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.
I'm back in the office after a week on Cape Cod with my family, a trip that has turned into a summer tradition in my household. Each summer we head to the ocean dunes of eastern Massachusetts to put our feet in the sand and take a break from the working world. During the day we look for a beach with waves, or a quiet bayside cove where swarms of minnows dart away from your legs. At night we sit down to clam chowder, fried clams or succulent lobster rolls, and all is right with the world.
I'm writing this blog as I'm packing for the International Premium Cigar & Pipe Retailers trade show, better known as the IPCPR. Amazing as it seems, this will be my 20th show. I joined Cigar Aficionado magazine in the summer of 1995, one week before what would become my first trade show. I was as green as a field on a summer day, with a head full of black hair and about 400 freshly printed business cards stuffed in my pockets. It was a perfect way to get immersed in the world of premium handmade cigars.
Fake cigars are a persistent problem for cigar lovers, particularly cigar aficionados who smoke Cuban cigars. And while most of the blame lies on those who prey on consumers by peddling the fake product, some consumers are also guilty of ignorance.
You can imagine that Cuban cigar retailers have little trouble selling Montecristo brand cigars. Even before the Montecristo No. 2 was named Cigar of the Year by our magazine in January (with a stellar score of 96 points) Montes were among the best-selling cigars in the world. The yellow box with the brand name in red, the sextet of fancy swords intertwined in a triangular pattern around a proud fleur-de-lis—Montecristos are as iconic as can be.
The trip had been a long one: ten nights on the road, with nearly every evening ending with a long dinner. Speeches, songs, conversation and cigars each and every night, and at the end I was ready for a break. Then the voice hit me.
Havana Cuba is so rich in fine cigar stores that it's hard to cover all the good ones in one blog, or one visit. I wrote about several shops earlier in the week; to complete the picture of shopping for Cuban cigars in Havana I hit several other stores, which I'll cover here in this sequel of blogs. I even shot a little video.
If there was any doubt about the fat cigar trend spreading around the world, it was erased last night here in Havana at the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes. Around 10 p.m., as the band played and the waiters poured a bit more of the 2010 Chateau d'Esclans, a troupe of gorgeous models bearing wooden trays emerged from the back, handing each seated guest a fat, dark cigar the size of a roll of quarters.
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