Guillermo Cabrera Infante
Never heard of Guillermo Cabrera Infante, you say?
Well if he weren't such an outspoken critic of El Comandante-en-Jefe, maybe just maybe, those of you outside of the Hispanophone world might have, as assuredly you have of Gabriel Garcia Marquez or Pablo Neruda. Heck, even a second-rate hack like Paulo Coelho is more famous than he ever was.
But when you're on the wrong side of the intelligentsia's pet topics, the plaudits don't come as easily, as Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn ultimately found out.
I had the pleasure of meeting Cabrera Infante on two different occasions in England, where he had exiled himself after leaving his adored Cuba in 1965. Both occasions were Oxford University events; one formally at the Randolph, one informally at the Freud Café.
When meeting the famous or the well-heeled, it's up to you to make them feel comfortable in those situations, since after all, you know them, but they know nothing about you.
So to break the ice on approaching him, I mentioned how my mother had just sent me a new watch, a Longines. He gave a sideways smile, not knowing where the conversation was going, so I continued, "Look, it can tell the time in London, New York, Geneva, Hong Kong and La Souwesera".
[Note to non-South Floridians, La Souwesera or Southwest Miami is the Spanglish for Little Havana]
It took some moments before he composed himself from laughing so much, and two years later in 1997, when we met again, he remembered the anecdote fondly.
"La Souwesera!", peels of laughter anew.
To my mind, Cabrera Infante's cinematographic critiques were amongst the finest in any language ever, although they sometimes masqueraded as something else, like his punning opus, Holy Smoke.
But to call his writing critiques is to do them a severe injustice, since they had such depth of understanding that they illuminated your entire vision of life, never mind just the film, cigar, or dance experience at hand. It's like meeting a human encyclopaedia, with more savoir faire than any of those dry tomes could ever hope to have.
This Premio Cervantes winner, which has been called the Nobel Prize for Literature of the Spanish language, was quite fluent in English, although with an accent, as he told me sheepishly.
I told him that certain accents improved languages, but he replied, with the true honesty all Cubans share, "yes, but Spanish is not one of them".
Later in that conversation, he referred to himself as "medio chinito", or a little bit Chinese-looking, which made me like him that much more. The best people are always the ones who never believe themselves to be more (or less) than they are.
Cabrera Infante wore that frankness effortlessly, but uncompromisingly, so much so that I realised how it was impossible for this one-time Communist, and ex-friend of Fidel Castro, to have stayed on in a Cuba rent with lies, a Potemkin village island. For he and his withering tongue, it was only a matter of time before they banned him...or worse.
Well, his exact contemporary lives on in this Caribbean Pais de Maravillas, and Cabrera Infante died in exile in London on Tuesday, never having seen his beloved Havana, or the Oriente province of his birth again.
But somewhere out there, I know Cabrera Infante's close-set eyes must still be glistening, because his legacy is more honest, holds up truer against the looking-glass than anything left standing in Wonderland.