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Puffin’ Stuff
by Clive Smith
Magazine Issue: AUS/NZ Issue One

More than a stereotypical accessory for fat cats, gangsters and wankers. Clive Smith explains why puffing on a good quality cigar is like saying yes to life.

Like tastes, some vices need to be acquired.

As a neophyte bohemian you tried your first cafe latte in some poster plastered inner-city haunt. You were wearing a duffle coat and your hair was studiously mussed. How cool - coffee in a glass.

Having no information to the contrary, you load it with sugar and try not to gag at the sweetness. How could you have known then that long black with none would end up being your lifetime preference?

Same with fags. Your parents implored you to stop hanging out with the wrong crowd. But how utterly in did you feel, that day behind the bike sheds, dragging on your first Marlboro Light?

Well some of that crowd did turn out wrong. Who knows where they went? Rebel rebel you've torn your dress... we were all experimenting. Trying things on for size. Going there.

My first cigar - and here we're talking hand made decent ones - was a little Romeo No 3. And like that first coffee/cig/shag/day at uni etc, I admit to being a little worried at how I might look. With something as pretentious as a big fat stogie hanging out of my mouth. On lighting it, I'm happy to report, all my fears dissolved.

Formerly the preserve of fat cats and plastic gangsters, cigars have not traditionally had a good PR run. There's been a voguish boom of late but still some connotations die hard.

Recently while enjoying a reverential moment with a Hoyo de Monterey Epicure No 1, (outside, at a cafe) a girl came up to me and uttered simply, "wanker".

Had I not been the even tempered soul I am, or had I not been enjoying my reverie so thoroughly, I might well have taken offence. Instead I smiled cheerily at this uninvited vixen and said "Thanks, I'll take that as a compliment".

And there it is. Smoking a good cigar, like drinking a decent wine, has a transcendental quality. Sufis seek, yogis yearn and rastas reek of pot. But here in our hi-tech, zip drive, info-overloaded times, some fortunate seekers have found a sure-fire way to solace.

I'm not suggesting hand-made cigars are for everyone. But for those whose tastes have done some travelling, they can be a source of bon-homie not found anywhere else.

The mystic lure of Cuba is legendary, and those Cubans sure do know how to make cigars. Generally a Cuban will be richer, stronger and more complex. It's something to do with that capricious mix of soil, climate and skill. But don't discount the Dominicans. Or the Hondurans or Jamaicans for that matter. The Phillipinos are in on it too. Makes you wonder, doesn't it, why here in Australia, with our world class wines and bountiful agriculture do we not have the conditions for crafting special stogies.

Apparently not says Carlo Pisegna, cigar consultant at Sydney's Alexander's Cigar Divan. "If you can't get the good seed from Cuba you don't get a good cigar," he says.

With Cuba's economy virtually reliant on it's ability to provide the very best cigars they have every right to be cagey.

Besides the political correctness factor (arguably not high), in a world that increasingly scorns tobacco products, the only real prohibitor to regular cigar enjoyment is the question of cash.

With a good stogie costing as much, if not more, than a good bottle of vino, the pleasure is an ephemeral one. If you've got dough to burn and you're somewhat of an addict, then I guess it's OK to have a big Cohiba welded to your fingers. But really, it's not such a good look.

Jack Nicholson once said, "The best way to break a bad habit is to replace it with a better one." And he ought to know.

'All things in moderation' goes that little blurb on wine labels and the same goes for stogies. Play even your favourite CD on high rotation and see how much you end up hating it. Pleasure isn't pleasure if it's on constant repeat.

But as the jaded French expat says to a considerably more jaded Christopher Walken near the end of The Deer Hunter, "The man who says no to champagne says no to life".

With cigars, my point entirely.

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