His title is ElConde de Lagunillas, Marques de Casa Calv. He produces his ecru engraved card. But that is not his only title. Recently his uncle in Spain died. From him he inherited another title. The Count of Fernandina.
"Now," says the little old man, nodding with pride, "now I'm a Grandee of pain."
In Cuba they call him Companero Conde.
His family has been in Cuba since the 17th Century, always wealthy, always of the upper classes. His grandfather owned one of the largest sugar mills in Cuba which his father continued to direct. The count was not interested in Sugar. He went to the University as all well-bred moneyed young men did in those days. He studied the right things.
"I'm a doctor in diplomatic and consular law," he says.
"I'm a doctor in politcal and economic sciences and I'm a lawyer too. I have three titles."
The Count of Lagunillas never became a lawyer, thought.
Instead he decided to follow in the footsteps of his grandfather, who had spent much of his time collecting paintings. He decided to devote his life and his millions to collecting art. First Egyptian, then Greek, then Roman sculpture. For 17 years the count and his wife, the Countess of Lagunillas, traveled the world searching for priceless treasures to add to their collection. Sometime they would loan pieces to museums around the world. Many of them they brought back to havana to adorn the mansion they occupied on 5th Avenue in the exclusive Miramar area.
They had a perfect life. They had enormous weath, beauty, a fabulous social life, many friends, a coveted position in Havana, London, Paris, New York, Switzerland. They had one son, a beautiful boy they sent to fashionable Camp Cramwell in Massachusetts while they traveled. They were the envy of everyone.
Soon their house become too filled with the priceless objects the count and countess had brought and the count, a scholar at heart, wanted to share his treasure with other scholars, his friends, the Cuban public. People still remember the fabulous opening of the count's collection in 1957 when he loaned his sculptures and vases to the National Museum of Beaux Arts in Havana. Everyone was there. The reception was The Event of the Year. The count and countess were revered for their generous gesture.
Two years later their world fell apart.
The count has agreed to show his famous collection at the National Museum and arrives promptly at 10:30. He is 68 years old now. He looks 100. Slighty bent and gray, shadow of what he must have been. He is dressed in a beautiful cut but out-of-style, slight shabby gray suit. He wears a navy and white tie. A silk foulard peeks out of his pocket. His white shirt is hand-made of the finest linen. Below his breast pocket is an embroidered family crestw with a crown. The collar is beginning to look terribly frayed. "Before the revolution," he says "I had it made before of course, yes yes."
The museum director addresses him as Companero Code and treats him a'most as he does the priceless Greek sculptures on display. "We do not believe this titles," he explains before the count arrives.
Later the count will shrug and smile wanly. "With me there is an exception my title."
Only when he talks about his collection, moving from room to room rouching each object fondly, explaining where each came from and its history, does he come alive.
Otherwise he looks sad, very sad and distracted as thought walking in a dream.
"I began with Egyptian art when I was 28 years old," he says "I began to study Greek art. I studied Egyptian art ever since I was 16 years old. It was the money of my wife, the countess and me, not my father's. She was 22 when I married. I was 30. We would hear about a piece and travel to see it personally."
The count's once-perfect English, like his monogrammed shirt, has known better days but he tries valiantly and it begins to come back. He smokes on Cuban cigarette after another, his veined hands shaking as he lights each match.
"I am, you know," says, " a life fellow of the Mtropolitan Museum in New York. Life Fellow," he repeats, savorign the words. "I am also a fellow for life in the Spanish Society of America. I belong to many many organizations. Many. Many.
The first piece he ever brought was in 1940 in New York at a sale at Gimbels of the old Heast collection. Even now he remembers that day. He surveys his collection and whispers, "Today this must be worth at least two or three times what I paid for it."
A pained expression comes over this face when he talks about the countess now.
"My wife and son are exiled in the United States, in Falls Church, he says. "My boy graduated from college in the U.S. I stayed here. I have a good library. I study, I study, I study . . . everyday. I have 30,000 volumes. I couldn't take them. It's very difficult to get these volumes in the United States. I like philosophy and history. i study in Italian and French and Greek and Latin. Oh, no I'm not really a scholar. I'm a dilettante." He sounds as though he is trying to convince himself.
Back to his wife. "I haven't seen them for almost 20 years. I haven't seen them. I know they are well. They preferred to leave. My son was 19. He went to high school at Malverne, near Philadelphia. My wife and son went away three days before the Playa Giron (Bay of Pigs) invasion. After the Playa they took away the way to enter the United States. At the time they left I thought I would see them again, yes. Yes, yes.
"Nobody knew then what would happen. Whole quarters left. In Miramar almost everybody left. But I have some friends here. And I like study. I study, I study, I study . . ."
The count had also, aside from his fabulous collection of Greek, Roman and Eyptian arts, a fabulous collection of porcelain. Gallones was an insignia of the best Cuban families Demistasse of the old familes. A good collection. My wife made these collections."
But now nobody ever comes to see his collection. The masion on 5th Avenue is too dilapidated.
"My house," he says, flashing a tiny big of anger, "is in terrible condition I can't afford to keep it up." Then suddenly, he looks nervous. "I can't talk about that. It's very, very . . ." and his voice fades.
"I need very little," he says dully "Very little for me. I like study. I study, I study, I study . . . I don't need other things. It's alright."
He lights another cigarette, this time his hands shaking and then in a flash of rage he looks up. "I have no income now. Not one cent. I have a lady friend who takes care of me and gives me some money. My wife has very little. My son, works for a chian of restaurants. My wife, the Countess, she had to go to work. She had to work in a boutique. But now she is retired. My son takes care of her."
In fact the countess is not retired. She works at the cosmetic counter at Lord and Taylor in Seven Corners. She represents Lancome and Charles of the Ritz).
His face lights up. "My wife liked my collection. She was a good help. She helped me very much in having the collection. I gave my collection to the museum because I like people to see it freely. But I gave my collection," he says pointedly " as a loan. Only one thing I don't like. There is no publication about the collection. I cannot do it here." He lowers his eyes. "There are many complications."
He tells of how there are no great collection of his period here in Cuba and he begins of his period to recite stories, anecdotes of his days of collecting.
He becomes animated, laughing excitedly at the punch lines, telling how he had put one over once on a customs inspector and another time how a customs inspector had discovered a fake.
Then he goes limp. "I had money before the revolution but not it is all gone. I could have had a pension as a lawyer. Many of my friends, did. But I didn't take it at the time because I had money in the bank. Now it is too late. Anyway, I didn't actively work as a lawyer. I was in real estate. Some of my friends are in the same position. I am in . . . I hope to see my wife and son again. She had a little money . . . I didn't want to leave Cuba forever. It was her own decision. She didn't know it would be for so long a time. She thought the situation would change. Everyone has his own thinking about this. Some stayed because they have family here who they love very much. They didn't want to separate the family."
The revolution came as no surprise to the count, though, and he says very simply. "I knew perfectly well about the revolution. I saw it from the beginning. I realized from the time of the attack of Moncada Garrison in 1956 . . . But these are political questions. I just want to stick to my collection.
"I doen't want to talk about it."
He talks then about the love for travel, about Switzerland. "Especially Switzerland. I love it there. Everything so clean. So nice. I went to Spain a lot. I have many relatives. Many, in Spain. I miss traveling very much. But my collection could never travel now. No possibility of this. No, no, no."
As always, though, he will return to his family.
"My brother lives in the States. He's a very well known medical doctor, a Psychiatrist in Memphis, Tenn. He went to the States from the beginning. There are only about five people left in Havana who have titles. They're my relatives, cousins of mine. My mother died here in Havana six years ago. My father had a sugar mill, Santa Rita Mill in Matanzas Province. It was a sugar Mill inherited from my grandfather, modernized by him 50 or 60 years ago. Of course, it was not a very sugar mill. Only 1,000 sacks daily. I was a boy, I was only 18 when he lost the sugar mill in business. Then I become interested in the art, in collecting. Any my study. I am happy now. I have my book. I like very much in study. I study. I study. I study . . ."