Before the dialogue, our interviewee left the comfort of the armchair. For a moment the room disappeared, while … I took the opportunity to review the military photos hanging on both sides of the room. I didn’t satiate all my curiosity, since the man who went out without saying a word, returned, armed in his right hand with a flamboyant Habano.
Again he occupied the chair, pulled the ashtray that served as a centerpiece, dipped his other hand in one of his pockets from where he took a lighter to give life to the Habano. Then he took the time to subtly verify the cigar, made the cut, tilted it while bringing the flame closer. Finally, he placed the cigar in his mouth to suck gently.
“If we are going to talk is better to do it with a good cigar, he has witnessed innumerable transcendental conversations between politicians and personalities. The camera or recorder fails to enter places where cigars are allowed, “Carlos Robaina Pacheco, Public Relations Specialist at the Casa del Habano in 5th and 16th streets, in the Havana’s neighborhood of Miramar.
His last name is no accident, son of famed producer of layers of leaves of cigars Alejandro Robaina, and descendant of a family that for over a century and a half has been related to the tobacco plantations in Vueltabajo.
“The father of my grandfather was the one who started it all, back in the 40s, in the nineteenth century. He arrived with his family from the Canary Islands and from arrival did nothing but to work in tobacco plantations. The tradition stayed. My grandfather Maruto inherited knowledge then passed to his son Alejandro Robaina, who commissioned the secrets to getting a good leaf of cigar to Hirochi Robaina Silva, his grandson, my son. “
In a relaxed atmosphere, surrounded by the gentle aroma of the Habano, Robaina Pacheco told us that his father saw in Hirochi the right person to take care of the farm, in the town of San Luis in Pinar del Rio.
What happened is that Hirochi, since he was very young, showed qualities to take the reins once Alejandro Robaina was no longer in charge. The “old man” felt in the child, interest, love and attachment to the tobacco plantation. Although born and raised in Havana, whenever the boy visited his grandfather he showed the right attributes to be the substitute. Today it is him who manages the farm.
Carlos Robaina remembers who they trained the kid without him realizing it. In addition, they instilled in him to learn a profession to acquire a sense of ownership and responsibility for the work.
Hirochi, after completing his graduate studies as a Metallurgy Technician, enrolled as a roller and worked in several cigar factories, while studying English. This allowed him to relate to persons skilled in the art, and acquiring other knowledge on tobacco leaves.
“Once he went to work to the farm little by little my dad was transmitting knowledge about growing tobacco leaves. He became the person who accompanied him to every Habanos event, both inside and outside of Cuba, “Robaina Pacheco said.
After four or five puffs the ash hovers in front of the Habano. The owner explains why he didn’t get involved in the cultivation of tobacco when he was young, due to not being very interested. It happens that in adolescence Robaina Pacheco, also studied to become a Metallurgy Technician. He said Don Alejandro supported him to pursue a career, whether it kept a relationship with the enigmatic plant.
“I first studied, and I then felt satisfaction with the work in the metal industry. Ex- mates told me to return to the valley, but when you’re young, sometimes you do not hear advice. It was not like the deer and “get back to the mountains.” In the end I decided working with the family by 2000, since I could no longer be linked to my profession due to health problems. Lead, zinc and tin vapors produced in my face a contact dermatitis. “
Entering a world that was rightfully his by family tradition, gave Robaina Pacheco the opportunity to learn of unknown places. Now he says he knows how to taste a sip of rum, and coffee; he selects them and meet every day a little more of the traits that identify them. Being in contact with people from everywhere, he learned to give greetings of several different cultures.
Don Alejandro and his “pichilingos”
Carlos Robaina turns fifty. He looks to one of the photos in which he is accompanying his father, while gray ash falls on the ashtray. Others, in almost all, Don Alejandro is there, with his broad smile and the ever present cigar.
“Thousands. Anecdotes with him are dissimilar. Many people come and discuss the impression he made on them when they first met. Someone comes and tells you what daddy recommended when he gave him a cigar, or had a sip of rum, upon a visit to the farm in Pinar del Rio, or exhibition abroad “.
“My dad is no more and still signs of respect can be seen by Cubans and foreigners who had the opportunity to meet old Robaina. He earned that for keeping for over many years a work devoted to that: the tobacco industry. “
He proudly claims he is not bothered by fame left behind by his father, because the “old man” was always a humble, hardworking person, qualities that made him dearer than the quality of cultivated leaves.
“Daddy liked to meet people in the field, that he enjoyed it much more than the visits of ambassadors. Sometimes he lingered encounters a bit because he was talking to a peasant from another part of Cuba who came to the farm. Several times we received Cubans after hours, they felt affection for knowing Robaina, and my dad said he could not let them down. He always welcomed everyone. “
And the story?
As the stories are dissimilar Carlos Robaina preferred to tell us that his dad was a bad cigar roller. “He was not very good rolling leaves. The old man made his own little cigars, but they didn’t come out quite well. However, his significance settled for being one of the best producers of tobacco leaves in the world. “
“He used to throw in a can of soda crackers the leaves he liked, when he wanted to make his “Pichilingos “. They were badly rolled cigars, but with perfect in the quality of its leaves. He smoked more of those cigars than of those “Don Alejandro”, a Habano named after him as a tribute. “
Although a young man Hirochi -37 years-begins to prepare the relay again. One of his cousins, grandson of Alejandro Robaina, seems the right person to continue the tradition of producing the best leaves of tobacco.
“My nephew is 23 and bears the same name as my father. Of course he has much to learn, imagine knowing tobacco leaves requires a lot of dedication. A crop can spoil in a short time and for various reasons. “
Young Robaina gradually get inserted into the world of Habanos . Minor responsibilities are assigned to him in the plantation to come into direct contact with leaves. His uncle, Carlos Pacheco Robaina provides him consultations; advises them, both his child and nephew. He claims that the relationship is straightforward despite the distance between Havana and San Luis.
“The future is guaranteed in my son and nephew. There are almost two centuries dedicated to the tobacco plant. It sounds easy but it is not. Only the daily work allows acquiring the knowledge to get a good leaf. That’s the secret, “he stresses.
Near the end of the dialogue, Carlos Robaina’s Habano breathes its last seconds. Its ending is not abrupt, languishing with the dignity of a God, while its owner drops it slightly in the ashtray.