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Not too long ago, I found myself smoking a Cohiba Lancero atop a beautiful hotel in Quito, Ecuador, wondering if it was the thin air at 10,000 feet that was making the smoke so difficult. Anyway, the next day I found myself racing down the Andes through the rain forest and into the Amazon river basin in a four-wheel drive on my way to an assignment. I was not familiar with the area, but I figured that my "good looks" and my perfect Español would get me through any situation that may arise in the jungle. Little did I know how wrong I was about to be.
The poor roads were not safe at night, so I stopped at a small oil town near the Colombian border. After settling in and having a good dinner, I found my way to the local watering hole. As I walked into the bar, I noticed that, one, it was also a bordello, and two, the local security force was armed and did not necessarily agree with the government in Quito; nor did they appreciate strange gringos on their turf.
I decided to follow Sun-tzu's advice to know my enemy, so I walked over to them with a couple of beers and started to make small talk. My first surprise came when I learned that they didn't speak a lick of Spanish, and my trying to communicate with these native Indians in a tongue other than their Cechuan made me an even bigger threat/target, depending on how you look at it. The long silence seemed interminable as I reverted back to instinct and did the only thing I could think of to fill the void--I took out a Hoyo de Monterrey Excalibur No. 1.
The large cigar took all the attention away from me as the men now focused in on the smoke. I really screwed up by not bringing more than one, but I recovered by pulling out my knife and cutting the cigar in half (sorry, desperate times require desperate measures). I gave the end to one of the men, making sure that they understood not to inhale. The one who took the cigar seemed to understand and relayed it to the rest of his group. As we lit up, things really got mellow and I no longer felt as uncomfortable as in the beginning. He took a couple of long hits and passed it to the next guy, who proceeded to take one long drag straight into his lungs. Now, I know that Hondurans are mild, but try inhaling, as this poor gent did, and you can understand the sight of this unfortunate fellow as he dropped to the ground and practically coughed up his lungs. Needless to say, the rest of the group wanted nothing to do with the cigar, so that left me and the first smoker to enjoy the rest of the Excalibur. After a few minutes, he confessed in perfect Spanish that he failed to tell them not to inhale because he had always wanted to try a cigar and didn't feel that his buddies would appreciate the experience as much as he (bad form, but a great plan).
We continued to talk about nothing and enjoy the smoke, and that's when I got my second real surprise. He wanted to know how much an Excalibur costs in the States. I told him that you can find them for about four bucks. His jaw dropped as he exclaimed, "How can one cigar cost as much as a 'poke' at the bordello?" My jaw dropped as I exclaimed, "You can get 'poked' for four bucks?" Anyway, I kept to the cigar and the cold beers, 'cause we all know that we get what we pay for.
Roy D. Garcia
Albuquerque, New Mexico
I have a great story to pass on. I happen to be an inmate at a Federal prison facility that is a minimum security institution. Having been here a few months, I have been given a job working outside the fence with civilian personnel. Through talking with fellow inmates here, I've come to learn of the many possibilities of bringing contraband merchandise into the institution. Through these conversations I was successfully able to have my wife deliver a package to a courier which was subsequently given to me, for a small fee.
I had instructed my wife to send a few contraband necessities: my clip-on sunglass lenses, some prescription facial cream, and I had also requested her to go into my humidor and include a few cigars in the package. Even though I've been smoking cigars for over 25 years, my wife is not a connoisseur, but my stash is all top-shelf. Anyhow, I successfully smuggled two well-packaged cigars into the prison and preserved them in an empty protein powder container to keep them as fresh as possible. Because of their excellent packaging, I didn't bother to look at what brands of cigars were sent.
Shortly after my successful smuggling operation, our room was "shaken down" (searched for contraband). When I returned to my room from work that day, I realized some items in my locker were askew and was told by my roommate our room was involved in a shakedown. My first thoughts centered on the precious tobacco sticks I had stored, then I figured, "Oh well, if they took them it was only two cigars." I then opened my locker drawer containing my booty, and to my surprise, found that the wrapping to my package was partially removed, but the cigars were not confiscated.
Cheap machine-made cigars are sold in our commissary, I rationalized. Being curious for aficionado's sake, I slid out the first cigar and saw a Macanudo label and thought, "Oh, that's pretty cool," even though I usually prefer a stronger smoke. As I delicately slid the next chocolate stick out of the wrapping to view the label, my heart began to flutter and I broke out into a cold sweat. As fate would have it, my wife just happened to pick my one remaining Cohiba Robusto as the second cigar! Now though I'm not a proponent of prison contraband, certainly the intrigue of this entire episode was duly climaxed in one of the finest smokes I've had in a long time.
D.O.C.Name and address withheld for obvious reasons
Since I started receiving your magazine a year ago, you've managed to squeeze into every issue an article or photo spread dealing with women and cigars. It would seem, if one were to believe all the hype that has arisen around women who (supposedly) enjoy cigars, that my opinion is in the minority, but I have an awful lot of trouble believing that modern American women are and have been enjoying cigars since long before all of us men caught on. If it is indeed true that women smoke and enjoy cigars, why take such an in-your-face approach to publicizing it?
It is true that the sight of a woman smoking a cigar nowadays scarcely warrants a second glance, but I invite anyone to take a closer look at that woman smoker next time you see her. Take some time to study her face. Does she really appear to be savoring the subtle array of flavors that a fine cigar can offer? Is she engaged in informed discussion with her companions about her favorite smokes and what she likes about them, or is she holding back coughs and tears and nervously glancing about to see who in the room has noticed that she is smoking a cigar?
I realize that I am making a broad generalization. I am reasonably sure there are a few women out there who truly do enjoy the pleasures of a good cigar on a regular basis. Perhaps there are women who have their own carefully maintained and well-appointed humidors at home or in the office. I have yet, however, to meet, read or hear about them. Call me a pig, and I'm sure some of you will, but I openly question the motives of any contemporary American woman who claims to be a true cigar aficionado...excuse me ...aficionada.
Morris Plains, New Jersey
Gay Talese's comment on the cigar as a peace offering in the Winter 1995/96 issue reminded me of an experience I had last year, when I was managing a humanitarian relief project in Kabul, Afghanistan.
I should explain that there is not much peace in Kabul. A civil war continues there, and the city was under siege and cut off by a blockade for most of my nine-month stay. And while life in Kabul was rich in adventure, it was deprived of the finer things you celebrate in your magazine. No fine wines or Ports, only cheap Russian vodka and Bulgarian beer left over from the Soviet occupation. No cigars; only dry Dutch cigarillos and bad Japanese cigarettes.
One day, some French doctors I knew told me they had found a bottle of Johnny Walker Black Label on the black market. I went to their house that evening to savor it. A French TV journalist had arrived from Paris that day and was staying with my doctor friends. The whiskey was poured and a general discussion began on the state of the world and its wars. The journalist had traveled the world's hot spots. Everywhere, behind every tragedy, he saw U.S. expansionism and the dastardly hand of the CIA. I told him that I found his view to be a bit simplistic, and I tried to explain the complexities of U.S. foreign policy to him (nothing inspires me to patriotism like the company of a Frenchman). The discussion outlasted the Scotch and then grew quite heated. Hours later we reached a tense impasse where we knew we would never agree, nor would we ever convince the other. Voices had been raised and insults had been exchanged. Everyone was a bit uncomfortable. Then the journalist reached into his pocket.
"Do you smoke cigars?" he asked me.
"Yes," I said, surprised.
"Here." And he passed me a Romeo y Julieta he had brought from Paris. I smoked it the next day, and while smoking it the following poem wrote itself:
The other night I found myself
Mired in a deep debate
Defending firm with whiskey talk
A Frenchman's attack upon my state.
You know how the Frenchman argues:
Red-faced, spitting bile and bluster
Poor Indians; that Hitler: Custer!"