On the Monday after this year’s Festival del Habano had ended I was still in Havana, so I went in search of an old friend, the torcedor Hamlet Jaime Paredes.
Although best known for the last decade as the cigar roller in residence at the Romeo y Julieta Casa del Habano, I had heard that he had moved to Partagás, 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 Morro Castle, where he was helping the legendary torcedor “Cueto” to produce an 81.8 metre cigar for the Guinness 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 Partagás 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’s cigar 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 Quiñones, 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. And third, 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 that under his belt, I am confident that Hamlet will go far as a salesman – or anything else he chooses to do.
This article was published in the Cigar Journal Summer Edition 2014. Read more