Out of the Humidor
From the Print Edition:
Winston Churchill, Autumn 93
(continued from page 7)
My father smoked cigars most of his adult life and my mother hated it. But my memories of my father always have him with a "stogie" in his mouth. One of the occasions I will always remember is the day that my dad took me with him to a small shop in downtown Los Angeles where a small band of expatriate Cuban gentleman pursued the art of hand-rolling cigars. He loved that shop, and I got some insights into my father and into what passion is when I saw the look on his face. He loved his cigars and they certainly gave him more pleasure than most anything else in his life.
Santa Cruz, California
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My business takes me on frequent trips to Asia and the Pacific Rim. Being a cigar lover, I often find myself in parts of the world where cigars of any kind are simply not available, so I bring my own. China is such a place. What follows is a tale of cultural differences escalated to the comical.
In October last year, my travels took me to the city of Zhengzhou in Henan province of China and not exactly on the beaten path. One afternoon, with some time to kill, I selected a couple of the Macanudos I had brought along and stepped out of the hotel to smoke. The people there do not see many Americans and even fewer cigars so the sight of me smoking a Baron de Rothschild was something of a curiosity.
In no time at all, I was surrounded by a crowd of curious onlookers pointing and speaking among themselves. One old man in particular had moved his bicycle right in front of me and sat there staring. We exchanged smiles. Bolder now that the ice had been broken, the old man pointed at the second Macanudo in my pocket. I thought for a minute and decided that my supply was adequate to finish the trip, so I took the cigar out of my pocket and gave it to him. Hands across the sea and all that.
The old man took the cigar with both hands and carefully put it in his pocket. Then came the surprise. he reached behind him into the wire basket on the back of his bicycle and produced a live chicken, which he held by the feet, and handed it to me. I have never had much use for live chickens, including this one, so I shook my head no. This produced a shocked expression on the old man and loud murmurs among the crowd. They were not happy.
The noise had attracted the attention of a local bellman who fortunately spoke a little English. After talking briefly with the old man, he turned to me and said, "You have to take chicken." I told him I didn't want the "&%**$&&%#%" chicken. The bellman shook his head and explained that I had been given a gift and, in China, the person receiving it must reciprocate. If I did not accept his gift the old man would lose face. So, I took the chicken. Everyone seemed quite pleased now and the old man went on his way, leaving me, the bellman and a lice chicken. Have you ever tried to smoke a cigar while holding a live chicken?
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