After more than 100 Big Smoke notches on my belt, you might think I could never be surprised by the event. But the Big Smoke Las Vegas this past weekend was another amazing couple of nights, bringing together cigar lovers from around the globe and the United States.
It is a little hard to describe the pride we feel here at Cigar Aficionado. Twenty years ago, the world kept telling us that it was a bad idea to launch a cigar magazine, that there was no future in it. But thanks to Marvin Shanken’s vision and passion, he ignored all the naysayers and plunged ahead with the project. Today in 2012, we have enjoyed an incredible two decade run of success, all the while having a lot of fun and remaining true to our original mission of educating the world about the pleasures and joys of not only a good cigar, but the good life too.
I wrote an editor’s note for the July/August issue of Cigar Aficionado wondering about the implication of a proposed regulation for New York City apartments that requires them to have a written smoking policy. Of course, it opens the door for smoke-free buildings, and I suggested, given the track record of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s three terms in office, that it was only a matter of time before this “optional” written policy outlining a building’s rules would lead to an explicit indoor smoking ban in all apartment residences. That’s just the nature of the fight against tobacco today.
Spring’s early glories were in full bloom under a crystal clear blue sky. The forsythias, dogwoods and cherry trees dotted the landscape with their yellows, pinks and whites, and the first tinges of green laced the canopy of trees with small, just emerging buds. But the vibrant hues of spring clashed with the solemn blacks and grays of the suits and dresses worn by the men and women waiting in line at the small Episcopal Church in the rural community north of Philadelphia.
If you’ve ever been to, or heard about the IPCPR, you know there are endless aisles packed with booths from cigarmakers, pipe dealers, humidor and accessory manufacturers and various sundries that are essential to the operation of tobacconists around the country. The trade show at the Festival de Habanos is a mere shadow of that scene, and in truth, is a showcase for various Cuban government enterprises and a smattering of foreign companies conducting business in Cuba. A generous guess would put the number of booths at 50.
Riveting! No other word describes Habana Compas, the dance troupe clad in black jumpsuits, long hair swirling, lithe bodies gyrating and the pounding percussion from their drumsticks on the wooden chairs they carried pulsing through the 1000-plus attendees in tuxedos and suits and flowing long gowns.
I feel like some super-conductor magnet, attracting just about every loose cigar in a country overflowing with a lot of cigars. When I arrived, there was the question in my mind about where I would find my first Cuban smoke, and what it would be. My friend, Max Gutmann from Mexico, answered that worry with an Edmundo Dantes Conde 54, a beautiful cigar made especially for the Mexican market. Quite a way to kick off the week.
The sharp drum downbeat pounded out over the crowd, and the unmistakable chords of a Chicago blues song rattled the walls and shook the glasses on the tables. Jim Belushi, his Blues Brothers’ persona intact minus the hat and the dark sunglasses, but with a lit cigar between his fingers, wailed on his harmonica, belting out Little Walter’s She’s So Fine.
He approached me with a smile, and a warm embrace. Enrique Mons, of the Casa del Habano at Club Habana in Miramar, looked like a man reborn after a lengthy bout with an illness. He was attending the morning seminars at the Festival de Habanos, which is taking place this week in Havana. He was walking around like a man in his domain, the world of Cuban cigars.
The feeling is always the same, and it usually hits me at the same time. The plane leaves the dark greens and browns of the Florida Everglades, passes over the azure Florida Straits and then, on the horizon, a small brown strip appears—you know you’re headed back to Cuba.
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