A Heartfelt Rumba

Mar 11, 2010

A Cuban musician friend of mine named Ernan Lopez-Nuzza, one of the island’s best jazz pianists, and his wife, Wendy, reminded me the other day during lunch of a rumba called “La Muerte Me Llama Que Es Esto?”  The song, loosely translated, means Death Calls Me But What Is That?

I was thinking of that last week when I was hanging with the great tobacco man Alejandro Robaina at his farm in Pinar del Río. The 91-year-old is like a grandfather to me. I spent many days over the last 15 years or so with he and his family, talking and smoking, and comparing notes about tobacco, love and life. He hasn’t been well lately, and apparently he has cancer in his kidneys, which could be spreading. But he says he is feeling okay for the moment.

“Many people say I am already dead. What are they talking about? I am fine,” Alejandro joked. “It’s really cold this year. It’s the coldest in 20 years. So I have been staying indoors more than usual. This is not normal weather and it’s very hard on me. I am not dead yet!”

It was sort of macabre sitting in the living room of Alejandro’s small house and talking about his death. I really didn’t know what to say other than just treat him with the same respect and love that I always have. We spoke for about 10 minutes about his health and his grandson’s new tobacco growing venture in Ecuador.

You can listen to the video that is posted with this blog. I will loosely translate the conversation. I was light and fun—I didn’t want it to be too serious. Alejandro has a great sense of humor. Cuban humor is very dry, like mine.

Me: “How are you feeling (Alejandro)?”

Alejandro: “Today, I feel well because they gave me an injection. But I feel good…”

Me: “You always look younger.”

Alejandro:  (laughs)

Me: “So is Hiroshi working well here?”

Alejandro: “Well…well. Hiroshi works better than me.”

Me: “We will see. If not I will have to kill him.”

Alejandro: “ Okay!" (laughing)

Hiroshi: “I was telling James about the two farms we have in Ecuador, and one is called Santa Teresa after grandmother Teresa, and the other is called Leopoldo Robaina, after your grandfather.”

Me: “It’s beautiful, no? They can make good tobacco there….It’s different.”

Alejandro: “Enough wrapper.”

Me: “People make enough wrapper there.”

Alejandro: “Wrapper, wrapper…" (I couldn’t understand him!)

Me: “He (Hiroshi) is going to make sun-grown tobacco. But there is not a lot of sun there." (joking).

Alejandro: (chuckles) "Not much sun.”

Me: “How many cigars are you smoking a day now…two or three?”

Hiroshi: “Don’t look at me!" (He says this to his grandfather, who is looking in a guilty way at his grandson.)

Alejandro: “A lot. A lot. What am I going to do?”

Hiroshi: “He has been smoking for 81 years.”

Alejandro: “What can I do?”

Hiroshi: “God willing. We will arrive at 91 years old. We will see.”

Me: “God willing. I think so if we smoke well. I think so.”

Alejandro: “How do you feel?”

Me: “I feel very well. Thank you."

"God bless you, Alejandro Robaina. Rest in Peace." —April 19, 2010 00:30 AM

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