Out of the Humidor

| By CA Readers | From Tom Selleck, Winter 95/96

Dear Marvin,

I am writing to thank you for the wonderful time that I had at the New York Big Smoke held on May 25th at the Marriott Marquis. Being a veteran of the U.S. Air Force, and stationed in Europe for most of my enlistment, I was able to enjoy many of the finer things in life, but nothing comes close in comparison to that remarkable evening. The display of fine food, spirits, and cigars was out of this world, to say the least.

I want to extend my thanks to your exceptional staff for their flawless display of courteous service which made for a comfortable, pleasing atmosphere. It was a great opportunity to mingle and meet with people from all over the country while doing what we all enjoy most, savoring the quality cigars incorporated with the best food and drink in the world.

Upon returning home that evening, I made the mistake of telling my wife that the evening was the best time of my life. Indeed, it was the best time of my life, without her at my side. She said she was interested in attending the next Big Smoke. It is an understatement, to say the least, to say that my wife doesn't like cigars, but she does tolerate my smoking them, as long as I do not do it in our home or in her car. But I find it to be a remarkable breakthrough and a sure sign of a great event if individuals who are opposed to smoking find it a pleasant experience to attend. Once again, thank you.

David M. Zulla
Bordentown, New Jersey

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Dear Marvin,

Over the Memorial Day weekend, I was shad fishing with a friend on the Delaware River. Although we caught five shad, one trout, and a smallmouth bass over the course of the day, there was a one-hour quiet period. Having just attended the Big Smoke in May at the Marriott Marquis in New York City, I was enjoying my recently acquired Licenciados Toro. The sky was blue. The temperature was in the 70s. This, and the gurgling sounds of the water under the boat, made for a most enjoyable experience, yet, my line had no bites for over an hour. Having finished my cigar, I deposited the remains (being biodegradable) in the river. As it floated approximately 10 feet downstream, I said, "Wouldn't it be funny if a fish hit on my cigar." Twenty seconds later, a smallmouth bass (at least the size of Cleveland) flew two feet in the air with the cigar in its mouth! I considered throwing in a pack of matches so the fish could enjoy the cigar as much as I did.

Robert E. Marinaro
M.D. Morristown, New Jersey

P.S. OK--the fish was almost as big as Cleveland.

* * *

Dear Marvin,

I was an hour and a half late in meeting up with my buddies for the UCLA-Miami opening-day football game at the Rose Bowl. They were ready to write me off and go into the game without me.

But when I finally met up with them in the parking lot, I broke out my humidor and the Macanudo Hyde Park Cafes inside. The next thing we knew, we were on our second cigars and it was halftime, while we were still tailgating in the parking lot.

We had such a great time smoking those cigars and shooting the breeze that the game became secondary to cigars with good friends.

Stephen "Zeke" Zielinski
Thousand Oaks, California

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Dear Marvin,

We thought you would be pleased to hear more evidence that the love of cigars knows no international boundaries.

The Churchill Society of London consists of a dozen male graduate students, all living at the London House for Overseas Students. It was created a few years back by young men who felt that today's "civil" society no longer respected or permitted the higher level of association which our elders enjoyed: namely, the gathering of young men to smoke cigars, drink healthy quantities of Scotch and speak freely.

Our meetings are scheduled whenever the membership feels a need to escape from work, studies and the constraints of a politically correct world. We retreat to the wood paneling, leather couches and fireplace of the Churchill Room downstairs: a refuge in which cigars can be lit and both drinks and conversation can flow freely without the annoyance of contemporary scowls or prohibition.

Cigars occupy a special role in the society, as they should in any club worthy of the Churchill name. Indeed, cigars are enshrined in our short constitution: "Article V: The smoking of cigars is to be encouraged at all times."

You are, of course, not surprised that the Churchill Society would exist, for Cigar Aficionado reports often on the need for, and growing popularity of, such clubs in America. What might interest you, however, is that the phenomenon of political correctness and this resulting desire for cigar clubs is not limited to American soil.

The Churchill Society consists of men from across the globe: Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Canada, Mauritius, England-- as well as Texas and Washington, D.C. What is common to us all are two basic things: The first is a basic love of fine cigars, good drink, and lively conversation. The second is a regretful feeling that such basic pleasures are deemed déclassé in today's "new and improved" society, be it in Washington or London.

Yes, Marvin, our members can attest that American political correctness and tobacco vilification are slowly but surely spreading across the globe. Anti-cigar fervor and regulation abroad have not yet reached the same level as in the United States, but have no doubt that this low-quality export is indeed finding receptive markets.

Although this is indeed depressing, some solace can be taken in the fact that Cigar Aficionado-style resistance is also burgeoning. As political correctness spreads among many, others are infected only with the increased appreciation for the simple pleasure of a fine cigar.

The Churchill Society salutes Cigar Aficionado for its role in protecting and promoting the good life, and urges it to remember that its efforts are needed beyond the American shores.

Royce Poinsett, John Hennessy
London, England

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Dear Marvin,

I am a 35-year-old physician who, as an avid runner, recently finished the 10-mile Annapolis Road Race with some 4,000 other runners. The Annapolis 10-miler is Maryland's premier road race, attracting runners from all 50 states, who enjoy the beautiful scenery, the naval academy and other sights of the state's capital. As an aficionado, all I could think about during the last two miles of the race was lighting up the H. Upmann Churchill stashed in my glove compartment and awaiting me at the finish line.

With the race completed, and most of us adequately rehydrated, I returned to my car for my "race prize." Unfortunately, just putting this gem in my mouth drew stares from my fellow runners in the congested parking lot. This confirmed my prior suspicions that as a group, runners are pretty uptight. I waited until I was on the road before lighting up, but still enjoyed the ride home and the accomplishment of the day.

Christos M. Ballas, M.D.
Westminister, Maryland

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Dear Marvin,

I am a 27-year-old graduate student in political science at a midsized campus in central Illinois. I have been smoking cigars for over 10 years, and I love them. They soothe and relax me and bring me lots of joy, even when the burdens of school and work start to bear down. I just wish Iwan Ries & Co. and the Up-Down Cigar Shop were in Bloomington!

I am writing to tell you that I support your fight for cigar smokers' rights. As a political consultant, I am dismayed that I, among others in my profession, are not allowed to smoke in most areas. The days of smoke-filled rooms are, alas, coming to an end. I would prefer not to spend my life subjugated to standing outdoors or being forced into exile to enjoy my cigars. Many of my mentors in life have been cigar smokers, and they are respected professionals. They, too, are forced out, due to the concerns of those who feel they need to protect everyone from our "dangerous" habit.

As a courteous smoker who asks before I light up, even in places where smoking is allowed, I urge you not to give up. I will help fight the battles here; I know you'll help us win the war.

Brian A. Bernardoni
Bloomington, Illinois

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Dear Marvin,

The first law of cigar smoking: Always carry an extra, just in case. One evening I was rear-ended by one of our vehicularly inept. Coming home the following night, I was enjoying one of my favorite cigars (a Cuban Cohiba) when I was stopped by a Houston police officer. He pointed out my broken taillight and began to recite the rules and regulations for properly covering a broken taillight. I pleaded my case, but to no avail. When he returned with my license (and my ticket) he noticed the aroma of my cigar. When he found out that I was smoking a Cohiba, he began a lengthy speech about how he loved cigars; how his grand-father loved them and blah, blah, blah.

In midsentence he ceased his filibuster and gazed down at me (through his standard-issue Foster Grants) with the cool assuredness of someone who knew something that I did not. As he casually rapped his fingertips on the hood of my car, I suddenly realized what he wanted--my last Cohiba.

That bastard!!! How dare he ask for my last cigar! Sure, the ticket is going to cost me 80 bucks, but dammit, I have my principles! So I mustered up my courage and did the only thing I could do--I gave him the cigar, and all was forgotten. I drove home thinking I needed an amendment to my first law of cigar smoking: Always carry an extra, just in case--but make sure it's a cheap one.

Shaun Lang
Houston, Texas

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Dear Marvin,

I am a 26-year-old out-of-work pilot, making a living as a fast-food restaurant manager. My restaurant sits about a half mile off runway 10 of a busy Chicagoland airport, and believe me, for someone who is as passionate about flying as I am, there is nothing more frustrating than watching beautiful aircraft fly overhead while plastering a fake smile on my face for an irate customer who feels they didn't get enough cheese on their taco. But luckily for me I have another passion--cigars. My drive home each evening takes 45 minutes, precisely the amount of time it takes for me to smoke a Macanudo Prince Phillip (my cigar of choice). Nothing in the world can wipe out a miserable day at work like a good smoke. And nothing can prepare me for an agonizing day like the anticipation of a fine cigarfor the ride home.

James M. Holder
Naperville, Illinois

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Dear Marvin,

The members of the Resolve Through Sharing program in the intensive care nursery at Good Samaritan Hospital and Phoenix Children's Hospital wish to thank the editors and all of the people who responded (many of them anonymously) to a letter in the Summer issue of your magazine. The letter mentioned our need for small, attractive wooden boxes and suggested that readers donate their cigar boxes. The response has been overwhelming. To date we've received over 500 boxes. We will be sharing some of the boxes with other RTS programs in the Phoenix area.

We use the boxes as containers for keepsakes given to the parents of infants who die at the hospital. We place in them items such as footprints, photos, blankets and small stuffed animals, which are often the only tangible reminders the families will have of their child.

The boxes we received are beautiful and an ideal size. Our volunteers decorate the box covers, allowing us to incorporate names, dates and footprints, creating a remembrance for the parents to keep forever.

Today's news is filled with the horrible, unthinking things that people do to one another. I know that those people are in the minority, but they often reach the public notice. It is very gratifying to know there are so many willing to go out of their way to share resources, time, expense and empathy with strangers in their time of need. Your readers are proof that there are many good people in this country. I am grateful to have come in contact with citizens from all over the United States who have responded so unselfishly to our needs.

Patricia Reynolds
Phoenix, Arizona

Editor's response: Thank you for your kind letter. I also want to thank the readers of Cigar Aficionado. If you can keep using the boxes, we'll keep sending them. Here is the address again for anyone interested in sending boxes: Patricia A. Reynolds, R.N., 11041 North 41st Place, Phoenix, Arizona 85028.

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Dear Marvin,

My 5'8", buxom, model-gorgeous blonde girlfriend is smoking a beautiful Havana cigar. There is a story behind her cigar. It is the story of love and destiny--two things I didn't have the greatest belief in before I met Lisa.

I now believe that I am one of the most fortunate guys in the world. As of fall 1994, I would never have made such a statement. Although I was only 30 years old, I had already amassed what I now consider a long and impressive list of sad accomplishments: many miserable years of studying in higher education, several years of endless workdays and worknights in one of the largest and most oppressive (i.e., prestigious) law firms in Manhattan, one marriage, one divorce, type I juvenile diabetes, an increasingly life-threatening drinking habit, a string of meaningless relationships--I think you get my drift. Despite the high-end culture that all my hard-earned money could afford, I had become a personification of the colloquialism "Money can't buy happiness."

On paper, I was esteemed as a role model; in reality, I was miserable. I was alive, but clearly not appreciating the very joy and gift of life itself.

About this time last fall while I was dwelling in emotional bankruptcy, my firm offered to send me up to Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, to recruit some students who would graduate soon. Although it was only for the day, any excuse to get out of "The Firm" was a welcome one (I hadn't taken a vacation in over 18 months).

I interviewed 25 students in one day --individually, one after the other. My allotted 30-minute lunch break quickly dwindled to 15 minutes; I went to a sandwich shop in Collegetown, and as luck (or destiny) would have it, I ended up sharing a table with an elderly Cornell professor.

For 15 minutes, the professor and I had quite a fascinating exchange. He was a rocket scientist, conversant in over a dozen languages, extraordinarily well-traveled, and to quote his business card, a "Professor of Applied Physics and Electrical Engineering, Condensed-Matter Physics, Kinetic Theory Applied Mathematics, Astrophysics"! He is also a world-renowned expert on quantum mechanics!

Needless to say, the professor was quite a conversationalist. One thing led to another and he began to describe his gorgeous daughter who lives in Manhattan. He didn't come out and say it, but I gathered he was inviting me to ask him for his daughter's name and phone number to look her up upon my return to New York City. Despite having my mouth full of food the entire 15 minutes, I guess I still managed to make a favorable impression upon the old man. However, at the time I was dating enough women to support a healthy addiction to alcohol, Tylenol and Ibuprofin and had no desire to pursue another anytime soon. Upon my abrupt departure, the professor and I exchanged business cards. I was starting to leave when he exclaimed, "You know, David, I'm not a very religious man, but I do believe many events in life are destiny, and our chance meeting could be such an event."

As I was in a hurry, that last statement (as well as many before) went temporarily over my head; so, I merely responded, "Yeah, me, too. Nice meeting you, Professor," and I sped off to return to the interviewing.

About six weeks later, holed up in a hotel room on business somewhere in the Midwest and overwhelmed with my usual boredom and insomnia, I discovered the professor's business card tucked away in my wallet.

If curiosity killed the cat, then it very well may be my doom someday as well. The professor's dissertation on "destiny" was ringing in my ears and I became intent on meeting his daughter regardless of the consequences of previous blind dates. Swearing off blind dates after every disappointment is much like the alcoholic's daily exclamation to never drink again--if you are cursed with an insatiable appetite, there's just no resisting.

I wrote a letter that evening (or morning as the case may be) to the professor, professing my own views on destiny and, at long last, asking for his permission and approval to contact his daughter.

After three weeks of Lisa's father, and then me, trying to persuade her to go out with me--Lisa had never before been on a blind date and had no desire to go on her first one with someone whom her absent-minded rocket-scientist elderly professor father [with all due respect] had chosen!--she finally agreed.

Our fateful first date was on Thursday, Nov. 17, 1994.

Not only are we still dating (exclusively, I might add), but my life has taken a dramatic turn for the better. I have taken an unpaid leave from work to spend time regaining my mental and physical health and to consider career and lifestyle changes. I spent 30 days in a prestigious and successful "rehab" facility--I have eight months of sobriety under my belt as of yesterday. And, last and more importantly, I am madly in love! So much so that, unbeknownst to Lisa, I intend to ask for her hand in marriage on an upcoming trip to Paris.

I am now a firm believer that a man's fortune lies not in his bank account but rather in his heart. By such a measure, I am an inordinately wealthy man, and it is fitting that such a moment is captured and shared with one of my "other" greatest passions in life--a good cigar.

David A. Walden
New York, New York

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Dear Marvin,

It's 12:40 a.m. My wife, my two-year-old, and my three-month-old twins are finally asleep. It's time for me. I settle down in the old, blue-leather wingback, a nip of 18-year-old Macallan at my side and the Autumn 1995 Cigar Aficionado in front. The humidor beckons. Heaven. Inside the ark, several Cohibas and Romeo y Julietas playfully tease. If only I could smoke in the house. For the next hour the pages of your magazine take me on a journey. The rigors of life begin to fade, the pressures of the market subside. I reflect on the weekend spent salmon fishing in British Columbia with my father-in-law and I realize that all is well.

Kevin C. Doyle
Tulsa, Oklahoma

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Dear Marvin,

Mike Johnson ("Out of the Humidor," Cigar Aficionado, Summer 1995) appears pretty proud of himself after forcing a cabin-full of fellow passengers to smoke his cigar with him on a flight to London.

We cigar lovers have plenty of places to enjoy a smoke without imposing on others like that. Passengers in a plane are captives in a small enclosure with minimal ventilation and should have a right to breathe clean air.

The cigar smoking community doesn't need the bad PR from someone with no respect for the comfort of others, who brags about smirking in the face of a flight attendant who asked him to put out his cigar (knowing full well it's prohibited) and then takes another couple of puffs justto "show them."

It gives the impression that those who smoke cigars are akin to cigarette nicotine addicts who inflict their habit on everyone around them no matter where they are.

Thanks to Mr. Johnson, the crew and passengers of this flight now have an impression of cigar smokers as jerks, and now may think of that bad experience every time they smell the smoke of a cigar--no matter how inoffensive.

G. Nichols
Fort Worth, Texas

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Dear Marvin,

Well, I did it. I finally had my first smoke.

An extremely exhausting drive from San Diego to Los Angeles Airport (to pick up my husband) and then returning the same day can take its toll on a person, so upon our return home we dined out at our favorite café, then headed home to relax for the evening. My husband's first step was to slip into something comfortable, pour a glass of Port, head for the humidor and recline on the patio with the lights low, listening to classical music by Ravel.

I, too, began to unwind by having a glass of wine and reading the latest edition of Cigar Aficionado, featuring one of my favorite actors--Jack Nicholson! But to add to the mellowness of the evening I had my very first Macanudo. I was pleasantly surprised at the mild, sweet flavor and even more surprised at how long the flavor lasts. It was truly not what I expected, and I enjoyed the total experience. As an ex-cigarette smoker of some 15-plus years, my most difficult task was remembering not to inhale.

It was truly an eventful evening: to be accompanied by a wonderful and loving husband, a good wine, a flavorful cigar, a celebrated magazine and Jack--the perfect finale to the day.

Brenda D. Lefebvre
Rancho Santa Fe, California

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Dear Marvin,

I was sitting outside on the porch earlier today, reading the Autumn 1995 Cigar Aficionado as I lit an H. Upmann cigar, one of my favorites. As I lit the cigar, my dog, Shu Shu, a Samoyed, came running over and sat next to me, his nose in the air as if he was looking at an airplane flying overhead. That was the first time he ever did such a thing. It took me a while to understand that he was sniffing and enjoying the smoke of my fantastic cigar. Every time I stopped puffing on it, Shu Shu looked at me and cried as if I took something away from him. My dog does not like any food off the table, doesn't like beer or any other alcohol, but surprisingly enjoys my cigar as much as I do.

I used to live in Austria, and I remember my dad bringing home a box of Montecristo No. 3s every Friday. I always waited for him to come home before leaving to go out, so I could take one of his cigars. I remember one time playing cards with some Italians in Kitzbuehl, a ski resort in Austria. The stakes got high during one hand, and one of the players wanted to call my $100 bet, but he didn't have the money. I told him he could use his box of Romeo y Julietas as collateral; he accepted and lost the hand. The next day I was smoking a Romeo y Julieta on the ski lift. Some of my best memories have something to do with cigars!

Oron Benary
Dublin, Ohio

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Dear Marvin,

After reading the letters you receive every month decrying the lack of tolerance of cigar smokers among the general population, I would like to relate something that happened to me this past May.

I was attending a company meeting in Jefferson City, Missouri, and on the way I had stopped at a cigar store and purchased a bundle of Churchill-sized Dominican hand-rolled cigars. A colleague of mine (a cigarette smoker) and I needed to get together after dinner to discuss a few projects we were working on. I suggested that we needed cigars to properly conduct our business. He quickly agreed to try one. Since the hotel did not have a cigar friendly area, we decided to go outside and walk while we talked and smoked.

Unfortunately, it was raining quite heavily. In fact, it had rained so much that the hotel's underground parking garage had flooded, and was in the process of being pumped out. The smell of river water in the hotel lobby was quite strong. We decided to sit outside the hotel, on the steps under the awning to smoke. A few minutes after we started, a hotel employee came out of the lobby and came directly over to us. My first thought was "I can't believe we're not allowed to smoke outside!" However to my surprise, she said, "Would you gentlemen mind coming into the lobby to smoke those cigars? The smell from the parking garage is making us sick and we would love to smell cigar smoke!" Being the considerate smoker I am, I readily agreed! We went inside and spent a wonderful couple of hours smoking and talking. There were a few new guests who looked at us askew, but we knew we were there with the full authority of the hotel management. It made for a nice change.

Although I don't normally think of using a fine cigar as an air freshener, I am always ready to oblige.

Brian Murray
St. Marys, Ohio

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Dear Marvin,

I got married on June 24, 1995, and I promised my best man and ushers the best cigars to celebrate the occasion. They are used to smoking the machine-made brands purchased at any drugstore or gas station.

After a few calls and a bit of road time, I obtained six Cuban Hoyo de Monterrey double coronas--three for me and one for each of my guys. They were quite expensive but well worth the money. After the wedding, I taught them the ritual of a good cut and a good light and we sat and enjoyed our stogies. I could see the enjoyment and satisfaction on their faces. Now they know why I spend so much money on good cigars. I think I have spawned a few new cigar aficionados.

I saved two Hoyos for the honeymoon. Although my wife does not smoke, she sits with me while I enjoy my cigars. She (like many readers' wives) sees the enjoyment and relaxation I feel when smoking. We sat on the hotel balcony in Myrtle Beach and I enjoyed my Hoyo. It was a great moment!

Although my budget does not dictate Hoyos on a regular basis (I am a robusto smoker-- usually Don Carlos, Fonseca 5-50 or Ashton Magnum), I look forward to getting all the guys together periodically and reliving our wedding in Pinehurst, North Carolina. I love my wife and I love my cigars. I know I will cherish both for a long, long time.

Carl Benevides
Nashua, New Hampshire

* * *

Dear Marvin,

In September 1944, I was part of the first contingent of SHAEF personnel to be flown into Paris after it was liberated. We were transported to Camp de Satory, next to the Palace of Versailles. SHAEF took over all the offices and barracks used by the German Army command during its occupation of France.

We had nothing to do that week so we did a lot of sightseeing in Paris. I also took the time to check out all the carriage houses on the grounds of the palace. In one of them, I found a huge cone-shaped mound of cigars, about 15 feet high. They were not boxed, nor were the cigars individually wrapped. Obviously, the Germans did not have the materials to do this during the war. Although the cigars I could see were in perfect shape, I wondered if those at the bottom of the pile in the middle were crushed.

The following week, the PX opened, but it did not have any cigarettes available. So I told the sergeant in charge of the PX about my find. He took a look and had thousands of cigars moved. For the next two weeks, the PX substituted cigars for cigarettes at the rate of ten a day (if you wanted that many).

The cigars had a tan wrapper and were all-tobacco. They were firm and had a mild taste. They were about 4 1/2 inches long with tapered ends. One end was open; the other, closed, which we had to bite off (we didn't have any clippers). They were the best cigars that I can ever remember smoking.

I assume only the officers could get them after our cigarette rations caught up with us. We enlisted men never saw the cigars again.

For more than 20 years, I have smoked a box of 50 King Edward Imperials a week. I find that they not only invigorate my thinking but also help me relax. They are the closest I can find to those German cigars. Although my family doctor and cardiologist know how many I smoke, neither has suggested I stop. I guess they figure that quitting would do more harm than good.

Allen Petersen
Little Silver, New Jersey

* * *

Dear Marvin,

Here is a letter I sent to the Ritz-Carlton in San Francisco:

To: Herve HumlerWest Coast Vice PresidentRitz-Carlton, San Francisco

On Saturday evening, August 12, 1995, my wife and I and two friends stopped by the Ritz-Carlton for drinks, dessert and a cigar in the small bar adjacent to the dining room. Much to our disappointment, we were informed that cigar smoking in the hotel is now prohibited.

I am writing to register my dissatisfaction with your new policy. As a longtime customer of your hotel and a cigar smoker, I have come to appreciate the Ritz-Carlton hotels throughout the United States, particularly for their forward-thinking point of view concerning cigar smoking. In fact, I have come to respect the Ritz-Carlton as a leader in the cigar smoking renaissance.

I can only assume that customer pressure and possibly the [San Francisco] Chronicle restaurant review of a few weeks ago, which included a snide comment about walking through the smoke-filled bar to get to the dining room, have caused this change in policy and thinking. If this is true, maybe you could reach a compromise by allocating some other space in the hotel for cigar smoking rather than the extreme measure you have chosen banning cigar smoking, and hence cigar smokers, from your fine establishment.

I am certain that you are aware of the number of people who frequent your hotel primarily because of its historic "cigar friendly" policy. The sold out cigar dinners should serve as a reminder.

Please reconsider your decision to ban cigars at the San Francisco Ritz-Carlton, and please feel free to contact me if I can be of assistance in any way.

Richard E. Blumberg
Berkeley, California

* * *

Dear Marvin,

Since my first letter to Cigar Aficionado appeared in the Summer 1993 issue, I've found a wonderful woman, Shawn-elyn, who now shares my new home in Charlotte, North Carolina, and who is gradually becoming a cigar smoker. Something happened recently which I wanted to relate to you.

A year ago, we celebrated the first anniversary of the day we met, like many couples do. Armed with a couple of shopping tips from a cigar smoking co-worker of mine, Shawn-elyn showed up at our favorite restaurant with a pair of very fine Macanudos.

Last weekend, our second anniversary came along, and so we were set to visit our favorite restaurant again. Shawn-elyn made plans to head to the same cigar store, McCranie's, to again buy me cigars to mark the occasion. However, a tie-up at work made her late getting to the store, and she pulled up in the parking lot to discover a locked door and a couple of gentlemen standing around outside talking. One of them (I can only assume he worked there) asked, "Is something wrong?" to which Shawn-elyn replied, "Well, it's our anniversary, and I wanted to get my boyfriend some cigars. But I guess I'm too late--the store's closed!" With that, one of the gentlemen walked over to his car, saying, "I don't want you to leave empty-handed," and handed Shawn-elyn an Arturo Fuente Classic. When my girlfriend tried to pay the gentleman for the cigar, he flatly refused, saying instead, "Just do something nice for someone else, and that'll be payment enough."

Needless to say, I enjoyed the cigar immensely. I reflected that night that sometimes, a cigar is indeed just a cigar, but a free cigar is a smoke! Just goes to prove that there are a few kind souls in the world, and they usually have stogies clenched in their teeth. My heartfelt thanks to the unknown fellow who might read these words.

Greg Moore
Charlotte, North Carolina

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Dear Marvin,

I am a 26-year-old mother-to-be. I have a good marriage to a great man. Recently, my husband got deep into the cigar habit. For the past eight months, I have called cigar shops and cigar manufacturers in search of one special brand: La Gloria Cubana. I've called shops in New Jersey, where we reside, in New York, Connecticut, even Miami!

One day, my husband and I drove to a nearby town. On a quiet block, we saw a cigar shop. To our surprise, they had La Gloria in stock! A box of 25 and a few loose cigars will hold my husband over for a few weeks and give me time to rest.

Michele Fico
Bayonne, New Jersey

* * *

Dear Marvin,

In June, I attended New York Day ceremonies at the White House with my wife. During the receiving line/photo opportunity session with President Clinton, I offered the president an H. Upmann cigar. He looked at the cigar and said, "It's a good one." I responded, "Did you think I would bring the president of the United States a bad cigar?" He laughed. The night before, I was at a wedding and had a Cuban cigar, which I considered bringing to the White House, but figured that it would be a mistake since they are still illegal. While the President smiled at that, I couldn't help but think that he was just a bit disappointed that I didn't bring the Cuban cigar, too.

William E. Rapfogel
New York, New York

* * *

Dear Marvin,

I wish to thank you and your fine magazine for providing me with a new and extremely satisfying hobby: fine cigars.

For years, whenever I thought of cigars, I thought of the Italian ropes that my grandfather smoked. They were cured in wine and they smelled awful.

Throughout my adult years my only experiences with cigars were the "It's A Boy" cheapies that friends would pass out upon arrival of a baby.

Then came an awakening. About two years ago, while in New York City, I found myself in front of Nat Sherman, the "tobacconist to the world." From the moment I walked in, I was hooked. The aroma of all those fine cigars was irresistible. The lush appointments and accessories were breathtaking. The friendliness and helpfulness of the salespeople was a great comfort. One gentleman was especially gracious. He took the time and trouble to explain to me, a complete novice, all the qualities and characteristics of the many different brands and types of cigars. When I walked into that store, I didn't know the difference between a Romeo y Julieta and a White Owl. Believe me, I do now. It's not just a matter of price or prestige or brand name. It's a matter of pure relaxation, enjoyment and satisfaction that is very rare to come by these days.

It was that same day that I was introduced to your magazine. It was your Summer 1993 issue. I read it from cover to cover, and when I was through, I subscribed immediately, and then I went out and purchased a humidor. The first contents I placed in it were the Nat Sherman Tribecas I had purchased that day.

Since then I eagerly await each issue of Cigar Aficionado. When it arrives, I head straight to the blind taste testings. These tests have led me to some superb cigars which have given me a great deal of enjoyment. My next big step is to attend a "Big Smoke." They look like such warm and friendly affairs. Judging by the photos in every issue, everyone seems to be having a great time.

Tomorrow, I'll be making a trip to my tobacconist. While I'm in the walk-in humidor like a big kid in a candy store, "one of these and one of those," I will be reaping the rewards of the knowledge I've obtained from your magazine. I believe this time around I'll try a Savinelli ELR Churchill.

Again I say thank you for creating such a great magazine. I hope to enjoy it and my cigars for many years to come.

John Polozzolo
Bridgeport, Connecticut

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Dear Marvin,

I am writing to you as a younger member of the growing population of cigar smokers, but a lover of cigars just the same. I am not old enough to buy cigars (well, legally). I do manage, however, through my parents or most of the time, myself. I have been smoking cigars for well over a year now and it all started with my best friend one summer night, when we had nothing to do. It wasn't until a trip to Lake Placid, New York, I took with my parents that I discovered the world of cigars. My dad (who only smokes cigars on occasion) and I walked into the humidor at a smoke shop there and stared in amazement. We made our selections (and I cannot, for the life of me, remember what kind they were), had them cut, and were on our way.

On the way out of the store I noticed your issue of Cigar Aficionado with Bill Cosby on the cover. I sifted through the pages and was amazed that there was actually a magazine about something I loved! I knew, at that moment, I had stumbled upon something that would last a lifetime. My dad and I enjoyed our cigars that evening, and all along I was thinking about your magazine, kicking myself for not having purchased it.

Since then I have found a shop by me that sells your magazine--I buy every issue--and fine cigars. My parents brought back some fine Cubans with them after a trip to Toronto. Among them was a Bolivar Robusto and a Partagas Series D No. 4. After a trip to Niagara Falls, my girlfriend brought me back a Cohiba. Most all my friends who know I smoke cigars have wanted to smoke with me. Naturally, I am generous and would rather smoke with a friend, so I give out some cigars of my own. I have even turned my dad back into a regular cigar smoker.

I just wanted to let you know, Marvin, that every time I see one of my peers spend their time getting drunk and partying, I think about a better way to use my time. I think about the kind of lifestyle that your magazine has portrayed for me and the amount of respect I have for you. But most of all, I think about the fine cigar I am about to smoke and the experience that will follow. I am just one of however many teenagers that enjoy the finer things in life. I will be 18 years old in September and one day I hope to have the pleasure (and money!) to attend one of your "Big Smokes" and to meet cigar aficionados from across the globe, but most of all, you.

Ben Scrivens
Rochester, New York

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Dear Marvin,

As a public school teacher and cigar lover, I am very impressed with Cigar Aficionado. It is a beautiful, intelligent, well-laid out magazine with only one problem--you tend to give the impression that wonderful cigars are only being enjoyed by the elite (actors, comedians, politicians, etc.) of our society. There are many of us "working stiffs" out here who dream of purchasing, handling, lighting and smoking hand-rolled tobacco delights.

On a recent trip to Europe I had a few cigar experiences I wanted to share. Upon reaching London, I immediately sought out the closest tobacconist in relation to my hotel. Tearing the Habanos advertisement out of the most recent Cigar Aficionado and inquiring of my tour guide, I was pointed in the direction of Harrod's--the large London department store. Harrod's is an experience everyone should have in order to fully appreciate the terms "class" and "customer service."

The discriminating cigar lover is presented with a fairly impressive display of Cuban as well as Dominican tobacco treats. I, of course, ignored the Dominican shelf since they are widely available in the States, and spent a few wide-eyed moments perusing the Cuban selection. Large sizes were in short supply, but Partagas, Bolivar, H. Upmann, Cohiba, Punch, El Rey del Mundo and others were represented.

The prices certainly make Americans, used to paying $3 to $5 for decent Dominican, Honduran, or Mexican cigars, pale with shock at the sight of how so much will buy so little. "What the heck," I said, and plunged in, realizing the rarity of this possibility--the possibility to circumvent the most ridiculous embargo in the history of the United States. I leapt in, picking up one here and another there. I was the proverbial "kid in the candy store" while I satisfied a 10-year desire to own and enjoy the best in the world. I did and I do. At about 15 British pounds each (about $22), my seven Romeo y Julieta Churchills made up the heart of the purchase.

I then found by chance a very nice little tobacconist at London's Covent Garden. My tour guide, knowing my passion for cigars, found me in the crowd and sent me to it, credit card in hand. The shop is Mullins and Westley Ltd.'s Segar and Snuff Parlour. In a shop approximately the size of a closet, I looked over an inventory that included small numbers of several brands and sizes of Cuban delights.

Of course, I smoked and disposed of all Cubans purchased before I left the European continent and returned to the "land of the free and the home of the brave."

I will now retire to my backyard for a family barbecue, after which I will enjoy a very, very, good cigar!

Ron Sebestik
Mahomet, Illinois

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Dear Marvin,

I work for AT&T GIS (the former NCR), as a marketing coordinator in Turkey. Being involved with one of the world's most high-tech and competitive markets, a person deserves to celebrate his business success. One of the best ways--a conversation with best friends in a chic restaurant or bar near the Bosporus, the strait that runs between Asia and Europe, on a breezy summer evening, accompanied by a puro Habana.

During my early days in the United States (I was then living in Dayton, Ohio), I was at a nightclub with some friends, dancing around and smoking a Cuban Davidoff. A lady approached me and said, "Do you know what kind of men smoke cigars in this country?" I said, "Who?" With a very mean facial expression and a loud voice she said, "The men who are really something, or the men who think they are something. Which group do you belong to?" I was amazed, but I said, "Lady, I don't know which group I belong to; all I know is that I really enjoy cigars. Is that enough?" She looked at me one more time, and went away. I continued smoking. For reasons of this kind, I really feel sorry for American cigar smokers. There are many beautiful things about living in the United States, but one of the most unnecessary things is this: Why don't people have respect for other people's ways of enjoying life? Perhaps because they never enjoy life themselves, and don't want others to do so, via a cigar or anything else.

Cenk Kiral
Istanbul, Turkey

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Dear Marvin,

I must express my enjoyment with Cigar Aficionado. I find the columns and articles informative and interesting and have heard the same sentiments from other people. I was at a bookstore in the magazine aisle, looking for the latest car magazine (I already subscribe to Cigar Aficionado), when I noticed a lady flipping through your magazine. Her voice carried far enough that I could hear her. She was showing the magazine to her husband (or boyfriend), commenting how elitist and superficial Cigar Aficionado was. But what really hit my switch was when she said, "Anybody who reads this is just a wanna-be." Without causing a scene or arguing with this lady, I walked up to her and asked her politely, "Are you going to buy that LAST copy of Cigar Aficionado?" She looked at me, closed the magazine, handed it to me and walked away.

I am 29 years old and only smoke cigars. I began about five years ago. I consider myself a "special occasion" smoker, only lighting up when I get together with my best friends. During these memorable occasions I have smoked the best cigars your magazine rates: Cohiba, Romeo y Julieta, Montecristo, Cuban Punch, and the Hoyo De Monterrey Double Corona. I have introduced my friends to a new unexplored area of pleasure and they have added to this experience with the addition of well-aged single malt Scotch or a fine bottle of wine. My friends know my love of cigars and it's an affection I take very seriously. I have gone that extra step and had a humidor custom-built by a professional craftsman. For a finishing touch to my humidor, I had a small shiny brass plaque attached with the engraved A LITTLE TASTE OF HEAVEN.

I have only been subject to one unfortunate incident while smoking a cigar. My best friend and I were in a bar where we were planning to spend an hour or two talking, having some drinks and listening to a live band perform. After the waitress took our order, I scanned the surroundings and estimated that half the clientele were smoking. I then gave my friend a Romeo y Julieta Churchill. He ran the cigar across his nose to savor the aroma of the tobacco. We clipped the ends of the cigars and were ready to ignite these babies, then our drinks came. The waitress placed our drinks down and then she noticed the cigars. She asked us not to light those smelly things; the smoke bothered her. I thought she was joking. When she left we lit up the cigars and continued with our conversation. Ten or 15 minutes later my friend finished his drink and I was almost through mine. We were ready to order another round but she ignored our table and served the table next to us of four men, three of them smoking cigarettes. The waitress passed our table two more times without even a glance. At that point, my friend looked at me and said, "Who needs this crap, lets go." We paid for our drinks and left the bar (leaving a nickel as a gratuity). Fortunately, the night was not ruined. We decided to walk back to my place to play some billiards. We continued our philosophical discussion of the 3-F's. I enjoy the late-night walks with my friends--we discuss a wide variety of topics, and recall old times. I feel a good cigar enhances the event.

Alex G. Yuen
Collingwood, Ontario, Canada

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Dear Marvin,

I am a 45-year-old plant scientist living in Lima, Peru (an ideal natural humidor), working at the International Potato Center. Let me tell you how cigars helped me to meet my future wife, Doris Valle.

I was picking her up in my car for our first date, when I realized I had forgotten to hide my cigars. But it was too late--she saw them, and her large eyes opened wide. I went into a cold sweat for what seemed an eternity. A microsecond later she said, "Don't tell me you smoke cigars? I have always loved the smell of cigars, because my father always smokes around the house." That explains why, only two months after that first date, she became my wife. I'm not a fool! By the way--my father-in-law is a true connoisseur, and most Sundays we sit down after lunch and share some wonderful treat.

Noel Pallais
Lima, Peru