Passé the port - James Leavey passes over the cigars in this week's column. Instead he explores the myriad of pre and post-pandrial libations that contribute to fine dining. What's in, what's out. Which do avoid if a hangover is anticipated and which will impress. Just don't offer James a shot of tequila.
Notes on the Underground - In Vienna, touring the site of a pivotal scene from the classic movie "The Third Man," James Leavey found that the aroma from a Montecristo No. 2 was very welcome indeed to a bunch of non-smoking movie buffs.
Staging a smoke - Mummies and daddies always warn their offspring not to become mixed up with the theater crowd. James Leavey didn't heed the warning. Rather than the lurid pleasures and decadent thrills, however, all he got out of the experience was a love of fine cigars.
Life's a gamble - As gambling expands from elegant casinos, as defined by Monte Carlo, to the humdrum world of studio apartments wired to the Internet, is the sophisticated, cigar-smoking gambler a relic of the past? Not according to James Leavey who looked askance at virtual gambling and found that it serves as a sort of training wheel for subsequent, real action.
Clubbing in London - While England has had for a very long time an admirable reputation for circumspection and a stiff upper lip in the face of adversity, it acquired a reputation of upscale hedonism in the 1960's that spoke to that era and continues to this day. James Leavey's report on London night life provides a guide to those who plan visiting the swinging capital city. We're please that, at least for now, the Puritan anti-smokers have been thwarted in imposing prohibition completely upon London and the rest of the country.
On the borderland - They're everywhere! Humorless, puritanical and relentless, the Californian anti-smokers carry their negativity to the furthest corners of the globe and, in James Leavey's nightmare, beyond.
The First Time - Ah, to be young and experience the first time all over again. Who wouldn't revisit if possible? The breathless anticipation, the heart-pumping excitement, the throw up all over the floor. Huh? James Leavey takes us back to his days as a newspaper cub investigating the allure of Italian forbidden fruit and a big fat cigar.
Saints and sinners - James Leavey's natural exuberance was dampened on a recent trip to Dublin. No, the abundant rain didn't douse his spirits, although it does come into play. What got him down is the "success" of prohibition in Ireland. Where feisty independence once reigned a somber compliance is the mode. Of course noncompliance can cost the free sprit 3,000 euros and a stay in jail. No wonder the road and rails to Belfast in Northern Ireland are crowded as Irish smokers find they must cross the border to enjoy themselves. The "new" Ireland leaves must to be desired.
Humidors - One of the charms (and, to be frank, annoyances) circulating about cigar smokers is the ornate nature of their pleasure. Cigars don't come in packs, are often purchased in specialty shops, are not easily lit and take a very long time to smoke. More mysterious are the various devices that are required to cultivate the art of cigar smoking. The humidor is such a device. Why are they needed? What do they do? Why are they so expensive? James Leavey sheds some light on these objects of beauty that keep their precious items safe.
Heinrich Villiger – in love with cigars - Most cigarette smokers these days connect Switzerland with tobacco only so far as the provider of cheap smokes, purchased online, with that country's formidable guarantee of privacy.
While the alpine location is hardly conducive to the cultivation of tobacco, there are some cigar manufacturers that are well known and appreciated by European cigar aficionados. North American smokers soon will be able to enjoy a premium product from the pristine mountains of Switzerland.
Making cigars; a family affair - Like father like daughter in this tale of a familial team whose love of fine cigars provides the clue that holds a venerable cigar manufacturing concern, perhaps the oldest in Great Britain, together. Through war, changing tastes and Puritanical bossiness, Jemma Freeman and her dad kept their firm on the cutting edge of flavor and quality. Now the daughter is on her own but confident that his lessons and their love of fine cigars will see her company through its second century.
A cut above the rest - While anti-tobacco is fond of intoning portentously that cigarettes are the the only product in America that, when used as directed, kill its customers, keen observers will note that packs of cigarettes are quite devoid of any directions at all. Smoking a cigarette is quite easy with the only tricky part knowing which end to light.
Smoking cigars, however, is another matter. A cigar in the hand of a clueless novice is a mysterious artifact. Does one leave the attractive band in place? How long does it take to smoke such a solid tube? Why is the paper golden brown? And, most of all, which end is lighted and which end is puffed?
James Leavey comes to the rescue, along with the "politically incorrect Jewish Texan singer" and fellow cigar aficionado Kinky Friedman. Between the two of them you will know the differences among Guillotine, Scissors, Punch, V and Screw.
Quick on the draw - Cartoon art is a vivid mirror of the times we live in – as well as bringing the near and distant past alive…such as those halcyon days when we could smoke in peace…
The day James Leavey first met Kinky Friedman - …actually took place about four years ago. We have occasionally bumped into each other, since, which is all just a pathetic excuse to write this crappy introduction that doesn't really justice to such a brilliant writer…Oh well, here goes nothing... It was a far more interesting week than I envisaged when it first started. On Monday I got an unexpected call from Kinky Friedman, who had just arrived at a hotel in Bloomsbury, across the road from the offices of his London publishers, Faber and Faber.
All choked up with healthy advice - “Before I met the author of The Forest Guide to Smoking in London and champion of every smoker's right to be treated with tolerance and courtesy, I was determined to be firm. That was the idea, anyway. What actually happened was that Mr Leavey greeted me in his sunny little garden in Cowes, poured himself a glass of whisky, stuck a whopping great cigar into his smiley mouth, invited me to share his ashtray and the next thing I knew, I was addicted to the man.”
...My problem was, having sipped several cognacs too many by the late night arrival of the main headline event, some of those sculptures looked remarkably like ashtrays, and I had to restrain myself from using them for unloading the ash from my Havanas. Eventually, a thoughtful press officer found me a spare ashtray and I reclined on the grass on that summer night in France, my double corona resembling a large chimney pointing at the constellations in the sky above me, while I breathed in the atmosphere created by all that lively music, exhaled cognac fumes, and bonhomie.
Several months ago, I was invited to an exhibition in Paris to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the S.T. Dupont lighter. Arriving early, I nipped into a nearby cafe for a couple of espressos and Montecristo No.3s, which I shared with Martin Winters, Managing Director of the famous French company’s UK division. Not only were the Havanas almost half the price I would normally pay back home in London, they offered something I hadn’t experienced for some time from a Cuban cigar - an easy, pleasant draw. We connect to Whisky World.
You’d think, given the current climate of fear, global terrorism, potential for World War Three, and impending recession, that smoking would be pushed to the back-burner. Surely we have more important things to concern ourselves with?
When they told me I would be hiking up one of the Austrian alps for the first time in my long, mountain-avoiding life, I gave them the short answer, similar to the one Mariah Carey had used, when the producer of one of her recent concerts in London asked her to make an entrance by descending a tall flight of stairs on stage. "I don't do stairs," she replied. "And I," I politely told my Austrian hosts, "don't do mountains."
Years ago, George Orwell and Dylan Thomas used to earn extra cash from book running in London, selling old books to the capitol's second-hand bookshops. I got into it 30 years ago by accident when I went to a local jumble sale in London and bought a pile of paperbacks. I kept the ones I liked, sold the rest to a Charing Cross Road bookshop, and found myself ahead by a few quid. [...] And yes, I have found that most of London's second-hand bookshops are smoker-friendly, unlike the new bookshops (many owned by American companies), even those that sell my smoker's guides to London and Scotland. If in doubt, look for the ashtrays and ask for titles about 'London - the Big Smoke.'
London is Europe’s largest city, with over seven million inhabitants. Long known as the Big Smoke, it attracts 28 million tourists every year, at least a quarter of whom are devoted to nicotine. Despite growing opposition by the anti-smoking lobby to what they claim is a filthy, unhealthy, anti-social habit, and the British government’s absurdly high tax on tobacco, about 25 per cent of London’s adult population continues to smoke.
Marlene Dietrich first found fame in the role of Lola Lola in Josef von Sternberg’s film, ‘The Blue Angel’, in which she created an icon for the modern age: the self-confident, erotic and financially independent woman. On April 1, 1930, the day of the film’s premiere, Dietrich boarded a train in Berlin and headed for the USA, where she began her international career.
When the man from Bahia asked if I wanted to spend
ten days touring the tobacco plantations, cigar retailers
and smoker-friendly fleshpots of Brazil, it was all I could
do not to bite off his arm. Then I thought, "What! Only
A couple of years ago, I asked Harvey Keitel if he would be the subject of a 'My favourite cigar' ' article. He politely refused, on the grounds that as a major Hollywood star, he didn't wish to be seen encouraging smoking. All this from a noted cigar aficionado who had just appeared as a Havana-chompin' New York cigar shop owner in two films, Smoke and Blue in the Face.
If there’s one country that knows how to celebrate Christmas, it’s Germany. Indeed, the Germans love Christmas so much, they exported various aspects of it to the rest of the world so that we could join in the fun. ... Like von Willemer, I believe that Christmas still brings out the best of us. Which is a good enough reason, I say, to celebrate it every day. Especially with a fine cigar.
'My mother always told me, "Vlad, drink your soup before it clots." And I did. I usually lapped it up through my hollow canine teeth which acted as straws. Sometimes I was given a Bloody Mary to savour, and other times, the special treat of a Bleeding Annie to rip and slobber over.' ' "OK, Mummy. Can I have another Havana cigar?" "Certainly my dear little Vlad," she said, handing me a Montecristo No.2 from Daddy's humidor, after cutting the end and lighting it. "And never forget. It's better to fill your tummy with smoke or pure human blood, than those nasty genetically-modified foods." '
The perfect espresso coffee is percolated in no more or less than 30 seconds. Once brewed, it must be drunk immediately. If not, the foam shrinks, collapses, and dries out on the walls of the small heavy china cup it is usually served in, just above the liquid. Smoothness of taste is lost and acidity increases, as does a certain saltiness.
There was once a writer living in London who decided to fly to Germany in search of something as rare as a cigar-smoking unicorn in California. "And what it is that you are seeking, Herr Leavey?" inquired the customs officer at Bremen airport. "The German sense of humour, bitte," replied the writer. "So," exclaimed the German official, suppressing a Wagnerian belly laugh, "you must be planning a very long stay!"
' So let's have more cartoons about the anti-smoking born-again puritans, who should be dismissed as a joke, instead of being taken so bloody seriously by our placid, non-questioning, intolerant world. '
' Not only has the Europa remained smoker-friendly, it also displays a remarkable little sign on the tables in its restaurants, lobby, bars and rooms, entitled "Courtesy of Choice."
Underneath the heading are the following words, "The concept and symbol of Courtesy of Choice reflects the centuries-old philosophy that acknowledges differences while allowing them to exist together in harmony." '
"Opera is a heady combination of music and drama that for decades was off-putting for many people, who associated it with social-exclusivity, i.e. snobbery, and extravagance. At the very least, the tickets were notoriously expensive, and black tie was the norm. And anyway, who wants to sit through three hours of an opera just to hear a couple of well-known arias."
Not that long ago, I wrote and edited a couple of the first ever travel books for smokers - The FOREST Guide to Smoking in London and The FOREST Smoker's Guide to Scotland. Instead of the gratuitous vilification I expected, they ignited serious, widespread debate by the world's media, much of it surprisingly positive.
As a result, two polite requests landed on my doormat, next to the cat's ashtray.
Later, I wondered if a better answer to his question was to relive one of those special moments I have been privileged to enjoy.