The beauty of Cuban cigars
There’s something manly about leaning back in a chair, legs sprawled infront, and a big fat Cuban cigar in your mouth. The greatest dictators of history smoked them. Can you imagine Saddam Hussein or Fidel Castro with a skinny little Lambert & Butler between their teeth as they issue dictats ruining the lives of millions? No you can’t. If you are even able to bring up such a visual image without shuddering then get off my internet now. Cigars are manly.
So I find myself in a Havana with a couple of friends. We’ve been to Hemingway’s favourite haunt Floridita where I smoked a big fat Cohiba Robusto while knocking back a daiquiri and listened to the beautiful voice of their resident singer. My eyes idly roamed the room and I mentally patted myself on the back. This is living well. In life we get moments that live forever, mental images, smells, sounds that forever recall a feeling of gratification and satisfaction. This was one such moment. The cigar was integral.
I know little about cigars, being pretty new to the experienced (I’m a lifetime non-smoker, since my one and only cigarette was forced onto me by my best friend’s sister when I was seven years old). It all began when Kurtz and Dantes helped me design a Gentleman’s room in our house. It’s a place to be pompous, refined, elitist and manly. Green leather chesterfield sofas, brown velvet drapes, low wattage hidden lighting, jazz music…….. and cigars.
None of us knew the first thing about cigars other than we must begin smoking them. A trip to the local shop brought back Hamlets. Ugh. We upgraded to Henry Wintermans, the best we could find without trekking to a specialist cigar shop. Ugh. So finally I head down Soho and walk into an official Cuban cigar retailer. I explain my trainee-smoker cigar status and the guy recommends some Nicaraguan double maduros for £4 each. Let it be known there is a monumental difference between a well-chosen £4 imported cigar and a £2 supermarket abortion. Monumental. We were on track.
Kurtz lets us get picked up by two jineteras outside Hotel Ingleterra, the old colonial watering hole we use to get the only decent sit-down toilet stop in Havana. The girls start their scam at an overpriced bar (we don’t buy them drinks) then we are informed of a special “cooperative” cigar scheme where cigar workers have one day to legally sell top cigars at a fraction of the retail price…. and that day is today. Sure. Right-ho. Not suspicious at all. We check them out and are quoted $120 for 25 Cohiba Esplendidos. We pass but have at least filled in some price information.
A few days later we are in Vinales, a beautiful Northern village that appears to be a magnet for female sex tourists. Never in my life have I seen so many good-looking, suave, salsa-dancing men spend so much effort validating homely ageing Western women far beneath their class. Good luck to them. The day before leaving the older son of the house offers cigars at $70 a box. The negotiation begins.
I walk away with a presentation box of Esplendidos, a cube full of Robustos, and Montecristo No.4s. It’s not till I get back to Mexico (and the internet) I discover the former retail for £35 a piece while the latter are £15. Still, I’ve been reading the Count of Monte Cristo so I just had to have ’em. Money be damned. It costs me £75 for 75 cigars then the guy has a spare box of Romeo Y Julieta Milles Fleurs. He eyes my watch and wonders if I have anything to swap for the box. The irony of the situation is not lost on me: I swap a Chinese imitation Panerai Luminor Marina for what are either imitation or stolen Cuban cigars. When he finds out it’s the watch Stallone wore in the last Rambo movie he’s enthused. It may be the coolest watch in Cuba. Or at least Vinales.
Back in London I need a crash course in cigar husbandry. Ebay furnishes a pleasant Spanish cedar humidor. Dantes will be back from Poland tonight so we intend to retire to the Suite and take a long satisfying smoke.