CI­GARS FOR DON QUI­XO­TE

Habanos - - Sum­mary - BY / EN­RI­QUE MI­LA­NÉS LEÓN

Ci­gars for Don Qui­xo­te

THE BEST UN­PU­BLIS­HED STO­RIES SEEM TO BE THE­RE IN THE FAC­TO­RIES OF DE­LIGHTS, IN THE DIA­LO­GUES AND THE HANDS OF SIM­PLE CU­BANS READY TO SHOW AND TELL UN­HU­RRIEDLY. EX­CE­LEN­CIAS PRO­PO­SES ONLY BRIEF TRA­CES OF TWO OF THE MOST AP­PRE­CIA­TED HA­BA­NOS: PAR­TA­GÁS AND LA CORONA

When the wor­kers of Cu­ban ci­gar fac­to­ries ha­ve re­cei­ved, un­dis­tur­bed in their work, vi­sits from such pri­va­te cus­to­mers as Fi­del Cas­tro and Ste­ven Spiel­berg -they on­ce went to­get­her to Par­ta­gás- Jack Ni­chol­son, Ge­rard De­par­dieu, Matt Di­llon, Mi­chael Dou­glas and Whoo­pi Gold­berg, the­se ce­le­bri­ties ad­mi­red, as sim­ple smo­kers, the hand­ma­de pro­cess of pre­pa­ring the leaf, the blend, the "sprin­kling", the strip­ping and hand-ro­lling, the fi­nal se­lec­tion and the rin­ging, all the way to the fi­nis­hing tou­ches of the bo­xes and the pac­ka­ging. No won­der they pro­bably al­so saw Qui­xo­te him­self in each and every fa­ci­lity.

No, it is not that the sen­sory plea­su­re of the smo­ke pro­du­ces ha­llu­ci­na­tions that ma­ke ca­va­liers lun­ge against wind­mills. The fact of the mat­ter is in the fac­to­ries of the is­land na­tion, ho­me to the best to­bac­co in the world, the fi­gu­re of the ci­gar fac­tory reader pop­ped up in an ef­fort to li­ven up the work of his com­pa­nions with sto­ries and cha­rac­ters of pro­found hu­man depth.

The ma­gic of the­se en­cla­ves then allows, for exam­ple, to ce­le­bra­te Spa­nish Lan­gua­ge Day by re­vie­wing im­mor­tal Cer­van­tino pas­sa­ges aloud. That is ca­lled the ad­ded va­lue of a pro­duct that is al­ready mo­re than va­lua­ble: its en­vi­ron­ment lets you tra­vel to "...a pla­ce in La Man­cha..." wit­hout mo­ving out of Ha­va­na.

Ho­we­ver, the best sto­ries, un­pu­blis­hed as they are, seem to be the­re, in the dia­lo­gues and hands of sim­ple Cu­bans wi­lling to un­hu­rriedly show and tell, li­ke one who lights up a bre­va at dusk, sit­ting on a stool. Ex­ce­len­cias, which could very well lend its na­me to the­se fac­to­ries of de­lights, pro­po­ses only brief tra­ces of two of the most ce­le­bra­ted fac­to­ries of all: Par­ta­gas and La Corona.

A PALACE OF ENDLESS FEELINGS

Qui­te li­kely the best-known in Cu­ba, the Par­ta­gas fac­tory is both a mu­seum -ha­ve you ever felt the desire to smo­ke a mu­seum? - and a pla­ce of sa­le that of­fers vi­si­tors an endless array of sen­sa­tions. What's mo­re, its bar dis­hes out ho­me­ma­de cof­fee that as far as scents are aro­mas are con­cer­ned, it does not lag behind the hou­se's lea­ding pro­duct. And, of cour­se, a drink of Ha­va­na Club ma­kes a good point in the mouth to round out, in an in­ti­ma­te pai­ring mo­ment, an un­for­get­ta­ble vi­sit.

But we don't ha­ve yet to lea­ve the­se li­nes. The hou­se would not for­gi­ve us be­cau­se we ha­ve not said that this

palace of the good smo­ker, nestled just a sto­ne's th­row from the re­no­va­ted Cu­ban Na­tio­nal Ca­pi­tol, was built in 1845, from the hands of Ca­ta­lan Jai­me Par­ta­gas, who ca­me to the is­land when he was very young and quickly dis­co­ve­red, and tur­ned pro­fits out of, the se­crets that, from the country low­lands to the fac­tory in the city, ex­plain away why two ci­gars are ne­ver ali­ke.

This fac­tory was the se­cond to put a reader in its pay­roll; so, now on the way to its two cen­tu­ries of age, se­ve­ral ge­ne­ra­tions of to­bac­co gro­wers ha­ve felt the suc­ces­ses, the peaks and the va­lleys of thou­sands of fic­ti­tious or real cha­rac­ters co­llec­ted in the texts of li­te­ra­tu­re and jour­na­lism. The foun­der of the brand him­self, ap­pa­rently a vic­tim of ot­her peo­ple's ani­mo­sity in the fa­ce of his gro­wing suc­cess, had a fa­tal out­co­me that only the per­ma­nen­ce of his sur­na­me and his in­tact le­gacy seem to soot­he. How many mi­llions of puffs ha­ve been gi­ven out in his ho­nur?

The cle­ver Ca­ta­lan wor­ked, in­ves­ted, re­sear­ched and in­no­va­ted in the then fled­gling to­bac­co bu­si­ness; he crea­ted 67 dif­fe­rent vi­to­las, mi­xing dif­fe­rent lea­ves to achie­ve a pro­duct that ga­ve him a par­ti­cu­lar hall­mark and allo­wed him to win a couple of gold me­dals at the In­ter­na­tio­nal In­dustry and Tra­de Fairs in Pa­ris, both in 1861 and 1867.

In the 21st cen­tury, his Cu­ban fo­llo­wers ha­ve not ma­de him look bad at all. To­day's Par­ta­gas is fa­mous for the qua­lity of its ci­gars, its lo­ca­tion in the heart of Ha­va­na and the mas­ter­ful crafts­mans­hip of an in­dustry that both sums up and oo­zes all the know­led­ge pi­led up on it so far.

Half a thou­sand wor­kers roll up their slee­ves in the co­lo­nialsty­le buil­ding of the down­town area, beau­ti­fully res­to­red in 2013 and now boas­ting a full array of he­ri­ta­ge at­tri­bu­tes, brands and in­sig­nia. "Qui­te so­met­hing...!", the con­nois­seur says. Al­most everyt­hing, in fact, wha­te­ver it ta­kes to smo­ke.

CORONA OF ESSENCES

A Spa­nish am­bas­sa­dor to Cu­ba arri­ved in La Corona on April 16, the year of which I can­not re­mem­ber. His desire was irre­proa­cha­ble, be­cau­se he wan­ted to walk in the to­bac­co shop and sha­re his con­ver­sa­tion right in the most beau­ti­ful vo­ca­bu­lary con­tai­ner the world knows: the Cas­ti­lian lan­gua­ge.

MA­KING THE BEST TO­BAC­CO IN THE WORLD BY CLEAN HAND IS AN EM­BLEM OF CU­BA, BUT THIS IN­DUSTRY THAT MI­XES COUNTRY­SI­DE AND UR­BAN AT­MOSP­HE­RES, SCIEN­CE AND TRA­DI­TIO­NAL KNOW­LED­GE...

RE­QUI­RES IN­TEN­SE WORK

It did hap­pen in­deed, but Don Juan Jo­sé Bui­tra­go was not the only key­no­te spea­ker. Odalys de la Ca­ri­dad La­ra, the reader of the fac­tory, not only read ad­ven­tu­res of the "ca­va­lier of sad fi­gu­re," but al­so com­men­ted on the sty­le and va­lues of the pa­ra­mount no­vel that we sha­re on both si­des of the Atlan­tic Ocean.

Tho­se who wan­ted to ce­le­bra­te the co­llo­quium with a Ha­bano we­re in the ideal pla­ce to do so. The Corona is the lar­gest fac­tory of such a trea­su­re and that -to­get­her with the de­light of ligh­ting up such brands as San Cris­tó­bal de La Ha­ba­na, Cua­ba, Romeo y Ju­lie­ta, Por La­rra­ña­ga, La Glo­ria Cu­ba­na and Mon­te­cris­to, among ot­hers- is a sour­ce of great pri­de for its mo­re than 600 em­plo­yees, most of whom are wo­men.

The Corona is one of the ol­dest brands in Cu­ba, as it was re­gis­te­red in 1845 by Spa­niard Per­fec­to Lo­pez. Sin­ce then, its longs­tan­ding his­tory of mo­ving from one pla­ce to anot­her, that kic­ked off in a buil­ding on Cu­ra­zao Street and in­clu­ded a brief stay in the old Pa­la­cio de Al­da­ma, be­gan.

As an in­dustry, it be­gan al­most at the exact turn of the 20th cen­tury, in a for­mi­da­ble fa­ci­lity on Zu­lue­ta Street known as La Ca­sa de Hie­rro (The Iron Hou­se), just whe­re the Vi­lla­nue­va Thea­ter used to stand, near the en­tran­ce to the Ha­va­na Bay. The de­te­rio­ra­tion of the inau­gu­ral buil­ding prom­pted the trans­fer to a mo­dern edi­fi­ce on 20 de Ma­yo Ave­nue.

In its cu­rrent lo­ca­tion, in the Ha­va­na area of El Ce­rro, groups of tou­rists arri­ve every so of­ten, in­ter­es­ted in the hand­ma­de pro­cess of Cu­ban pre­mium ci­gars. Skill­ful ci­gar ro­llers plea­se this desire and show them, with cus­to­mi­zed tools, how they strip the leaf stems, la­bel the lea­ves ac­cor­ding to their blends, and ma­ke -with the eye of a good ci­gar ma­ker- the se­lec­tion of the vi­to­las on the ba­sis of color, thick­ness and si­ze.

Ma­king the best to­bac­co in the world by hand is a to­ken of Cu­ba, but this in­dustry that mi­xes country­si­de and city, scien­ce and tra­di­tio­nal know­led­ge, hum­ble­ness and oral tra­di­tion, re­qui­res hard­wor­king en­dea­vors.

For exam­ple, in just a sin­gle day, ci­gar hand ro­llers at La Corona can add up to 25,000 units, but in cer­tain "good days", they peak 30,000 units. Who knows whet­her tho­se are one of tho­se work days in which an ins­pi­red reader lets in them on the brea­king news that fi­nally, the no­ble­man of La Man­cha has de­par­ted to To­bo­so to con­quer the great lo­ve of his li­fe.

PHO­TOS / JU­LIO AL­VI­TE / EX­CE­LEN­CIAS ARCHIVE

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