Tue, Aug 02, 2011 - Page 13 News List

Cuba cigar factory ‘readers’ keep oral tradition smoking
古巴雪茄廠「朗讀者」傳統 工人捲雪茄更起勁

Cuban cigar factory reader Grisel Valdez reads the newspaper to cigar rollers at H. Upmann Cigar Factory in Havana on July 12.

Photo: AFP

Perched on a wooden dais in front of 600 workers rolling Cuba’s legendary cigars, Grisel Valdez reads aloud — poems, novels and even sex tips from the newspaper — keeping workers entertained, their attention rapt, just the way it has been done for 150 years.

Grisel, 55, a petite former teacher who wears reading glasses she adjusts frequently, may have a job that predates electricity.

But nobody in Cuba seems to have any interest in replacing her with a transistor radio or TV.

Indeed, she prides her old-school duties for its content and delivery — in a range of voices (a different one for each character) when reading a novel, for example — as well as careful preparation before her sessions.

She chats with workers between reading stints to get feedback and take requests.

She is one of about 300 cigar factory “readers” who have been brightening the long and monotonous work day of cigar rollers for over a century and a half.

To some the tradition is so unique and valuable that the UN Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has proposed including it as part of humanity’s intangible heritage.

Most workers spend 10 hours rolling, clipping and trimming tobacco with a few simple tools, for under US$20 (NT$600) a month.

They often start out a day with selections from the Communist party newspaper, and then veer into poems almost universally loved — such as Pablo Neruda’s love poems — and classic novels like The Count of Monte Cristo.

On this day, Grisel’s sweet and reassuring voice echoes through the H. Upmann building in Centro Habana, where the world-class Montecristo brand is made, reading out headlines about Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, the national mango harvest and government calls on workers to boost their productivity.


1. rapt adj.

全神貫注的 (quan2 shen2 guan4 zhu4 de5)

例: The audience listened to the choir with rapt attention.


2. predate v.

早於 (zao3 yu2)

例: The radio predates the television.


3. foot the bill v. phr.

負擔費用 (fu4 dan1 fei4 yong4)

例: It is the taxpayer that foots the bill when it comes to universal healthcare.


The cigar factory reader tradition in Cuba dates back at least to 1865; for more than a century, the workers themselves pooled their money to pay the readers to keep their minds occupied by something more entertaining than the manual job at hand. Now the company foots the bill, though it’s not a huge one.

“I make 315 pesos (NT$342) a month, but I feel really appreciated,” said Grisel.















Warning: Smoking can damage your health. 吸菸有害健康

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