Posted: Apr 9, 2007 10:05am ET“Beautiful is more difficult than different.” If you think about that for a second, it’s a pretty profound statement. And it came from an automobile designer. Not just any designer, but a man named Ian Callum, who is the chief design engineer at Jaguar. I was at dinner with him last week, partly because I still remember my first teenage car fantasies that focused on the original XKE series from the early 1960s. I thought it was the most beautiful car in the world. And I wanted to meet the man responsible for its resurrection.
Over the years, I had watched as the XK series morphed into an automobile that I knew I wouldn’t like. For the record, I’ve owned cars such as a 3 Series BMW, when I lived in France with my wife, to a long series of Audi A6s in recent years. The Audis have been great family cars, reliable and safe for those long, weekend trips to my daughter’s soccer tournaments all over the East Coast. And, as executive editor of this magazine, I get to test-drive all kinds of different cars. I usually focus on the various sports cars that make it into the press fleets. (Yes, auto manufacturers have cars designated for the media.) It’s been fun: a Lamborghini here, a Bentley there, and my favorite on the unaffordable list, the Aston Martin Vantage. All in all, they’ve kept my sports car addiction at bay.
But then there was a moment about a year ago when I saw the new Jaguar XK. At first, I thought, “Wow, that’s the closest they’ve come to matching the beauty of the old XKE.” I remembered quickly, however, that the previous XK model looked pretty good, but it was more a luxury coupe than a sports car. I couldn’t wait to try the new car out. Last summer and fall, I drove both the regular XK and the new XKR, a high-powered version of the XK.
Not only did both cars live up to my sports car desires, but they didn’t disappoint my teenage fantasies about the XK. They were fast. They were comfortable. And they had the requisite head-turning “wow” factor that any boy loves.
Posted: Apr 5, 2007 4:50pm ETWhen we launched the Cigar Cinema videos in March, there were a lot of comments on CigarAficionado.com about cigar lighting techniques. Both James Suckling and I were questioned about the methods that we used to get our Bolivar Royal Coronas fired up. We both used lighters; I had a S.T. Dupont Xtend that could double as blowtorch if necessary. In reviewing the video, I thought I had kept the flame far enough away from the foot of the cigar to avoid charring it too much, but there is always some tension between not wanting to actually burn or char the foot and wanting to get the thing lit. In the every-second-filled-to-the-max world that we leave in, too often, I don’t take all the care necessary to avoid over-lighting the tip.
But the comments reminded me of the first cigar-lighting lesson I ever received. Better yet, I remembered the cigar. It was my first Cohiba, and I’m pretty sure it was an Esplendido. My teacher that night was the top press official in the Mexico Foreign Ministry; at the time, Mexico maintained very close ties with Cuba. I didn’t ask, but let’s presume with good reason that the cigar was a diplomatic “gift.” If my memory serves me correctly, I’m pretty sure the dinner took place well in advance of Cohiba being commercialized on the world market, so early in my cigar-smoking life, I was lucky.
The man’s name was Augustin Gutierrez, one of the great gentlemen in the world of diplomacy, and one of those internationally educated people who it’s often hard to tell where they are from. My wife, (actually still my girlfriend at the time) and I had a wonderful meal with Sr. Gutierrez and his wife Marta, and like many Mexican dinners, it was getting well past 11 o’clock before we moved away from the table. He asked me if I would like a cigar, and I said, “Of course.” He went to his humidor, pulled out the Esplendidos and handed one to me along with three matches.
Posted: Apr 2, 2007 9:30am ETI’m not naturally disposed to feel sorry for cigarette smokers. But for the last three months in the midst of winter’s deep freeze in New York, you can’t help but share their pain. They are easy to spot. Small huddles of people grouped as close to a building’s door as they can get, puffing away quickly so they can get back inside. Sometimes it is just a solitary smoker, standing there all bundled up. Some hardy souls often wear just shirts, without their winter coats, on a short smoke break before heading back upstairs to their jobs.
Their plight is caused by New York City’s smoking law, which prohibits all smoking in the workplace. Using that law as justification, many buildings have gone entirely “smoke-free,” so you can’t even have a separate smoking room for your employees. It forces a leper-like status on all smokers, denying them the right to use what remains a legal product in all 50 states. At least its legality was true the last time I looked.
Cigar smokers don’t suffer quite the same indignities. You don’t light up a cigar for a quick five-minute fix, so there’s no advantage in sneaking down to the curb to fire up a $5 cigar. But cigar lovers have been denied the pleasures of smoking indoors for decades, even during the phase when restaurants offered up non-smoking and smoking sections. The only catch then was that smoking sections usually prohibited pipes and cigars. As a result, a cigar smoker had to be creative in choosing a place to light up.
How many times have you looked out the window in traffic, and seen a lit cigar in the mouth of the driver next to you? How many times have you been walking down the street, even in the dead of winter, and smelled the unmistakable aroma of a handrolled product? That’s why places like golf courses, fishing camps, hunting blinds and sidewalks all over this country serve as refuges for lovers of the leaf.
But is that fair? I’m tired of using examples to compare what’s being done to smokers by the nanny state to other products or activities. But if people took the time to investigate just how facts are being twisted to support what has become a radical worldview, they would not only be appalled but maybe a little scared.
Posted: Mar 29, 2007 3:05am ETThe cigar appears quickly. First, there’s the pulsing beat of “Woke Up This Morning,” the Alabama 3 song that will forever be known as the Sopranos’ theme song. It’s less than 25 seconds into the intro, as the car zooms past the slightly fuzzy images of New Jersey’s most infamous landscapes—the highway tunnels, the brick warehouses, and the smokestacks of the industrial zones that seem to line the northern end of the New Jersey Turnpike. As the car pulls into a tollbooth, a thick, stubby fingered hand reaches out for a ticket, and there in the unmistakable mouth of Tony Soprano, there is a lit cigar.
The small theater filled quickly last week, the seats taken by New York’s media elite, at least the ones with a shared fascination of HBO’s breakout hit, "The Sopranos." The distinctive bold red letters spelled out the show’s name against the black screen in the front of the sloping hall. Then, the hissing of HBO’s snowy logo, a quick fade to black, and the pulsing sound of Woke Up This Morning pounded out from the wall speakers.
Like every one of the six seasons, the final episodes of The Sopranos begin with the same theme song, and the same scenes of New Jersey. And, like we have come to expect, the first two episodes that I saw last week have cigars being smoked by more than one character, whether its Tony himself, or one of the other players in the long-running television mega-hit. I won’t ruin any of the story lines for you—suffice it to say that no one dies in the first two episodes that you care about, or at least that you should care about.
But hasn’t this show been a showcase for cigar lovers? Nearly every major character has had a cigar in his mouth at one time or another. James Gandolfini’s Tony Soprano is almost never without one. Steve Schirippa as Bobby Bacala. Frank Vincent as Phil Leotardo. There have been a few characters who’ve come and gone, too: Joey Pantoliano as Ralph. Vincent Pastore as Big Pussy. All cigar smokers at one point or another in the past seasons.
Posted: Mar 20, 2007 3:45pm ETI’m sure it’s happened to you driving down the road with the radio on. A song comes on, and you reach for the volume knob, turning it up to ear-drum splitting levels. You are reminded of a summer day in high school, however many years ago it was, driving with the windows down, the sweet smells of freshly mown grass streaming in, and the hair of your girlfriend blowing across her face as she looked out into the countryside singing along with radio. You can probably still sing the words to that favorite song, and I know you can remember the incredible freedom you felt at that moment.
When I lit up a Montecristo Especial #1 recently for one of the magazine’s Connoisseur Corner’s contributions, I had an identical sensation. I remembered the first “Monte” Especial I ever smoked. It was in Paris in 1985, and my wife, bless her heart, had responded to my request for a box of cigars by picking up the Montes on her way through a duty free shop as she returned home from a business trip.
I didn’t know much about cigars then. I was fresh out of Mexico and Central America, trying to make a go of it as a freelancer in Paris while she labored away for Citibank in their corporate offices in Paris. Given the fact that every young American freelancer with dreams of Ernest Hemingway or making it as foreign correspondent in Europe, seemed to be there ahead of me, I had opted for the former dream and was working on a novel. My humidor was a plastic bag with dampened paper towels inside. I’d smoked during my days in Central America, but cigars were still a largely unexplored universe for me.
My writing room wasn’t exactly a garret with a window, but it was a classic Parisian apartment with floor to ceiling windows and a roll-up steel window shutter. I could sit there facing my old IBM PC decked out with the newest version of WordPerfect, writing away the morning, and turning sideways occasionally to gaze out across the rooftops of nearby apartment buildings, the round tile chimneys framing the usually cloudy sky. At some point, almost every morning, I would light a cigar.
Posted: Mar 15, 2007 10:15am ET
Cigar Aficionado's blog world may have been a long time in coming. But now it is here.
I will be writing about everything from unexpected surprises in our tastings, to a wonderful cigar on the back porch my house in the suburbs, or out on the golf course. I won't limit my thoughts to just cigars either. You'll be getting my thoughts on a lot of my passions, not all of them mind you, but everything from golf, to a great meal to that 15 year old bottle of Burgundy out of my cellar.
The goal is pretty clear to me. For 15 years, Cigar Aficionado has tried to open up the world of the Good Life to our readers. Now, we have the means to let you in our research, and the amazing things that we get to do as part of our jobs here. After a few months of this, I may have to hire a bodyguard to keep our envy-crazed readers at bay.