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“Walk Through Walls: A Memoir”

marina abramovic

Often we read a book, a paragraph, a sentence, or a phrase that says what we want to express exactly as we would have said it, only better.  Marina Abromović does this in Chapter 1 of her new memoir, “Walk Through Walls.”

The author is a “Yugoslavia-born performance artist. Her work explores the relationship between performer and audience, the limits of the body, and the possibilities of the mind.” (Wiki)

I bring this up to illustrate exactly why some people do nothing and others run circles around those who don’t – despite fear.  Every fear imaginable, fear of failure, fear of success, fear of rejection, fear of acceptance, fear of the known and fear of the unknown. I’m sure I’m leaving out other phobias and for that, I apologize.  But when I read this in her book, I could relate so much to it and those who jump into the cigar business.  An unpredictable, charged industry that can give those who dp become involved great satisfaction as well as disastrous devastating defeat.

Here is a woman who has defied the critics.  She has miraculously shoved aside a childhood that you wouldn’t wish on your most reviled enemy.  She has the confidence to look straight ahead and go.  Marina Abromović will be known in history as one of the greatest performance artists to have graced this planet.

******

marinaabramovic2   

“I was walking into the forest with my grandmother one morning.  It was so beautiful and peaceful.  I was only four years old, a tiny little one.  And I saw something very strange – a straight line across the road.  I was so curious that I went over to it; I just wanted to touch it.  Then my grandmother screamed so loud.  I remember it so strongly.  It was a huge snake.

That was the first moment in my life that I really felt fear – but I had no idea what I should be afraid of.  Actually, it was my grandmother’s voice that frightened me.  And then the snake slithered away, fast.

It is incredible how fear is built into you, by your parents and others surrounding you.  You’re  so innocent in the beginning; you don’t know.”

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Starry Night. No, Day. Ah, Afternoon?

van-go

So help me, sometimes I feel like I have ventured into the chaotic mental maze of Schizophrenia.  For the detail oriented (ergo, what’s the wrapper, the filler and binder, who picked the leaf, what type of music does the roller listen to, etc., etc., etc.) schizophrenia is “a long-term mental disorder of a type involving a breakdown in the relation between thought, emotion, and behavior, leading to faulty perception, inappropriate actions and feelings, withdrawal from reality and personal relationships into fantasy and delusion, and a sense of mental fragmentation or (in general use) a mentality or approach characterized by inconsistent or contradictory elements.” (Google)

Why do I feel this way?  A first-hand example happened to me today.

ed-koch-how-m-i-doin

First I wanted to write a detailed description of a cigar for a review like all the magazines do thereby placing cigar lovers in the maniacal state of confusion of what to try next.  I do the same on this blog.  I receive a cigar and right away the manufacturer wants to see a review. He or she wants to know how the cigar may fare in the marketplace, and of course to soothe and bolster the ego – as anyone would, they want to see how they are doing.  Even the late Ed Koch, former mayor (and the best) of New York used to stand in the streets of his city in the early morning hours, shaking hands and asking passersby, “How’m I doin’?”  It’s natural.

What isn’t natural is how the review is handled.  There are many, many cigar buffs (and that is the correct word) who have an opinion.  And now through the magic of social media, everyone is an expert.  Oh, yes they are!  Some are revered, some are loathed, some are even, gasp! – ignored.  That’s why  I don’t rely on reviews for the bulk of my posts.  I am not an expert, not does my opinion mean any more than – it’s my viewpoint.  It’s what I think.

The problem of mental malady comes in when I try too hard to adequately and accurately critique a cigar.  But again, my words are my impressions.  Oftimes, I find myself holding back from writing, “Damn, this is the worst cigar I’ve even smoked.”  Other times, I am enthralled.  I’m pulled this way and that.  Ergo, the tease of mentioning the above mental affliction.

farones-band-2I give you an example, I smoked a great cigar today by – Faraones.  I happened to light up the Tutankhamon belicoso.  What do I do?  Clip it.  Light it.  Smoke it.  By God.  Great cigar.  That’s the review.  There it is.  Who cares what the makeup is, who cares what the country of origin is, who cares who manufacturers it?  Well, as Ron Puryear, one of the greatest Amway distributors of all time, once said about why anyone would want to know about him?  His reply, after a dramatic pause, “I don’t know.”  And the same can go for a cigar.  Who gives a s*#t about all that other stuff really?

Yet, I, and many others fall into this vicious maelstrom of trying to explain to you, the reader, what it tastes like, or how it shows etc.  Hell,  Adam Platt of New York Magazine does it with food, Marvin Shanken does it with wine in Wine Aficionado, and the late Pauline Kael did it with movies, and on and on and on.  Television (do they still call it that?) has a plethora of shows about reviews.  A good example is Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern ( a master at description, by the way).  So the practice is not unusual.  People make a living at it.  Praise Walter Winchell!

What is new is the excruciating detail that goes into the commentary.  JHC how detailed does the reviewer have to go?  That’s where the mental distortion comes creeping back in. I quote, “a sense of mental fragmentation,” begins to appear and what could be said in one word, comes out in a tsunami of verbiage that has indeed blended the truth with the fluff.

double-cigars

I can review today’s smoke in one word – great!  That’s it. My mind is at rest and I have no reason to create lusty, ornamental, flamboyant blather that no one really cares about –  sometimes the manufacturer doesn’t even acknowledge that a review has been published!  But, be that as it may, cigar reviews will continue.  Mental distortion shall win out.  I will plunge into the drink myself.  No lifejacket.  It’s hard to be simple.  It’s not appreciated.  Or it’s referred to as glib.  So what?  Divide your mentality.  Split!  

“It’s as simple as that. Simple and complicated, as most true things are.” David Levithan, Every Day

an adaptation. . .

adapt

  . . . i have had to adapt today and quite frankly i am a bit unhappy with my having to do so i cannot go into the details as they might bore you to tears because it is my situation but it destroyed my schedule for the day and even though i am quite good at adjusting the vagaries of the day i do not appreciate  when i have to restructure my whole day due to the mistakes of others however i did and the day continued on but not as you may guess as planned so i tell you this now so i can get this venom out of my system and continue on even though because of this situation that occurred quite early in the day it still trapped me into a predicament that dulled my enthusiasm for wanting to continue as i planned simply because  i could not do what i originally planned so in the end i got the short end of the stick and the other party went along their merry way without a wrinkle in their plans so with that i bid thee farewell december fourteenth and i am indeed looking forward to december fifteenth with no expectation that this is a groundhog day experience what does this mild rant have to do with cigar brokering everything . . .

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Time for a cigar.

score-of-cages

When John Cage performed his most famous (or in some minds, infamous) composition, 4’ 33”, in 1952, the end result was a scandal.   People called the piece “a gag . . . a joke . . . a provocation.”  Yet, over time, the oft misinterpreted piano solo has become de rigueur to disciples of Mr. Cage and is a key to understanding what made him tick.  4’ 33” gave me a respite from the storm of ideas that continually swirl around in my head.  A much-needed break indeed.  Why not a cigar for you, too?  Relax and listen.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gN2zcLBr_VM

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Listen to yourself . . .

a-changed-me

“ Ok, so you’re heart broken.   You sit around mopin’.  Cryin’ cryin’.  You say you’re even thinkin’ about dyin’?  Well, before you do anything rash, dig this . . .  –  The Main Ingredient.

Yes, I get it.  But I ain’t no fool neither.  I know we all have to go back to work sometime. But we also all have the ability to hold onto our memories – and realities.  I still have this deep love in my heart for the place I left no more than 24 hours ago – The Dominican Republic.  We all can make our dreams come true, and right now that is my main focus or motivation – to make a crystalline vision I hold into my real world.

So as I sit here, smoking a Cuban Crown by Luis Gutierrez, I give you fair warning that you will begin to see, hear and feel changes in this blog.  For the astute, these differences will quickly become apparent.  For the rumble-headed nitwits, this subtle morphing may not be as clear.  But honestly, I don’t feel the latter are my readers.  (Shrug.)

All that surrounds me has been transformed.  The details will slowly appear, drop by silent drop.  Keep your eyes on the ball.  Keep your eyes on the ball.  Keep your eyes on the ball and eventually, you will smack that solid orb right out of the park.  And I’m hitting the ball waaaaaaaay over Waveland Avenue!  (For non-Chicagoans, look it up.)  And all it took was a moment in time when I said to myself, “Listen, do you (I, me) want to know a secret?” – and I let myself hear the answer.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m1mTasCH2a4

A massage, a lunch & a cigar.

lunch at q

You think Elizabeth would have been the famished one.  She had just gotten a full body massage at Elizabeth Arden’s Red Door Salon & Spa on Michigan Avenue in Chicago.  Sounds Ta!  Don’t you think?  And to tell you the truth they treated her like an angel from heaven the way she related her experience to me as we walked to the restaurant.

red door salonBut while she was in the spa, I was sauntering around – people watching.  My son said he becomes slightly embarrassed when I stare, but how else will I absorb what I want to see unless I give it the time it needs to soak into my brain.  I want to give the image time to embed itself into my psyche.

Same with buildings, I took a full shot of the John Hancock Tower and if others were watching, I looked like a tourist.  But I really don’t mind what they are thinking, because the odds are that other people are not even paying attention to me, they merely want to walk around me or hope I get out of their way.

jhancock

After the specified time reached its end, I trekked back to the Red Door.  I was the only male waiting in the place, but it was amazing how many women passed me by.  Having a massage is a luxury.  I was further shocked to see how some of the women were dressed.  Eventually Elizabeth appeared and we headed for the eatery.

The massage was a Christmas gift from last year and we coupled it with a lunch at “q” – a tony bbq restaurant on Dearborn, right next to Biggs Mansion, one of the most elegant cigar lounges in the city.  One of my stops I would make.   Why not?  I’m so close.

So we sat in what I call New York seating, long soft couches with the other patrons separated by a comfortable space between in the brighter section of the restaurant on one side – chairs on the other.  We began to peruse the menu.  I had been there before, so I knew what I was going to order.  E decided on a salad with tips of filet mignon, beans, bacon and blue cheese dressing, whilst I went full-bore and had the beef brisket on a luscious brioche bun along with the full line of sauces.  I shan’t go further into detail – other than to say it was a sensuous eating experience that will be forever cataloged in my mind.

As we ate, we talked about the massage – E’s first.  One of the subjects that came up was this nonsense about the government essentially cutting out the sale of boutique cigars.  You know I only sell boutique cigars.  I was asked this morning in a message whether or not the ruling would have a Brobdingnagian effect on my business.  Would I have a job?  And at that time I stoutly returned the printed message that there would be changes, but I wasn’t bowing out by any means.

roulettBut the question rolled around in my head like the ball spinning on a roulette wheel never hitting a number just going around and around and around.  So after we had lunch, we drove back home.  I took out one of the cigar samples I’d been sent by a hopeful young cigar maker and I lit it up to give this curious question some deeper thought.  A cigar would only enhance that process.

It’s a micro-boutique cigar called Don Roque – Nicaraguan with an Ecuadorian habano oscuro wrapper.   So I lit it up and started rationalizing about this whole predicament.  And without giving away the ideas, I began to realize that the situation could be worse – at least for the time being.  I mentally began to weigh my options.  And then I began to study the cigar while I was collating my thoughts.

don cigar

Not much is known about this cigar.  I’ve not seen any buzz on social media about it.   It’s not been mentioned.   I’m not sure if this is considered a premium cigar or a long-filler bundle variety.  It has a fine draw throughout which allows for the smoke to keep coming without any hindrance.

But I can’t say this cigar is ready for market.  He tells me in his message that he makes them.  If that’s the case, he needs to go back to the drawing board to lift some of the bitterness out and add some sweetness.  The flavors are unidentifiable.   He’s using aged tobacco for sure, but something is amiss.

qashgrassThe ash is flaky and shows black streaks along with gray and white.  Does that matter; it does because the color of the ash indicates how well the soil has been prepared which undoubtedly will affect the flavor of the cigar.  The burn is uneven until you hit the midway point.  Then the cigar seems to settle down and touches on the enjoyable.  But that is short lived and remains a problem that needs to be seriously examined.

Look, everyone doesn’t hit a home run every time at bat.  (My apologies for the cliché.)   That’s impossible.  And I don’t know if this cigar is a prototype or the final decision.  If it is the final decision, then I suggest tweaking the blend.  And don’t forget, this is my opinion not the final word.

I don’t like to criticize any cigar.  There are thousands of options that can be attempted.  I think with some modifications this cigar will have a chance on the open market.  But now with the new FDA rules, it’s harder than ever to try out a cigar in the marketplace and then change it due to whatever the cost is going to be to have it approved each blend.  And the time it will take the FDA to OK the cigar is up in the air.  What does the FDA know about cigars?  Nothing.  So I can’t see any speed checking to get the product out in a timely manner.  A cigar maker today almost has to be perfect the first time out.  That’s quite a challenge, but it can be met with patience and passion.

For me, quitting isn’t an option.  Changing is.  So if I have to regroup to continue my business, then cigar makers can regroup and come out with gems of joy the first time.

NY cover

 

 

 

Is it who you know?

swan2“Truman Capote was the darling of an inner circle he called his Swans—Babe Paley, Slim Keith, Lee Radziwill, C. Z. Guest, Gloria Guinness, Marella Agnelli.  He was their baby wizard, their bitchy sister, their father confessor. They told him who had slept between the Porthault sheets and where all the bodies were buried. The day he published a fraction of what he had learned in their company in “La Côte Basque, 1965,” he created a new art form: social suicide.” (VF)

I bring this up to illustrate a point about the world of cigars and how some react when they get to know a “Cigar Star.”  And we know there are many, and if you don’t believe me just ask them.  And I will refrain from naming them in deference to their belief that they are indeed demigods of the industry.

socrates-last-interview-with-his-friends

And of course this phenomenon is not at all new.  The disciples would gather around Jesus Christ to hear His wisdom.  Socrates drew impressive crowds as well.  Even some politicians are known for their magnetic attraction that draws hundreds, if not thousands, of people to theaters and convention center halls throughout the country.

What is it about the personalities of some that pulls an individual toward these people?  In one case I can ascertain it was simply the knowledge of the individual that whisked a person into his airspace.  But often times, you have to wonder what it is about a person that is the attraction.  Maybe they will become friends or close acquaintances.  But it could be said that is a trust, an inner belief that they are drawn to someone because they will receive something back if they get close enough.

babe and truTruman Capote had this charm, this power, this sanctity of savoir faire, this bone fide charisma that drew in a small group of ladies he called his “Swans.”    And the way he drew them in was his special social association with none other than Babe Paley (Yes.  That Paley, cigar smokers).  “Through Babe, Truman gain(ed) an unlikely entrée into the enviable lives of Manhattan’s elite, along with unparalleled access to the scandal and gossip of Babe’s powerful circle.” (From the jacket cover of “The Swans of Fifth Avenue” by Melanie Benjamin 2016)

And for those who know of Truman Capote (the author of “In Cold Blood” among other classics), he was a diminutive little creature that somehow was the black hole who was able to attract these high-powered ladies into his closet of trust.  Little did they know he would betray that trust.  My point is why were these intelligent women so mesmerized by a novelist who had neither the looks nor the money to be in their tight, affluent circle of the day’s society elite.  But there they were, all in stitches when he told a story or begged to hear what really was going on behind closed doors.  They couldn’t get close enough.  Yes, he was a known novelist by this time, but why the fascination?  Could he have been using his swans for his own fascination of the rich for his work?  The day he published a fraction of what he had learned in their company in “La Côte Basque, 1965,” he showed the public his reason – Truman.  He used his Swans.

rocky groupMethinks it is the reason guys flutter around the cigar makers of today.   He or she has this notion that being around the “star” will imbue them with the life of the celebrity.  They who are in the circle are now superior to the other cigar guys who don’t have this intimacy with so and so even though in reality the association is a vicarious one at best.  They believe their friendship is real.  And in their minds it is.  They talked to so and so and even get his autograph and now they are friends – close friends when in reality they are forgotten before the pen slides off the box.  But they have this guy going around “ga ga” about such and such cigar.  Everyone’s being used.

But this happens with chefs, movie stars, musicians, poets, writers etc., why pick on the cigar celebrities?  Perhaps it’s because I’m closer to the truth among the “stars” than the average Joe and when I see a fan dance a jig when they get an autograph, I do know just a smidgen more about their hero.