Saturday, 6 March 2010

Wistful about a time and place I never knew.


Florida became a State within these United States on 3rd March 1845.  From my perspective that date is just over 99 years before I was born!  We are a young State.


Nonetheless Florida does have a history, albeit brief. Thanks to the excellent Library system in Sarasota County I am reading about it. It is sad, bad, and glad!  

I have just read a charming book with the title “Ybor City Chronicles”.  It was published in 1994 by the University Press of Florida. The author is Ferdie Pacheco. 


“Ybor City” is the local name for a district in Tampa, FL. It was for many years was home to many people from Spain, Cuba and Italy, and was famous for its many cigar factories. 

Amongst the heroes of Ybor City none is greater than Jose Marti – the author of Cuban independence from the colonial power – Spain.
See http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Jose_Marti

Ferdie Pacheco’s memoir is about his life in Ybor City as he moved from childhood into young adulthood, 1935 – 1945. 


He tells of the fabled Columbia Restaurant in Ybor City at which he was a teenaged waiter. See http://www.columbiarestaurant.com/history.asp

Pacheco writes about some of the great Ybor City characters of that era.


There was Don Victoriano, known as Ybor City’s resident intellectual. Victoriano was a Lector in one of the many cigar factories. Cigar factory lectors sat on a very high chair and read aloud to theworkers. Victoriano would read in flawless Spanish from such greats as Cervantes and Zola.



Ybor City had a clinic (in truth a small hospital) run and owned by Dr. Jorge Trelles with his beautiful and much younger second wife Concolita, who was also the anesthetist. When Pacheco was an adolescent he witnessed a surgical operation at the clinic.   

Concolita once had a fainting fit and Pacheco was called upon to massage her neck with rubbing alcohol.  She insisted that he should also massage her lovely breasts: - heady stuff for a 14/15 year old!


Ferdie Pacheco’s father, “J.B.”   (Joseph Balthazar) owned a drug store “La Economica”. There the young man learned to compound various medications/medicines. “Working medicines” were in great demand for many ailments.  (Working medicines were laxatives!)


Ferdie writes of his loving memories of his grand-mother who had been born of French and Spanish parents in La Coruma, Spain.  His “abuelita” (affectionate term for grand-mother) was his source for great wisdom and delicious food.  Her husband had been the Spanish consul in Tampa up until the Franco dictatorship.


Ferdie’s book also tells of Sam, the African American man who worked for J.B. as a delivery man.  When Ferdie was ten years old he spent a summer “helping” Sam who taught him his first “big” words such as procrastinate, succulent, and delectable.


Ferdie’s  book many includes many other wonderful memories of his coming of age in Ybor City. He is anxious to remind us that his writings are not a definitive history – but they are “his history”.


The Ybor City of Pacheco’s youth no longer exists. It is now a “National Historic Area”.   But his book caused me to be nostalgic for a time and place I never knew.


Ferdie Pacheco went on to be Ferdinand Pacheco M.D.  He was Muhammed Ali’s personal physician from 1963 until 1970.  He was also a boxing commentator for NBC television.



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