José F. Grave de Peralta
The story of how I became a professional Roman Tour Guide in 2008 ... began when I was a 9-year old boy in 1963, during the filming of The Fall of the ROMAN Empire, with Sophia Loren and Alec Guinness. But this epic may also be called The Fall of My Father's Cuban Mustache. And my mother's role in the saga -- I sensed even then -- was to prove just how much of an Empire she ruled in the context of our family history!
One of the reasons why I resonate so much with the work I do in Rome as a tour guide and historian surely comes from my seeing very curious parallels and connections between some of the major art and architecture topics of the Eternal City and many Peralta Family anecdotes that eventually can be read as interesting and yet unsung reincarnations in the 20th century of some rather unique "lives of the artists and heroes" of the Rome of the Popes. Before I explain why my dad, "Pepin," shaved his beloved upper lip touch of Cuban debonnair hair, let me forst recall him trying to impress how he could still say interesting, imperative things even without that Cyban mustache when he looked at me sternly over breakfast the morning of his traumatic shaving, when he declared: "Why it is just as Miguel de Cervantes said, Pepito: "History is the mother of Truth."
In those days I had no clue of what he meant, this Cervantes, or why my Dad's mustache-less lips would be quoting this sentence almost 500 later to a small, rather picturesque posé of Latin American refugees on their way to a very new life, escaping Communist Cuba but passing by the Spain of Francisco Franco and post-Worl War II Europe.
Back in the days of Madrid/1963, in fact, I think my Dad's first mustacheless speeches to my Mom and me were installing a sort of software which would come in handy when I decided to come work in Italy as a Tour Guide in 2008. The many facts and narrative framing scenarios that I would need to master to do proud to my Lazio Guiding License all had their start on that morning of 1963.
My Father's Mustache VS Fidel Castro's New Man and why, to begin with, my parents and I had become political refugees
In 1959, when Fidel Castro and his Revolution changed forever the prosperous way of life and civil liberties achieved in the Island of Cuba after Worl War II, our bourgeois way of life fell apart , and it was with sadness that children of those Baby Boomer generations watched our schools close down and our Middle class family homes become confiscated the moment our parents arranged to escape to the United States, etc. All these things took place, in my case, just as I was through second grade,. My sisters's own Colegio Teresiano was also nationalized shortly after the imposition of the Marxist system on the country, and almost overnight, its large staff of relgious sisters and of lay staff had to abandon their classrooms. The long and short of it all was the destruction of a way of life, matched by the subsequent disintegration of our large family picture.
Cuba changed radically. Havana suddenly was full of tall, Soviet-block doctors enjoying the old colorful avenues and speaking a form of Spanish that was harsh and cutting to our ears. Schools and capitalist small-businesses were confiscated, and the new format of the evening TV news or variety shows rapidly was eclipsed by a new aesthetic and the every present images of Fidel and his Rebels in Olive green army fatigues which immediately spread a stern, didactic tone over the airwaves and the whole way of street life. shooed aside more and more the old tropical sensuality African youth whose dark black skin was many hues different from the local Cuban Blacks and creoles that we had been accustome to. scholarship studentsnewcomers, most of them there on bnuisiness, and was the new Mecca of Third World congresses and political proletariat movements of varied colors. And I had to kiss my cousins and my sisters goodbye, as they were sent out to Miami or Los Angeles, or Puerto Rico, under the care of friends or old university colleagues of my uncles or aunts from before the Revolution, and who took care of putting them in school in the United States, while we organized our departure from the Island. Part of the reason for splitting up the family thus had to do with the radical establishment of a new "military age" cor Cuban youth, which eventually barred them from being abe to travel outside the country and instead bound them to State-run-school curriculums connected to the sugar cane fields and to long periods of farm schooling away from their families, which eroded the old school and social fabric and cut a fissure into the child's sense of bourgeois values. In short, when my sister's onion-skin letters arrived (the envelopes often opened) bringing us their tales from the new land, our days' expectation revolved around the arrival of the postman, and the various conversation in the family porch about preparations for departing the country indefinitely, and for waiting out of the country for the invasion of the US Marines to rescue Cuba. Those were the days of the Bay of Pigs Invasion and the U.S. Missile Crisis. Eventually they were the days of the Kennedy assassinations and of the end of an era.
RROME : The World's Greatest BAROQUE Style City
Those last 3 years which my parents and I spent in Cuba before finding a way out --- through clandestine documents, etc.,-- were intense. But in April 1963 we boarded an IBERIAN AIRLINES 4-engine plane to Madrid, where a small amount of money enabled us to eat and buy a bit of clothing until we could travel to the United States and meet my sisters in Miami.
During our Madrid sojourn my Dad found out through the World Refugee Center that there would be work available for him and me, as "extras" in Samuel Bronston's Fall of the Roman Empire, starring Sophia Loren and Alec Guiness. and I will never forget how one early morning in that month of May 1963 my father emerged from his bathroom toiletries to my mother's surprise , without the mustache he had always worn but which now would disqualify him as an authentic Roman. He never grew the mustache again once we arrived in the United States. And even though Washington granted us passage to Miami just a few days into the filming sessions along Madrid's streets, the fall of his mustache was more historically important in our family than I could understand at 9 years old.