I have much to tell that is surprising, amigos. Many amusing stories to confide, not all about myself, as you might expect, but about my family and friends as well; about the people who have meant most to me in my adventurous quest for the three things all Spaniards desire - salud, dinero y amor.- Which, for you who flunked high school Spanish, means health, wealth and love. Yes, amigos, I have much to tell. So relax. Light up a cigarette, pour yourself a long drink and lend your good ear to Cugat.
At the turn of the century, January 1, 1900, I was born in picturesque Gerona, Spain. As usual, one good turn deserved another. My extraordinary birth date brought about the immediate release from prison of my father, Juan Cugat de Bru, being held in custody by the royal government for rebellious talk. The unusual date also won future exemption for myself and my two brothers, Francis and Albert, from dreaded military training to which all Spanish youths were then subjected. Next time you are dying a thousand deaths on New Year’s Day, cheer up. Remember it is Cugat’s birthday.
January 1, 1900. A significant day for me. And, of course, for my imprisoned father, too. It was an omen of more good fortune to come but not to arrive, unfortunately, until after years of humiliation, discouragement and what easily might have been mistaken for despair.
I was baptized Francisco de Asis Javier Cugat Mingall de Bru y Deulofeu! The padre almost ran out of water on that one. However, in Spanish-speaking countries, where tradition and heritage mean so much, everyone has at least three names— his own, his father s and his mother's. Often, as in my case, his grandfather’s and his grandmother s name as well. The Cugat is my father’s name. The Mingall is my mother’s name. The De Bru is my father’s mother’s name and the Deulofeo is my mother’s father’s name. My friends call me X for short.
I am a direct descendant of Father Francisco Cugat, for whom the town of Sant Cugat del Valles, nine miles north of Barcelona, is named. Father Cugat was a saintly little priest who, during the Spanish Inquisition, sheltered twenty- five Jews in his rectory so that their lives might be spared. The bigoted townspeople learned of it, set fire to the rectory and burned to death the twenty-five Jews and Father Fran-cisco Cugat. When I see some of the rumba dancers in the Chez Paree and Havana-Madrid I don’t know how it could happen to a direct descendant of Father Cugat. But, as they say in Spanish, «Así es la vida»
I was baptized a Roman Catholic in the magnificent cathedral of Girona. Although a good man at heart, my father, who had lost his religion, stood outside the cathedral while the sacramental ceremony was performed. He had no objection to anyone else in the family going to church, but he himself no longer took part in the actual practice of religion. Even on such an occasion as my baptismal day, he still would not go inside the cathedral. Perhaps, if it had rained cats and dogs ....
My father was the most determined and persistent man I have ever known. And, believe me, I’ve known a song plugger or two. He ran an electrical supplies shop and was the best electrician in Gerona. I best remember him as a vigorous disciple of democracy, forever fighting for it in a land, mind you, where the king was beloved. That made no difference to my father. He denounced the throne, its doctrines, pitied the people and king alike with every breath he took.
He was constantly, you might say, causing short circuits and blowing fuses with indignant government authorities.
They became less and less indulgent of him. That is why he happened to be feasting on bread and water on the day of my birth.
My father would not have been on hand to comfort my mother if the good king, Alfonso XIII, honoring the new century, had not proclaimed, among other national favors, a pardon for all in jail except murderers and such. Which my father was not, although their accusations sounded as if he were far worse. The release, hoped the king, would reform the prisoners’ way of life. Perhaps it changed the others, but my father remained as adamant against monarchy as the day they cast him into jail for his attacks against it.
Because father was so impelling a character, his look, now softened, was severe and belligerent. Even his mustache shot upward at the ends, sharp and defiant.
My early childhood in Gerona was not especially eventful. Nor very memorable. My father's activities, as you may detect, overshadowed all else. It is chiefly what he did that I recall.
However, as a small, imaginative child, I remember digging like mad for treasure with my brothers, Francis and Albert. (We got our primary school training, incidentally, from the Marist Brothers in Gerona. Disciplinarians to the fullest, but as educators they ranked with the renowned Jesuits.) Almost on the outskirts of Gerona were the eerie ruins of an ancient castle or church. We were not sure which. We believed if we dug deep enough we would find treasure chests filled with jewels and gold and silver coins.
Our daily digging was finally rewarded. We found something. Not the jewels and gold and silver coins, but a stone passageway which we discovered with help from some curious passers-by— led to several underground cells. Dungeons, whispered the townspeople, that had been used during the Spanish Inquisition, The clergy, hearing of our discovery, reproached my father for allowing us to desecrate the ruins, suspended us from school and brought abruptly to an end our adventurous treasure hunting.
I also remember how our mother, in keeping with the rules and regulations of the Marist Brothers Academy, dressed Albert and me in red shirts with Eton collars, flowing white ties, dark blue knee-length trousers with a white sash and silver buckle, blue socks and black low shoes. To top it off, we wore large, white pancake sailor hats with blue ribbons dangling in back.
The day Albert and I made our First Holy Communion in the cathedral, a white arm band with tassel was added to our colorful attire. I was too young and distracted to appreciate what a holy and sacred day it was.
My father s closest friend, Jose Balmaña, a wealthy carriage maker in La Bisbal, was unable to attend the impressive giving of our First Holy Communion at solemn High Mass in the cathedral. As an expedient, my mother arranged that on the following Sunday we would visit him at his home in La Bisbal, ten miles away, dressed exactly as we were when we received the sacrament.
A narrow-gauge rail-road ran between Gerona and La Bisbal. The ride on the miniature train itself rivaled in anticipation our day with Jose Balmaña. On Sundays there was only one train. We arose at daybreak, attended early Mass, ate a hurried breakfast, all to be on time for its departure. Oddly enough, there was an unbelievable mistake in my father’s timing. We missed the train. However, except for one short outburst of anger, my father remained calm and undaunted. The fault is as great as he that commits it.
He walked quickly, but smoothly, to a near-by stable and hired a donkey with cestas and attendant to transport us to La Bisbal. Better late than never. The cestas were basket seats, hung one on either side of the donkey. The attendant, a bent-over old man, was garbed in a black duster and beret. ‘Our father entrusted us to his care and waved good-by. He was glad to be free of his predicament.
Xavier Cugat i Mingall: his autobiography.
See the introductory letter by Frank Sinatra (soon)
The beginnings of Xavier Cugat.
The place and date of birth influences human personality without any shadow of doubt. In the case of Xavier Cugat, these two factors were basic. He was born on the 1 st January 1900 in a Spanish region with close ties to the Mediterranean Sea and Western Europe, in the city of Girona, capital of the world famous Costa Brava .
Girona, close to the French border and the Mediterranean sea, has seen many civilizations come and go. Hannibal , the famous Carthaginian military commander and tactician, crossed the Perthus crossing with his elephants on his way to Rome. The Ostrogoths and the Franks invaded the Iberian Peninsula via Girona., and Girona was at the heart of a European civilisation while there was the Reconquista was going on against the Muslims.
Just a few years before the birth of Cugat , 1873 saw the triumph of the First Spanish Republic. In one of the Republic Ministries there were three Catalans from the Empordà region: Sunyer i Capdevila, General Nouvilas and Tutau: All of them born in an old county where the Phoenicians and Greeks civilisations had set foot on their way to pave their economic empires. The Empordà is divided into 2 areas of influence: La Bisbal, capital of the Baix (lower) Empordà, and Figueres, capital of the Alt (high) Empordà.
Xavier Cugat was born in Girona, and it is very likely his father was born in la Bisbal, part of the Empordà, an area open to universal ideas and ways of thinking that has seen the birth of renowned figures such as Josep Pla, born in Palafrugell, Salvador Dalí, born in Figueres, and the subject of this site: Xavier Cugat born in the so called "immortal” city of Girona but who lived from a young age in la Bisbal.
We must not forget that two years before Cugat’s birth there had been the Spanish-American War that ended with the defeat of the Spanish “Armada”, who were still using wooden ships against the steel ships of the Americans and with the Spanish firing range three or four times shorter than that of the Americans. This defeat, together with the fall of Puerto Rico and the Philippine islands meant the end of the old Spanish Empire. The failure of the 1873 Republic and the Caribbean defeat meant that some Spaniards would continue their plight for freedom in clandestine ways and others would leave Spain as exiles. Juan Cugat, Xavier’s father chose exile.
Cuba would be Xavier Cugat’s family’s destination, and island also known as the Pearl of the Antilles. Cugat was only four when he landed in Cuba. His family was united under the frugal character of his father and kind love of his mother, Avila Mingall. There were four brothers: Francisco, the eldest, Alberto, Xavier and Enrique, the youngest. This family remained united both in success and failure, tears and laughter. That Cuban paradise and its capital Habana was the home of many artistic circles. It was a musical island, its inhabitants having music and the sense of rhythm in their veins, and little Xavier Cugat felt that rhythm in his soul and would soon show his love for music.
But Cuba and Havana, despite its splendour, was too limited for the family, and they soon decided to go to New York, then the centre of the world. This is the origin of the man, whose autobiography, brilliant however contradictory just like his own life you will be able to read in this website. The reader must not be surprised by the peculiar style and spontaneity of the author.
(Based on the original book by DASA EDICIONS S.A.)