An unforgettable Honduran souvenir.

shigella-outbreak750x422

Awww.  So fuzzy.  And brightly colored, too.  Kinda reminds me of those sweet and sour worms anyone can buy at a good candy store.

BUT THEY AREN’T.  

Those are microscopic photos of the Shigella infection (shigellosis), an intestinal disease caused by a family of bacteria known as Shigella. (Mayo Clinic)

What they can do to your body is worse than a weekend with Kathy Bates’ character in “Misery.”

My wife asked me to bring home a souvenir from Honduras.  I did better.  I brought a piece of Honduras back with me in the form of these little bastards.

I won’t go through the gooey symptoms, but let’s just say – they ain’t pretty.  And four days in the hospital isn’t a return to Home Sweet Home.

Why would I bring this up after a recent trip to that country of 8,499,343?  After having a glowing excursion into the Honduran jungles?  After seeing how difficult and back-breaking picking coffee beans is in the mountains some 4000 ft. high?  After eating delicious food and enjoying seeing the cigar production process, as well as meeting some of the most friendly people on this planet?

Simple.  When – and if you go, temporarily leave all the romance you may have in your head behind and understand that you are entering a third world country with a poverty rate of over 50%.  Just dwell on that for a moment.  

There are great strides to modernize the infrastructure with new roads (the old ones, in some places, are a bitch – believe me when I tell you that), brilliantly painted and structurally sound housing, and increased employment through many industries, especially the cigar manufacturing business.

But it is not there – yet.  So beware of where you eat, who prepares your food, and the conditions where it is made ready for consumption.  Wash your hands often, clean your shoes often, take nothing for granted. You are not at home.

Shigellosis is a deadly bacteria and will cause serious, uncomfortable, nay – painful havoc within your system.  But if you take your head out of the stars, even when they are sparkling at night – you’ll be fine. 

One caveat – DON’T DRINK THE WATER!

(Photo courtesy of Google Images)

Yves Klein. Blue Monochrome. 1959. Cigars. Multidimensional. 2020.

yves klein 1959.jpg

Yves Klein

Untitled blue monochrome (IKB 82)

“Yves Klein’s first passion in life was judo. In 1952 he moved to Tokyo and studied at the Kodokan Judo Institute, where he earned a black belt. When he returned to Paris in 1955 and discovered to his dismay that the Fédération Française de Judo did not extol him as a star, he shifted his attention and pursued a secondary interest—a career in the arts. During the ensuing eight years, Klein assembled a multifarious and critically complex body of work ranging from monochrome canvases and wall reliefs to paintings made with fire. He is renowned for his almost exclusive use of a strikingly resonant, powdery ultramarine pigment, which he patented under the name “International Klein Blue,” claiming that it represented the physical manifestation of cosmic energy that, otherwise invisible, floats freely in the air. In addition to monochrome paintings, Klein applied this pigment to sponges, which he attached to canvases as relief elements or positioned on wire stands to create biomorphic or anthropomorphic sculptures. First exhibited in Paris in 1959, the sponge sculptures—all essentially alike, yet ultimately all different—formed a forest of discrete objects surrounding the gallery visitors. About these works Klein explained, “‘Thanks to the sponges—raw living matter—I was going to be able to make portraits of the observers of my monochromes, who . . . after having voyaged in the blue of my pictures, return totally impregnated in sensibility, as are the sponges.’” (Nancy Spector)

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Cigars

All branded, varied shades of browns, tans, and greens  (IRV 20)

No one person created the cigar.  It was just there waiting in the leaves that grew naturally in the fields on islands with tropical climates.

“There are a few different types of cigars. The most common one is the Parejo, which was probably the original cigar shape created by the Mayan Indians. It is a simple cylinder, the exact same shape in which modern cigarettes are made. There are over a dozen different types of Parejo cigars, such as the Toro, Corona, and Carlota. Some Parejo cigars, such as the Churchill, Rothschild, and Lonsdale, were named after famous people who smoked publicly and thus helped to popularize cigars.

“Figurado cigars were very popular in the 1800s but are not as common in modern times. Their irregular shape makes them unique, and they are expensive to manufacture and purchase. Indeed, these cigars are collectors’ items for those who are fortunate enough to find them for sale on the market. Some of the many popular figurado cigars include the Presidente, Torpedo, and Toscano.

“Little cigars came along later. They closely resemble modern cigarettes but do not have a large tax on them like modern cigarettes have. Little cigars have become quite popular over the last few years, even though they are not traditional cigars.

“Cigars have been around for thousands of years. They were originally brought from the “New World” back to Europe; the Europeans then started the tobacco industry and made cigars popular the world over. While it is now known that smoking can cause cancer and other serious health problems, the concept of smoking a cigar, cigarette, or pipe continues to be popular all around the world. However, while there is more than one way in which a person can get his or her intake, smoking a well-made cigar has come to symbolize importance and quiet confidence.”  (Finck Cigar Company)\

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Dual Point.  It’s what you experience inside that attracts interest.  (Irv CigarBroker)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DBl2ClXzt3U 

-30-

A cigar has got to know its limitations.

boulder

A cigar can’t take the place of a friend.  Period.  I never really thought about it until today. 

I was recently out of town, and my schedule was out of sync.  Ferschimbled. I was with people most of the days and had very little free time to myself – and yet I still felt alone.  I was staying at a hotel and I figured a cigar would cure my malady.

So I went outside to the patio where there are usually white plastic chairs and at least one table to place my tablet on to write.  But when I opened the door leading out of the breakfast room, I noticed that all the chairs and the one table were gone. I looked up and down to no avail.  Where would I smoke my cigar? Where could I write?

I decided to go out of the hotel’s side door instead.  Grass. The sidewalk. A car passing by every now and then on the side street, but no chairs anywhere.  Then I noticed a rather large boulder near the curb. It had what looked to be a comfortable flat spot where I could sit.  So, I sat. “This will work,” I said to myself – until my butt began to feel the icy cold stone through my jeans. Hmm. Well, I took off my gloves and set them down on the rock and was quite surprised that the cold was immediately eliminated.

I took the cello off my cigar, an M-1Toro from Marrero cigars, flicked the lighter and gave that tobacco some life.  A few healthy draws and I christened my new resting spot, The Boulder Cigar Lounge.  

The taste of the tobacco was elegant with a hint of tea leaves.  But I could tell that my idea of replacing my friend’s warmth with the cigar was not taking away from my feeling of being left alone in an empty, cold room.  In fact, my mind began to figuratively sink into the stone. I started to feel as if I were descending into the compacted minerals. The mental hole was circular and offered little room to move.  It was dark, dank, and extremely disturbing.

The surrounding air was moist, bringing with it a slight breeze causing my body to chill beyond the point of simply being uncomfortable to an almost intolerable frigid temperature.   

It seemed as if the cigar had no effect on my mood except to make me shiver with each deep draw.   The cigar almost seemed to be forcing my mind to magnify the silence instead of amplifying past conversations with my friend.  We were literally at opposite ends of the earth, but the chasm between us grew even wider as I continued to slowly slide deeper into the tube-like abyss.

My cigar did nothing, the sweet aroma, the slight peppery aftertaste, the heat from the glowing ember – a taunting trio spiraling me to the nadir of a total loss.

My hands began to stiffen as I tried to type into the darkening pit of isolation.

Then, I refused to succumb to the hellish feeling of being so totally alone.  I began to recall our conversations and how joyful they always are.

My descent stopped like a squeegee on a dry windshield.  My cigar was a third of the way through. I knew what I had to do – get myself grounded.  I got up; quickly put my gloves back on and immediately went back to the room.

As I walked, I knew I would be talking to my friend in a couple of days thinking to myself, “Cigars can be comforting, but are not a cure for the temporary loss of the warmth and brightness of true friendship.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WWpzwsg2f6M

 

 

Allowing the mind its full potential.

duo rollers

Watching a professional Torcedor go through the motions of creating a cigar from loose tobacco leaves is a fascinating way to spend some time.  Almost like staring at a painting trying to figure out how the artist completed the work.  

But one thing I noticed as I scanned the room and stopped to look at as many rollers as possible, it is a fact that this is not a GM assembly line.  Of course, some sizes and types of tobaccos are different, some are 60s, others 48s, some are long fill, while others are short fill.  But I couldn’t help but become aware of the fact that no two rollers do the job alike. On the surface – yes, they are automatons. But upon closer scrutiny, each has his or her individual style or signature.  

Some are intensely looking at what they are doing at an almost frantic pace that would tire me out in a few hours.  Others are slower, more deliberate – not quite relaxed, but certainly, appear to be in no rush to meet their goals for the day.  Still, others are hooked up to music as they seem to be in a trance as they work – as if by rote, producing superb cigars without ever having to look down at the keyboard if you will. 

It was then I began to wonder to myself if by chance if some of these skilled rollers are producing via automatism.  There are several definitions of the word: “the performance of actions without conscious thought or intention; an action performed unconsciously or involuntarily; or, in art specifically, the avoidance of conscious intention . . . .”  (Google).  

But in the end, it begs the question, “Can a product, be it a book, a work of art, or even  – a cigar, be produced without conscious thought?”  

We moved on into other rooms, but as I passed each of the rollers I was itching to ask each one of them if they are thinking of what they are doing or are they in a half-conscious state and continue to produce out of subconscious associations?

I will never know.  But I have to wonder.  Sometimes I will drive several hours and I seem to attach my fate to the will of God because when I reach my destination unharmed, I have no recollection of the time that has passed or recall noticing the speeding cars that surround me or reading road signs that I pass by.  The details of the journey are a blank. Is this an automatistic experience? 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gBQL2pm-yTk

Nothing is too small to make a difference.

edwardo trio

It was on the flight back home in a drowsy state when I wrote this post.  I realized that no matter how infinitesimally small the detail – everything matters to produce a great cigar.  

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On a recent trip to Nicaragua, several reps and I were shown every aspect of the cigar making process from the tiniest of seedlings to the most beautiful natural green elephant-size tobacco leaves I’ve ever seen.  Everyone was in a jovial mood, giddy even. Full of energy and anticipation of what we would be exposed to next.

Little did we know that lurking in the group was an uninvited guest taking in the same sights, smells and sounds we were enjoying.  Apparently, some vicious bacterium with a sense of humor figured, “Oh, this is gonna be fun.  Let’s get started.”

First, it was (I’ll leave the names of the reps out.) – the one rep.  Yes, there’s always the one who began to get a signal from his body that something wasn’t quite right.  From there that little tickle in his throat turned into a slight cough – very persistent. As the evolution (revolution) began, the cough turned into painful wheezing – that never-ending tuba note that developed into sickly sensations of hot and cold simultaneously producing perspiration and shivers.

One man down.  No desire to do anything but get to the Farmacia as quickly as possible to at least put up a good fight.  Then – man number two down for the count. This time a noticeable pallor was added to the mix just to make sure everyone knew who was going to be da boss of this trip.

Next, and I saw it with my own two eyes, man three – down.   A continuous getting upand down from the conference table, to cough, spit and sneeze.  It wasn’t long before he left us to return to his room and feel the pain.

It was relentless.  Man four.  He stayed the course.  A foolish thing to do as he was an incubator for more of the bacterium to flourish and spread.  The trend was obvious that this little microscopic intruder was out for everyone. And now we knew it.

I was lucky.  I escaped the wrath of this little fellow, but I contracted Montezuma’s revenge, another bacterial strain that has no mercy and no limitations.  And this was on the night before travel the next day – three hours to the airport, two to hang around once we arrived, and three more hours to Miami.  Chills literally tingled down my spine for more reasons than I care to get into.  What now?

I made it through the night with bouts of hot and cold while bouncing from bed to banos getting little, if any, sleep.  The night lingered on.  

Yes, if a microscopic bacterium can bring a man down, what could something as minor as one less quarter smidgen of Ligero leaf do to a cigar’s overall taste?  Think this through.   

Morning finally arrived.  Luckily I have strong recuperative powers plus access to a healthy dose of Imodium (thank you fellow rep).  As I hopped into the van from the hotel for the trip home, I knew I would remember this to be a great tour and return a bit wiser than when I left – despite the odds.

 

 

I will push the pause button on scrolling.

bw irv at oyster bar

I’ve decided to become a colander, a strainer, a fine mesh cloth.  I’ve made an intellectual choice. And I think in the long run, I will be better off.  My time is precious and it took me up until now to really appreciate what years I have left.  My Mom lived until she was 98 so that in theory gives me over a quarter of a century to get done what I feel I have to do.  I didn’t always think about how I waste my time, but since my Mom passed, the thought is running through my gray matter every day.  I read more now than I have in the past. The number of magazines, newspapers, books, pamphlets, I receive on a monthly basis might sound like a lot, but I’ll bet you I’ve just scratched the surface.  For instance, I just began to receive The Art Newspaper, a U.K. monthly periodical that is considered a journal of record that reports on the world of art.  It’s quite hefty in size, as is the subscription price. But when I received my first monthly edition, Vol. XXIX, Number 317, November 2019, I was immediately adrift in news about art from New York to Paris to London and quite frankly the entire international art scene.  I was in heaven. Wispy clouds to sit upon, a cigar in the ashtray, and the brain in high gear. I was using my time the way I believe what God intended it to be used for – absorbing knowledge.  

I bring this up because of a recent epiphany I experienced while scrolling through Facebook.  I had made what I thought was a rather humorous come back to what was meant to be a comment about a stroll down memory lane upon walking into one of the oldest cigar shops in a major city.  I forgot about my retort. But then I received a very serious cerebral counter-comment that was written in response to my equally-cerebral humorous one. It was at that moment that I decided – I am wasting my time.  I am a fish in an empty bowl gasping for oxygen and near my demise.

I also came to the epiphany that smoking a cigar is so very different than scrolling through social media and is indeed not a flush of time but came to the conclusion it’s about feeling good about myself.  Unless I were to use this moment with the cigar in the way of the Samurai – By this, I mean with force, fight, and fear. (武士(または武士)は前近代日本の戦士でした。彼らは後に、最終的に江戸時代(1603〜1867年)の最高ランクの社会的カーストとなった支配的な軍事階級を作り上げました。サムライは弓矢、槍、銃などのさまざまな武器を使用していましたが、その主な武器とシンボルは剣でした。or pen.)  (google.com)

The fact that I had to recognize that my time was being frittered away not with absorbing knowledge or accomplishing anything of value, but rather simply occupying it with transient content, pictures, photos, silly memes, and subjects that I have no interest in – and actually put me into a state of intense, intellectual shock.  I was putting feathers into my brain just to fill it up so I would feel fluffy, full and forthright rather than empty and vacuous like the Bonneville Salt Flats of Utah – 30,000 acres of hard, white salt crust with nary a wisp of growth; my cerebral matter was just there – blinded by the expanse of Spectralon – the whitest of whites. 

So, for now, I will temporarily say “Good-Bye” to scrolling.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g3ENX3aHlqU

I refuse to coddle the reader.

john simon

Am I getting soft?  I asked myself this question when I read that New York film and theater critic, John Simon, had passed at 94 recently.  Simon, in an article in Time magazine, was considered to have “the most poisonous pen on Broadway.”  In fact, it was considered a rite of passage to have been skewered by the testy words of John Simon.  

Enough obituaries have been written about his caustic criticism to fill pages after pages in any magazine or newspaper.  In fact, from the AP’s Mark Kennedy it was noted that “At least one actor fought back. Actress Sylvia Miles dumped a plate of pasta on his head when she encountered him in a restaurant in 1973 – (in) retaliation (for unkind comments) he made about her body.” 

I grew up reading his lacerating literature in New York magazine, where he worked for 40 years.  I thought that the way he put words to print was the way all critics should be –  honest to a fault even if the truth hurts.

From the same article, Simon was quoted as saying “‘A critical sting is not like a slight flesh wound, treatable with ointment.  If intentionally negative, it had to sting. This is the only way it is noticeable, the only way it could make a difference. That is to say if any criticism makes a difference.’” 

And by my admission of getting soft with my own writing, I am cringing at the thought that I recently changed a few penetrating “stings” by taking the advice from my son when he suggested that if you print what you plan on publishing, you’ll be jabbing at your readership and that is the last thing you want to do – irritate your readers to the point that they no longer want to read your posts.

I am livid at myself for absorbing his suggestion and letting the piece go live with what I now can clearly see was a watered-down version of what I truly wanted to say.  In fact, I made up my mind after reading the Simon obituary that if I hurt, disturb, or crush a cigar, a manufacturer, another reviewer, or my readers – that’s their problem.  How they interpret my words, is how they interpret my words.  

And that further begs the question, “What’s wrong with the raw truth, or my so-called insensitive interpretation of the truth?”  The answer is – absolutely nothing.  If you can’t take the heat scroll down and skip my posts.  I won’t mind because it’s what I, as an independent cigar broker and writer see, hear, or taste.  The fact is, that’s life – the good and the bad. I have no obligation to any advertisers to treat anyone, any cigar, any factory, or situation with kid gloves.  I’d rather be Mohammad Ali than Caspar Milquetoast.  

The world has gotten too politically correct.  Anything that offends is a no-no.  And that’s just not how the cultures are today or back then when Simon once wrote that “‘Jesus Christ Superstar, a production so stillborn I defy God Himself to resurrect it.’”

So if a factory of a cigar comes out with a turd it’s my decision to tell the reader just that.  Or if there is a magazine that gives every cigar a 90 or above rating, and I feel that that assessment is simply because the company advertises regularly, I shall switch on the klieg lights to expose the nonsense that has been written about bad cigars being good.  The reader can agree or disagree with me, even if I rep the product.

Case in point: In a blog post I penned recently I compared the new version of a cigar to its original blend as being way off the mark from the original.  The sales manager called me up and read me the riot act as if to say – no wait, he did say, “What you wrote doesn’t bode well for the new blend that is exactly like the old blend, if not better.”  I was criticizing my own product. Why the hell not? If it’s my opinion – what the f#@k is wrong with that?  If a reader can’t take the heat – scroll down.

It’s sad to see such a great critic pass, but even sadder when the reader is fed steamy, soft bullshit just to sell a play, a movie – or a cigar.  Or is it that . . . 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uQ0SI0R-DmM

(Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.  See you in 2020!)