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Out of the Humidor

By CA Readers | From Antonio Banderas, Nov/Dec 2005
Out of the Humidor

Dear Marvin,

I would just like to say how much I love your magazine. As you might have read, I was involved in the rescue of Air France 358. I must say that after that, the only thing that could calm me down was lighting up one of my Cuban cigars. For most of the week I was sort of out of it and had trouble sleeping, but once I had a cigar I could relax enough to be able to be in the now.

I always look forward to a new edition of your magazine and can't wait until the new one is on the newsstands. I think in the last week since the crash, I have smoked most of my supply of cigars, but it was worth it. It kept me sane and relaxed. Thanks for a great magazine and keep up the good work.

Guy Ledez
Brampton, Ontario

Editor's Note: The following letter was sent to Sal Fontana of Caribe Imported cigars, after he sent a gift of Camacho and Baccarat cigars to a U.S. soldier serving in Afghanistan. The soldier agreed to have it published here.

Dear Mr. Fontana,
My family has taught me that when somebody sends a gift it is appropriate to send a thank you to show your appreciation. I hope you will accept my apologies for this delayed thank you, as it does not reflect how truly thankful I was for your gift of cigars. It was a very kind gesture and deserved a quicker response than I have given. To help you better understand how much I truly enjoyed your gift I am including a story.

On an early morning in Kyrgyzstan (evening in North Carolina) I phoned my sister Amy. I was telling her how I had just returned from a three-day stay at Kandahar, Afghanistan (a place we frequently flew into).

"The combat zone is a surreal experience," I said. "You are in the middle of a dust bowl; everyone is slinging a weapon, even when in casual attire. Helicopters and planes are flying overhead, land mines are being detonated just outside of the perimeter of the airfield, and there is a constant awareness that someone may try to mortar us (which isn't too uncommon). Inside the fences lies Kandahar International Airport (which housed many casualties during the first phase of the war), remains of buildings we bombed (before taking control of the airport), an empty mosque and a massive tent city (that housed both Air Force and Army). Within the center of all of this is a sort of plaza area. It has a general store, some local gift shops and a coffee shop that resembles a city café. What seemed so surreal is that I am in a war environment, but am able to go to a café and order a latte just like the others in line ahead of me. If it weren't for the mix of people in casual and military attire, all of whom have a gun on their hip, or slung over their shoulder, you might think for a minute you were in a café at home. Outside there is a shaded deck area where troops were enjoying conversation, coffee and smokes. I can only describe it as a sort of Wild West feeling about the place. When I sat down I could smell a cigar burning, and just for a minute, I had a mental escape. I found myself sitting with Don and Sally on their porch back in Texas enjoying a cigar, and had thoughts of Dad and me enjoying a cigar together. It's funny how a smell can spark such nostalgia and good feelings. Man, right then I thought a cigar would be great.

After our conversation Amy told Don how I was craving a cigar, and I am sure that in some way Don told you. I know this because of the great cigars you sent. I didn't know if you knew the story behind it. I thought it was important to share because by just having a cigar I was able to mentally escape to Don and Sally's porch, or to a conversation, beer and a cigar with my dad for just a little bit. So this is why that was such a great gift, and for that, I thank you, Sal. The guys I shared them with thank you as well. I would hand them out and they would ask where I got them. "My friend Don's Uncle Sal, Sal Fontana. He sent these to me to share with you guys."

I was even able to get some out to the troops we were flying in and out of the combat zone, and I'm sure they appreciated them. Something as simple as smoking a cigar can boost morale because it's a treat from home. It was a great contribution to the morale effort on your part and you should be proud.

I will be returning overseas next week, but this time we "fill fly" in Iraq. I will take a flag and fly it on your behalf during one of our missions. When I return, I will send it to you, as part of my thanks.

Eric K. Fancher
Little Rock, Arkansas

Dear Marvin,
A New Jersey politician, Loretta Weinberg, is calling for a bill that would make smoking while driving in our state a secondary offense. Her pretext is that smoking can be a "distraction." And pretext it is, for, statistically speaking, smoking while driving is among the least of road distractions. (Even the AAA opposes such a bill.)

Insightful citizens know that Weinberg's proposal is merely another attempt to curtail smoking everywhere. To my libertarian mind, it is undemocratic and violates the right to privacy. Her words are not only authoritarian in concept, but clearly show an un-American, socialist-collectivist mentality: "We want to do the best for people." Recollect that! Weinberg and her supporters want to legislate against a citizen's natural right to decide what is best for himself. No thanks, Ms. Weinberg, I'll continue to do my own thinking, pursue my own lifestyle, and smoke a cigar while driving, much of the time, alone.

Realistic or not, the words of Ronald Reagan echo vibrantly: "Get government off the backs of people."

Carl Shapiro
Ridgefield, New Jersey

Dear Marvin,
Wow! As I sit here enjoying a Montecristo Platinum Habano No. 3, I think back to just a little over three weeks ago. I was enjoying myself at the C.A.O. and Rocky Patel/Drew Estate parties during RTDA in New Orleans not having a care in the world. Just enjoying being amongst fellow smokers. Now, there may not be a New Orleans. I normally don't write to magazines, but I seized this moment to do so. I am an original New Orleanian, who enjoyed a great career in the Air Force, traveling the world over and then returning after retiring in 1999. I've lived through Hurricane Betsy and Hurricane Camille, losing everything, only to start over again and continue loving my hometown with all its faults and drawbacks and, of course, the potential of another catastrophic disaster.

Needless to say, when the order was issued to evacuate, my better half (Michele) and I packed a few things and headed north. As normal when we take a trip, I gathered a few smokes (in this case a box of the No. 3s, a box of Camacho Legends series and a box of the brand new Camacho Candela Monarcas) I purchased on Saturday at my favorite smoke shop, making sure I had enough just in case I ran into a fellow aficionado who I could share with. I fully understood the potential threat of Hurricane Katrina, but figured we'd suffer some damage and would return in a few days—five tops, to be exact.

We headed up Interstate 59, stopping in Tuscaloosa, Alabama on Sunday, the day before the storm made landfall. Upon waking Monday morning knowing the storm was converging on the city, I prayed that it wouldn't be total destruction.

It's now Tuesday evening and according to accounts by various news outlets, it's a lot worse than I expected. Will there ever be another New Orleans? Only the good Lord and time will tell. My reason for writing is that life is truly a blessing and we each should stop, think and be thankful for what we have. As we watch the news broadcasts, we are viewing our area of town, and to this point from what we can tell, we've lost everything, including my collection of almost 1,100 fine cigars, cigar accessories, my poster from the Big Smoke held in New Orleans in 2000 and my prized copy of your magazine's first edition. Those things can be replaced, but life can't.

As I compose this e-mail, my heart is saddened for those who lost their lives, those who also lost everything, and don't have the immediate means to replace those things. As I sit here enjoying this smoke, it allows me to reflect on my life, past and present, and to think that regardless of the state of the union, "life ain't that bad." Sure we'll have to start all over again, but we have that opportunity. Having confirmed that my family made it out safely, I could not ask for more.

I sincerely hope you pass this on to your readers, with hopes that each and everyone of them should be thankful, and the next time they read, see or hear about a disaster somewhere, don't take it lightly. It could happen to you! We figure we'll be allowed to return to the city in a week or so, to pick up and move on. I'll rebuild my home, my collection and hopefully so will everyone else, but again, I must say that we will be able to, as we are alive and dwell in the greatest country in the world. I have been a cigar aficionado for almost 22 years, and never thought the day would arrive when a fine smoke would really ease my mind, and help me deal with a life crisis.

As I mentioned earlier I have enjoyed your publication since day one and have kept every issue, frequently reverting back to past issues re-reading stories of life elsewhere. With that in mind I thought now was a better time than ever to write and share my "life crisis" with fellow aficionados the world over. I'm sitting in a "cigar friendly" hotel, just pondering where we will start upon return to the Big Easy. I say to you and your readers, stop and smell the roses and enjoy a good smoke whenever you can, after all, we are really not guaranteed tomorrow. No matter how our leaders continually attempt to ban smoking, raise taxes on tobacco and the other ills of our society, even in the worst situation one could imagine, a cigar just may be the thing to allow you to deal with that situation and have peace of mind.

Thanks for letting me share with you, and may God bless and keep you and this wonderful place we call America. I'll write again, after I return and get my life in order, as I sit somewhere enjoying another fine smoke. Godspeed.

Gregory I. Ceaser, USAF Retired
New Orleans, Louisiana

Dear Marvin,
What a woman really wants is a man who considers her needs before his own—even in a cigar! She doesn't want a huge Churchill hanging out of her mouth that she has to "suck hard" on in public. She wants a classy little petit corona like the Fuente Fuente OpusX Perfecxion No. 5 that I searched for all over Dallas (because of your review).

Case in point: Recently I went to Club Macanudo in New York City after a delicious meal at Babbo. I had been looking forward to enjoying my OpusX petit corona at the bar, but since I had just flown in from Dallas, I had to borrow a lighter from a charming young man who had just returned from Cuba. I ordered a cognac and called an older man friend to come join me. When he arrived, he insisted on me smoking a Davidoff and lighting it with a match since he was too macho to let me borrow the other man's lighter. Then, in his selfish desire to take me back to his place, he rushed me through the tasty RR and cognac and put me in his car.

Well you would think that a man in his sixties would be more patient and considerate. The fast smoking and the fast car ride upset my stomach. Even though I was truly ill and it was partly his fault, he yelled at me and I had to take a cab ride to get back to my apartment. I was fine the next morning, but he showed his bad nature and missed out on the rest of a fun week.

Moral of the story—take your time with a good cigar and a good woman, they're hard to find!

Connie White
Dallas, Texas

Dear Marvin,
I recently returned from my honeymoon in Victoria, British Columbia. Fine cigars were easily accessible. Near the end of our stay in Canada, I purchased three Cuban stogies. The first, a Partagas, was delicious. I smoked it down to the last sip. The other two? That's another story.

The other two cigars, a Montecristo and a Fuente, made me angry. Well, let me back up. I was angry at myself. And angry at the U.S. government. When we were coming back across the border I was honest about possessing the Cubans, and ended up being forced to either smoke them on the spot or toss them. To add fuel to the proverbial fire, the customs agent made various statements about cigars from other countries being better and about us not wanting to support Fidel Castro.

I am angry that the U. S. government is the only one in the world that bans Cuban cigars, regardless of how they taste in comparison to any other country. I am angry that someone somewhere actually thinks we are helping human beings who live in Cuba by not buying and selling their goods. It's not as simple as fighting communism and Castro. Most of all I'm angry that the greatest country in the world has missed the boat on this one. No American should have to hide otherwise legal, good cigars from their own government.

Jon Wymer
Omaha, Nebraska