“Dude – whiskey/cigars at 8.”
I am there. I will cancel any and all plans. But even without the socializing, if I have an afternoon of scribbling in front of me and a non-empty humidor, I’m moving my entire office (small table + laptop) out to the patio where- FLIK… burrrrn. Or at the end of a hellacious week, where everything went either wrong or right and I’m in either a sulky or exultant mood… well, there’s just no bad occasion for a cigar.
And while reading a book is one of the best of many good options.
This is not a list of “perfect” pairings; they’re pathetically non-specific. This because the set of my tobacco skills includes everything from the names of sizes to which end gets lit on fire – and nothing in between. It is just meant to assist you towards what I like to call Reading in 4 Dimensions. This Ri4D is about supporting your imagination with your senses in a way that is not distracting: in this case, a nice smoke and maybe a beverage – selected thematically, which is really important. These pairings, in other words, are meant to enhance the mood and experience of whatever world you are entering with that book.
Winston Churchill smoked so much that, in mathematical terms, he was a continuum of cigarness with a tangentially attached Prime Minister. (Get it? Prime?) Poor Clementine: kissing Winston must have been like diving into a smoker’s pearl. Gross.
Still. Genius. Literary and otherwise (Nobel Prize for his histories). And somehow managed to smoke like a Reaver ship and live to a ripe old age. They didn’t just name an individual cigar after him; they named a size after him, the 48 ring gauge/7 inch V for victory called churchill. That’s about as big a cigar as you can smoke without looking like an asshole. So whether you’re reading all 4 volumes of his History of the English Speaking Peoples, all 6 volumes of his World War II history, a collection of his incredible speeches or perhaps you’re going way back to Frontiers and Wars, when he cut his teeth oppressing colonials – INDEED, whether you’ve just saved the world from nazism or doomed the irrepressible ANZACs to slaughter on the cliffs of Gallipoli (remember, there is no bad occasion for a cigar), you’ll need all 7 inches of that statesman-like churchill (he liked Romeo y Julietas), because you will be there a good long while.
Let’s get Irish and fancy with Oscar Wilde. You won’t be commanding the forces of empire here, you will be commanding the forces of keen-edged, velvet wit. With an intellect on a level with Churchill, though less for statecraft than for art, you are looking for something high end, like a Cohiba, Macanudo or Oliva, and – most importantly – of the shape panatella. This is substantially a cigar but of slimmer and more elegant shape than the churchill – over 6 inches, ring gauge around 36. There you abide, with your poetry or essays – perhaps reading the plays outloud to a willingly captive audience – charming the behoojies out of anyone within ear-reach. Alcohol is needed. Though, theoretically, you’re only reading a book, if you’re not also burning money and finding more trouble than you can handle, you’re not really doing this Wilde-style.
Evelyn Waugh will leave you with one foot in society and one foot in the wilderness. Waugh rubbed elbows with upper crusts but was also a commando during the war. Good lord – wit and grit – the man had range. You’re looking for a corona, which is between a churchill and panatella in terms of gauge, but comes in both shorter and longer lengths. It’s about versatility.
At 20+ cigars a day, Mark Twain could give Churchill a chase. He smoked from a very young age, and – according to a story in Cigar Aficionado – he once ended a 3 month smoking fast in desparation… with a cigar butt he’d found on the ground. “Aficionado” doesn’t quite cover it. He was a sort of reverse-snob, preferring any cigar but the fanciest or most expensive. So, when reading Mark Twain, you have two choices: pick whatever the hell cigar you want as long as it’s not fancy OR pick the brand named for him. (Yes, there is a Mark Twain cigar, and it’s a honker.) Either way, you’re doing it Twain-style if you go big (churchill or presidente, which is an obnoxious 8 inches) and if you crank thru those suckers. Minimum 20 a day.
[Good lord, man – don’t do it. Read the Huck Finn, but keep the smoking in moderation.]
I don’t know anyone who sits around reading Freud, but if that’s your jam, a cigar would seem in order, for obvious reasons. Just make (what you imagine is) a random selection, and don’t think about it too much. You’re just smoking a cigar, reading a book – that’s all that’s going on here.
Think of adventure. Think of those times when your adrenaline is masking the pain of your injuries, you have sand in your crotch but you don’t got time for that shit, and you are so focused on the doomed and deadly work at hand that time goes slow-mo. That’s when you need a cigar between your teeth.
Select a book of adventure. Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea or almost anything by Jules Verne are obvious classics that fit the bill, but also consider semi-classics like H. Rider Haggard’s King Solomon’s Mines or non-fiction like Out of Africa from Karen Blixen (yes, Isak Dinesen – same person). Or maybe – LOOK OUT – THERE ARE CROCS IN THE WATER –
— you need a 5 inch 50 gauge robusto – anything longer, and it might get dipped in the swamp, and a 50 gauger won’t get busted in half by shrapnel. Come to think of it, go cheap on these cigars – you’re not here to relax or do any flavor-relishing. The smoke will keep malarial mosquitos off your face, and – if you can keep it lit in all the chaos – you’ll need the cigar to light those sticks of dynamite. Pick something that tastes like a punch in the face. It’ll sting at first, but you won’t even feel the next punch (from a bandito or jaguar or whatever). WAIT – peel off that damn label (called a “band”) – if you got time in between waves of attackers – there’s no one to impress out here in the jungle.
The hot tip is this: after you select your literature, either from your home library or from us, cruise over to El Leon at 6th/Western. It’s a way old school sliver of a hang out, and everything is hand-rolled right there and priced for normal humans. If when you walk in everyone doesn’t say “howdy!”, I’ll wash your damn car. Ask for Lorenzo. [You’re looking for a website. There is none. Old school.]
You did not hear it from me, but in the old days, after you were established at a tobacconist’s, you could casually ask for the especiales. If they trusted you, if you had earned a relationship, out from underneath the counter would come an unmarked box full of Cubans. Perfect if you were reading John Le Carré, Graham Greene or Ian Fleming. Well, that was fun and all, but here’s the new open secret: in a pinch, pop into your local 7 Eleven, lean over the counter and ask for Backwoods. Not contraband and certainly not fancy, but a pretty decent cigarillo. (And under no circumstances smoke anything else you find in a convenience store – we’re not fancy, but we have a smidge of self respect.) Be warned, a Backwoods cigar looks like hell, but they’re good for Beat poetry or haiku. Or Louis L’amour.