Cigar Aficionado

Thriller in Manila

You find the most interesting things in the most interesting places. I was traveling in the Philippines in November, 1986, with my wife, who was spending two weeks in Manila on a business trip for an American bank. I was living in Paris, writing and freelancing, and the opportunity to take my first trip to Asia was irresistible. Although we stayed at one of the many modern business style hotels away from the waterfront in Manila, we still got a taste of what life is like there.

One evening, we went to the Manila Hotel for a fancy dinner in a very turn of the century style setting. The grand hotel had been around since the early 1900s, situated with views of Manila Bay, and was the unofficial headquarters for General Douglas MacArthur at the start of World War II. I had been told by local ex-pats that I had to try the “cigar service.” So, after a perfectly fine meal, I asked our waiter if I could have a cigar. He smiled and said yes, and within a few minutes, a young Filipino woman in a white sarong appeared trailed by a young man pushing a cart with a humidor, a bottle of Cognac and some cedar spills. She opened the humidor and asked what I would like. Frankly, I don’t have a splinter of a memory about which cigar I picked. You’ll understand.

She then asked if she could prepare the cigar for me. I said sure. She held the cigar lightly in her slim fingers with elegant manicured nails. She took a cutter and gently clipped off the end of the cigar. She then began—for lack of a better term—massaging the cigar, running her hands and fingers up and down its length…well, this is a public web site so I’m not going into any more details about what she did, or my reaction to it. Let’s just say I was having a hard time figuring out whether I was glad my wife was sitting next to me, or not so glad. She also dipped the cigar head in the Cognac, and finally lit it slowly with the cedar spill. I didn’t stop her from doing anything to that cigar.

While I do remember smoking the cigar, I couldn’t tell you if it was good or not. All I remember is that I enjoyed it. A lot.

"Is this how the blind tastings are undertaken?" —June 2, 2007 12:36 PM