On the Monday after this year’s festival del Havana had ended I was still in Havana, so I went in search of an old friend, the toreador Hamlet Jaime Paredes. Although best known for the last decade as the cigar roller in residence at the Romeo y Julieta Casa del Havano, I had heard that he moved to Partagas, but had no idea what he was doing there.
The last time I met him was in 2011, when I was on a Cuban holiday. I had found him in the dungeons of the Moro Castle, where he was helping the legendary toreador “Cueto” to produce an 81.8 metre cigar for the Guiness World Record.
Mind you, Hamlet is a legend in his own right, as he proved back in 2001, when, aged just twenty seven, he won a competition amongst the top ten cigar rollers in Havana, including Cueto.
The Partagas shop was pleasantly peaceful and we settled down with espressos and good cigars in the VIP room. On arrival I had noticed that Hamlet was not seated at the cigar roller’s table. He explained that la China was still the shop roller. So what was his role? I am a salesman, he announced proudly, also mentioning that he and the rest of the team that works for Grecia Quinones, the manager, had just recorded the best festival week sales the shop had ever known.
I was surprised, but thinking about it, why shouldn’t a young man with undoubted talents seek to extend his experience of the cigar business. Inevitably, my mind turned to a very remarkable evening I shared with Hamlet in 2010. We were booked to perform at a party given in London’s National Gallery. When we got home he told me he had experienced three things for the first time in his life.
First, he had come to my home where in the garden he saw an apple growing on a tree. Second, he had set eyes on a Van Gogh. Thirdly, he had spent over half an hour deep in conversation with a British government cabinet minister. Of the three, the apple came out on top, but with experiences like this under his belt, I am confident that Hamlet will go far as a salmon – or anything else he chooses to do.