I was standing outside of the Palacio del Conventiones, the Havana Convention Center, with Marvin Shanken and Gordon Mott, when a man walked up to us. I shook his hand and said my name.
"I've met you before," he said, and it was then that I recognized him. "You're Valerio, from the La Casa del Habano in the Cayman Islands," I said. We had last shook hands 11 years ago when we met inside Cuba's Partagas Factory. Valerio Cornale's memory is solid indeed. "You collect humidors," I said.
"Cigar boxes," he corrected me. "All types of cigar boxes. You don't need a humidor in Havana. Havana is a humidor."
Valerio was right-Havana is a humidor, and you really don't need a humidor while on the island to keep your cigars in smokeable condition, which is a revelation to someone like me who works in New York City. The air here is amazingly dry, and our humidors fight a constant battle with the elements to keep our cigars in fine condition. I don't dare leave cigars on my desk for more than a half hour or so, less they begin to dry out. But in Cuba, cigars are quite happy on your nightstand, on your desk—just about anywhere you leave them.
At the start of our visit we came across some Montecristo No. 2 cigars. The first ones we smoked, fresh from the cigar shop, seemed a bit young (despite their code) and perhaps a bit moist. They were far from bad, but they weren't Monte 2s at their best. A day or so into the trip, after sitting out in the open air, the cigars tasted better. We all noticed the change.
As a cigar smoker, it's hard to beat the convenience of having an open box of great smokes always on hand, especially something as classic as the Montecristo No. 2. We didn't smoke the entire box, but we did a fair job on it, and shared many with friends. And Valerio wasn't the only one to mention Cuba as a big humidor.
People often speak about how cigars taste better when you smoke them in the country in which they were made, be that country Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua or somewhere else. There's just something about being inside a giant, tropical humidor that makes cigar smoking seem perfectly natural. We found ourselves reaching for the first cigar soon after breakfast, and puffing the last cigar well into the night, paired with a little bit of fine, aged rum.
I'm happy to be home, but part of me misses that great, big humidor that's Havana.