Tuesday, July 8, 2008

The Land of Cigars



Interesting Facts About the Big Factories In Havana — The Real Thing at 2 Cents Apiece and Others at $2 — Cigarettes Are Also Very Popular

I have never seen a Havana man smoking in church. It's about the only place where he does not smoke. He smokes in the street cars, he smokes at the public dining table, he smokes everywhere. The presence of women is not considered at all. When coffee is brought on the table, the Spaniard or Cuban lights his cigar or cigarette and begins to send up clouds of smoke. He never even thinks of saying to the ladies, "By your leave," for the custom of the country is to smoke everywhere. On the railway trains there is no smoking compartment, for a man is privileged, and, in fact, expected to smoke everywhere. If he is not smoking, his neighbor will offer him a cigarette. The driver of your coach will smoke and very likely offer you a cheroot.

At the opera the men will walk and smoke between the acts in the spaces behind the boxes and balconies. You will see finely dressed, seemingly well bred men, with ladies in full evening toilet, entering the theater and smoking as they go. You never see a pipe in Cuba. It is the country of the cigar and the cigarette. One of the odd sights to a stranger is that afforded by the negro women, who smoke big, long and black cigars in the street. It was here that the smoking habit, which has spread around the world, had its start, and the Cubans are still more devoted to their cigars than any other people. The cigar industry and the tobacco trade give employment to a large portion of the population of Havana. In every quarter one will run across small establishments where from two to ten men are employed making cigars and some children and women engaged in stripping tobacco.

There are many large factories, employing, some of them, several hundred men and women. Some of these factories make cigarettes as well as cigars. The cigarettes are made out of strong Cuban tobacco, but have the negative virtue of being pure, untinctured tobacco. In every house or office building the porter, who sits in the entresol, is engaged all day long in rolling cigarettes. He has a little table in front of him, where the tobacco and paper are spread out, and he is constantly at work. In this way the porter adds to his income. A vast quantity of cigarettes are smoked here as well as cigars. When the Cuban is not smoking cigars, he is smoking cigarettes.

It is not to be supposed that all the cigars made or smoked in Havana are fine cigars. The best tobacco comes from one district near Havana known as Vuelto Abajo, and the quality of that often varies on different plantations and in different seasons. Much tobacco is raised in other districts which is not of a superior kind and has not the rich flavor that makes fine Havana cigars sought after in all parts of the world. A good deal, probably most of the very highest grade tobacco, is secured for the makers of famous brands of cigars in Havana.

Some of the owners of big cigar factories have plantations of their own and options on the product of other plantations famed for the quality of their leaf, but many of the cigars sold here at a low price are just as rank as any ever produced in the United States, and worse, because they are stronger. One cannot get a very pleasant impression from a visit to a cigar factory. In the large factories the plumbing and sanitary arrangements are unusually bad, and the buildings are filled with had odors, which, mingling with that of the tobacco, have anything but a pleasing effect. Two or three hundred men will be at work in a poorly ventilated room that does not afford proper breathing space for more than a hundred. Neatness and cleanliness are not conspicuous characteristics, either of the men at work rolling cigars or of the hundreds of girls and children engaged in stripping tobacco. If one wants to thoroughly enjoy a fine Havana cigar, if he has over visited one of the factories he will have to obliterate the memory of the visit from his mind.

The fine grades of cigars sell at retail in Havana for less than half the price one would have to pay in the United States — that is, one will buy for 10 cents a cigar that would cost him in Washington 20 or 25 cents, and for 5 cents a cigar he would pay 10 or 15 cents for at home. Then there are cigars or cheroots sold for 1 or 2 cents. The ordinary retail price for a package of cigarettes is 5 cents. The cigars affected here are of the largest sizes, 6 or 8 inches in length, and some of them an inch in diameter.

The very finest cigars made here go to England. Some of them cost $1 each here at wholesale. The men who make these cigars are paid 30 cents each for the making of them. They are made with the greatest care, every bit of leaf in them being selected and especially treated and the rolling and wrapping being done by the most skillful of cigar makers. One of these men engaged in making those $1 cigars will not make more than 20 or 30 in a day. He is supplied with a certain amount of tobacco when he begins work in the morning, and when he turns in the product of his day's labor at night must account for all the tobacco. The cigars are carefully inspected, and if any defect, the slightest crack or a variation in color, is discovered in a cigar it is rejected. The cigar maker is paid only for the perfect cigars. In the best factories the rejected cigars are smoked up by the employees.

In some factories where cigars not of the very finest quality are made the rejected cigars are boxed and sold as "seconds." In all the factories the cigar makers are privileged to smoke all they want of their own product and to take a pocketful of cigars with them when they go out at night. Of course this is in part at their own expense, for they are paid for the cigars they turn in. One will see cigars for sale at the stands here for as much as 80 cents or $1. Some of them are packed separately in glass tubes, so as to preserve their elusive Cuban flavor. A cigar costing $1 here would cost $2 in the United States, and a man who smoked half a dozen of them a day ought to pay a pretty good income tax. — Havana Cor. Washington Star.

No comments: