Ladies and Cigars

Aficionadas: Women and Their Cigars

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Women writers of Sand's era and beyond seem to have had a penchant for cigars: Nineteenth-century biographer and poet Amy Lowell is said to have created a scandal at Harvard when she lit up a cigar during a visit; French novelist Colette is rumored to have smoked them in bed, while modernist grande dame Gertrude Stein indulged during her weekly salon, the artistic epicenter of postwar Europe.
While some women retain the likes of Dietrich and Sand as their "patron saints" of cigar smoking, women's cigar smoking today is clearly no longer just about rebellion. The profile of today's aficionada does not fit easily into a rigid stereotype. Tobacconist Silvius-Gits says that "women who smoke cigars are an attractive, successful and sophisticated bunch who know what they want and know how to enjoy life."
When asked what it is that she enjoys most about a cigar, Stigeler muses: "Just to watch the smoke curling and disappearing in the air--and all your stress disappears with it--it's like meditating." For Isabel Sirgado it's the same: "Simply by the fact that I have lit a cigar, means I have given myself permission to truly relax and forget about the world, for at least an hour, if not two."
Perhaps because of a change in the social climate where cigars are concerned, the aficionadas we spoke to report that they derive as much pleasure from a cigar smoked in public as from one smoked in private. Alicia Wilson recently strolled down Fifth Avenue, along New York City's Central Park, smoking a Churchill without any fanfare or comment from passersby, male or female. One man did stop to ask her what kind of cigar she was smoking. "I answered before I realized it was the comedian Jackie Mason," she says.
Indeed, most aficionadas report only minor snags: When they shop for a cigar, for example, salespeople often assume they're trying to pick one out for somebody else, or they try to steer them to smaller, more "feminine" sized smokes, even though many aficionadas have discovered the cooler, richer smoke they get from a larger ring gauge. Then there are those who take exception to what they see as flagrant gender-bending: Author Mogil (who has written an essay titled "Give That Lady a Cigar") reports that an outraged restaurant patron once demanded of her, "Who do you think you are--Madonna?"
But in general, women report that people are enthused and supportive about their cigar smoking. Julie Ross says, "I've rarely met a man who had a problem with my cigars. In fact, I get incredibly positive reactions: 'What are you smoking?' 'I wish I had some of those,' and so on." Most aficionadas laugh off the occasional flak, focusing instead on the pleasure of a good smoke. Asked if she plans to cut down on her consumption of five to seven cigars a week, Ross chuckles. "Nope. Although according to Jim Belushi [Profile, Spring 1994 Cigar Aficionado--Ed.], I should have quit by now--it's been much longer than three years!"
To find out more about the George Sand Society, contact: Kimberly Shaw at (310) 394-8667 in Santa Monica, or Tammy Meltzer at (212) 757-7610 in New York.
Gwen Martin is a freelance writer and author of Marlene Dietrich (Chelsea House Press) Evan Elkin is a clinical psychologist interning at St. Vincent's Hospital in New York City.
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