Out of the Humidor
From the Print Edition:
Jack Nicholson, Summer 95
My girlfriend and I had decided to get married, but our families objected. No matter how hard we tried to sway them they stood firm. We were forced to elope and marry in secret.
Our love of fine cigars is mutual, and, although puzzled, our minister agreed to include them in our wedding. Citing the use of tobacco in the religious ceremonies of the American Indian and of its healing properties, she went even further by using symbolism in the form of our rings. As we slipped our gold paper "Romeo y Julieta" cigar bands on each other's fingers (we have since reproduced them in white gold), she eloquently stated that the paper bands stood for the fragile nature of life and love and like a fine cigar, love needs nurturing, time and constant care to develop into full maturity.
Considering our situation, we thought "Romeo y Julieta" Cuban Churchill bands apropos. We then lit up a Partagas corona and shared several puffs before being pronounced man and wife.
On our honeymoon, we smoked those Churchills on the beach and thought, 'What a glorious way to begin our life together.' We know that in life, as with fine cigars, love will find a way. As our marriage is still secret, we ask that you do not publish our names. Sign it,
"Romeo y Julieta"
San Diego, California
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I am currently a freshman at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. I have noticed that your magazine focuses a great deal on Cuba and its cigar industry. As a Cuban American, I want to congratulate you for providing quality journalism in a diplomatic and informative manner about such a controversial issue.
My family emigrated to the United States 35 years ago, leaving everything behind. But leaving Cuba meant losing a great deal more than property and money. It meant losing their homeland, and for many other Cubans it meant losing their identities, language and family. My family has always maintained strong ties to the land and culture they left behind; I am constantly bombarded with the history and stories of my family's past.
My favorite story is about my great grandfather's brother, who was Cuba's secretary of agriculture prior to Castro. Family lore has it that he smoked a box of cigars daily. When I hear the stories I begin to yearn for the past I never knew. I wonder what living in Cuba was like. Often I feel angry and upset that the only tie I have to my past is my family and the smell of a non-Cuban cigar.
Christmas Eve was a particularly special event this year, primarily because my entire family was present, but also because my uncle who lives in Spain was able to smuggle some Cuban cigars through U.S. Customs. After our dinner on "Noche Buena," I experienced my first Cuban smoke. This was the first time in my life that I had felt any substantial connection to Cuba. It was saddening to me that this experience came through the illegal actions of a relative. This cigar, so small in comparison with the problems its country faces, brought me to the realization that the United States needs to reevaluate its policy regarding its relationship with Cuba.
Opening the doors of communication with Cuba is important--not for the sake of cigar smokers in the United States, but for the sake of Cubans on both the island and those in the United States. Lifting the embargo will open up trade, stimulate the flow of ideas and art between both countries, and lead to the eventual healing of a 35-year-old wound.
If the United States, the Cuban Government and Cuban Americans in exile would begin to communicate their concerns and ideas, I feel a resolution could be found. I live in Miami and understand that lifting the embargo is not a popular idea, but the time has come for both Cubans and Cuban Americans to realize that the embargo is an outdated policy. It serves no useful purpose. The cold war is over. Cuba poses no military threat and is beginning to show signs of an eventual transition from a command to a market economy. If the embargo is not lifted, first- and second-generation Cuban Americans like myself will never be able to experience their homeland, except through a smuggled cigar from a foreign country. How American is that?
Albert F. Muzaurieta
Ann Arbor, Michigan
Editor's Note: Amen. Writing this letter for publication shows a courage and maturity far beyond your years.
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I had my first cigar in 1950. The time was late November; the place--Kuni-ri, North Korea. A light dusting of snow covered the frozen ridges only a few miles south of the Manchurian border. My rifle company had reached its high-water mark trying to take a hill we dubbed "Chinaman's hat." We'd taken heavy casualties and had to pull back to a low ridge. We dug in quickly and didn't have to wait long for the Chinese counterattack. Bugles blowing, massed Chinese infantry assaulted our position. We called for assistance--mortars, artillery, a tank, anything. A Sherman tank, answering our call, ground it's way up to our line.
Since I was close to the tank, I ran behind it for cover and to talk to the tank commander via the telephone on the back fender. After helping to direct their fire where it was most needed, the tanker asked me if I smoked cigars. I was 19 at the time and had never smoked, not even cigarettes. I knew some of the men in the company might enjoy a cigar, so I lied and said I did. He told me to crawl under the tank to the escape hatch and he'd pass me some cigars. The hatch opened a few inches and a box of cigars dropped to the ground. It was a box of 50 El Roi Tans.
While I knew nothing about cigars, I thought I'd try one so I slipped one into my field jacket pocket. Then I did something foolish, and yelled, "Does anyone want a cigar?" Of course the reply was positive. Crouched as low as I could get and still run, I began throwing cigars into each foxhole. Using the cover of the rear slope of the ridge I made my way back to the tank. I credit the poor marksmanship of the Chinese for my safe return.
Sitting behind the safety of the tank with bullets still pinging off the tank's armor, I unwrapped and lit my first cigar with a waterproof match. As though ordered, our guys stopped shooting. Even the Chinese in front of us stopped firing, probably wondering what we were up to. We were all lighting our El Roi Tans. For a few moments the acrid smell of cordite was lost to the sweet cigar aroma that wafted over the snow-covered ridge.
A morale boost can come in many guises. When the Chinese entered the Korean War, many of us thought we'd never leave Korea. We'd all lost friends that day. The hoopla about being home for Christmas was gone. We were not happy campers. We began shooting again. The sight of guys banging away with their M1 rifles, cigars clenched in their teeth, would have been comical if it weren't for the seriousness of the situation. There seemed to be more vigor in our shooting. The Chinese began to pull back. We held. To say it was because of the cigars might be stretching it a bit, but for the first time that day, the GIs with cigars had smiles on their faces.
On occasion, when lighting up a fine cigar after dinner the memory of that first cigar crosses my mind. Then an indescribable kind of peace comes over me.
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I used to be one of the rabid smoke Nazis. I thought it was okay to trample on the rights of others to keep me in a smoke-free life. I now know that tolerance is the way to true happiness for everyone. The technology exists to remove smoke from closed areas such as restaurants, and I love working in a smoke-free building, but I don't think that I have the right to tell anyone else they can't smoke. I do have a right to ask them to move their cigarette so that the smoke doesn't come in my face. And, yes, I really do have allergies and problems breathing.
My husband is a cigar smoker. One of my women friends made nasty comments about "how could I stand to let him smoke." I told her: "He doesn't gamble, chase women, or drink to excess. He's a fabulous husband, wonderful father, has a great sense of humor, helps around the house, and buys me jewelry." He smokes outside (we are enclosing a porch for him) and in his car. I know Raul Julia's wife let him smoke in bed, but I can't go that far, though I presented my husband with a box of Punch cigars for the holiday season which has pleased him tremendously. I have told him that he can teach our daughter to smoke cigars so she will never smoke anything else.
I see how much pleasure my husband receives from smoking cigars. Life is hard, and we need all of the harmless pleasures. I will help to promote the rights of all Americans. Thank you for reminding me that tolerance is the foundation of the American Way of Life.
Adele G. Pauley
Editor's Response: Thank you for one of the most thoughtful letters I have ever received. Your understanding of human values, the rewards of life and the "big picture" are remarkably on target.
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