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Interviews Elena Burke, Roberto Barceló, Orlando de la Rosa at the piano, Aurelio Reinoso and Adalberto del Río (in color). Photo: Private archives Orlando de la Rosa-Adalberto del Río. Elena Burke, Roberto Barceló, Orlando de la Rosa at the piano, Aurelio Reinoso and Adalberto del Río (in color). Photo: Private archives Orlando de la Rosa-Adalberto del Río.

Adalberto del Río: in my way I succeeded

The biggest thing I had in my life was Orlando de la Rosa. I met him at 16 years old. When I died I was about 30 and I'm still crying. The same day I returned from the United States in the year 57, I ran home and found it very serious. It turns out that he had gone to the saint of Roderico Neyra, where he took rum without misery, which did him terrible damage. No need, because there was whiskey ... what was not going to be in that party! He ate pork, black beans, all the things that were deadly for diabetes, "for free," as if he were not as sick as he was. The person who was with him did not take care of him, he did not want it. God forgive me.

He was treated by Dr. Giralt, who had been his companion at the Havana Institute. The father of that doctor had a furniture store at the corner of the Colonial cabaret, where Bobby de Castro, the first transvestite who had worked here, and Pepito La Botera, who was an old man with a cane, fell, but when he came out on stage he was a pill. Spanish that danced with castanets, madroño and how much there is. You know that Spanish dancing is not easy. Bobby de Castro was with the son of politician Justo Luis del Pozo, the same who was married later to Ana Gloria Varona, who was Rolando's dancing partner.

I wanted to pay tribute to Orlando when it was fifty years since his fall, but the whole Culture world was denied me. I wanted to release, at least, four numbers that are not known and the only one who knows them is me. I spoke with Xiomara Valdés and with Omara Portuondo who told me: "Sure, of course". I am ashamed of that forgetfulness with him. What will be left for one?

I did not arrive the other day to this business, locate yourself, I started in CMQ since I was in Monte y Factoría, not in Monte y Prado. I was in all and with all, with large and with young children. I can talk about everything and everyone, because I was there. If I do not remember something now, I will remember tomorrow or the past and everything I say is true. Many times I exempt myself from talking because I am afraid to screw up and say something that does not come well to someone, because there is a lot of talk about it, things are hidden for convenience and I like the truth.

Look, I do not have a name, I'm not famous because I did not dedicate a single minute to that. You know why? Because fame bothers. The one who is famous, if he wants to find himself in the corner, can not be found, and private life becomes a fucking thing.


My sponsor was the senator of the Republic Felix Lances Martinez, the first doctor of the house of aid of Cuba that was in Corrales street, next to the quarter of the firemen. He sponsored me when he gave me black typhus, my hair fell out, and I was in bed in a hospital for 52 days. He went to see me and that's when he confirmed the baptism because I was already to die.

Thanks to him I started cleaning the floor in the Senate of the Republic, because as a minor I could not have a staff. In order to take the bread to my house I had to go to the Hygiene Department to give me authorization and earn the 200 pesos I earned, which was a fortune because with a few kilos you had breakfast, lunch and dinner. I owe that man to that man, and I'll be grateful to him all my life. To my house were people from the street with laticas to look for food, because there was much need.

My family were: my mom, my dad, her older brother and two other sisters. We lived in Corrales 64 and I was raised in Jesús María 213 between Picota and Curaçao, in the neighborhood of Belén. That neighborhood gave Farah Maria, Armando Bianchi, Marta Castillo ... Maria de los Angeles Santana says she was born there, although I never saw her in Bethlehem. The Vera lived in Picota -the writer of novels Mayte and the composer Alberto, whom I knew as a child. On Sol Street, almost on the corner of Luz, lived the Guillot sisters, who greatly killed my hunger. The girls had come from Santiago de Cuba young girls, girls, I seem to be seeing them. Olga and María Luisa's mother was María Vidal and they called her La Mora, a haute couture fashionista.

At that time I liked Pedro Vargas, Juan Arbizu, Elvira Ríos, Toña la Negra and the Landín, who played a lot on the radio. The Cuban zarzuela was already walking with Miguel de Grandy, Panchito Naya, the sopranos of Lecuona and that kind of people ... La Montaner, please! La Montaner was the Cuban flag.

Adalberto del Río. Photo: Private archives Orlando de la Rosa-Adalberto del Río.

Adalberto del Río. Photo: Private archives Orlando de la Rosa-Adalberto del Río.

In CMQ I sang, as cool as I am, Nostalgia, that was a fashionable tango, and I triumphed. David Rendón accompanied me. I was the first winner of the first Supreme Court of Art. They gave you a jab full of things that had even condoms. That same day he sang, as a repentist, one that was called Carioca because he sold candy that had four colors. I remember that when he won the second prize he gave all his candy to the studio audience. That contest was presented by José Antonio Alonso, with Germán Pinelli and Manolo Serrano, the first speaker on the island of Cuba! That was in 1935 or 1936.

I continued to frequent CMQ, as is logical, because they followed the links, the courtesies and those things so that I could sing. At that time a good amateur was like a god. There were no professional singers, just began to emerge the voices that later became known and made a name. I spent several months on that station until we went to Monte y Cárdenas, which was then CMQ-RCA Victor. That's where the Supreme Court of the Art of Tobacco José L. Piedra began. That changed everything: tickets began by pass, because before one acted in order of arrival. It was the year 40. There Adria Catalá "La Pollita", Elsa Valladares, who came from Regla, like Lázaro Pérez, who worked in a program called Fiesta Guajira, where Coralia Fernández worked and there she met Ramón Veloz. Shortly thereafter, they became deadened.

I used to sing "Pan-American" music, like Ponciana, Brazil, and those things. I do not know if I was good, the fact is that every time I showed up in the contest, I won the prize. It was like the CMQ family. The pianists of the Supreme Court were Juan Bruno Tarraza and Orlando de la Rosa. When Tarraza left for Mexico, Julio Gutiérrez entered. Then they both made a program called Los Desvelados, from 11 at night to one in the morning with singers who had won and were supposed to be stars, to have a future. There I was at number one. In Los Desvelados I alternated a lot with big women like Berta Velázquez, Aurora Lincheta ..., imagine!

They say Orlando de la Rosa was not easy to deal with. That would be for others, for me it was a beauty, it hit me right away. I met him at his mother's wake and when we met at the CMQ studio, it was forever. I went to live for his home, with his father who was sick, in Villegas 77, where he was born, and then moved to an old building in the Arab style in San Lazaro and San Nicolas, which was called La Cafetera and had four floors . In the third he lived Orlando and Bobby Collazo occupied all the last, with rooms that his mother rented to musicians, such as Felo and Juan Bruno when they came to Havana.

In La Cafetera, from left to right: Julio Gutiérrez, Orlando de la Rosa, Pedro Vargas, Bobby Collazo and José Carbó Menéndez. In the background, with glasses, Pepe Agüero. Photo: Private archives Orlando de la Rosa-Adalberto del Río.

In La Cafetera, from left to right: Julio Gutiérrez, Orlando de la Rosa, Pedro Vargas, Bobby Collazo and José Carbó Menéndez. In the background, with glasses, Pepe Agüero. Photo: Private archives Orlando de la Rosa-Adalberto del Río.

All Cuban artists paraded through the coffee shop. They told him that because he was always hot. There were four or five pianos in the building. Bobby's mother, who was a divine woman, cooked and dropped the food for us almost every day. When a record was put, everyone was silent. Bobby was called El Hacha, because he broke all the pianos he played and Carlitos Barnet, an extraordinary pianist who visited the house a lot, they called him La Mujer del Abrigo, because he had a lot of hair everywhere.

There they passed, that I have seen, Pedro Vargas, Toña la Negra, René Cabell, Miguelito Valdés, Rita Montaner, Josephine Baker, and a lot of famous American artists. There I heard for the first time one of the most beautiful voices I've heard, that of Olga Rivero, an artist who had very bad luck for being black. With Pepe Reyes she recorded an album with Los Cavaliers, Cuba's first vocal group, where If they tell you and Old moon, from Orlando.

Notice that many of those composers that I have mentioned have numbers dedicated to the moon, starting with Orlando, which has several moons. Is Moon of Arabia, by Julio Gutiérrez, Moon of the Congo, from Guzmán, which has always made me crazy, and Bobby Collazo has several too ... Even Frank Domínguez has a Moon over Matanzas. That lunatic idea came from there, from La Cafetera. Longina lived on the sidewalk opposite the building, that of the song. I met her, beautiful still, with her body intact, as Manuel Corona celebrated it. Nearby, in San Nicolás between Ánimas and Trocadero, lived Ernesto Lecuona; in front, Esther Borja with her family, and by turning, Margot Tarraza. The neighborhood was awarded.


In the 1940s there were the nine gold composers, each with their interpreters. They were Julio Gutierrez, Orlando de la Rosa, Bobby Collazo, Mario Fernandez Porta, Candito Ruiz, Isolina Carrillo, Facundo Rivero, Fernando Mulens and Felo Bergaza. Of course there were more than nine good composers at that time, but they were named for a show they did with eight black pianos and a white one, played by Isolina.

To interpret these people was not just about singing, but having mu-si-ca-li-dad, you had to transmit chords, if you did not fail in the attempt. The songs were very melodramatic, complex to say and reach the audience. See that they are not just sentimental songs, they are The conga bocuca, Do not look for me anymore, This is happiness, The mazucamba... I can keep telling you about moving things, nothing more about Orlando, without talking about those of the others.

Orlando composed from noon until dusk fell. When the song came out, I was there: the first to hear it was me, and the first to learn it, sometimes even put the spoon. He allowed me, even when I'm a musical donkey, because I'm not a musician, but I do not think there's anyone who says a song of his, like me, modesty aside. I premiered To sing to my love, A name in the sand, in the Show of Tomorrow of CMQ of El Vedado. In Monte y Cárdenas I sang Old moon, Our lives -Which Elena premiered-, Last night I talked to the moon, that I premiered in the Supreme Court ...

Between one thing and another, when the maestro Rendón left for RHC Cadena Azul to lead musically the spectacle of fans of the station, with Isolina Carrillo and Facundo Rivero, I went there and won the prize of the day, of the week and of the month . But since there was so much rivalry with CMQ, I presented myself with the name of Roldán Aragón, and that's how I appeared in the RHC magazine. In Cadena Azul I was in the group Amanecer, composed by the sisters Romay, Nelia Núñez, El Ébano, besides a boy who, I only remember, sold gasoline. There is always a name that I forget. This ensemble, directed by Facundo and Isolina, opened the programming of the station with traditional Cuban music almost at dawn. That's where I went to work in the Senate.

Adalberto del Río. Photo: Private archives Orlando de la Rosa-Adalberto del Río.

Adalberto del Río. Photo: Private archives Orlando de la Rosa-Adalberto del Río.

I was just over twenty years old when they called me to be part of a vocal octet that was going to accompany Rita Montaner in a space with an audience that was called Black Rhapsody, in CMQ, of which there are several recordings out there, like Draw Oñí, by Alberto Zayas, one of the great rumberos of Cuba who made that incredible lullaby song. Zayas was the godson of a great-aunt of my aunt and lived in Guanabacoa, which has given so many people music.

The work with the octet was very strong, Blanquita Saín mounted the voices. I learned all the black concert music, the creations of Blanco Suazo, by Gilberto Valdés -which are very difficult, as African blood or Echo-, and Santeria songs that Rita herself corrected in the veridical diction of the letters in Yoruba. My grandmother was the daughter of freed slaves, I heard her sing in the language since I was a child, so I knew what I was doing. Although her parents were congos, my grandmother had a saintly act: Santa Barbara. My grandfather was Spanish and one day he threw the stones. The people are like that. I have seen horrors done only because the other does not think the same.

After the broadcast programs were completed, Black Rhapsody, I continued in the chorus of a program of Cuban zarzuelas. Sing The coffee plantation, Mary the O, Amalia Batista, until Cecilia Valdés, always live. I was twenty years old and I managed to have a friendly relationship with Montaner, who had his character, but he was always very kind to me. He gave me several tips that did not come to me badly. The race was bad.


In the 1940s many of us, young people, went through Mil Diez with "El Reyecito", as they told Adolfo Guzmán, who had arrived with his team of Argentine music and they spoke to him to form a great orchestra to accompany the rising stars of CMQ. We all went there, to cooperate with Mil Diez where they paid only sometimes: Olga Guillot, Celia Cruz, Elena ... Jesús Leyte, who was an incredible bass, Kafir Palma, who is not spoken of, but was a great voice. There I met José Antonio Méndez, Portillo de la Luz and a thousand more.

When his father died, Orlando told me: what do you want me to do for you ?, and I, foolish, instead of telling him to do a concert and introduce me as a unique interpreter, I answered that he wanted me to form a quartet, because that was Fashion. In that Elena arrived from Mexico, who had gone dancing and singing there with Las Mulatas de Fuego. After they filmed Mexico Room They returned to Havana in the Fuácata, because they did not make money on that trip. It was the time of pork rinds and coffee with milk in a Chinese vendita, day by day. I looked for it and I said: look, Elena, let's make a quartet with Orlando, in case you're interested ... and she: "Yes, boy, how can not". And it was the first one that I recruited. I had met her in the year 39 in Monte y Cárdenas, when the bell rang when she started singing because, although it was a very good contralto, it seems that her nerves betrayed her or she did not have the repertoire ready, I do not know. In a few days Orlando prepared it, accompanied her to the piano and won the prize. How could I not win!

Quartet of Orlando de la Rosa. From left to right: Aurelio Reinoso, Alberto Barceló, Adalberto del Río and Elena Burke. Photo: Private archives Orlando de la Rosa-Adalberto del Río.

Quartet of Orlando de la Rosa. From left to right: Aurelio Reinoso, Alberto Barceló, Adalberto del Río and Elena Burke. Photo: Private archives Orlando de la Rosa-Adalberto del Río.

The second to join the quartet was Aurelio Reinoso, who worked in Health and I also knew about the Court. A wonderful being, really. Roberto Barceló came by chance, because he had already spoken with Alberto González, brother of Cecilia, one of the members of Facundo Rivero's quartet. He had a comic duo and played the bass, but, between one thing and another, he could not and I got tired of being late. The one who proposed me to Barceló was Fernandito, Lecuona's nephew, who was a very close friend and a prankster at night.

In year 48, Amado Trinidad, who was always on the lookout for new talents, found out what we were preparing and sent for Orlando to make his debut with Libertad Lamarque who was at the peak of popularity with his films and had just get to Cuba. We assembled several things, including Black night, which is a Mexican song that I can sing to you right now, although I never heard it again for anyone. However, I do not remember the other pieces we played with that lady who, by the way, behaved with us like a lady.

I think, for not telling you I'm sure, that we were not completely ready to debut at that moment. Luis Carbonell had not yet appeared, he is the one who best prepares voices throughout Cuba. Actually, we were a little stumbling. Luis started as a repertorist with the quartet of Facundo Rivero, and when the group left for Mexico he started working with us: he advised us, dressed us, set up our voices. We always sang with Orlando's piano, orchestra or a group of several musicians. Very rarely did we do anything a capella. Always with the repertoire of Orlando, if any, some pieces moved by little-known composers. Luis is an incalculable musical teacher.


I continued with my daily work in the Senate because it was fixed and I liked to live well, I am honest. The quartet did mostly cabaret and theater, very little radio. TV arrived in 50 and they called us at once. Elena was the pedal, Reinoso the voice premium, Barceló the stuffing, and I, the pop-up bat, because it was my turn to sing upstairs. I am a bass baritone, said by the teachers. Although for me, I am nothing.

In the same year 50 Juan Bruno, Felo and La Guillot, who had worked in films there, arrived from Mexico. It coincided with the reopening of the Payret theater, which had been burned and made practically new, beautiful and very modern. They called us and Luis Carbonell to do the reopening show with them. It looked like it was going to be a show like any other, but the Payret fell down from the first night. It was not for less: three luxury pianos, a great orchestra, Luis, Olga and the quartet at its best. It was on the bill for a month. Then we did the season in America, in Radiocentro and we finished in America: Felo and Bruno formed their bachata on stage, Olga would let go of her bun and it was the candle; Luis, who has always been a star with his poems or his customary prints, and us, for what I tell you. It was a new thing, then shows like that were not made.

When one of the singers of Facundo married a trumpeter in Mexico and stayed there, she asked Orlando to borrow Elena to fulfill some contracts that she had here in Havana, because La Burke knew all the repertoire and all the genres had and for having. Then Reinoso, who already knew Omara Portuondo from the Loquibambia group of Frank Emilio, spoke with me to replace her. Orlando liked the idea, because he had heard it a lot in Mil Diez singing jazz.

I worked the same in the quartet of Orlando as with Facundo Rivero in his fourth training (Sirelda, Carmen Lastra, Willy and me), which opened the Casino Parisién of the Hotel Nacional, where the Baker could not be accommodated because it was not white . These two quatrains were different from each other, in harmony and in genres. Facundo's was cubaniche-cubaniche-cubaniche puro, that is, a lot of rumba, a lot of guaracha. I sang at the opening of Sans Souci, in the quartet of Facundo with Tony Martin. We did Begin the beguine and other songs from that era. There I met Cyd Charisse, a tremendous dancer of American movies, who was then his wife.

The quartet of Orlando was characterized by a romantic repertoire, although it also had more lively numbers, boleros-mambo, in the style of This is happiness. We made those Orlando songs that are sung at the same time, with different melodies on the same harmony, like Our lives and My heart is for you, who know each other a lot, but we sang, with these, in addition, Old moon and Our meeting. The four songs are answered in one. It was possible to do that because of how deeply involved we were. We sang without looking at each other, it was not necessary. When the voices are interpenetrated, no one crosses, unbalances neither nothing. Of course behind that there were many hours of preparation. The quartet does who polishes it, not the one who arms it. We lived "above the piano", more with Luis Carbonell than with Orlando. When we performed at Tropicana we did not sleep, we went from the show to the rehearsal and there the dawn was coming. It was a rich, tasty candle that was enjoyed. Luis is tireless and we are very young.

I left the Orlando quartet because they preferred that Barcelo stay, that he spoke English, always walked with tourists and had many powerful contacts and friends. Orlando and I distanced ourselves from the outrages that several bad people had made against me. He, who was very young, heeded the gossip and malicious intent. Although I suffered, I did not worry so much, because I knew that, in the long run, nothing would definitively separate us. They got a contract to appear in the United States and left, Elena, Omara, Reinoso and Barceló, to perform in Las Vegas and Hollywood. I stayed here, very calm, waiting and waiting.

When they returned, the female voices changed, because the mulattos had become very fat and Orlando went to look for me to sing again with them. They then entered the quartet Sarita Corona and Julita Lombida, who were two mulattos with a more slender physical type, although no better singers than the others. They were very nice, they moved very well. The Crown was a goddess, they called her "Miss cocacola", because of her very thin waist, which looked like a little bottle. The quartet then, I think, sounded like lightning, but the audience received it very well. This is life. It was not the same anymore and I got discouraged.

Do you want me to tell you something? I was about to be in Aida's quartet, when the idea came up. I even mounted several numbers with Omara, Elena and Haydée, who then did a dance partner with Rolando Espinosa and had never sung, except at home. Then it was decided - I think on the advice of a television producer - that there were better four women, and it was that they called Moraima. Aida played the organ in a church and had some experience in organizing choirs. That was for the year 52.

I followed with Facundo Rivero's quartet when they hired him to perform in the United States. We were there almost two years. We work in New York, Miami and then we go to Puerto Rico, where we inaugurate the television -Telemundo WAPA- and the Caribe Hilton hotel. The quartet was disbanded because Facundo was cheated, never seen, because the members themselves threw him out. It is then that they form Los Rivero. I had already followed another path and I had nothing to do with it. I'm going to tell you.

In Puerto Rico I had met a very good man, Mexican, who told me: look, Adalberto, do not go back to Havana now, and if you want to go, then I'll go with you and then we'll go back together. I had a house and everything in San Juan, which he had put me in, because he was the administrator of two stores. But I got into the soul that that falls to the Cubans: "I'm going to Cuba, I'm going to Cuba." I closed my eyes like a fool and abandoned the Mexican.

When I arrived in Miami to take the ferry to Havana, the friends told me a thousand times: "Child, turn around, you have time, child turns to Puerto Rico, turn, that what you have nothing else is seen in movies". But what's going on, I ignored it. I made the decision without knowing what I was going to do next, but I had a fixed idea to come. I never heard from that man again, that I left so hurt.

Quartet Orlando de la Rosa, Luis Carbonell, and Anacaona orchestra. Photo: Private archives Orlando de la Rosa-Adalberto del Río.

Quartet Orlando de la Rosa, Luis Carbonell, and Anacaona orchestra. Photo: Private archives Orlando de la Rosa-Adalberto del Río.

When I arrive in Havana I find Orlando, blind, with swollen feet, working from one place to another, in benefits to Lecuona, doing Tropicana and in a thousand other places. A very beautiful individual had stepped into his life but it hurt him a lot. I pushed him to drink and do not know how many nonsense, he exploited it and took advantage of it in every way. Let's tell him The Ghost, although I know his name and surname very well. When I got home he told me: do not leave my side, do not leave anymore. And I stayed, because I loved him.

He had his beliefs, but he carried religion in his own way and did not seek protection. Also, now diabetes is controlled, but at that time it was deadly. The last thing he could do was prepare a concert to present me as an interpreter of his music. He wanted to give me that joy that could not be. The producers met in their house to hear me sing, but as a week had a strong argument with a relative of his mother and that ended. One day Roderico had released him in front of me: Rita Montaner says that you take care of yourself because she dreamed that your body was in front of hers, and that's how it was. I was 36 years old nothing more. His departure was very felt by the people. The people loaded his coffin and his funeral was multitudinous. Rita died shortly after. A terrible year that. How sad When Orlando closed his eyes, I fell straight into the psychiatrist.


After the triumph of the Revolution, because of a terrible law, they accused me of habitual lazy and put me on a farm for several months to reform myself of vagrancy and other sins that I had, to make me a man. When I left, through some friends I got a job in the Artistic Contracting Bureau. Shortly after I do not know which of the ICRT, or I'm interested, they reported I do not know what very bad thing about me, my moral or my "integration" -I never found out- they even said that I was in New York, when I was here eating a cable and they put me on the street again.

When the first evaluations of the artists arrived, they gave me the letter A without my having to do a test. In the jury were Aida, Guzmán, Isolina -who knew me very well- and the teacher Valdés Arnau, who did not fit the box with me nor me with him, since the time of Ten Thousand. I did not even look at it, but signed the certificate.

Then I tried to make a quartet with the black Enrique and we started rehearsing with Cary Caché and a boy who was nephew of Candita Quintana. Cary wanted to make the central voice, something with which I did not agree because I did not have power. Since Enrique was at the piano and was her husband, I said: "Look, I better say goodbye and we are friends". That's how the D'Enriques were made and I stayed around. They devalued me later, in another evaluation of those, shit, because this world is full of horrible people. They committed injustices of all colors. I was years and years without singing, as if I had never dedicated myself to that. I was able to live, as Bobby Collazo's bolero says: "to live remembering yesterday" I know what misery is and not die. If you do not understand me, then, walking.


What I like in life is to do feeling. In case you did not know, among the first places to be sung feeling was the house of Orlando, in La Cafetera. There I took the pleasure of that, to sing like that. I will not be so bad because Frank Emilio accompanied me to the piano whenever I wanted. We adore ourselves, he enjoyed with me, he was on his side and I for mine, but always harmoniously united: I never get out of control, although I never go inside the rhythm. I like to move the melodic line, harmony never. That is a sin.

Recently Omara pushed me to go back to singing and took me to the television. Sing Anguish and What a thrill, and I realized that I can still do what I want with the voice I have. They applauded me in the rehearsal and in the performance, that does not always happen or happens to everyone. The program was called La Descarga. Although I embellished a lot, I left it there because I do not have anyone to accompany me. I also do not forget a letter.

I know all the music of Orlando de la Rosa, including the unpublished one. I identify with those songs from inside, so, I think, I have more or less good. I would like to show them to some young man, so they do not disappear with me. What am I like? Sad, yes, very sad. With more than eighty years -I'm not going to reveal my age-, I tell you one thing: in my way I succeeded. In my way I succeeded because I always did what I wanted.

Jesús María, October 29, 2007

Sigfredo Ariel (1962-2020). Autor de veinte libros de poemas, culpable de intrusismo en varias otras disciplinas: artes plásticas, guiones, periodismo. Obsesión: la frágil memoria de la música cubana. More posts

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  1. Bebo Cárdenas says:

    Magical history, what a beautiful time Does anyone know about Adalberto? Lives?

  2. humberto says:

    excellent count of a wonderful stage and another awful. thanks to the teacher Adalberto for those memories and the teacher sigfre for rescuing them. A very lively portrait.

  3. NESTOR says:


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