CubaNostalgia to feature classic American cars known on the island as ‘almendrones’

Those classic old American cars that delight tourists in Cuba and appear in so many photos of Havana will be the theme of this year’s 19th edition of CubaNostalgia.

But the cars that will be on exhibit aren’t from the island; they are from collectors in South Florida.

The traditional event, which marks Cuba’s birth as a nation on May 20, will be held at the Miami-Dade Fair Expo May 19-21.

El Nuevo Herald will mark its own 30th anniversary with a display of key front pages along eight panels at the company’s exhibit area and a video featuring celebrities congratulating the newspaper. The collection includes the newspaper’s first front page, on Nov. 21, 1987, predicting a new wave of Cuban migrant arrivals.

A giant Cuban flag will hang over the kiosk, created by the Nobarte company.

“The classic cars have become a famous part of Cuba around the world. They reflect the ability of Cubans to make-do and keep them rolling,” said Leslie Pantín, founder and director of CubaNostalgia. “We wanted to celebrate them, and took the opportunity to recognize the work of a group of Cuban-American collectors who have rescued those cars from oblivion and keep them in the best shape possible.”

The car display will feature 16 U.S.-made models. They include an 1931 MG convertible, a 1941 Chrysler sedan, a two-door Pontiac Catalina from 1950, and a 1954 Buick Skylark convertible owned by Frank García, who is coordinating the show.The vehicle’s markings show it was 310 out of 836 built.

“I fell in love with this car since I saw singer Fernando Albuerne driving it in Havana in the mid-1950s,” said García, who searched for the model for 44 years and finally found one in December of 1999.

García has been collecting Buicks for more than 20 years. Like the other owners of cars that will be on display at CubaNostalgia, he belongs to the South Florida chapter of the Antique Automobile Club of America.

“The difference between these cars and the old cars still rolling in Cuba is that most of them lost their originality because over the years they were adapted for motors, transmissions and other parts from other countries,” said García, who is also member of the Buick Club of America. “The ones here have their original parts.”

The Cuban collector acknowledged that thanks to the hobby, he and his friends can now “recall those old days, which we always think were better than today.”

Movies will also be part of the nostalgia show, with the Miami company Full Galaxy debuting a documentary, Cuba on Wheels, about the history of the automobile in Cuba since 1898.

“This is the best way to celebrate those old cars,” said director René Álvarez, who will be exhibiting his work during CubaNostalgia for the sixth time.

The 20-minute documentary includes images of the French-built Parisienne, one of the first cars to arrive in Havana, in 1898. It also highlights the first races staged on the island and the life of María Calvo Nodarse, the first woman to drive a car in Cuba. Born in 1892, she was known as La Macorina. She died in 1977.

Álvarez, who researched the documentary for two years, said Cuba now has about 75,000 classic old cars, known on the island as almendrones, including 10,000 in Havana. Many of them now operate as taxis.

CubaNostalgia will also feature Orgullo Cubano, a six-chapter documentary by Álvarez on outstanding Cuban personalities along 500 years of the island’s history.

Cuban coffee, typical food and cooking lessons will also be available throughout the event, which this year will feature a dance contest. The two winning couples will receive 80,000 miles each from American Airlines to fly anywhere they want.

More than 30 Cuban painters will be selling their art along the 50,000 square foot area known as the Plaza de los Artistas. Music will be provided by pianists José Ruiz Elcoro and Luis Serrano as well as the groups Pan con Bistec and Santiaguera.

The poster for this year’s CubaNostalgia was created by César Santaló and features the classic cars.

On the theater stage, actor Luis Celeiro will debut the character “Ethnic Floridian” in a space formerly known as El Solar and now renamed El Solar La Mansana de Gómes.

Manzana and Gómez are spelled with a Z, but “the change to S reflects the way in which language has been changing in today’s Cuba,” said Celeiro. He said his new character is a tribute to all Hispanics in South Florida.

The actor will alternate presentations on the stage with dancers from Moulin Blue Entertainment and Ritmo as well as the 7 del Solar orchestra directed by Narciso de la Vega.

At the end, the performers will form a conga line with the public that will dance down the exhibition areas.

Photos of old cars by Pepe Forte, host of the program El ático de Pepe on Radio Mambi 710 AM, will be displayed near the stage. Artist Iván Galindo will be creating an installation about the old cars, which he will finish on Sunday, the final day of the event.

Among the celebrities attending this year will be TV personality Lucy Pereda (Saturday 2-4 p.m), who will be making a “virgin daiquiri,” and singer Willy Chirino (Sunday 2-4 p.m).

The events are expected to draw about 30,000 visitors over the weekend.

“There’s no other place in the world that offers Cuban music, art, dance, food, books, drinks and memorabilia under one roof.” Pantín boasted.

Asked if CubaNostalgia would change its name, because most Cuban exiles can now visit the island, Pantín said he’s never considered a name change.

“Cuban music is still the same, and nostalgia is the same,” he said. “It makes no difference that many people can now travel to Cuba. There will always be nostalgia for the past. Why change the name of CubaNostalgia?”

Arturo Arias-Polo, Miami Herald

May 18, 2017


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