the ones yet to be found, and to the Baldor family, to all of you, students and faculty, from all generations, whether from 1932, 1961, or anywhere in between. God bless you.