Out of the Humidor
From the Print Edition:
Alec Baldwin, May/June 2004
I am a Dutch reader of your fine magazine and I'd like to share a good-life cigar experience that I had while visiting Mexico.
I purchased a Cuban Punch Punch at Casa Partagas in Playa del Carmen, Mexico. The young girl behind the counter smiled shyly when I asked her to cut my cigar. She cut the cigar perfectly and handed it over with a smile of achievement, relief and kindness. Gently rotating the Punch Punch above the flame of my lighter, I brought my cigar to life. With the first two puffs I confirmed it was fully lit and burning healthily. I thanked the young lady in my best Spanish and left the store.
It was very humid outside due to a shower some hours earlier. All the imperfections of the avenue were filled with water, and there simply was not enough dry pavement to even try avoiding the puddles. Shortly, my feet and the legs of my trousers were wet and dirty. I strolled on, replying occasionally to the street hustlers who tried to sell me merchandise I didn't need.
I walked past the silver shops, the T-shirt shops, the bars and restaurants. I walked all the way down toward the crossing with Calle 12, where things quieted down, with few shops and restaurants. I walked even further down until the avenue goes through the last bits of jungle toward the beach. The trees provided shade and playful shadows on the ground. The air was thick with the scent of wet plants and the saltiness of the Caribbean Sea. I walked and smoked slowly, the thick airs air laced with the rich aroma of my cigar, blending in yet standing out.
I walked farther down and turned left onto a jungle path that leads to the beach. The trees opened up to the beauty of the beach. On the beach, I followed the curving sand toward the sea. The bushes grew as close to the beach as they could, with the palm trees on the outer frontier. There was no other sound than the symphonic harmony of the birds singing and the wind blowing through the leaves under the quiet, deep base of waves rolling in. I sat down on the white coral sand, which was pleasantly warm yet is never hot. I took the hip flask from the pocket of my trousers. I had filled it with Don Julio Añejo Tequila before setting off to get my Punch Punch.
The aged Tequila was like a French kiss, deep and moist, and gave me a warm sensation. The background noise died quietly when dusk set in; it quieted down until only the rhythm of the surf remained. The sun colored the sky in hundreds of shades of red. Cutting through the clouds, it was part red, orange and part purple. It slowly sank into the sea, leaving the stage for the upcoming moon. The day was done and I finished my Tequila and left, leaving nothing but the trail of my cigar smoke.
As a Cuban American and a subscriber to your fine magazine, I read your "Editors, Note" on lifting the travel ban to Cuba with great interest. I couldn't disagree with you more on this issue.
First, there is absolutely no proof that simply lifting the ban will magically transform Cuba into a free and democratic bastion. The only way this can occur is by having Cubans on the island decide for themselves if they wish it. Your point that this so-called "failed policy" by the U.S. has been used as a pretext for Cuba's internal problems lies squarely on Castro's own intransigence for not allowing Cuban citizens even the most basic of human rights. As a testament to this are the many brave souls who've been victimized for simply opposing his regime. Not to mention the thousands of exiles forced to flee throughout the world. Therefore, what is the urgency in lifting the travel ban on our part? Castro must make the concessions himself or, conversely, the Cuban people must take the initiative and seek their own destiny which, ultimately, may be the case.
For our part, we must continue to vigorously support the voices of freedom throughout the island as we did previously in Eastern Europe and South Africa. To simply lift the travel ban now does not ensure the "benefits" the Cuban people deserve. It will only prolong the status quo. What the Cuban people truly deserve is an immediate end to 45 years of dictatorship. This is the true "anachronism."
Editor's note: We will always respectfully disagree on how to bring democracy to Cuba. As you point out, it's been 45 years, and your approach hasn't worked. Isn't it time to try something else?
I am a successful mortgage banker. After a long week, my associates and I enjoy going to the local T.G.I.Friday's for a Scotch and a cigar or two. We had been doing this for a couple of years. One night we arrived to watch a college basketball game. As usual, I opened my traveling humidor and lit up a wonderful cigar that had arrived a couple days earlier.
I was informed that T.G.I.Friday's no longer allows cigar smoking in the bar area and that I would have to immediately extinguish my cigar. I was rather surprised, considering that after a quick visual survey, there were over twenty patrons smoking cigarettes. I asked the bar manager why patrons can smoke cigarettes, but cigars are prohibited. He replied that it was a new corporate policy. I informed him that we would be happy to take our business to a proprietor that does not distinguish between cigars and cigarettes, and that, of course, our dollars will leave with us. On average, we spend approximately $200 every Friday, as a group, and sometimes more than $500, depending on the size of our group. He gave me the corporate office's phone number. The next day, I spoke with a vice president of operations, but basically was told that's the policy. If we don't like it, go somewhere else.
We have since found several new local establishments that welcome cigar smokers. We have not gone back to T.G.I.Friday's. We now spend our money where we, and our cigars, are welcome.
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
I've been smoking cigars since about 1935. I started with Havanas, eminently affordable then. I recall the glory days when I had a reasonably well-paid job, and I would buy from Zino Davidoff at his store in Geneva. A niece of his was a good friend of ours and that got me a small discount. But that's long ago. Now a good cigar costs about 50 to 100 times what it cost then.
For many of us who never got out of the "working" class, decent cigars are way beyond our means. It's too bad. People who can contemplate buying the items advertised in your elegant publication live quite differently from us. Marie Antoinette, on being told that the peasants of France had no bread, was said to have remarked, "Let them eat cake." What advice do you have for all the poorer people who used to be the real cigar smokers?
Editor's note: Murray, it's true that some cigars are more expensive today than in 1962. But try some of the bundle cigars, which can average between $1.50 and $2 per cigar. In real terms, that can't be much more expensive than the 50 cents to a dollar you were paying back then. In many cases, bundle cigars come from the same factories as their high-priced cousins, but just don't have the fancy packaging and expensive ad campaigns to go with them. That's the power of the marketplace. The good manufacturers know they have an audience for that kind of cigar.
A few thoughts about cigars and the pleasure of smoking them. I first started smoking cigars in my twenties. My father and I had a cabin in northern Minnesota and I used to fly my single-engine plane up there regularly in the summer to fish. One hot sultry day we were out on the lake and the bugs were ferocious. My dad, however, didn't seem bothered. It suddenly dawned on me why. He chain-smoked unfiltered Camels. I went to the bait shop and all they had were Swisher Sweets, but they worked!
A few years later I vacationed in Jamaica and decided to splurge on a box of Macanudo Claybournes ($15). What a revelation! Cigars could actually taste good! The rest is history. Just for the record, my regular "daytime" cigar is La Vieja Habana; my "nightime" cigar is a Puros Indios. I visit Paris two to three times a year, so I have the chance to smoke all the Cubans. But in my opinion, the exiled cigarmakers are doing a better job.
Here's a bit of my history. My grandfather came to this country from Greece as a boy and when he got to Chicago, he discovered that his relatives had all been felled by the influenza epidemic. Some friends of his relatives took him in and he lived in a bar and literally slept on the bar at night. He earned money by shining shoes for a nickel. One day a cigar salesman visited and commented that sales weren't that good compared with other bars in the area. My grandfather made a deal to buy cigars from him for a penny and sell them for three cents (keeping a penny, giving the bar a penny), and sales tripled! He saved every cent and eventually bought his own bar. So if not for cigars, who knows, I might not even be here!