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.


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