Most people knew him as the revolutionary Leftist leader who held the reins of power in Cuba for close to fifty years, as someone who cocked a snook at the Super power in his neighbourhood that kept trying to overthrow and/or eliminate him, and as a fiery orator par excellence. But there was more to Fidel Castro. And as history ponders whether to absolve him (he had famously claimed it would), and people argue as to whether he was a dictator or a revolutionary, here are ten things that many people might not know about the man himself:
1. His iconic beard was not merely symbolic. It also reflected time saved – he once said that by not shaving every day, he saved close to 5000 minutes every year. The cynics would say it also eliminated another avenue of assassination – tipping the razor with poison.
2. His roots were not exactly humble. Although his father started as an immigrant labourer, he eventually became a landowner and Castro’s family had its own sugar plantation. He always claimed to be happier in the countryside than in the cities.
3. He was considered to be one of Cuba’s best schoolboy athletes, but there is no evidence to suggest that he was actually offered a contract by top US baseball teams, as many of his supporters claim.
4. He saw himself as the successor of Jose Marti Perez, the author and poet, who many called the “Apostle of Cuban Independence.”
5. He liked to work late, sometimes going to sleep as late as 3 am or 4 am. Of course, he tried to make the most of it, fixing meetings for tricky negotiations in the wee hours, hoping to capitalize on the others being fatigued and sleepy. It was not rare to see him giving interviews to journalists who had dozed off!
6. In 1955, he met an Argentine doctor in Mexico. He called him “a more advanced revolutionary than I was.” This was Ernesto Che Guevara. The two would become close friends and even though they went their separate ways after a difference of opinion, Castro would always hold Che in high esteem.
7. Castro was believed to be a voracious reader, and particularly fond of the works of Ernst Hemingway – some say that For Whom the Bell Tolls was his favourite book. Famous author Gabriel Garcia Marquez (who was also a close friend nor Castro) said that his “devotion to the word is almost magical.” Castro himself is believed to have said that he wanted to be author in his next incarnation.
8. His reading also included – surprise surprise- cooking recipes. He collected them and evidently tried his best to translate into practical dishes. He could make some very good pasta, as per some sources, and had a penchant for wandering into the kitchens and discussing cooking methods with chefs!
9. Never at a loss for words, he was known for giving long speeches, which were often extempore – he rarely seemed to need to consult notes or follow a script. He has given one of the longest speeches in the United Nations, spanning over four hours!
10. Although baptised and raised as a Roman Catholic, Castro’s religious leanings were slightly ambiguous, to say the least. He claimed to be an atheist but said that Christianity had its good side too, and even said that Jesus Christ was in fact a Communist (we can see many a debate happening over THAT one in heaven, really).