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Smoking on Deadline

In the heat of reporting and writing, television and newspaper journalists savor the pleasures of a great smoke.
Ken Shouler
From the Print Edition:
Bill Cosby, Autumn 94

(continued from page 3)

Across the Atlantic, cigars burn brighter. Says Alan Riding, The New York Times Paris bureau chief, "All the people I know seem to apologize for cigars. I always hear people say things like 'I had to smoke in the garage where it's 20 degrees.' Europe is far more stogie-friendly than the United States. Some Englishman wrote, 'one gets the idea that Americans are afraid of living and afraid of dying.' In America there is more of a desire to interfere in other people's lives. Americans are much more assertive about their area of individual rights." He pauses. "But Americans could teach something to Europeans about openness."

Riding, whose biographical description is very understated--"I'm British, 50 years old and have one son and one wife"--has worked full-time for The New York Times since 1978 and has been bureau chief in Mexico City, Rio de Janeiro, Rome and Paris.

"I started smoking as a foreign correspondent at the United Nations in the late 1960s," says Riding. "I thought it made me look like a foreign correspondent. Diplomats would smoke Don Diegos in the lounge there. Now you can't get within 100 yards of the building with a cigar," he says with dry sarcasm.

"A lot of correspondents considered it part of their uniform to smoke cigars in Central America. Cigar smokers wore khaki there. In Central America, you were never quite sure where you were going to land anyway; if the pilot opened the door of the cockpit you couldn't see the window with all the smoke. I smoked Joya de Nicaragua--Honduras had good cigars--sometimes Mexican cigars from Veracruz, sometimes Dominican cigars and Jamaicans.

"When I came to Europe the choices were more limited. You could sometimes get what you want, sometimes not. The acceptable alternative cigars weren't there. There were some Dominicana cigars. Now I smoke Partagas, the Romeo y Julieta [No. 2]; the Cubans are better made. The Montecristos are up and down."

And Riding offers a surprising observation to those who think that cigar smoke is the most noisome of smells. "Women often like the smell of cigars because of some uncle or grandfather who smoked. It's sort of Pavlovian.

"I actually have the bad habit of smoking while writing, but [the cigars] go out a lot. An apocryphal rule says that a cigar goes out after it's half smoked. Maybe if I cut down on the writing, then I'd cut down on the cigars. I smoke three a day."

Despite smoking during intellectual pursuits, Riding is hardly pretentious about cigars, laughing at the folly of thinking that cigar smoking indicates a great level of intellect and urbanity. "We're nowhere near as deep as pipe smokers," he deadpans. "They are much deeper, furrow their brows and say profound things." This is modesty on Riding's part. His book about Mexico, Distant Neighbors, is still available 10 years after its first printing.

Stephen Kinzer, The New York Times bureau chief in Berlin, spent 13 years covering Latin America for various newspapers, including five years as Managua bureau chief for the Times. "When I transferred from Central America to Germany, many of my friends asked me what the two places could possibly have in common. I wondered then, but now I know the answer: both places fail to recognize public cigar smoking as a felony.

"I had dabbled in cigar smoking as a young man, but did not graduate to quality goods until 1979 during the chaos of the Sandinista-led revolution in Nicaragua. In those days, the excellent Joya de Nicaragua cigars were being sold by looters and escaping profiteers for almost nothing. These were fine cigars, grown along the Honduran border with seed brought from Cuba.

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