Subtle cigar distinctions make the differences noticeable.

this one

Is there a key to why one cigar is considered great and another voted as mediocre? Flippancy and an inflated ego will never produce a celebrated brand.  It takes skill, talent, practice – those micro differences are so subtle that they cannot be captured or felt or tasted by a person who just wants to blend a cigar.  It takes . . . To wit:

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(If you don’t plan on listening to both links in this essay, you’ve rendered the point of reading this post as moot and you can go on smoking your Swisher Sweets.)

Why are people drawn to watching films starring the actor Anthony Hopkins?  The one point I could make is how he is able to develop his character. It is a fact that he will read over the entire script with emphasis on his parts in excess of 200 times.  From an interview, “ . . . let the part play through you . . . .”

That’s not to say other actors didn’t or don’t do the same.  Marlon Brando is considered to be one of the greatest actors of all time, but far from Laurence Kerr Olivier.  When he was asked why he used cue cards, his vitriolic response created his character, “If you don’t know what the words are but you have a general idea of what they are, then you look at the cue card and it gives you the feeling to the viewer, hopefully, that the person is really searching for what he is going to say—that he doesn’t know what to say.”

Brando used the Brando method of acting, but he also incorporated the Stanislavsky techniques.  The Strasberg method was not to his liking, quoting, “After I had some success, Lee Strasberg tried to take credit for teaching me how to act. He never taught me anything. He would have claimed credit for the sun and the moon if he believed he could get away with it. He was an ambitious, selfish man who exploited the people who attended the Actors Studio and tried to project himself as an acting oracle and guru. Some people worshiped him, but I never knew why. I sometimes went to the Actors Studio on Saturday mornings because Elia Kazan was teaching, and there were usually a lot of good-looking girls, but Strasberg never taught me acting.” (Wiki)  

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zI2-HNATIhM

Two distinct variables as to how to do something.  Yet, both actors are considered two of the greatest.  Ergo, you can do something different and achieve the same results.  

Take Horatio Cigars and HHB by Nat Cicco.  Two relatively unknown brands of cigars. About Horacio Cigars Fine Nicaraguan Cigars. Horacio cigars were first produced in Costa Rica, as the result of a meeting between three aficionados at the dawn of the third millennium.  Horacio cigars are extremely well-filled and firm to the touch. Wrappers are rich and silky, applied with great care and rigor.”

And then look at Nat Cicco’s HHB, either the Habano or Connecticut.  “Our flagship line, HHB cigars marry a silky, Ecuadorian-grown Connecticut Shade leaf wrapper with a Nicaraguan binder and filler. They reward the connoisseur with a smoke that is robust, well-balanced and full-flavored. Creamy-smooth, with a pronounced nuttiness resulting from their complex blend of the finest tobacco leaves in the region. They come in three distinctive sizes, all with a pigtail-capped head and a foot that is enclosed within the wrapper to preserve freshness.  Light of the three.  Similarities in size, wrapper, and filler.  Both are Nicaraguan. What? Both afford a tsunami of smoking pleasure, both are insatiably satisfying.  And both are, as I have said before, relatively unknown. The differences are the subtleties of enjoyment each provides the cigar connoisseur.

Can those subtleties be distinctly defined?  The best way is to watch a short YouTube dissection of how Anthony Hopkins plays his role in the new movie, “West World,” that I would ask you to listen to.  And compare it with the previous interview of Marlon Brando.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4kSGkGKwp9U&t=4s

I know we’re talking about cigars and my example is of two famous actors, but you can readily see that there are similarities between how professionals differ but come up with great individually stylized results – be they an actor or a cigar blender.  In short, it is not easy to become good at something unless you work at it and, and . . . have a talent for it.

 

 

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I Suffer From Sedentary Cigar Syndrome.

nat

I have discovered that I suffer from Sedentary Cigar Syndrome (SCS).  A very common, yet devastating disease among cigar smokers that causes a cigar smoker to stick to one brand or is reluctant to try a new one.  Sadly, most cigar smokers carry this gene whether they know it or not. SCS is solely hereditary. It just needs to be activated. To wit:

A gene is “a distinct sequence of nucleotides forming part of a chromosome, the order of which determines the order of monomers in a polypeptide or nucleic acid molecule which a cell (or virus) may synthesize.”  I’m guessing it’s boredom.

In less technical terms, the gene is “a unit of heredity that is transferred from a parent to offspring and is held to determine some characteristic of the offspring.”

In biological terms, (our interest here), the gene is a sequence of DNA or RNA that codes for a molecule that has a function. During gene expression, the DNA is first copied into RNA. The RNA can be directly functional or be the intermediate template for a protein that performs a function.” (Wiki)

Now, you wouldn’t think that a cigar broker would be under such a genetic misfortune if you will – an unpredictable gene pool, considering all the brands he must try. Unfortunately, I have it and it has been sending its sinister signals as it should. It’s formed that way. I can feel it’s biological tendrils slithering past logic.  

I found out that I had been damned by this insidious gene by a complete episode of ignorance.  However painful this may be for me, this is my story:

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I rep for a variety of cigar brands, among them is “Nat Cicco.”  A company that has been around since 1965. Its catchphrase is “Bringing you the finest cigars for over 50 years now!”  I ignored the phrase as so many others do today. I mention Nat Cicco to shop owners and you would think I was speaking in Klingon, “naDev yIbej Dun ghom cigars pong nat cicco vIghaj.”  (Or, “Hi, I have a great group of cigars by Nat Cicco.”)

The latter company’s first brand was “The Rejects . . . It was the original cigar brand to establish the image of bargain-priced, machine-bunched and hand-rolled medium-filler cigars on the ‘factory rejects’ theme.  It was exclusively made for the former National Cigar Company hence the ‘Nat Cicco’ acronym . . . .” (catalog).

But over time the company changed hands and began to promote premium cigars, such as Casino Real, Anniversario 1965, and HHB.  I began to rep the latter lines and am doing well with them.  But I was concentrating on the 1965 and I felt the need for a change.  So I figured, how ‘bout the HHB?

Now I haven’t smoked an HHB, Connecticut or Habano, in some time.  But I figured I had better reintroduce myself to the blend if I’m going to show it.  So I lit up the gold-banded blend or Habano. I nearly did a classic Jimmy Finlayson double take. (Jimmy was a silent screen star who could make the dead sit up and laugh.   If you’re curious about what I’m talking about, click the link that I have below.

(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-dTHaMOz4ws.)

But I digress,  When I drew in the smoke it was a sip of heavenly clouds.  It was an experience completely saturated with satisfying and exotic aromas, a cavalcade of flavors, the perfect draw and burn.  And the ash?  The ash was worthy of being called a miniature mystical artisinal strip mining discovery.  How can an industry be art? (See Dalí, Koons, and Takashi Murakami.  But I digress.)

What had I been thinking?  Was I even thinking?  Ah, no.

I’ll tell you I had been fixated with all the other brands I represent.  I was looking totally at only one side of the coin. I was banking on the sure thing and not the next cigar that might be able to journey to the stratosphere of cigar supremacy.  

I mean to tell you, this HHB, either the Habano or Connecticut, are two of the greatest cigars I offer.  My view was myopic and I was missing out on the sheer pleasure that I thought I had found with the few other brands that had loaded and locked my attention. Bad mistake. Why? Because SCS had been activated and was coursing through my system at such a rapid and steady rate that I was unable to distinguish top-rated cigars from my other top-rated cigars.  A nightmare.

I will admit, my thoughts began to seethe with emotional angst and heated anger.  How could I have been so utterly stupid to allow such an affliction (albeit unknown at the time) to scuttle not only my palate but my intellect as well?  Known or unknown. I was duped.

So, I have made up my mind to understand that SCS is real.  It was the “virus” of boredom that gave this gene life!  Yes, once you open the cell doors, they do not close.  And it doesn’t have to be negative. For me, it was the most glorious gene to grow and blossom. So all I can say now is ****, *****, *******, and ******* you have some serious competition.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c2zurZig4L8

 

Stop dreaming in the visual.

saltz

“Woke up, fell out of bed

Dragged a comb across my head

Found my way downstairs and drank a cup

And looking up, I noticed I was late

 

Found my coat and grabbed my hat

Made the bus in seconds flat

Found my way upstairs and had a smoke

And somebody spoke and I went into a dream”

A Day in a Life.  Beatles. 1967

And it seems most figure I’m still in that dream.  It’s like every guy’s wish – to be a cigar rep or a cigar broker, or a cigar salesman.  But once the smokey haze drifts into the blue, it’s not what you may think?  You’re dreaming.  I’m not.

I began this column to give people a snapshot of cigars and culture and how the independent broker fits in between the two of his or her day.  I started out that way and found to my chagrin that there’s more to it than setting my ass down in a leather chair smoking with da boys.  Yet, that’s all the customer sees.  So I took another tact. I mixed it up with reality, culture and this crazy world we’ve created to try and give a real snapshot of our lives as brokers through my off the cuff and into your face blog https://irvcigarbroker.wordpress.com.    

I was at a Chicago Humanities lecture featuring Jerry Saltz, the The New York Magazine’s 2018 Pulitzer Prize-winning art critic, and during his talk, he pointedly made it clear he feels the same way.  He taught himself how to write, he taught himself about art, he taught himself how to be totally honest with the reader using some colorful language I might add.  And then he emphasized that art, music, sculpting is an all-volunteer army.  But if you’re able – do it!  

The point is that it looks so easy from the outside.  So damn easy that I can’t go over the details because I get so damn irritated just thinking about it.  It’s like watching an active abstract artist fling, flip and flail his paint onto paper, and paraphernalia on a canvas surface and overhear some brainless twit whisper, “ I can do that.”  Bull shit you can!

So please be thankful we do what we do for YOU!  And that includes the store owner, the manager and all the others that work in cigar shops throughout the country.  

Are we lucky to be doing what we do?  Damn straight we are.  Just stop taking us for granted.  Everyone. Stop it!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TzxpBRcLeFU

Cuban Reality and Lofty Dreams.

horn

“Next year marks the 30th anniversary of Sandoval’s flight from Cuba.  He sought political asylum in the U.S. and he doesn’t think he would be allowed to go back even if he wanted to.  “I have no interest,” he said bluntly, during an interview with Tim Greiving of the Los Angeles Times recently reprinted in The Chicago Tribune.

cuban this one

“I don’t want to see the situation that’s going on there.  I don’t want to suffer that horrible thing, to see my country completely destroyed.  Because the situation in the country is getting worse by the minute. People are completely desperate, people are hopeless.  Nobody sees the light at the end of the tunnel, because they cannot even see the tunnel.”

Moving words from Arturo Sandoval, the Grammy-winning jazz trumpeter who was recently asked by Clint Eastwood to write the entire score for Eastwood’s newest film, “The Mule.”  

“Arturo Sandoval thought he was being asked to write one song for  . . . Eastwood’s . . . film.  But when Sandoval arrived at the actor-director’s office on the Warner Bros. lot, Eastwood sat him down, showed him the whole film and said, I want you to write the score.

Sandoval said yes without hesitating.  “I’m available and affordable,” he added with a laugh.  

And the rest they say is history.

miguel out of car

This is an essay prompted by the story of Arturo Sandoval to bring to the fore the uneasy truth for Cuban cigar lovers. The reality is that nothing has changed. The Cuban people are still prisoners –  as of 2018, under the rule of Miguel Díaz-Canel the president of Cuba – the de facto dictator.  (Although The Ministry of Interior is the principal organ of state security and control.)  What has changed is the perception that since some of the rules of the trade embargo imposed in February 1962 have been modified and relaxed, the people of the island are somehow freer – but in reality, they are still under strict communist rule.

I was invited to visit Cuba, but I turned the offer down simply because the stars in the sky still shine brighter than the stars in the eyes of the people who are still oppressed by a system of government that has drilled its roots so deeply into the bedrock of this country that they have reached the depths of the ocean floor and wormed their way into the crust of the earth.

man at tropicana

So for all those sparkly-eyed Cuban cigar lovers who flocked (and continue to swarm) to the tiny island off the coast of Florida since a few travel restrictions have been lifted,  rejoiced at the installation of a Chargé d’affaires at the newly opened U.S.embassy, held parties at the Hotel Nacional de Cuba, felt the cool spray of the waters of Havana Harbor off The Malecón thoroughfare (officially Avenida de Maceo), and smoked tons of tobacco grown in the famous soils of the island – keep in mind that the government has only allowed these visitors to embrace a vision of Cuba its president wanted these giddy tourists to see.

Arturo Sandoval says it best and I quote, “I have no words to express my gratitude for everything that happened to us in the U.S.,” he said.  “It’s more than a dream.”

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cuba today children

May all the Cuban people hold onto their dreams and someday enjoy the freedoms Arturo has enjoyed for the past three decades.

Perhaps then the streets of Cuba and the eyes of its citizens will genuinely sparkle once again – everywhere, not just where the powers that dictate say so.

2019 is so close to perfect vision.

red dot

(If you don’t plan on reading to the end, please scroll by.  You’ll miss the point.)

I’m at the hospital waiting for my wife’s rotator cuff surgery to become a past experience.  Actually, I’m writing this in the hospital’s cafeteria. I just had a freshly cooked hamburger with provolone, tomatoes, and ketchup snuggled between a toasted bun. Add to that a bag of original Harvest baked chips, a 21 oz. Coke, and I’m in the process of finishing a $1.59 chocolate chip cookie.

I’m reading the article “How to be an Artist,” by New York Magazine’s art critic, Jerry Saltz, printed in the 12-9-18 double issue.  The subhead he has written, “33 Rules to take you from a Clueless Amateur to Generational Talent (or at least to help you live life a little more creatively.)”

Lesson 1: Don’t be embarrassed; Lesson 2: Tell your own story and you will be interesting; Lesson 3: Feel Free to Imitate; Lesson 4: Art is Not about Understanding. Or Mastery; and Lesson 5: Work, Work, Work.”

This lesson stopped me faster than Lot’s wife when she “looked back (and), . . . turned to a pillar of salt upon the ‘sight of God,’ who was descending down to rain destruction upon Sodom and Gomorrah.”  (Genesis 19:26)

Note the top red caption on the photo of Yayoi Kusama, the Japanese contemporary artist.  “Even in a psychiatric hospital, Yayoi is prolific.”

In the copy, I quote Saltz, “How many times have you been given a whole career in your dreams and not heeded it?  It doesn’t matter how scared you are; everyone is scared. Work.  Work is the only thing that takes the curse of fear away.”

2019?  Move aside. 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MmwsQ_dHrFM

Two Hours of Christmas.

sparkoscar

I can’t eat French Silk pie.  Or any cream-based pie – from anywhere.  I’ve never been officially diagnosed as lactose intolerant.  However, anytime I eat or drink anything with milk or any derivative of the latter, it causes my gut to go into all directions.

I’m in the garage, it’s Christmas day in the early afternoon, with a stomach ache from the aforementioned desert and smoking a gift from Oscar Valladares, one of his Coronas from his newest line, The Winter Edition.  It has what the other three sizes (Robusto, Toro, Gordo) are made from, save for the ring gauge and length (5¼ x 44) – with a Hanano wrapper that is simply delicious.

My cell phone is off.  I’m in the garage watching a random movie on my pad titled “Flawless.”  The plot of this film (2007) is quite simple: and I quote IMBd “In 1960s London, an elderly caretaker convinces a glass-ceiling constrained American executive to help him steal a handful of diamonds from their employer, the London Diamond Corporation.”  

I really didn’t think the storyline would hold my interest, but it did – from beginning to end.  Written by Edward Anderson, and starring Demi Moore and Michael Caine, the characters are superb in their roles of Laura Quinn, and Mr. Hobbs.  You believe both are who they are supposed to be in the film and never once do you think of Alfred from “Batman,” or Lt. Cdr. JoAnne Galloway from “A Few Good Men.”  

As I’m being drawn into the movie, I’m also being magnetized to The Winter Edition Corona.  A pleasant, sweet, and satisfying cigar that was constructed with as much attention to detail as the director (Michael Radford) no doubt gave to “Flawless.”  

I don’t smoke Coronas very often, but I couldn’t put this one down.  Until of course the heat from the burning ember at the foot began to singe my skin.  Eventually, I had to run back into the basement and grab another cigar to finish off the movie.  I had the time of only two short commercials to find one so I put my hand in the humidor and pulled out a Sparkling Robusto by Isabela.

The Oscar Corona is a bit on the bold side, so I didn’t need any more strength.  I opted for one with full, smooth flavor and, without a doubt the Sparkling Robusto I knew would be the perfect finish.  (Ah, a double entendre!)

When I returned the movie had resumed and even though I missed a few seconds, I could fill in the blanks.  I lit the Robusto and immediately I was back in the zone.

Movies like “Flawless and two cigars to match the mood are not always easy to find.  But I knew my genre and my taste.

The end of the film and half the Isabela was remarkably similar – totally satisfying.  I still had at least twenty minutes of the Sparkling Robusto left, so I strolled into the house and took Flo out for her afternoon walk.  The air was clear and brisk causing the flavors of the radiant Robusto and the winter air to subtly mix with the relaxing and quiet stroll.  I love this type of day, no rush, no cars, no people, no other dogs, no cell, no work – Christmas Day.  This holiday draws everyone inside and allows people such as myself to bathe in outdoor solitude.

Dinner would come later – aged strip steaks, with potatoes and peas.  More pie was on the menu for dessert. But this time, I’m going for the French Crumble Apple variety.  No cream, just simple juicy slices of apples covered with luscious chunks of a crunchy sweet mixture of sugar, butter, flour, and nuts on top.

Hmmmmm. 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_fh133ZO1AE&list=PLEpZan9S2GOFesp-gJqsdD80a7zoaflHa

 

 

I say to every culture imaginable . . .

christmas 18

From my heart to yours, I wish everyone eternal joy no matter what part of the world you live in, what religion you practice, what the color of your skin is, whether you’re a hater or a lover, a racist or a bigot, a cigar smoker or not – we have only one planet to share so let’s start giving of ourselves to each other love, peace and the willingness to help one another.  Our survival depends on it.

See you next year!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qpLSN-D05Z8