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The Time Between

Armed with his usual positive outlook on life, actor Michael Nouri heads for Broadway.
Mervyn Rothstein
From the Print Edition:
Linda Evangelista, Autumn 95

(continued from page 1)

"I've never really had an appetite for anything but Cuban cigars," Nouri says, holding in his hand a well-aged Montecristo No. 2. "To me, cigars were synonymous with Cuba. Not long after I smoked that H. Upmann, Cuba became forbidden territory. And for me, that made it even more intriguing and desirable. I'm very desirous of things that are unobtainable. But truthfully, getting Cuban cigars has never been a problem for me. It's just a question of whether you want to go through the anxiety of bringing them in illegally. And for me it was always worth the anxiety. I mean, there's anxiety in walking down the street, and there's very little payoff except getting to your destination. So I figure, hey, the anxiety of bringing in some Cuban cigars through customs is a relatively small price to pay for the reward."

His favorite cigar, he says, is any cigar given to him in friendship. But his particular favorites include the Montecristo No. 2. "It all depends on my mood. I choose the No. 2 when I want a lot of smoke. And you can control the amount of smoke you get by the cut that you make. I also like the Diplomatico No. 2, which is a counterpart to the Montecristo. It's virtually the same cigar. After lunch, I like the Cohiba robusto, because it's like, boom! It also gives you a lot of smoke. It's a good wakeup call after a big lunch. After a wonderful, long dinner, when I know I'm going to have a long time to smoke, I like a double corona--Hoyo de Monterrey, a pre-Castro Punch Super Selection No. 2--or a Cohiba Esplendidos. They're all different, with subtle nuances of spice, dryness and richness."

In his California home, Nouri keeps his cigars in an armoire that he has had specially converted to a humidor. "It holds about 5,000 cigars," he says. "I had it lined in Spanish cedar and put little openings in the shelves so the moisture can get up from the humidifier on the bottom. It's a perfectly controlled environment for my little cigar babies." He has not, however, brought many of them to New York. "I'm singing," he says, "and I cut back when I'm singing. So when I need one, I just hit up some of my friends."

For Nouri, smoking a cigar is an event of "enjoyment, appreciation and relaxation. When I was in my 20s, I met Zino Davidoff in Geneva, and he gave me a copy of his book The Cigar Connoisseur. It gave me an appreciation of what a cigar is all about. I had never known what went into the making of a cigar, that in fact it takes a minimum of two years to produce one, from the time the seed is sown until you're cutting it and lighting it. And of course, it's all done by hand."

The process, he says, inspires admiration. "I have a great respect for what goes into the cigar, so necessarily the circumstances under which I smoke one reflect that respect. At the risk of sounding pretentious, I have to say that I have a certain amount of reverence for the event. There's something ceremonious about it. After all, I wouldn't open a fantastic bottle of wine at a baseball game. I very seldom smoke a cigar while walking down the street, unless there's no wind at all. I like to reflect, contemplate, appreciate what went into the making of it all."

Nouri sees a certain symbolism in a good smoke. "It reminds me of the quality of life I strive for," he says. "I love quality in everything, whether it's watchmaking or clothes or shoes or a theatrical performance. Because it's easy to crank anything out. It's easy to mass-produce anything. We live in a knockoff society, a throwaway society, where quality really stands out."

Cigars, for Nouri, also symbolize fellowship and friendship. "When I sit down to smoke a cigar," he says, "it's usually with some really great buddies. And we talk about our cigar experiences, our trips to Cuba, our dreams of going to Cuba. Or we talk about something completely different, like J.D. Salinger. Or life. Or women."

(Speaking of women--which he most definitely likes to do--he prefers that they be cigar-friendly. Sometimes, they are more than friendly. A former romantic interest is India Allen, an actress, film producer and the 1988 Playboy Playmate of the Year, a regular cigar smoker who was profiled earlier this year in Cigar Aficionado.)

Occasionally, when he and his friends get together, they talk about another subject very much on smokers' minds these days: "the flak we get for smoking cigars."

With the growth of restrictive smoking laws, that flak has increased. But Nouri prefers to avoid it. "It's impossible for me to enjoy a cigar if I know that somebody in the environment is being offended by it," he says. "That's contrary to the whole experience. It's anathema to the event. So I'll go to a cigar smoker or to a cigar-friendly place so I don't have to deal with all that stuff. The cigar can easily be used as an instrument of aggression. That's not what it's about for me."

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