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What can I say, another year older. The body feels slower, aches more and you're cracking more than Rice Krispies in milk. But it's another day full of blessings and surprises, and on this day (November 23) I became another year wiser.
This year I opted for a mellow celebration, a nice stroll and an early dinner with my wife. I chose a tiny restaurant in the Santurce district of San Juan, Puerto Rico. El Pescador (The Fisherman) is located across the street from the historic Santurce Market Place. The area is full of small restaurants, all offering great local food and extremely cold beer and inexpensive drinks. A Spanish immigrant founded El Pescador many years ago in his desire to establish a family-owned and -operated establishment dedicated to the delicacies of the sea. It's a small place where you have no choice but to mingle with diners, workers and all the colorful characters that walk in just to say hello.
For lack of space (no surprise here), we sat at the counter and shared the space with several local celebrities who were throwing back bottles of beer and Albariño white wine like it was water. It was a festive family affair and I was all too happy to be just another family member in this warm and jovial environment. After several cold beers, we ordered the house specialty: prawns in a criollo sauce, and the most amazing arroz con calamares (rice and squid) that you would ever imagine. Just in case, we also added their signature seafood medley, also prepared in a rich criollo sauce. Washing down all these divine inspirations was a perfectly chilled bottle of a rich Albariño white wine.
As we ate, dinner orders kept making themselves past our noses and onto the tiny tables throughout the restaurant. Tuna, halibut, Puerto Rican lobster, prawns, fried snapper, codfish in garbanzo stewóit was extremely difficult keeping from sampling these as they wafted into our area.
After dinner, the owner's son brought over his fine collection of cigars for my perusal and approval. It was impressive, several Cuban Montecristo No. 2 and 3s, a variety of Cohibas and Romeo y Julietas Churchills. After exchanging our numbers and a promise to get together real soon, I had my traditional demitasse of Puerto Rican cafÈ con leche and off we went to my parents, where they awaited me with birthday cake and candle.
Now it was time for a perfect evening to become another great pleasure and memory. It was off to Old San Juan, relax and sit down at one of the plazas, people-watch, converse and smoke. Tonight, as has been my tradition since 1995, it was a Cuban Bolivar Royal Corona. My wife (then my wife-to-be, but I don't think either one of us knew at the time) gave me as a birthday present in '95 a box of these wonderful smokes she acquired in England.
As I smoked one of my last 1995 Bolivar Royal Coronas, I couldnít help thinking of how great this life can be. The blue smoke wafted into the bright sky and it seemed to me that it became one with the bright white clouds sailing in the dark blue sky. As another year passed me by, I reaffirmed my commitment to take pleasure in every minimal aspect of life, and not ignore the blessings that a simple cigar can always evoke.
Larry H. Padilla
Carolina, Puerto Rico