Out of the Humidor
From the Print Edition:
Claudia Schiffer, Jul/Aug 97
I have been a serious marathon runner for 14 years and a cigar smoker for five. While there may be some who find this combination to be incongruous, I do not. The pursuit of happiness is not limited to any particular set of endeavors. In November, I competed in my 20th marathon and my first with cigars. Several friends along the 26.2-mile course kept me supplied with Macanudo Crystal Cafes during the race. While not my first race, it may have been my most relaxing.
When I was a child, my parents never went out to formal affairs until my father tucked two Churchills into his tuxedo pocket. My own first experience with cigars proved to be somewhat of an embarrassment. Shortly after graduating from law school, I found myself being interviewed by a prominent attorney who at one time served as attorney general of the United States. After the interview the lawyer, who is the senior partner of one of Baltimore's most venerable law firms, offered me a cigar. I accepted. I attempted to light the cigar without removing the cap. It was my first cigar and I had no idea that the cap had to be removed to allow the draw of air. I sucked very hard until the partner advised me.
Several years ago I decided to try cigars. One of my first experiences led me to believe that cigar smoking is often memorable. I was dating a young Englishwoman whose mother came to visit us in New York. We thought our guest might enjoy an evening at Tanglewood, the summer home of the Boston Symphony.
On a balmy July afternoon we climbed into my car, put the top down and headed for Lennox, Massachusetts. We had decided to have a formal picnic on the lawn before the performance of Beethoven's Fidelio. We had a picnic basket full of good food, wine, china and crystal. After dinner I lit up a cigar. Almost immediately I saw a woman walk toward me from a distance of about 20 yards. She demanded that I extinguish my "vile cigar." Jayne, my friend's mother, jumped to her feet to defend not only me but my cigar smoking. She informed my accuser that as a young girl she had lived through some of London's darkest hours during the Battle of Britain. She made it quite clear that a great man with an ever-present cigar had rallied the English people and led the West through a tumultuous time. My accuser walked away looking very confused. I finished my smoke with a Cognac, and as I looked at the sun setting over the Berkshire Mountains, I could only think: it doesn't get any better than this.
Roland Nicholson Jr.
New York, New York
Over the years I have enjoyed reading about the cigar experiences your other readers share with us. I feel that perhaps it is my turn to share now, rather than just enjoy.
In July 1995, 11 students from Missouri Southern State College earned scholarships to attend Christ Church College at Oxford University. I was proud to be among them, although I had serious reservations about how much I would enjoy the experience. I didn't know any of the other students and was not sure that I could measure up to the challenge academically.
My first fear was put to rest during the flight to England. The other students were not acquainted with each other, either. They also shared the same scholastic fear that I had. Most of us became good friends as we shared our experiences of life and school with one another, and supported each other through the term.
On the first evening after dinner in the Great Hall, Chad Phipps, one of the young men in our group ("The Missouri Contingent," as we became known) was keeping me company as I unpacked. Not being a smoker, he took a special interest in my travel humidor, so I began to expound on the finer points of smoking premium cigars. By the end of the discussion, I knew that he had taken the bait and all I needed to do was set the hook. I told him that the next day I was going to make a run to Oxford's finest tobacconist in order to purchase my first supply of Cuban smokes. Our enthusiasm soon spread to Shelby, a young lady in our group, who asked if she might go along.
The next afternoon the three of us embarked on a journey I will always remember. From the tobacconist's small, ravaged humidor I purchased Cohibas, Romeo y Julietas and Montecristos. We carried our treasure back to my room at Christ Church and placed them in my humidor, which was now "our humidor."
That night after dinner, we retrieved a Cohiba and one of the Romeos and gathered in the Master's Garden. Shelby, who chose to forgo the actual smoking, sat on the exquisitely manicured grass and stared up at us with keen interest as I demonstrated the ritual of cutting, lighting and smoking one of life's precious gifts. Chad was hooked.
On the many evenings that followed, I would have just as many pleasant and tranquil experiences with my new comrades, such as walking with Shelby on my arm (thank God for an understanding wife) around the meadow and along the Thames, standing on a street corner with Chad, and talking to students and others from all over the world, slowly burning our treasure the whole time.
Sitting in that garden alone one night, I came to a realization: I was among the best that my college had to offer, with some of the best people a man could be associated with, drinking the best wines, while smoking the best cigars, at one of the best universities in the Western world. If a guy can do better than that, please tell me how.
Carl Junction, Missouri
I am a European reader of your excellent magazine; the subscription was given to me as a present by my fiancée last year.
This year, I turned my fiancée into my wife, and as she is American, the wedding and subsequent party were held in her native Southern California. She flew to the United States some weeks before I did, and just before boarding my Los Angeles-bound plane, I could not resist buying a box of Romeo y Julietas in the airport duty-free shop, thinking it would be a great gift to give to people attending the wedding after all the partying, drinking and dancing were done with.
The wedding reception and party came, and after dinner I walked around handing out cigars. The result was startling. The cigars were gone within five minutes, with people looking in awe at these "forbidden" items, asking where I had gotten them. The dance floor quickly emptied, and everyone was out on the balcony, puffing at their Romeo y Julietas, enjoying themselves.
Because I was too busy greeting people and asking everyone how they were doing, I never actually got to finish my dessert, let alone indulge in a cigar. But I am positive the cigars made it a wedding reception with a difference, and I could see that when drinking, dancing or having a cigar are at stake, the last of these becomes the first choice.
I live in San Diego and I usually take the coastal route to and from work instead of the more crowded freeway. But on Fridays, traffic is just as bad at 5 o'clock on the coastal route as it is on the freeway. So I usually end up heading south after work (I live to the north) to either my parents' house or to my sister's. It gives me time to catch up with what's going on in their lives, and it saves me from being stuck in the northbound traffic with the sun in my face.
On this particular day, the sun wasn't out and the cloudy skies were inviting. I decided to go directly home, although I knew I would hit traffic. Well, sure enough, I found myself staring at an endless line of vehicles creeping along at a snail's pace. After 20 minutes, of what seemed like hours to me, I noticed that several drivers had pulled off alongside the traffic, content to wait it out.
I remembered at that moment that I had a box of cigars in my trunk. I decided to pull over and smoke one. They weren't your expensive type of cigar, they were just some that I purchase through a catalogue. Even though they are relatively inexpensive, they smoke very nicely and have a nice aroma. So I pulled off and decided I would share some of my smokes with my fellow traffic "dropouts." With the cigar box under my arm, I tapped on the window of the first car, offering a smoke. The driver accepted with a grin that spread from ear to ear and a hearty "Thanks!"
I proceeded to the other two cars and each driver accepted my offer, both agreeing that a cigar was a definite treat in this unwanted moment. Meanwhile, after five minutes back at my car, I was joined by the first driver. He was really enjoying his cigar, this one being only the second he had ever smoked. He asked me what brand it was; I told him they were called "Palma Throwouts," the name, of course, being a misnomer. He told me it was much nicer than the other one he had smoked, which had set him back $7. When I told him that I purchase three cigar brands through the catalogue and that each one averaged out to 50 cents apiece, he nearly had a stroke right on the spot. He was in love with their aroma.
Soon, the other two drivers joined in on the conversation. All the while, the traffic continued to crawl by. What a sight we must've been, four men enjoying a late afternoon smoke; but we had smiles on our faces.
I was amazed that a cigar had brought together four complete strangers. Eventually, another driver pulled out of traffic and alongside our vehicles. He already had a cigar in his hand. Time flew by, and when the traffic had finally lessened, we rejoined the race. But not before we exchanged phone numbers. Thanks, Steve, John, William and Duke; till the next time. And, oh yes, thanks, Thompson Cigar Co., for making cigar smoking affordable.
San Diego, California
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