“The cigar has been smoked and we are the ash”
Only those who have been to Havana can truly understand what it means to smoke in Havana.
They can, because it is not automatic: it takes that minimum of culture, sensitivity and passion that those who read me in this group certainly do not lack.
For those of you who have already been there, I would like to awaken some pleasant memories and perhaps a little nostalgia; To those who have not yet made the great journey, I would like to offer my small contribution to convince them to leave and to fully understand the obviousness of my incipit.
I was in Cuba for the first time in 2009. Not many years ago, but it seems like a century has passed for the two usual reasons why it seems that way when we return to a place visited in the past: he has changed and we have changed. In 2009 the Internet was practically non-existent, private houses were found thanks to whoever spread the word, almost all restaurants were state-owned, and very few local ones.
I was a novice smoker who had just received a Catador diploma and had to be married in a few months: what better gift than a trip to Cuba?
More seasoned colleagues, on my first “compartir” (sharing) experience had put a guy’s name and phone number in my pocket to get a “preview” pack of the Limited Editions for that year. I still have a few Dukes of Romeo and Juliet left, and I was right to keep them because now at least I know what they are. i went to his house, not far from the Malecón; and found myself in a room that was a clandestine internet point with people coming and going, and at the end my “package” had also arrived, a small container with risk of arrest since I was smuggling those cigar for many.
One of the first memories of my passion for cigars in Havana was in that hidden room, with a 48 magnum that of course should not be there, as probably nothing and none of those who were present; I listened to my host’s youthful stories of tobacco picking as he stared at his now-old monitors, and the sea breeze coming through the windows tried to clear the mist from our cigars.
In Havana there are 9 Casas Del Habano. It is not important to visit them all. I have my favorites, the fruit of taste and habit, and above all I have many different places that I return to each time to savor their smells and sensations, with the illusion that time has not passed. Of course, I could tell you what everyone would tell you, there are places that are a “must”, the Cuban equivalent for a smoker of the Colosseum in Rome or the Piazza San Marco in Venice: the arcades of the Hotel Nacional where, especially during festivals , you can always be sure to find some fans to share the evening with; the Partagas Vip Lounge (let’s hope it goes up again and the new one is up to the task) where they will soon be welcomed as friends; the Count of Villanueva, with his American sports bar atmosphere and his flavor of that old Cuba; Afternoons at the Monserrate bar and its tables overlooking the street full of mojitos, its semi-open windows and the music of its orchestra always in action. I could go on with the examples, but actually what I like about smoking in Havana is that you can do it simply by walking down the street, perhaps in less traveled places. After all, the cigar, a bit like all of us, is an expression of its place of origin and absorbs heat, humidity and salty air, the sense of time that often expands to accommodate the few things that we must do, instead of containing the many things that we usually impose on ourselves. The cigar is also a projection of ourselves: there is no better place than Havana to complete ourselves either in a dandy version with a Panama hat and a linen shirt, as well as in a pseudo macho version in a white tank top and ragged slippers.
Sometimes this “normality” which is saying a lot, can also give us an unforgettable experience.
As it happened to me one morning, in Centro Habana, when I put my nose with my cigar in my mouth to what seemed to me something like a garage or a cave, in a place where neither one thing nor the other should have been. A man stopped me quickly, and then I discovered that he was a sculptor and that this place was nothing more than a workshop. At one point I found myself there: sitting in a circle of chairs with his friends and their stories of amazing errands all over the island, in that rum-lit Cuban coexistence if it’s a good day and there is. I smoked an open master, which I only smoke in Havana, because I like to smoke it there, and don’t ask me why; because we don’t understand it but we feel it that way, and because everything happens for a reason, since one day I found the Master line in Havana recognizing it during the final of the HWC.
On another occasion, however, I was with Aurelio, coming back from a hunting trip (for cigars, of course …) and listening to music that came from a balcony, we went up to the apartment; humbly asking permission, and we find ourselves in the middle of a “tambor” (drum session), the votive offering to the saints of Santeria.
On other occasions, experiences can also be prepared, with the risk of destroying forever the objectivity of the alleged experts. For me, Cohíba’s Robusto Supremo 2014 will always be an extraordinary cigar because I lit it for the first time from a front row table at the Tropicana, on a bright night with all the colors of those ballerina costumes that I had literally under my nose.
No, don’t go to Cuba for a sensory analysis session or a technical tasting. For that, just your house, a glass of water, a GustoTabacco template and a little training are enough.
But are you sure you really understood the cigar you’re smoking? Are you sure it would help you do what it should do better? Smoking a cigar is not only smoking a cigar, but also understanding ourselves a little more.
translation by Zulema Taquechel
Image by TFWF2020 from Pixabay