Up In Smoke…
Well, at the risk of bucking another pop-cultural trend I will once again broach a subject that will be very politically incorrect, (most especially with the fair sex), and that is cigars. I’m sure that at this point I’ve probably lost quite a few readers who will not go any further in this article because they vehemently reject any concept of smoking …whether cigarettes, pipe, or cigars. So now that we have lost a good percentage of readership largely due to self-censorship, let me now address the remainder to my mostly masculine readers who may or may not realize that there is a distinct sub-culture in the West that deals with the manly art of cigar smoking.
Much like culinary connoisseur culture there is an aficionado cult for fine wines, beers, and, yes, cigars; and not without reason. Like wine, beer, and food good quality cigars reflect not only the quality of the tobacco but also the harvesting, drying, curing, aging, cutting, processing, and a lot of other factors that go into fine cigar making. Also much like beer you have your Rheingold, Bud, Corona and other mass produced brews that have a generic aroma and taste but you also have local and micro-brews that possess a subtle and distinctive flavor. So in an effort to clear the air, if you will pardon the pun, read this short article on the fine art of cigar smoking as a primer for the occasional smoker who does so for personal pleasure and enjoyment. By the way, nothing finishes off a fine meal like a good cigar.
At the outset let me say that I don’t advocate indiscriminate smoking as with cigarettes. This is largely a function of satisfying an addiction rather than true sublime enjoyment…more on this aspect of smoking later. I also don’t advocate cigar smoking for the underage man-boy who wishes to appear “cool”, suave, and sophisticated. Rather I’m addressing the mature male enthusiast who appreciates refined things. Sorry ladies, but it’s just a “guy thing”.
To understand this concept better I will relate my coming of age into the cigar culture. Like most teenage boys, when I was a single man of the wizened age of 18 or 19, I would attend the ubiquitous clubs, more correctly known in the old days as “gin mills”. The intention of course was not to smoke cigars but to meet girls, (though these were essentially not the type you’d bring home to meet Mom). However, if by midnight or so you were unsuccessful, the remaining bachelors would descend to the downstairs basement bar and all would console themselves by imbibing in some form of smoke. (Aside: Ahem… of course, this rarely ever happened to me!) I did not and still do not like the taste or smell of cigarettes and preferred the taste of the commercial cigarillo, genteelly called Tijuana Smalls. These were flavored cigars using honey, bourbon, or some other flavoring meant to appeal to the neophyte and occasional cigar smoker; effectively the largely late teen or early twenties crowd. For the most part a pack of these of which there were only 6 or 8 sticks to the pack, would be stale by the next time you went to the “clubs”, so it necessitated buying a new pack …Ah! Clever merchandizing, no?
Anyhow, to get on with it; from there… under the above circumstances I would liberally say I smoked a pack, if that, over the course of a year. When I met the love of my life and soul mate, (not in a club, to be clear about it), I graduated to an occasional pipe full of Captain Black pipe tobacco, primarily a vanilla or cherry blend. This was so aromatic it appealed to my wife and most ladies and was largely a satisfying smoke. Now, since I came from a long line of seamen, boaters, and fishermen, I was born with a fishing pole in my hand. On moving to New Jersey and subsequently Connecticut most of my fishing, by convenience, was freshwater lakes and streams rather than ocean and deep sea as in my youth. The main drawback to this type of fishing is the incessant pesky flies and other biting insects that form a cloud around your head. A pipe in this setting is cumbersome because it requires too much attention to stay lit; I fell back to the old standby of the Tijuana Smalls. These sufficed for the times needed but since my fishing time was limited to about three or four fishing expeditions per year my pack was usually stale once again.
Subsequently in my professional career as an international energy trader there would be annual or semi-annual outings and conventions. To top off the fine meals generally served in the various up-scale country clubs in which these festivities were held the ritual of a fine cigar was a closing part of the ceremony. It was here that my boyish tastes for commercially mass produced cigars gave way to a more discriminating palate. Many of the cigars handed out at these professional dinners were purported to be authentic Cubans, that is the epitome of a fine cigar and generally these were Cohibas, the crème de la crème of the cigar aficionado. Truly, the taste, aftertaste, and the overall long term effect of bad breath and dry mouth taste were quite different and surprising.
So I graduated to the standard of a fine cigar at about my mid-twenties. However, the dilemma I faced was the exorbitant costs of such a fine smoking cigar. It was clearly a case of Champagne tastes on a beer budget. Needless to say as a father of a growing family the costs were not just prohibitive, but also simply out of the budget. So with this in mind and being spoiled by the taste of a good quality cigar I would try different brands of “real” cigars as opposed to just Tijuana Smalls cigarillos of my past. Keep in mind these were used only occasionally when fishing in the woods, fields, streams, and lakes. Ah! …there is nothing like settling back on a grassy riverbank in the shade of an oak with pole in hand smoking a real cigar. It just doesn’t get any better than this. …but I digress!
In the meantime, I developed asthma, to which my family is exceptionally prone. So I gave up smoking, even when fishing, for many years; probably closer to decades. As the asthma gained hold of me, I found it hard to do some things that I had always done, like mow the lawns. I had to break up the mowing to two days rather than one single process and then retire to my room where the only A/C is located for the remainder of the days. This was the case for most necessary outdoor work so it can be seen that the asthma began to impact my quality of life. Once, after mowing the lawn I decided that rather than retire to my bubble, as the family referred to it, I would go out to the reservoir to do some fishing, I knew the flies would be a plague being in the middle of springtime, so I apprehensively took along a cigar given me by the birth of child of a friend; a custom that has long fallen by the boards. As anticipated the insects were extremely bad but since I hadn’t been fishing in a long, long time, with much trepidation I lit the cigar. Anticipating a severe attack of asthma, I was pleasantly surprise to find that the smoke actually cleared and dried my breathing passages. Within twenty minutes all symptoms of my asthma flare-up were gone and I had a pleasant fishing experience. I then realized I had stumble upon a solution to the problem of the weekly mowing of my lawns. Now I will generally have a cigar on completion of mowing (in a single day, I might add) or occasionally on a Sunday after dinner, most especially a barbeque, while relaxing on the patio.
The last remaining hump to overcome are the particular objections to the smell of the cigar on some folks, largely the ladies and girls of the family. I’ve tried many things to overcome this including some “flavored” cigars, to some but little avail. I finally settled on a medium tasting cigar, (my usual preference is for a “maduro” cigar), that produces the least objection from the ladies, yet provides a satisfying smoke. Again, you can see that my smoking is limited to summer and then only once in a while, probably, three to four times a month. It is not an addiction as with most cigarette smokers but a pleasurable and satisfying experience; nay, even, at least in my case, medicinal.
SO with the foregoing I now provide a little primer based on my experience of cigar smoking. First, cigars like beer and wine come in many varieties and sizes. They vary from light smokes to maduro, or mature. These would be the equivalent of a lite beer to a stout or porter. They also come in sizes, that is, from stubby to 7 – 8 inches. Size is also applied to the diameter of the cigar which is known as rings.
Here is a table of nomenclature of the cigar world:
• Filler: is the shredded inner tobacco bulk
• Binder: is the inner leaf that holds the filler together
• Wrapper: the outer tobacco leaf covering the cigar
• Wrapper Colors: Natural, medium brown, aka Colorado, Connecticut, and Sungrown; Maduro, dark brown; Rosado, reddish brown; Candela, light green, or Cameroon if grown in Africa
• Rings: is the diameter of a cigar and is measured in inches, common sizes are 28, 42, 48, 50, 54, 60, and 64; with 64 being an inch
• Size: measuring system for cigars using length and rings. So a 5” x 48 ring is 5 inches long by ¾ “in diameter.
Some interesting facts about cigars:
• The American Indians smoked cigars and pipes largely for ceremonial purposes, but essentially unknown, as medicinal remedies as well. Indeed, tobacco, sage, and other herbs and plants were often smoked for various breathing ailments, including asthma.
• Tobacco itself is named after the Tobacco tribe of American Indians who lived along the banks of the Western Great Lakes. The tribe was wiped out by the more aggressive Mohawks. The remaining members were absorbed in to neighboring tribes including that of the conquerors, the Mohawks.
• Technically, a stogy (pronounced sto-ghee) is the remains of a previously smoked and discarded cigar largely associated with hobos of the Great Depression era and of representations of circus clowns like Emmett Kelly. To the largely uninformed the term is used for cigars in general, but is a misnomer.
• Though I disagree with former President Clinton in every other aspect, he clearly has fine taste in cigars, (unlike his choice in women, i.e. Hillary, Monica Lewinski, so on, and so forth …although Jennifer Flowers was quite the looker). He currently, despite his Legal Defense Fund still being operational, purportedly smokes $10,000 cigars… not bad for a guy who cannot afford his own legal defense, eh!
• The best wrapper in the world is produced not in some sultry Caribbean climate, or even in Kentucky or Virginia but right here in the good old Nutmeg State of Connecticut. In fact there was a movie with Karl Malden based on a tobacco plantation in the Connecticut River Valley, set just north of Hartford, CT called, Parrish.
• The tobacco plant itself is actually quite fragrant and has a variety that is grown as an ornamental in many gardens.
•The leaves of the uncured tobacco plant exude a sticky substance.
• Tobacco growing, as well as sale is highly regulated. Here in Connecticut if you buy tobacco products of any kind you must, on each purchase, submit a picture ID which is scanned into the system and reported to the State of Connecticut.
• Cigar smoke, contrary to feminine opinion, is quite aromatic and should not as labeled “stinky”.
• Tobacco, while addictive, is not as addictive as marijuana …as many claim; various studies have produced directly contrary results on this aspect of tobacco. I believe that most tobacco addicted smokers are largely addictive personalities and thus addiction to tobacco can vary from individual to individual depending on this aspect of personality.
• Like other aspects of life, tobacco is not evil in itself as it is an inanimate object. The Church has never condemned tobacco use as immoral. As a wise priest from my high school career once said: the beauty of the Church, aside from the obvious Catholic Faith, is that it allows all things in moderation. Thus a occasional user of tobacco breaks no moral laws, however, abuse of tobacco is a best a form of gluttony or excessive material pleasure and at worst a grave sin because over use, that is, abuse of tobacco is known to be deleterious to health and may constitute a form of intentional harm to the body which God gave us.
I hope this has been both informative and entertaining for you. Meantime, ladies, those of you who may have endured this article to the end, just chalk it up to a “guy thing” and consider it just another cross to bear when it comes to your husbands. Remember God gave you the cross you have by design …so embrace it, or more correctly him, your husband. After all God could have given you much worse. So put up with his occasional foibles; just sit back and enjoy the aroma of his fragrant faults. Also please feel free to comment, most especially the ladies; I would love to hear from you on this. In fact, I may be surprised at your reactions as in the past I’ve heard from many women who actually like the fragrance of a fine cigar because it reminds them of a favorite grandfather, uncle, or even father. Let me know you experience.
Continue to pray the Rosary for the Consecration of Russia to the Immaculate Heart as we descend into chaos. It is our only recourse.
Richard of Danbury, D.S.G.