It's all anyone wants to talk about—what kind of cigars can you buy for $100 in Cuba? More important, in my opinion—what cigars should you buy for that $100?
The landmark decision on December 17 to improve U.S.-Cuba relations has changed the laws about official America travel to Cuba. American visitors to Havana have long been forbidden to come back with so much as one cigar or a drop of Cuban rum, but as of January 16 those who visit this island on authorized trips can legally return home with $400 worth of Cuban goods, $100 of which can be tobacco or alcohol. No insult meant to Cuban rum, which is lovely, but my $100 is going to go strictly to cigars. Yours should, too.
It was late in Cuba's capital city. The air was warm and heavy, with no hint of a breeze, and the royal palms stood still, unswaying, as if they were made of stone. The car stopped on a quiet street, and our party walked through the flowered courtyard of La Moraleja, a fine paladar in the Vedado neighborhood of Havana.
Monday morning, at the Miami International Airport. I'm sitting by my gate, staring out the window at a silver, red and blue American Airlines jet getting ready to take on passengers and make the short flight south across the Florida Keys to Havana.
All good cigar companies have them: packages of tobacco wrapped in burlap or palm known as bales. It's the lifeblood of the industry, the raw material that is painstakingly turned into cigars. Without warehouses filled with bales you simply won't last very long in the cigar business.
The man in the suit reached out his hand, a smile spreading across his face.
"Randolph Churchill," he said.
The famous surname was no mere circumstance—Randolph Churchill is the great-grandson of the late, great Sir Winston Churchill, and I had the chance to meet him last night. The celebration was one worthy of his famous ancestor, a party with cigars and fine spirits celebrating the launch of the Davidoff Winston Churchill.
It seems like only yesterday when I landed on the red-eye from Las Vegas, coming back from the Big Smoke on the Sin City strip. A week from Thanksgiving and we do it all again—this time on the East coast, for the Big Smoke New York.
Tomorrow the Cigar Aficionado team heads out to Las Vegas on the eve of our busiest weekend—the Big Smoke Las Vegas. We're making the final preparations, sending out the bagged cigars for our Saturday and Sunday seminars, going over the final details of who is covering what and what needs to be said, and looking forward to reconnecting with our friends in the cigar industry and shaking hands with a few thousand of our many readers.
Growing up I remember riding in the back seat of my parents' car on trips that took us through the northern half of Connecticut. I would look left and right from my window on the world and gaze at fields covered in white, like Christmas gifts waiting to be unwrapped. Every so often, in between the "presents," stood grand, wooden barns. Some were painted red, others were simply the color of wood that had been weathered by rain, snow, ice and wind, and many had long, narrow vents standing open to let in the air. The big, wooden structures sat sentry, as if they were standing guard watching over the fields.
This morning I chatted with Ken Burns, the maestro behind the landmark documentaries "The Civil War," "Baseball" and "Jazz." His latest project, "The Roosevelts," debuts this weekend.
Burns, who no longer smokes cigars but enjoyed them in his younger days (he told me his greatest meal ever, in Paris, ended with a fine smoke) has worked for the past seven years on this project, a seven-part series that looks deeply into the lives of Presidents Theodore and Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
The air was thick and humid, as it always seems to be this time of year in southern Florida. The visitors came in droves, dressed in suits, guayaberas and elegant dresses for this special occasion. There were more than 800 in total: Cigar retailers, cigarmakers, brokers of tobacco leaf, friends and family, competitors and colleagues, all united on Saturday night to celebrate a milestone and pay tribute to the work of a great man.
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