Euse­bio Leal: Ha­bano, Cuba's Am­bas­sador

Excelencias from the Caribbean & the Americas - - CONTENTS - BY / MARISEL MOREJÓN PHOTO / RAÚL ABREU

He has never smoked, yet he con­sid­ers him­self a to­bacco bard, not only be­cause he comes from a to­bacco-re­lated fam­ily, but also be­cause he by and large sees in the smoke of Ha­banos the dreams of the Cubans, the per­fect con­flu­ence among mu­sic, poetry, lit­er­a­ture and, of course, the na­tional iden­tity.

Euse­bio Leal Spen­gler, the city his­to­rian, wal­lows in the fact that the to­bacco fes­tiv­ity be­comes a uni­ver­sal event ev­ery year, and now two decades later, it's un­de­ni­able for him that each fes­ti­val takes the Cuban iden­tity to new heights.

“From the mo­ment Christo­pher Colum­bus men­tioned for the first time the en­counter be­tween those men who ap­peared to carry a burn­ing stick in their lips to date, to­bacco turned out to be the evo­lu­tion of the best-qual­i­fied hand­craft of Cuba's pro­duc­tive crafts­man­ship. I strongly be­lieve Cuban to­bacco holds the dregs of the Cuban peo­ple's ar­ti­sanal beauty, both due to its ori­gin –I mean what goes on in the plan­ta­tions- and what ac­tu­ally hap­pens in the fac­tory, what hap­pens to the smoker, the con­nois­seur, es­pe­cially those who cher­ish, look after, love and en­joy to­bacco.

“The smoke of the Ha­bano holds the dreams of the Cubans in a big way. No­body can talk about the cigar fac­to­ries or the Ha­banos with­out re­call­ing the strug­gles of the to­bacco planters, the ex­ile of the work­ers dur­ing the great in­de­pen­dence wars, the man­u­fac­tures in Key West and New York City, and of course, Jose Marti's apos­tolic work, so closely linked to this.”

His fam­ily hails from Pi­nar del Río and all work­ers in his home­town viewed the mov­ing of the fac­to­ries out of Pi­nar del Río –es­pe­cially the ones in Gua­na­jay and Artemisa- to Ha­vana as a la­bor vic­tory. He says trade union wars were waged; he talks about how fe­male cigar rollers, leaf vein strip­pers and other em­ploy­ees were whisked off at four in the morn­ing all the way to the Jose Lepiedra cigar fac­tory in Mar­i­anao. He re­mem­bers that lovely scent im­preg­nated in the clothes of his un­cles –not the per­fume of smoked cigars, but rather rolled cigars- when­ever they got back home.

The Ha­bano Fes­ti­val, held in the Cuban cap­i­tal over the past twenty years, has been an open win­dow to the world at a time when oth­ers were try­ing to cor­ral our coun­try, he says. “I think to­bacco has been Cuba's best am­bas­sador be­cause the Ha­bano suf­fered from per­se­cu­tion; it couldn't en­ter the United States, just only a lit­tle bit of it. That cedar box that doesn't give out scents, but rather pre­serves the smell of that leaf thor­oughly rolled, has been some kind of qual­i­ta­tive let­ter of pre­sen­ta­tion for Cuba. Every­body looks for­ward to get­ting a cigar box as a gift, at least three cigars or a bun­dle of cigars. When I say “bun­dle” I re­fer to an old ex­pres­sion solely used as jar­gon among cigar rollers, as in, say, ‘give me a bun­dle'”.

And if it's spe­cial mo­ments we're talk­ing about, right dur­ing the hold­ing of the world's most cel­e­brated events de­voted to Ha­banos, Euse­bio Leal re­mem­bers dearly those fes­ti­vals in which Fidel was the star of the show as he of­fered cigar boxes au­to­graphed by him that were even­tu­ally auc­tioned off for no­ble pur­poses, ei­ther for Cuba's pub­lic health­care sys­tem or for some world-class projects for the sake of peace, such as the Chapel of Man, a work made by Os­valdo Guayasamín. “To­day, those boxes are the finest to­ken of af­fec­tion, the out­spo­ken tes­ti­mony that he, when the time was right, traded his own smok­ing plea­sure for a chance to fight for health­care world­wide.”

Euse­bio Leal has at­tended sev­eral of these events. “I can re­mem­ber a par­tic­u­lar lec­ture that was quite mem­o­rable for me be­cause it was some sort of an ab­strac­tion, like some kind of di­a­logue among thoughts. It's all about mulling over and think­ing and reach­ing out through mem­ory to the his­tory of to­bacco that, as you know well, is so long that the Cuban peo­ple have coined a pop­u­lar id­iomatic ex­pres­sion that says, “don't you come and tell me the his­tory of to­bacco”, re­fer­ring to some­one who is just about to start a long story. That's more or less what I did then”.

When asked about what Ha­bano means to Cuba, the city his­to­rian doesn't think twice. “Iden­tity, per­son­al­ity, dig­nity; to­bacco is not blended with the blood of the slaves be­cause to­bacco was al­ways a free cre­ation, from the plan­ta­tions to the fac­to­ries and work­shops where la­bor­ers are mak­ing them, rolling them, pre­par­ing them. To­bacco is and will al­ways be a sym­bol of free­dom. And I think that the way to­bacco is re­al­ized, that is, in the lips of the smoker, whether it's a he or a she, and the way it goes up in smoke, is some­how men's dreams that come true, that dream among smok­ers of go­ing be­yond and en­joy­ing and rev­el­ing in the act of smok­ing.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Cuba

© PressReader. All rights reserved.