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Hemingway Adventure

Havana, Cuba (fourth day)

Havana, Cuba 
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At the Corona Cigar Factory. There's no automation in the process apart from the printing of the labels. The product is hand-made, but very little sign of them being rolled on the thighs of virgins. It takes five months to learn to roll a cigar. Skilled practitioners earn twice as much as doctors.
Michael Palin - Hemingway AdventureI once visited the production line for a range of ‘hand-finished’ chocolates produced for a world-famous London department store. The ‘hand-finishing’ process consisted of a pair of elderly ladies waiting for the items to emerge from a coating machine, then dipping their gnarled forefingers into a bowl of melted chocolate and anointing each one with a twirl. What they did with their fingers in between each one was not always clear.

There are those who believe that the thighs of Cuban virgins are an integral part of cigar production, but in the long open room where 250 workers sit in rows at their workbenches there was no evidence of any below-the-belt work, and very few virgins.

At one end of the room is a stage with microphones set at a table and a large, badly reproduced photo of Che Guevara on an easel to one side. He is, of course, sporting a big cigar. Occasionally there are readings to encourage the workers. Whilst we are there a lady exhorts them to higher cigar production with a passage from The Old Man and the Sea.

The workers are comparatively well paid. If you can roll more than 170 cigars in a working day you can earn 300 pesos a fortnight. That’s about twelve pounds, or nineteen dollars. By comparison, a doctor or similar government employee would take almost a month to earn this much.

The irony is that the cigars which communist Cuba produces are one of the symbols of unrestrained capitalism, and there are those who would pay a hundred dollars or more for a hand-rolled Havana cigar. Which is about two and a half months’ wages for the hand that rolled it. Or five months’ wages for the teacher of their children.
Havana, Cuba 
click to enlarge 
file size
At the Corona Cigar Factory. There's no automation in the process apart from the printing of the labels. The product is hand-made, but very little sign of them being rolled on the thighs of virgins. It takes five months to learn to roll a cigar. Skilled practitioners earn twice as much as doctors.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Hemingway Adventure
  • Chapter: Havana, Cuba (fourth day)
  • Country/sea: Cuba
  • Place: Havana
  • Book page no: 212

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