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Peter Weller's Cigar Paradise

Africa, or finding the Founding Fathers (Rolling in Their Graves) While Smoking my Way Through Post-Apartheid Cape Town
Peter Weller
From the Print Edition:
Tyson vs. King, Jan/Feb 04

Back in the ancient liberal days -- the summer of 2000 -- I heard the words "Stay at the Mount Nelson," spake by Antonio Sersale, who owns the Hotel Le Sirenuse, one of the most divine hotels in the Western world, located on my Home away from Hell (Los Angeles) -- the Amalfi Coast near Naples, Italy. But this is not a Baroque tale. This is Cape Town, South Africa, where I arrived on a hero's welcome in a mild winter's day in…mid-June? Yes, I was below the globe's girth for the second time. And a hero's welcome for an actor is welcome indeed before the cameras roll and the creative harangues are put to test.

My entrance to Cape Town was heralded in Kennedy's, a terrific cigar/jazz joint I liked so much that I steered every social dinner in my five weeks' stay back to its upstairs lounge. Matter of fact, I scribed most of this rant there. Kennedy's was owned, at the time, by a friendly cat named Per Menko. The downstairs bar still offers jazz almost every night, and the upstairs has elegant dining, including a West African peanut soup with shavings of cold crocodile accompanied by, if one desires, Private Collection from the region of Stellenbosch.

And so I checked into the Mount Nelson Hotel, owned by the Orient Express Group, and was ensconced in the biggest suite since the Boer War. My drawbacks to the Mount Nelson, were, in spite of the hotel's antiquity, elegance and supreme service:
a) No rooms had terraces, except in the new wing where there are no suites.
b) One could only smoke cigars in the tiny, quaint, but oh so quiet bar or on the veranda, which is too nippy in winter. The lounge caters to a 'high tea' on Sundays, much the same as the Ritz in London, albeit the Ritz allows cigars.
c) I became instantly infatuated with an employee, and…ahhh, but this is another story.

And so, I moved to Table Bay Hotel at the Victoria and Albert Waterfront, where my small suite had a terrace, facing the convergence of the Indian and Atlantic oceans.

The Table Bay, complete with a split-level lounge, was built at the tip of a modern mall that sits atop a land fill where once stood the old shipping bay of Cape Town. I jogged every day along the old rail tracks that served the bay until the last two decades, when modernity transformed this area into a mini-Miami Beach. One of Table Bay's splendid restaurants is the Conservatory wherein, after sipping a clear lemon/coconut soup, I finally met the chef, a young Chinese man named David who informed me that these concoctions were his own.

On our days off I threw brunches with cigars for fellow cast members on my terrace, and, being that it was winter in mid-July, we were blessed with beautiful weather. As the Table Bay has door-to-door access with the Victoria and Albert Waterfront mall, where one can find anything from Cajun food to a great espresso at one of five cafes, cigars were an easy catch because of the Cigar Emporium located there. The manager, Cheryl Klaic, showed me the last Prometheus/OpusX humidor left for sale in the modern world. I saw much to purchase at the Emporium including two boxes of Partagas Lusitanias and a box each of Punch Cabinet Double Coronas and Bolivar Royal Coronas. Cheryl released a cabinet/humidor to me where I stowed my purchases, thus I had my own personal walk-in stash during the entire shoot. And, bless their hearts -- they are open until 9 p.m. on Sundays!

Downstairs, on the main floor of the mall, the Cock 'N Bull, a tobacco stand with a small walk-in humidor, was owned and managed by a great lady, who goes by the name of Rose. She showed me a collection of cigars she had on sale, and among this amalgam were 10 H. Upmann Sir Winstons for about $9 a stick. I asked Rose if she had the rest of the box, and she came up with 10 more, some of the best Churchills I've ever puffed. For the rest of my shoot, I raided Rose's place for singles: double coronas of all makes, plus a few El Rey del Mundo Tainos to boot. It wasn't that Rose didn't know what she was selling, she simply didn't command the clientele for major hauls; thus she broke the boxes and sold remainders for cheap to move the inventory. In addition, she was a lovely person with a great sense of sarcasm. And so I was set for comfort in Cape Town. Or so I thought.

On July 4, 2000, I threw a dinner for 18 folks at Kennedy's. This millennium Independence Day fest would be the apotheosis of that American celebration in all my years passed and, probably, yet to come. For over this volatile, cathartic, three-double-corona dinner (Punch, Hoyo and Partagas Lusitania) there took place a political brouhaha so bizarre, that, by comparison, the Kerry/Bush debates would resemble an episode of "Friends." (They did anyway). And the harangue was all the more potent, happening in a country that has only, in the last decade, begun to pull itself from a bug nest of racial repression.

Two nights previous, on July 2, I had the privilege of meeting a black American doctor, in his 70s, a combat veteran of Omaha Beach and onetime White House adviser, who was attending, along with other doctors of color, the World Conference on AIDS in Durban, South Africa. Over a Romeo y Julieta Prince of Wales (once my favorite Churchill, now extinct), the Doc explained that medicos from all over the world were networking in Cape Town before moving on to Durban. At this juncture I invited the Doc and his daughter (who speaks on health for the American professional sports) to my dinner for the U.S/ of A. at Kennedy's.

Two nights previous to that meeting, June 30, while dining alone at Kennedy's (and, simultaneously, drawing on a Taino), I had been politely interrupted by three young black Americans -- two men and a woman -- who introduced themselves as fans. Further conversation revealed that each, having parents from Sierra Leone, Zimbabwe and Kenya, respectively, was on scholarship sabbatical from different American universities to study the social/political dilemmas in their parents' respective countries of origin. So I invited them, as well, to my birthday party for America.

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