On Hiatus

And so, with the hungry wolf of winter closing its maw around my windpipe, the fourth season of A Harem of Dusky Beauties must now conclude. My ashtray will lay fallow for a while, in the hope that it may someday bring forth a stronger crop. I hope that the last six months have brought you joy and education.

The Harem shall return someday, of course – perhaps on a morning when the river, engorged by the meltwaters of spring, floods its banks and threatens the integrity of my humidor; or when, awakened by the sound of gay singing outside my window, I adjourn to the veranda with a Petite Corona, and watched the parade of milkmaids on their way to work; or when, sitting on a restaurant patio with some paramour, she wrinkles her nose in distaste as the aroma of fine Havana leaf wafts from the table a ways over. “Excuse me,” I will tenderly whisper, removing my napkin. “There’s somewhere I would rather be.”

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Until we meet again, may all your smoke rings be round.


A.T. Groom

Cohiba Espléndidos

I have found myself at a young people’s party – a twenty-second birthday, no less. The birthday boy is one of the young people from my office, and he was most emphatic that I come, and so here I am in his parent’s house, hovering awkwardly like a middle aged creep. The youth are different to how I remember them. The skirts are shorter, for one.

The biggest shock at this party is that people are smoking, and smoking indoors, a habit I thought disappeared with the generation before mine. I consider, for a moment, lighting up one of the cigars that is in my pocket, but dismiss the idea as far too obnoxious, until the birthday boy wanders over with a tin of Wee Willem cigarillos. “Hey man, you want a cigar?” he asks. “I know they’re probably not as your usual thing, I tried to get some real ones but I couldn’t find any.” On the spur of the moment I offer him a deal. “Son,” I say, proffering the contents of my jacket pocket. “This is a Cohiba Espléndidos. This is Saddam Hussein’s favourite cigar. It is as good a cigar as you can smoke in life.  I’ll give you one, on condition that I can smoke the other in your house. Some of your guests are going to complain. It’s going to stink up your parent’s curtains. You’re going to get into trouble. I don’t recommend you take this deal.”

“Fuck yeah” he replies. “That cigar looks dope.”

Cohiba Espléndidos unlit.

The large cigar begins exceptionally smoothly; very light tobacco with umami mushroom notes, and miso soup, alongside the usual dry straw. It has a tighter draw, which for me is perfect, but I suspect might be a bit much for these twenty-two year olds. They seem to be enjoying it though. By the time my cigar has burnt through the first inch, theirs has passed through half-a-dozen pairs of lips and been featured in as many selfies.

Growing up as a nerd at an all-boys-school, I was seventeen before I attended my first real party: a party with girls and booze and dope and no adult supervision. A party where nobody was playing video games, and nobody got picked up by their parents at 10:30. A party with strangers. Alistair, who went to a different all-boys-school than I and who I knew vaguely socially, invited me. “You’re a classy guy, right? I’ve been seeing this girl, Jessica, and I want to take her to a party this weekend, but she’ll only come if she can bring her friend, so I need you to take care of the friend.”

Jessica, as it turned out, was stunning, and her friend Lauren not much her lesser, but the real eye opener was the party. It was like I had stepped into a different world. At the parties I usually went to we drank Coke and ate pizza and occasionally played laser tag. There were girls there, but they were pimply creatures with braces. These girls were another beast entirely. They wore makeup, and showed cleavage. One of them had her older sister’s ID, and bought us a bottle of Vodka and raspberry soda to mix it with. I watched awestruck as Jessica, a cigarette hanging from her lips, cut up a bowl of pot, casually sprayed it with fly spray to “make it burn better,” and rolled it into joints. When we smoked them I didn’t really feel anything, but I giggled along with the others.

Most miraculous of all was that the girls seemed to like me. I was as unique a butterfly to them as they were to me; they were used to suburban thugs, and here was a polite guy who didn’t just clown around with his mates and was amused by things other than his own flatulence. They listened in awe to my tales of boyhood in China and Papua New Guinea. As much as they were women to me, to them I was a man.

I had an ‘official’ girlfriend at the time, whom I held hands on the train in the morning and occasionally made out with in the park after school, but after the party she seemed like an artefact of a bygone era. I broke up with her over the phone, and started getting on at a different carriage.

I started hanging out with my new crew almost every weekend, drinking and smoking and loitering in the way teenagers do. I started dating Lauren, more or less by default, but as the months went by I started to wonder if I hadn’t made the wrong choice. Jessica was not only hotter, but she was funnier, and maybe even a little smarter. It turned out that Alistair had misrepresented their relationship as well. He was obsessed with her, certainly, and wanted to date her, but she was very clear on the matter: she wasn’t interested in him.

Cohiba Espléndidos two thirds.

By the midpoint of the Espléndidos the saltiness is gone, replaced by a sweet caramel vanilla bean. The grassiness remains. The tobacco is still extremely light – this cigar is approximately the same age as the Lanceros I smoked recently, and yet, somehow, this thicker cigar has even more delicate a flavour profile. The birthday boy’s cigar seems to have mainly been commandeered by one of the female guests, who is standing on the edge of the dancefloor, sipping from it blissfully. I don’t ask her for her tasting notes. One of the dancers glares at her, and makes a big show of fanning the smoke away. To another guest I observe that the end of the cigar looks very dry – usually when a cigar is passed around a party like this it ends up as a chewed up, soggy mess. “Well, a lot of the people here have very well practiced joint etiquette.”

Lauren’s chief appeal was in her glorious mane of strawberry blonde hair, so when, six months into our relationship, she dyed it the awful matt black of moody teenagers, I took the opportunity and broke up with her. For a time I was cast out of the group. Lauren and Jessica were best friends, and inseparable, but then I made my big play. I asked Jessica to come to the school formal with me. It was two months hence: a night of dinner and dancing. My first tuxedo. I would pay for her ticket and promised her a limo and a corsage. The after-party was to be a warehouse rave with unlimited alcohol. She said yes, and Lauren, the previous presumptive holder of my plus one, was furious. The girls stopped talking, and with Alastair out of the picture thanks to his rebuffed affections, Jessica and I became thick as thieves. My plan was working perfectly. At the after party, I would make her mine.

In retrospect I should have made a move on her in those two months we were best friends. She was clearly open to it. Once, when we were alone in her room she asked me why I had chosen Lauren over her the night we’d first met, and when I explained that Alistair had misled me about their relationship she laughed. “You could have had any girl at that party, you know? We were all so into you.” I should have kissed her right then, but fool that I was I stuck to my plan. I would make my big move at the formal after party. It was going to be perfect.

I thought I should introduce Jessica to some of my school friends before the big event, so the week before the formal I took her to a party of my own. It was wilder than most of our affairs – Simon Treehorn was the host, and his parents mostly left us alone in the rumpus room out back. A few people even snuck in beers. I was very clear to my friends before the event that this girl was mine, and I could see by their expressions when she walked in in her tight jeans and a low cut tank that they were impressed. For most of the night I sat with her on the couch. Most of the action at the party was centred around the Nintendo or the pool table, and the couch was off to the side, a bit above those childish pursuits. At some point I went to the bathroom, and when I came back Owen Donoghue had taken my spot, and was chatting to her. I made a show of nonchalantly watching the Nintendo game, while keeping a careful eye on the couch, where they seemed to be getting on awfully well. Within an hour they were making-out. As I watched them, my fists balled in impotent rage, I realised my mistake. I had introduced a girl who liked me to a bunch of guys who were exactly the same as I was.

She came to the formal wearing my corsage, but she was really Owen’s date. She was seated next to me for dinner, but never stopped making eyes at him. I made a point of taking her to dance, but as soon as a slow song came on he wandered over. “Mind if I cut in.” At the after party I watched in misery as they made-out and dry-humped in the corner, somehow not able to look away.

There are two things you have to know in life if you want to get the girl: never hesitate and never listen to your friends when they tell you to back off.

Cohiba Espléndidos final third.

As you’d expect from a cigar this size, the Espléndidos gets earthy toward the end, with notes of ash and wildfire, and medium-strong tobacco. There is a mild sting from the tar, but it’s nothing a sip of beer can’t placate. Burn has been razor sharp the entire way. I observe the discarded nub of the other cigar in an ashtray, consumed to just above the band. Personally, I like to take my cigars until I burn my fingers, but five and a half inches is not a bad effort for a bunch of novice smokers.

If I have any minor criticism of this cigar, it’s that it was almost too smooth: there was a bit of a lack of flavour. Compared against the Lanceros, both are elegant, delicious cigars, but the Lanceros has a touch more complexity, and I’d take one of those over the Espy for that reason. Still a great cigar though.

Cohiba Espléndidos nub.

Cohiba Espléndidos on the Cuban Cigar Website.

Cohiba Lanceros

The Cohiba Lanceros. If you ask the head of Habanos SA what the flagship Cuban cigar is, he will probably tell you the BHK56, or maybe the Siglo VI; to me it will always be the Cohiba Lanceros. The legend goes that in 1963, Fidel Castro observed one of his bodyguards smoking a long, thin, elegant cigar (that the bodyguards of one of the most assassination liable people on earth got to lounge around smoking cigars in full view of their boss gives you a good image of how things went in early ‘60s Cuba). Intrigued by the shape he asked what it was, and the man told him it was one of his friend Eduardo’s custom rolls, and offered him one. Castro smoked it, loved it, and had Eduardo summoned and set up in El Laguito, a repossessed mansion in the suburbs, to roll the personal cigars of El Presidente. Eventually the cigars were named Cohiba, and were made available to well-connected party men, and given out as diplomatic gifts. In the 70s they were very occasionally sold to tourists on Cubana flights and, in 1984, they went on sale to the general public (Castro had quit smoking the year before, leading to a surplus in high end tobacco).

Cohiba Lanceros unlit.

With a kiss from a jet lighter the cigar smoking begins. The first flavours are very crisp and light, with lactic, creamy notes and the tang of fresh cut grass. In the aftertaste there is an unmistakable honey sweetness. The tobacco is very light in the first few puffs, but a centimetre or so it thickens to medium. This particular Lanceros is from 2008. The ash is dirty grey, and doesn’t hold very well, flaking off with regularity. The draw and burn are perfect.

These days, I am well enough connected in the international community of cigar aficionados that I could probably get a tour of El Laguito if I were ever in Havana, but in 2006 it was not so. Back then, I was a cigar neophyte. I had smoked precisely one Cohiba, which was almost certainly a fake (a friend knew I had an interest in cigars, and brought me back a Cohiba from Mexico [never a good sign]. I smoked it in a storm water drain where I used to hang out sometimes [that’s another story]. As I recall it burned down the core the whole way – never having encountered this before, I didn’t know to fix it [slight touch of flame around the edge] and, assuming it was some kind of high end smokeless tobacco, let it go, noting that the flavour was “very smooth”). Somehow, however, I had heard of the old mansion, and while I was in Cuba I made a personal point of visiting.

It took a while to get the taxi driver to figure out where I wanted to go, but after I had tried the name in several different pronunciations, tried “Cohiba,” and “bueno tobacco fábrica,” and pulled out my guidebook for a map, we eventually had meeting of the minds. “Ah, El Laguito,” he cried delightedly. “La fábrica de tobacco Cohiba! Bueno!” and off we went.

Today El Laguito is a bit tarted up, with big Cohiba logos on the outside, but in 2006 it was a nondescript mansion in a leafy neighbourhood, with no indication at all that industry was taking place inside. A high fence surrounded it, and the only point of entry seemed to be via a ramshackle corrugated iron annex. Entering we found a group of women sitting around chatting. They were not accustomed to dealing with random gringo walk-ins, and after a bit of “bueno tobacco fábrica tour,they found someone with a little English. The newcomer told us that this was a factory, and to visit we would need permission from Tabacuba, the tobacco ministry. She drew us a map. As we walked out I remarked to my friend that we were the dumbest bastards in the world. It was the perfect opportunity to offer a 20CUC note and ask dumbly “¿permiso?”

Cohiba Lanceros two thirds remaining.

At the midpoint the Lanceros has mellowed, returning to very light. The predominant flavours are grass and straw, with a hint of the barnyard. In the aftertaste there are sweet fruit elements, a touch of citrus and raisins. The lactic cream has more or less vanished.

The Tabacuba office marked on the map was a few kilometres away, close to central Havana, but it was a nice day so we decided to walk it, taking in the shady streets of colonial mansions and embassies that surround El Laguito. We reached the office around 2:30pm, when the after lunch slump was definitely in effect. There was nobody in reception, but after ringing a bell we finally roused a security guide, who eventually conjured up an English speaker, who was very bemused that we might want to visit the legendary factory. “This is just a factory” he told us. “Not for tourists.” With a suspicious glare he lowered his voice. “You are journalists?” Knowing that journalists are not always looked upon kindly in Cuba, I assured him that we weren’t. Eventually he told us that he didn’t see an issue, but also that he couldn’t give us the permit here, and instead wrote down the name of a man to see at the Tabacuba office in Old Havana. He drew us a map.

The next office was closed by the time we got there (about 4:30pm), and I was preoccupied for the next few days with other tourist jaunts, but eventually returned, and presented the girl at the desk with the name of the man the clerk had written down for me. I waited for 30 minutes or so in a dingy waiting room, before eventually being ushered into a messy office. The man was very suspicious, asking me first if I was a journalist, and then listing off the names of publications he thought I might write for. After I refuted all of them he tried a different tact, and began listing tobacco companies. When that line of enquiry was exhausted he asked for my passport, and thoughtfully inspected every page, rubbing each stamp and visa between his thumb and forefinger, as if trying to establish whether or not my Japanese entry permit from two years earlier was a forgery.

Finally satisfied, he took my passport with him, and disappeared into another room for thirty minutes or so. From my seat my eyes searched around the room for the one-way mirror or concealed camera, sure I was being observed by the Cuban Secret Police. Eventually the bureaucrat returned, and presented me a long document in Spanish, with an official red stamp on it. “Your permission,” he told me. “You got to El Laguito on this date,” indicating a date about a month hence. “No, no” I said in dismay. “I’m leaving Cuba at the end of the week.” His patience for me exhausted, he shook his head. “This date is not negotiable.”

And so I left, and left Cuba, having never got further into El Laguito than the guardhouse. I did learn a lesson, however, one which would serve me well during my China years, and further travels: when dealing with a second world bureaucracy, as soon as things start to go against you: bribe everybody.

Cohiba Lanceros one third remaining.

As the Cohiba Lanceros reaches its final third it gets milder still, just the lightest of tobacco flavour, over a subtle coffee, leather, and a hint of new tennis balls. It is only once I have smoked past the band that it gets a little punchy, the ash causing me to salivate. I have brought down a bottle of the high end Bundaberg rum, but forgot to bring a glass, so haven’t touched it until now. The tar on my palate is unpleasant enough that I swig from the bottle to cut it. Like all Bundy it has a bit of a paint thinner taste to it, but it cuts the tar nicely.

Anyway, the Cohiba Lanceros is a fantastic, elegant and subtle cigar, that brings to mind a more civilized age. Smoke more Cohiba Lanceros.

Cohiba Lanceros nub.

Cohiba Lanceros on the Cuban Cigar Website.

Romeo y Julieta Petit Piramides Edición Limitada 2005

It’s as good a winter’s day as a boy could ask for – sunny, still and crisp – but even the finest winter’s day is still not especially pleasant for being outdoors. My fingers feel the bite whenever they emerge from my leather greatcoat to tap at my laptop keyboard, and will doubtless soon numb up holding a cigar.

The smoke of the moment is the 2005 Edición Limitada from Romeo y Julieta, a Petit Pirámides. It was one of the omissions from my recent Romeo Roundup – fortunately a kindly soul noticed the absence and sent a couple over. Many thanks. It’s a nice looking little pyramid wearing the short-lived all-gold Romeo band. As always when I encounter one of these bands, the reason they only lasted a couple of years is obvious: the printing is just appalling. It must be hard to prevent counterfeits when the genuine article looks like it was made by a high-schooler on work experience.

Romeo y Julieta Petit Piramides unlit.

I set fire to the beast. The first notes are very sharp for something with over a decade on it, offering up a sour, tannic bite. I inhale through my nose and probe the flavour, finding a bit of sweet musk on the back palate. Within ten puffs the sourness leaves and the cigar settles down, bringing medium-strong tobacco notes with a creamy aftertaste. Not bad at all. It reminds me a bit of the Partagás Serie P No. 1, which I always liked.

Being outdoors in this chill, with numb fingers and nose, takes me back to a very specific time of life. An adult and a homeowner who holds a desk job, there is seldom any need for me to suffer through this kind of discomfort (I could even smoke indoors if I wanted, but I generally choose two hours in the cold over two weeks trying to get stale cigar smoke out of my drapes). Once upon a time, however, things were different. Once upon a time I was a teenage boy with a great passion for canoodling, and after school I had nowhere to slake my thirst but city parks.

Honestly, I think it added to it. Who could ever forget the sensation of making out with their high-school girlfriend in a park on a winter’s day? With sweaty palms slipped inside blazers we would paw at one another. Cold backs and warm fronts! As we shifted position, her braces would sometimes knock against my teeth, and the tip of her nose would nuzzle my warm cheek, cold and damp like that of a Dalmatian puppy.

One particular instance stands out. Our usual bench for canoodling was deep out of view, a little nook in the more overgrown part of the park, but on this particular day it had been denied us by some old men chatting. Our second favourite, by the pond, was also occupied, and so we had wound up on the very edge of the park, ten meters from the road. We had been going at it for some time – probably about an hour and a half, as darkness had fallen, but I wasn’t yet in breach of my 6:30 curfew, when we both became aware of a light being shone on us. The cop cleared his throat. “You been here long?” he asked. “Ah, yeah… an hour or so. What’s the problem?”
“Did you see what happened when the car got stolen over here?”
I looked at him blankly, and he cast his torchlight on an empty car-space filled with broken safety glass, not more than fifteen meters from our bench.
“A car was stolen here sometime in the last half hour, you didn’t see or hear anything?”
My girl and I exchanged glances.
“No, sorry. We were busy.” We giggled.
The cop rolled his eyes and stomped off. “Bloody kids.”

Romeo y Julieta Petit Piramides about a third burnt.

By the midpoint the cigar has developed very strong espresso coffee notes, with a bit of old wallet mixed in – there is distinct leather, but also a slight copper, and sweat, and a little bit of banknote. As I progress into the last inch and a half it gets dirty, the flavour of wet earth and bitumen.

As it burns down, the asphalt element only grows, and it ends as a bitter little tar bomb. A slight citric tang is in there, which gives it something reminiscent of Campari. Even with the tar, the coffee note is still very strong. The ash in the final inch is very white for some reason, where the first two thirds were a dirty grey. All throughout the cigar has had a fantastic burn. I lit it initially with a match, and I didn’t do the best job of it, leaving an unblackened portion around the edge. Within moments it evened up, and was razor straight from then until I burnt my fingers, without a single touch up or corrective measure. It also held its ash very well. Total smoking time was around 90 minutes.

Romeo y Julieta Petit Piramides about two thirds burnt.

A good cigar sets a time and place for itself, and this one needs to be smoked at 10:00am with a coffee, preferably in café in a village in the South of France. It is a quintessential morning cigar, a flavourful little bomb of coffee and tobacco to start the day. Yes, there is a bit of tar, and yes, it will leave a bad taste in your mouth all day, but if you’re the kind of person who smokes before lunch you’re probably used to that. A decade old exotic might not be the most normal thing to fill the morning cigar void, but if you have that void, and you have the means, then this is the smoke for you.

Romeo y Julieta Petit Piramides totally consumed.

Romeo y Julieta Petit Piramides Edición Limitada 2005 on the Cuban Cigar Website.

Trinidad Funadadores

Ah the Trinidad Funadadores, slightly fatter cousin to the Cohiba Lanceros. Both are long and skinny pigtailed cigars from premium brands, and both have a linage in diplomatic gifts (slightly dubious in the Trinidad’s case). The example I have today wears the old band, which gives it at least thirteen years of age. In the normal course of events when smoking a Funadadores I find myself wishing for a Lanceros – the Trinidad just never gives me the creamy elegance of the Cohiba. Perhaps the years will have softened it, however.

Trinidad Funadadores just lit

I set the thing ablaze, and it begins well, with very light notes of first class tobacco. It has the perfect draw for a cigar like this – just firm enough that you feel it. There’s not all that much flavour, but importantly it doesn’t taste like newspaper like some aged cigars can. Just a simple, elegant smoke. Slightly grassy. Slightly herbal. Slightly sweet.

I was a twenty–year-old moron when I met first Audrey; like most people, she just sort-of started showing up at parties. I didn’t give her much mind at first. I knew enough about her to know that she had a boyfriend, for starters, and also she was a little bit goth for me. Black lipstick, studded leather dog collars, full length fingerless gloves and ratty, shapeless jackets were her look, whereas I was I getting around in dishevelled op-shop suits and overcoats, and wanted an op-shop cocktail dress kind of girl. Of course, the clothes I was seeing Audrey in were her party clothes. I probably would never have seen her in her day-to-day stuff – probably would never have realised what an angel she was – if it wasn’t for Aldo’s wedding.

Aldo was a friend from school who at nineteen had fallen in love with a government certified lunatic. I was at a backyard barbeque with them not long after they started dating, and she had gotten ahold of someone’s baby, and wouldn’t put it down. “Oh Aldo” she crowed. “I can’t wait till I have one of my own!”
“Run” I silently mouthed to him, but he didn’t take my advice, and eight months later she was pregnant and I was best man at their wedding. The wedding was to be held at a resort up in the mountains, about three weeks after the ski-season had ended, and a month before the hiking season began. The bridal party were to arrive on the Thursday and settle in, then we had the rehearsal on the Friday, and then the wedding proper on the Saturday. Being off-season, we had the resort pretty much to ourselves.

I got in late on Thursday night, after the bar had already closed. With nobody around I went more or less straight to bed. In the morning, having missed the grand tour, I wandered the halls alone, looking for action, and found it when I stumbled across Audrey in the library. She was curled up in the arc of a porthole window, reading a fat fantasy novel. She had on tight black cotton pants and a grey cashmere jumper that perfectly accentuated her tiny waste and full bosom. The light was streaming through the window behind her, giving her a halo through her fine, blonde hair. She lit up when she saw me. “Oh, good, you’re here” she said. “I’ve been waiting for someone to come play Scrabble with me.”

She demolished me at Scrabble, of course. She was the kind of nerd that has memorised all the two letter words, and so keeps scoring 75 points with three letters by putting them down the side of something else. Despite the trouncing, when she offered to go again, I gladly accepted. Something much more important than a board game was going on in that library. We were connecting. We liked the same books, the same movies, and we had similar upbringings. By the time we were finished, we had our own private in jokes, and I was staring to fall for her.

Saturday was the wedding, and after the ceremony, conducted in the business centre because of the rain, and after the reception where I gave a meandering speech and made a few too many jokes at the bride’s expense, and after we had all watched Labyrinth, the couple’s favourite film, the few remaining hangers on snuck down to the indoor pool to go skinny dipping. The lights were off, but the moonlight came strong and bright through the plexiglass roof. Most of us were bashful, disrobing fully only in the darkest corners, and then slipping into the water as quickly as possible, covering ourselves until we were submerged. No Audrey. She sat for a while, fully clothed on the edge of the pool, sneering at our antics. Once the party was all naked she walked purposefully to the edge of the pool, disrobed completely in a moonbeam, and then slid her perfect form into the water. Lying on her back she floated gracefully, only her perfect breasts and face breaching the surface, Diana bathing with her nymphs.

After an hour or so I tired of the horseplay, and headed for the showers. No sooner had I entered the men’s change rooms then Audrey appeared behind me, her glorious form resplendent in the uncompromising florescent lights. “Do you have a towel?” she asked. I handed her one, and watched in a pitiful impersonation of a casual manner as she strode into the showers and washed herself, leaving the cubical door open. When we were both done, I walked her back to her room and lingered for a moment outside the door. “Well” she said. “Goodnight,” and kissed me wetly. “Goodnight,” I replied, and went back to my room. Like I said, I was twenty and a moron.

Trinidad Funadadores about a quarter burnt

By the midpoint of the cigar the sweetness has gone. The tobacco has thickened ever so slightly, and behind it has bloomed a floral note. Cream is notable mostly for its absence. It’s a subtle cigar, but the heater is warm, my beer is cold, and I don’t mind a bit of subtlety. Elegance is still this cigar’s watchword.

The next morning, Audrey and I both caught a lift back to the city in the same car, next to one another in the back seat. As the car rocked back and forth down the winding mountain roads she slipped out of her safety belt and lay her head down in my lap. I folded my arm gently around her shoulders, praying that she didn’t notice the erection that lurked bare millimetres below her ear.

Of course, even the biggest moron eventually comes to his senses and, a few weeks later, Audrey and I became lovers. Her boyfriend was still around, something she seemed nonplussed about. “Oh, I’ve cheated on him loads of times” she told me. As we got closer the state of their relationship became clearer. They had been together for seven years, but broken up periodically whenever she met someone she liked better. Basically, she hated to be alone, and he was spineless enough that he was willing to be the default bed-warmer she called when there was nobody better around. Or at least he had been. When they got back together after her last foray, he had set her an ultimatum: “This is it,” he proclaimed. “If we break up again it’s forever.” A pre-engagement ring had been presented.

And so, I was relegated to the position of a part-time lover. She liked me, but he was default position, and she wouldn’t leave him. As I fell for her harder, this was increasingly a problem. I was addicted to that angel, and Groom wears the cuckold’s horns for no man. I hatched a plan.

It was simple enough. I knew that she was going to a barbecue that weekend, and that her boyfriend would be there. One of my friends, a vague acquaintance of her boyfriend, would also be there. One of her sexual predilections was to have her neck kissed and bitten, and so on Friday night, during a particularly vigorous coital session, I indulged her, leaving a prominent purple mark above her collarbone, an unmistakable lover’s branding. As she brushed her hair in my bathroom the next morning she laughed about it. “I’m going to have to wear a turtleneck.”

Once she was gone a text went out to my Iago. “Hey bro,” I wrote. “Tell him to get a look at her neck. She’s wearing a turtleneck to hide a hickey.” In the evening she called me in tears. “Kip broke up with me,” she sobbed. “He found your bloody hickey.” I smiled the smile of the victor.

Of course, a year later I was done with her and she went back to him, but that’s another story.

Trinidad Funadadores final third

In the final two inches the cigar thickens up as six inches of accumulated tar starts to combust, and the flavour profile changes to notes of earth and wood and gun-smoke. The gentler soul might toss it at this point, but for me it’s the perfect way to end a subtle beauty like this one. Flavour country. I smoke it all the way.

The Trinidad Funadadores? Very decent with fifteen years on it.

Trinidad Funadadores nub

Trinidad Funadadores on the Cuban Cigar Website.

H. Upmann No. 2 Reserva Cosecha 2010

It was utterly predictable, of course, that when I last presented you a treatise and promised to return with another “in a few weeks,” that you would not hear from me again for many months, if ever. The thing is, winter came. The days got short and cold. If there’s one thing that can suck the joy from a delicate Cuban leaf it’s burning it outdoors, in the dark, with a chill wind nipping at you.

Prolonged, unexplained absences might be acceptable on other Internet websites, but at A Harem of Dusky Beauties we hold ourselves to a higher standard. By way of compensation, our season, usually scheduled to run until the end of June, will be extended until the end of July, or somewhere thereabouts. Apologies.



I’m in a courtyard bar up at the corporate end of town. It’s a Tuesday night in winter. Some ways down the hill one might find a few bars that are livelier than this one, but those are young people bars. This is a bar for adults, and the entire cross section of suit wearing Tuesday drinkers are represented. In the far corner, two men huddle conspiratorially, engaged in a half soused deep and meaningful. In the centre of the room is the work drinks, five people celebrating some deal or other; one is the enthusiastic boss, the others four underlings who are wondering when the polite time to leave is. On the table next to me an older woman is drinking white wine and working her way through a deck of Dunhill Blues while she reads a book. In the other corner a couple in their forties are enduring an internet date: he wears a suit, she a rictus grin. The youngest people here are the staff.

And, of course, there’s me. Heavily bearded, with dark circles under my eyes, and wrapped in an overcoat, drinking a cocktail and rolling an exotic cigar between my fingers.

The Upmann No. 2 Reserva Cosecha 2010 was an omission from my H. Upmann retrospective of 2015 mainly because at time of writing, they hadn’t been released yet. They finally arrived on the scene towards the end of that year, and a few singles made their way into my custody shortly thereafter. This will be my first time smoking one, but if my experience with the past reservas is anything to go by, it should be basically just a really good Upmann No. 2. As it happens, I’m a fan of even sub-par Upmann 2s, so this one should be quite a treat.

H. Upmann No. 2 Reserva unlit

Upon lighting the first notes are sweet and sour: a citric tang on the front palate, and toffee on the back. Somewhere in there is a little eggy thickness and desert spices: nutmeg and cinnamon. It’s really very decent. Just what you’d expect from a top notch Upmann 2.

I’m drinking a Boulevardier, which is basically a Negroni with whiskey in place of the gin (so Campari, Sweet Vermouth and bourbon, for those playing at home). It has the amaro bitterness from the Campari, but is thick and sweet where the Negroni is crisp and clean. Perhaps the drink is contributing to the sourness on my palate.

In the centre of the room the sole woman has abandoned the work celebrations. Her glorious leader made a big show of imploring her to stay, even dropping to his knees at one point, but with a tired smile she resisted, and fled into the night. Now all men their tone has changed. There are less smiles.

No stranger to internet dating, the one that is progressing in the far corner is familiar to me. If you know someone for years then it’s possible to gradually warm up to them, to appreciate new facets, or even to witness that rarest of beasts: genuine human change. If your entire relationship with someone is two drinks in ninety minutes on a Tuesday evening, though, first impressions tend to last. I remember my first ever internet date, a dirty blonde, who was heavier than her picture. She was nice enough, but from minute one it was completely clear that we had no interest in each other. Two cocktails, and we never got beyond small talk. I think the last question I asked her was “so, do you have any siblings?”

When we had served our time, I walked her to the train station. For a moment we stood there, each fishing for our own goodbye, each searching the other’s eyes for something that wasn’t there. “See you soon” didn’t seem appropriate, nor did “that was fun.” “Well, goodbye” I eventually settled on, and left. No embrace.

H. Upmann No. 2 Reserva midpoint

At the mid-point the cigar is getting thicker. The tang has gone, along with the sugar, and the tobacco taste is on the fuller side of medium. The desert spices are still dominant, and there is a bit of grassiness on the back-end. It is a very nice, smooth, classic Upmann profile. First rate.

Years later, on another date, the experience was the same, but one sided. I knew from the moment I saw her that I could marry this girl. In every way, she was an angel. Perfect body. Lily white skin. The glow of intelligence sparkling behind her blue eyes and wry smile. She looked just enough like my mother to trigger my Oedipal complex, but not enough to creep me out. As we chatted I only came to love her more. She was so sweet and charming, a cup running over with the milk of human kindness. It was also obvious from the moment I saw her that she was utterly unimpressed with me. For two drinks I desperately tried to show her a side of myself that she hadn’t seen, to impress her with my mighty works, but it was not to be. Being an internet famous cigar aficionado and author of a lecherous, autobiographical website might be impressive to some, but it wasn’t to her.

At the end of the night I desperately clambered for something more. “Well that was fun,” I said. “Perhaps I can see you again soon?” She smiled weakly. “Goodbye.” The next day I sent her an SMS, espousing her many virtues, and practically begging for a second chance. She took two days to reply. “You’re a nice enough guy,” she said “but I just don’t see it going anywhere.”

I still look her up on Facebook occasionally.

H. Upmann No. 2 Reserva final third

In the final third I switch over to an American whiskey; Hudson Rye, neat. It’s woody and sweet. The cigar is thick now, and a little bitter, much of the complexity faded into a mess of earth tar and tobacco. The whiskey takes the edge off nicely. In the corner, the date is over, and the couple part with the coldest of embraces. The work crew, too, have all departed, the last stayer helping his boss to a cab. The two conspirators stagger out not long after, arms around each other’s shoulders. Finally, the bar is just me and the woman with the book. Not taking her eyes from the page, she fumbles absentmindedly for a Dunhill Blue. Finding the packet empty, she closes the book, throws down the last of the wine, shoots me a haughty glance, and departs. I toss my nub in the ashtray and wrap my scarf tight around my neck.

The Upmann 2 Reserva? A great cigar. In the Upmann line I’d sit it above an old Sir Winnie and below the 520 Anniversary. If I’d smoked it on a warm summer’s morning rather than a frigid winter’s evening, it may have gone even higher.

H. Upmann No. 2 Reserva nub

H. Upmann No. 2 Reserva Cosecha 2010 on the Cuban Cigar Website.

Romeo y Julieta Roundup

Below, gentle readers, lies a mostly complete cross section of the exotic cigars released under the marque of Romeo y Julieta. It is exactingly ranked in descending order from zenith to nadir, and no Romeo cigar can be rationally purchased without first consulting it.

  1. Romeo y Julieta Aguilas 130 Aniversario Humidor
  2. Romeo y Julieta Fabulosos No. 6 Colección Habanos 2004
  3. Romeo y Julieta Romeos Réplica de Humidor Antiguo 2008
  4. Romeo y Julieta Hermosos No. 3 510 Aniversario Humidor
  5. Romeo y Julieta Romeos 125 Aniversario Humidor
  6. Romeo y Julieta Pirámides Habanos Añejados 2014
  7. Romeo y Julieta Exhibición No.2 Edición Limitada 2000
  8. Romeo y Julieta Duke Edición Limitada 2009
  9. Romeo y Julieta Double Corona 125 Aniversario Humidor
  10. Romeo y Julieta Hermosos No. 1 Edición Limitada 2003
  11. Romeo y Julieta Churchill Reserva Cosecha 2008
  12. Romeo y Julieta Cedros de Luxe La Casa del Habano Exclusivo 2014
  13. Romeo y Julieta 109 130 Aniversario Humidor
  14. Romeo y Julieta Petit Piramides Edición Limitada 2005
  15. Romeo y Julieta Escudos Edición Limitada 2007
  16. Romeo y Julieta De Luxe Edición Limitada 2013
  17. Romeo y Julieta Churchills
  18. Romeo y Julieta Petit Coronas
  19. Romeo y Julieta Mille Fleurs
  20. Romeo y Julieta Cedros de Luxe No. 2

Notable absentees are the 2001 Edición Limitada Robustos, the 2004 Edición Limitada Hermosos No. 2, the 2005 Edición Limitada Petit Piramides, and the Wide Churchills Gran Reserva, all of which I was unable to obtain in sufficient quantity for this series. I will add them to this list in the event that they ever cross my ashtray. If you think you can help, by all means, please reach out.

Romeo y Julieta logo.