Out of the Humidor
From the Print Edition:
Michael Richards, Sep/Oct 97
(continued from page 7)
The rest of the trip was colorful, as we were there during the Mardi Gras parade. My association with the local street kids was also enlightening and entertaining. They gave me a tour unlike any tour guide could give of old Havana. I also picked up some pointers on top spinning and marbles. The kids there interact with each other and are inventive in their play. (No Nintendos!) Their entertainment was produced by themselves, rather than their being entertained at the flip of a switch, and very social. We walked many back streets and I got a real feel for the city. As you are aware, some of the better food may be had in people's living room restaurants (of 12 persons or less). The kids led me to a third-floor residence up a stairway without light. Fumbling up the stairs was a bit awkward, but I found the living room quite nice and the service exceptional. I highly recommend experimenting with the local eateries.
The trip's end was eventful as well. I lost my best friend in a fight on a Havana side street--over a woman, of course. Luckily, we didn't go to jail, as there is no nonsense tolerated by the police there. I walked the streets at 3 a.m. without incident. I suspect the consequences of harming a tourist are harsh, to say the least.
On the flight from Havana to Nassau I talked to the captain of the YAK-42 (a Soviet version of a 727) and was able to sit in the cockpit for the trip. As a student pilot at that time, this was another great thrill. It was especially exciting to come down through the clouds (zero visibility) and begin looking for the airport. (U.S. aviation regulations prohibit anyone besides crew in the cockpit.)
One experience that may benefit your readers: Nassau customs confiscated my cigars! They have 300 percent duty on anything more than 50 cigars. Since I had about 300 for friends, etc., they were seized. You can pay the 300 percent or they will hold them and escort you onto your outgoing flight, or at least to the U.S. Customs agents. Neither situation was desirable. It was a very tense 24 hours figuring out how to handle the situation. So, be advised, you can encounter difficulty bringing cigars into Nassau, not only the United States. As my friend Hercule Poirot used to say, it took many "little gray cells" to extract my confiscated cigars from the customs people in Nassau.
It's been a year since I've been there, and I can't wait to go back. I fell in love with the people, their culture and, of course, their cigars and rum. I learned a lot on the trip. Another trip might be anticlimactic, but I'll see. Most inconveniences are worth the price to be able to sit on the front porch of the Nacional at night, Cohiba Lancero in hand, mariachis playing among the palm trees, and thinking--this is living!
Tinley Park, Illinois
I have been following your ongoing controversy about cigar smokers' "rights" and would like to add my own opinion on the subject for what it's worth. I've never smoked cigarettes, but recently I have discovered the pleasure of smoking fine cigars. Over and over I am truly amazed at the wonderful complex taste of a well-made cigar! But, one thing I've found to be constantly true, for me at least--a cigar never smells as good as it tastes. I know that many of you enjoy the smell of cigar smoke, but for me, unless I am in a well-ventilated area (like outdoors!) I just can't stand it! If you can't comprehend what this is like, here is something that might bring home what I am trying to say. Have any of you men ever been stuck on an elevator with a woman who is drenched in perfume? Hey, it may be fine perfume, but it's still overwhelming. Well, it's the same way with nonsmokers who are stuck in a small room with cigar smoke. It may be a fine cigar, but it's just too overwhelming!
One thing I've noticed in Cigar Aficionado is that you promote not only fine cigars, but all the good things in life! Art, music, a gourmet meal, a fine cigar--these are the things that add to the pleasures of life. But, for all you people who feel you can light up anytime, anywhere, especially in a restaurant, well, that's pretty gauche! How can a person enjoy the subtle flavors of, let's say, a salmon mousse, and the complex bouquet of a vintage wine, when the robust smell of cigar smoke overpowers those delicate flavors?
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