Fidel Castro: Revolutionary, Renaissance man who loved reading and baseball

Fidel Castro meets with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Sept 22, 2016.
Fidel Castro meets with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Sept 22, 2016.PHOTO: AFP

Fidel Castro known for conversing late into the night, squeezing the most out of his 90 years

HAVANA • His long-winded political rants were legendary. But Fidel Castro also loved burning the midnight oil, the written word and, ironically, the sport that unites Cuba and its US foe: baseball.

He squeezed the maximum out of his 90 years, getting by on snatched rest, sustained by the passion of his interests and the revolution he nurtured for nearly half a century.

"I will never retire from politics, the revolution or the ideas I have," Mr Castro said late in his life.

His legendary late-nightsmanship was a source of constant comment by journalists, biographers and the bemused.

For Mr Castro, it was utterly normal to dine into the wee hours, then hold interviews that stretched on hours as guests slumped over in their chairs.

Some of his closest allies and friends said he somehow learnt to rest while awake, in a sort of active downtime of chatting, swimming or reading, another passion of his.

"His devotion to the word is almost magical," wrote a personal friend, Colombian Nobel Prize winner Gabriel Garcia Marquez. He said he was convinced that when Mr Castro is "tired of conversing, he rests by conversing more". Garcia Marquez died in 2014.

In contrast to his very public persona, Mr Castro's private life was just that. He married three times and is known to have fathered eight children. He met Celia Sanchez, said to have been the love of his life, in 1957 and remained with her until her death in 1980.

 

Since the 1980s, Mr Castro's partner had been Dalia Soto del Valle.

Mr Castro thirsted for knowledge, learning late in life to surf the Internet, even as his government controlled access to it.

His personal library included books by Ernest Hemingway and texts on hydroponics, or growing plants without soil.

There are photos of the day when the only Concorde to visit Havana touched down, and Mr Castro headed to the airport to ask the pilot questions about the sleek supersonic jet.

The youthful Mr Castro of the 1950s was fabled for incessant cigar smoking. When he stubbed out the habit, he was awarded a prize from the World Health Organisation.

Something of a gourmand, Mr Castro collected cooking recipes which, according to Garcia Marquez, he liked to prepare "with a sort of scientific rigour."

In his later years he went on diets, even as many Cubans struggled to put enough food on their own tables.

Maybe because of his high energy, or maybe to work off his dinner, Mr Castro was no stranger to the gym and he loved swimming. His great sporting loves, however, were basketball, diving and baseball, Cuba's national sport.

"In my next incarnation I want to be a writer," Mr Castro was once quoted as saying.

He wrote many short pieces and editorials but his books are mainly compilations of his speeches.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 27, 2016, with the headline 'Revolutionary, Renaissance man who loved reading and baseball'. Print Edition | Subscribe