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Let me preface my story by providing a little background. I am a 35-year-old male and I make a living as a computer systems engineer. I have been a cigar smoker for about two and a half years, a part of the recent wave of young professionals to become entranced by this delightful predilection. I started my journey in the usual way, by experimenting with various types and sizes of cigars until finally coming to the conclusion that I really could not decide on any particular brand as my favorite, opting instead to match the cigar to the mood of the moment.
After having had the opportunity to try most Jamaican, Dominican and Honduran brands at one time or another, I began to wonder if I was really enjoying the epitome of cigar pleasure in these brands or if the renowned quality of a Cuban cigar was the only way I could experience that level of enjoyment. My curiosity to try a real Cuban became something of an obsession.
I tried for well over a year to get my hands on one, and the closest I could come was watching one of my closest friends fondle a corona-sized Cuban Partagas that he had received as a wedding gift. Before he left on his honeymoon (where he was planning on enjoying it when he arrived), I managed to hold it long enough to sample the bouquet, and it was very different from anything I had encountered prior to that. Exquisite was the only word I could use to describe the sensation and this only served to amplify my efforts to try one for myself.
Through a series of inquiries and the intervention of destiny itself, some of my friends and I were able to obtain a box of (verified authentic) Cohiba Robustos. I considered this fortunate acquisition to be nothing less than the find of a lifetime. I had read many accounts in your fine publication about famous and upper-class individuals enjoying Cuban cigars as if they were as easy to get as your garden variety Dominican. This made it all the sweeter when I, a middle-class professional with no political or diplomatic ties whatsoever, was able to procure some as well.
Upon receiving the box, we took one cigar each and agreed to meet some other time to divide the remainder, leaving it in the humidor of a friend (the only one of us with one big enough to hold the box). The timing could not have been any better as my birthday was just days away. I took the lone Robusto and put it into my own humidor for safe keeping until the day arrived.
When that time finally came, I invited one of the other members of our group who shared in the Cuban treasure to my house to help me celebrate and enjoy a cigar with me. When he arrived, we went to my humidor and drew out that sacred jewel, and adjourned outside. It was a beautiful, star-filled night, and comet Hale-Bopp was shining bright in the Northwest sky. It almost seemed as if it were a cosmic acknowledgment to the experience we were about to enjoy. We exercised extreme caution in cutting and lighting these fine cigars so as not to do anything that might lessen their flavor or quality. Finally, we relaxed on my patio, looked up into the night sky and took our first draws on our prized possessions. If the word epiphany could be used to describe a cigar-smoking experience, it definitely applied here. The deep, rich and complex flavors that graced our pallets lived up to every expectation either of us could ever have imagined of a Cuban cigar.
We remained there, enjoying our cigars for almost an hour, by which time I had gingerly nursed my cigar until the heat from the lit end almost burned my lips as I took my final draw. I was thoroughly amazed at the quality of every aspect of this smoke. I usually do not care for the last inch or so of any cigar, as the taste begins to turn rather bitter as the end approaches. But, in the case of this Cohiba, it was truly great from start to finish. I would say in this instance, the results more than justified the effort and anticipation I had put into obtaining this, the finest cigar I have ever had.
I could not think of a better way to toast the occasion of my birthday than to enjoy one of the best cigars that Cuba has to offer with a friend who could appreciate and share the experience with me.
Since that day, we have divided up the rest of the box and I ended up with three additional cigars. Of course, they are the treasured additions to my humidor and will not be touched until a suitable occasion arises that befits their stature. But on that special night, I felt like I had taken a major step in my quest to experience perfection in a cigar and joined the ranks of the elite in my own small way.
I am a recent convert to cigar smoking, having all my life believed them to be nasty-smelling things. I am still anti-smoking, but I am not anti-cigars. Just recently I had what will probably be one of the best times with one of my younger brothers. He is 23 and living in California; I am 32 and living along the Gulf Coast.
He and my youngest brother flew into New Orleans to meet me so that I could show them one of my favorite cities. While at lunch the older one mentioned an interest in finding a cigar shop. I was floored. "You like cigars?" I asked. And we began to speak about the fine points of cigars and cigar smoking. I have to thank you for your magazine, for without it he would have sounded smarter than me, and I couldn't have that. We left the restaurant and headed to a cigar shop. Once there, we walked into the humidor and chose our cigars. He wanted to smoke them in New Orleans, but I convinced him to wait until we returned to my home. A few days later we lit up at my favorite cigar club, my backyard. I can't tell you how good I felt sitting in the backyard, a good cigar in my hand, my brother and I talking about life back home in California. It was truly an unforgettable experience.
I later showed him a copy of Cigar Aficionado and his eyes lit up. He immediately went to the tasting section and tried to find his cigar. I had to show him that each issue you evaluate sizes, not necessarily brands. And that he might have to wait for the next issue to check his brand on the meter of perfection. He told me when he got home he would immediately subscribe; I reluctantly gave him the issue with Claudia Schiffer on the cover. I keep all my magazines. But seeing his eyes light up was worth the loss of one magazine.
I look forward to many more good days of smoking with my brother--you see, he's moving to Florida soon. Look out cigar stores and clubs, the Hester brothers are coming, and we accept only the best.
Mary Esther, Florida
As my 12-year-old son, Robbie, was boarding the Air France flight to Paris with his grandmother (an 80-year-old woman who has the energy and enthusiasm of a thirtysomething), I reminded him that he had an important task to accomplish when he reached his destination of Aix-en-Provence, France. His mission was to find out if there were any good cigar stores in town so that I would know whether to bring some of my prized cigars from my humidor when my wife and I traveled to Aix the following week.
A few days later, we received a fax from Robbie not only telling us about the wonderful time he was having with his grandmother exploring the old and beautiful towns of Provence--including retracing the steps of Cézanne--but also that he had found "a great cigar store" not too far from the Hotel Le Pigonnet where they were staying.
We arrived in Aix-en-Provence on Saturday afternoon and, after we had spent some time around the swimming pool catching up on the previous week, Robbie announced that he and I had to walk into town to the cigar store immediately since the store would be closed the following day, a Sunday. So, hand-in-hand we set out for the 15-minute walk along the tree-lined streets of Aix to find his cigar store. Sure enough, right on the Cours Marabeau near the center of town, there was a small tabac store, Au Khedive. The Cours Marabeau is the incredibly beautiful, wide main street of Aix that is justifiably famous for its towering "plain" trees that form a leafy canopy over both the entire street and the numerous cafes that line the sidewalk. The trees have shielded the townspeople from the hot summer sun of Provence since 1651.
Just as my son had promised, at the back of the store, behind the counter, there was a tall humidor with a fine selection of Cuban cigars. There were five types of Montecristos (including my favorite, the No. 2), three sizes of Cohibas, two types of H. Upmanns, two sizes of Partagas, and the Churchill Romeo y Julieta in shiny metal tubes. The store also had a few less interesting Dominican and Dutch cigars. Although the store certainly did not have the selection of a place like Davidoff, its prices (thanks to the relatively strong dollar this summer) were also not like those in Paris, London or Geneva.
After spending some time reviewing the selection, I bought a few cigars (there was no reason to stock up since it would be fun and easy to return), and we walked back to our hotel. That night we ate a terrific gourmet dinner at Le Pigonnet's excellent restaurant (the hotel has four stars under the French government's rating system). Because the weather was so glorious, we were able to eat outside under the stars while overlooking the hotel's gardens. The dinner was not only delicious, but also great fun because during the previous week Robbie had become very friendly with Bernard, the hotel's remarkable maître d'. During a previous stay, Bernard had befriended my mother-in-law (Robbie's grandmother/ roommate), and now Bernard was teaching Robbie the fine points of French cuisine. What a lucky boy!
Of course, there is no better way to complete a superb dinner than with a great cigar. So, after the last raspberry was eaten and our espressos had been fully enjoyed, I asked Bernard if it was permissible for me to smoke a cigar at our table. Since we were in France, where smoking is still done everywhere, Bernard responded to my question with a gentle shrug and the comment "But, of course!" I immediately lit my Montecristo No. 2 and let the entire experience sink in.
With great conversation about everyone's previous week's activities and animated discussions about what we should do during our 10 days in Provence--as well as being in the most serene setting and being surrounded by the love of a wonderful family--no cigar has ever tasted better or been more enjoyed. At least I had thought that there had never been a cigar enjoyed more. However, I was proven wrong virtually every other night for the remainder of our trip as I had the great pleasure to enjoy smoking a wonderful cigar after dinners that seemed to get better and better. Travel is wonderful when you have a great family, a terrific four-star hotel like Le Pigonnet, superb food and an amazing host like Bernard, and a great cigar.
David A. Gross
I'm now a senior citizen who had my first cigar after our junior-senior school banquet in 1937. I've enjoyed them ever since, but now find, due to the big demand, they are being priced out of my range. Your magazine caters to ultra-rich people. I find many of us cannot afford a $3 to $7 cigar. Up until last spring I could purchase a 7 x 44 maduro, long filler, for about a buck apiece. That is about the maximum I can afford. I just received a notice from my supplier that the raw product had increased 300 to 400 percent. Sure, we can still get el-cheapo, cut-filler blends, made from odds and ends; they're pretty reasonable, but once exposed to the good life, it's very hard to give it up.
Hang in there, keep up the fine quality of your publication, and remember once in a while that there are many of us lower-income people, too.
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