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 Edición Limitada 2005 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 Edición Limitada 2005 half smoked

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 Edición Limitada 2005 smoked just above the bands

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 Edición Limitada 2005 nub

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 unlit

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 with an inch smoked

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 half smoked

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 Cosecha 2010 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 Cosecha 2010 somewhat smoked

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 Cosecha 2010 smoked just above the band

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 Cosecha 2010 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

Custom Roll

Today’s cigar is a closed-foot custom, about a Gordito size. It was a gift, and beyond what you can tell by looking at it, I know absolutely nothing about it. It came with a bunch of other cigars and no commentary. It has a nice, dark, oily wrapper. I pick the foot and take a dry inhale. The draw is very loose. Lit, it begins nicely. Sweet cream and coca. Touch of honey.

As a teenager, I never had a close relationship with music. I don’t think pop music was forbidden in the house I grew up in, but it wasn’t around very often. Certainly, I never stormed off to my room to blare rock and roll while my dad banged on the door, yelling at me to turn that racket down. My parents listened exclusively to news radio, and commercial television was forbidden on all but the rarest of occasions. There was a CD player in the lounge room, but as far as I know the only CD it ever played was a Best of The Seekers compilation my mother had, and that only on Christmas. I guess my older sister must have listened to at least some music, because she had a Radiohead poster in her room, but if she did she did it with headphones. People occasionally ask my what the first CD I ever bought was, and I can honestly say that I haven’t bought one yet.

In my late teens I developed a love of film, and through that I came to at least appreciate the cinematic quality that music can add to life. In my twenties, once I got a little disposable income, I started to go concerts. Without a strong relationship with any particular genre, I would go to anything that promised a spectacular or visceral experience. I went to KISS a lot of times. To AC/DC. Meatloaf. The Flaming Lips. Gorillaz. I saw Pubic Enemy three times at the Corner Hotel, a tiny, dank little room, where it feels good to be drenched in the sweat of a few hundred other humans while Flava Flav spouts nonsense. I saw Ennio Morricone conduct an orchestra. And naturally, in 2012 when Prince came to town, I bought a ticket. Matter of fact, I bought two.

My tickets were three weeks apart, on the first and last nights of the tour. I figured that if the first show wasn’t any good, I could always scalp the second one. I didn’t end up needing to. The first show was phenomenal.

The shows were in the round in a 15,000 seat stadium, on a stage shaped like Prince’s love symbol, and the real takeaway for me was that this was my first time looking at a real musician. Prince was mostly playing the hits, but he has a lot of hits, and the set list seemed to change at his whim, the band well drilled enough to follow his cues. He was a great singer, with a voice that moves effortlessly between a deep bass growl and a shrill falsetto, but his real talent was in his guitar, and his amazing, uplifting solos. I’ve heard Prince describe his musical genre as “inspirational,” and that’s exactly what it was. I felt the funk songs in my crotch, and the ballads in my heart. I took the lovely Shortcake to the second show, and she literally fainted during Purple Rain.

There was one show in Melbourne on that tour that I missed. On a Monday night at 2am he played one of his illusive secret shows, just Prince and the band jamming for three hours to an audience of eighty in a dingy jazz club. The next morning I read the reviews with envy, and made a note to find the secret show if I was ever in the same city as Prince again.

Custom cigar with an inch smoked

At the mid-point the custom cigar is dry, with flavours of sandy earth and straw. There is a strong cocoa element that reminds me of packaged cake mix, with the bite of dehydrated egg. It’s a complex cigar, to be honest – no sooner have I tasted cake mix then it switches to a fresher, more tannic sting. It’s pleasant enough.

In February of this year, Prince announced some shows in Australia. There wasn’t a lot of build-up. Tickets were on sale a week after the announcement, the shows the week after. He was playing four shows over two nights in Melbourne, and the same in Sydney. As luck would have it would be in the right town for both. The venues were small concert halls, 2000 seats or less, and the shows billed as an intimate, special experience. No band. No lights. Not even a guitar. Just Prince, a piano, and a microphone. Ticket prices were pegged at $100, $200, and $400. I figured $200 would get me a pretty good seat. I could take Shortcake again.

The day tickets went on sale was chaos, with the typical server congestion. I reached the front of the queue a few times, but by the time I did all the $200 pairs of tickets were sold out (as it happened, 90% of the venue turned out to be at the $400 price point), and each new search sent me to the back of the line. By the time I had come to terms with going alone, the best available seat was a $400 one in row X, and I couldn’t quite bring myself to do it.

As soon as Prince landed in Melbourne, I was all over him. I followed the Twitter feed of anyone with a slight association to Prince, or who might be in the loop of the Melbourne music scene. I spent my nights stalking the jazz bars and clubs on the lookout for a Purple light that might signal a secret show, and didn’t go to bed before 4:00am. Alas, it seemed that the rigorous pace of this tour – four hours or more solo singing a night for two nights in a row – left no room for secret shows.

As I drove up to Sydney an announcement pinged on my phone. Due to popular demand, they had decided to do the Sydney Opera Hours shows in the round. Seats in the boxes to the side and rear of the stage were now available. From Wodonga to Gundagai I contemplated it, but decided I had no choice. It was a lot of money for two hours of entertainment, but I had been losing sleep over Prince for a week. By Jugiong I had a $400 charge on my credit card.

My seat was in the second row of the stage left box. Prince’s piano, close enough that I could have easily thrown my wallet onto it, was lengthways on the stage. The people in the VIP row of the stalls were marginally closer, but seated at the piano he was facing me. I had the best seat in the house.

The set was all deep cuts, almost none of which I knew, but each one filled with pure, raw emotion, taking me back to the most brutal of my many heartbreaks, or to the ecstasy of new love. Prince’s mastery of his art was awe inspiring, as was his vocal range, his ability to put so much into every note, his ease with the crowd, and his charisma. By the second encore my voice was among the 2000 screaming for more, our roar reverberating around incredible acoustics of the shell roof. On stage Prince giggled. “I’ve never felt so welcome in Australia in my life.”

At midnight it was over and I was completely emotionally drained. My plan had been to get a cab the five kilometres or so back to the apartment, but in a Zen state I decided it was better to walk. I drifted through Saturday night, past the drunks and the scumbags, the strip clubs and the pimps and the thug cops. “On any other weekend that would be me” I thought to myself. “Why have I wasted my life on this garbage? Why haven’t I dedicated it to truth and beauty?” I wondered. “How will I ever achieved the perfection of someone like Prince if my life is half over and I haven’t even begun.”

Two kilometres out it started to rain, but I didn’t mind. I was a man of love now, and rain didn’t bother me.

Davidé is the physical embodiment of a creature of hate. His body, army honed, is a hard mound of muscle and scar tissue. On his back he proudly wears a tattoo of a naked woman riding the Nagasaki bomb. Across his belly march the silhouettes of a company of storm troopers. He was sharing my apartment, and I had left him with the only key, so had to tap on the window to get let in. Shirtless, he opened the door, and contemplated me with his cold sneer, ready to launch into some rant or other. I embraced him.

“Peace be on you, brother” I said. “Peace be on you.”

Custom cigar about an inch unsmoked

I keep waiting for the cigar to get bitter, as it has been loose the whole way down, and doesn’t seem to be aged particularly long, so I would expect a hot mess of tar to be its final notes. Not so. The custom ends with a nice sweet cream and rich espresso. I’d recommend you pick one up, but I have no idea how you’d do such a thing.

Custom cigar nub

Romeo y Julieta Churchill Reserva Cosecha 2008

Life has a funny way of working out. For this week’s dusky beauty I was in need of a sidekick. For the final cigar in my Romeo y Julieta retrospective I had lined up a Churchills Reserva and, much as I did a few years ago with the Monte Gran Reserva, I wanted to smoke it side by side with someone smoking its regular production equivalent. Davidé (the swine), was off in the tropics indulging his baser urges in some sweltering hive of scum and villainy, and nobody else seemed too interested. The weather was perfect and I was seriously smoking the two cigars simultaneously when a text message came through. It was my friend Bogus’ birthday, he was feeling depressed, and was wondering if I wanted to get a drink and talk. “I can do you one better” I replied. “Eat a banana and head over. I’ve got the sure-fire depression cure for you: nicotine and Vitamin D.”

Romeo y Julieta Churchill Reserva Cosecha 2008 unlit, alongside a regular Churchills

“Holy shit,” my companion remarks, moments after lighting. “Now that is a delicious cigar.” The reserva at this point is just getting its legs, and is still a little bitter from the light, so I have a puff of the regular Churchills. The boy is right. The cigar is amazing. One of the sweetest, creamiest cigars I’ve ever had the pleasure of. Tastes like butterscotch. Unfortunately, it doesn’t last. By two centimetres in the Churchill regular is black coffee, with dirty earth notes. The reserva is a much lighter (and, frankly, superior) version of the same thing: smooth coffee cream and cedar.

Bogus today is an upstanding member of society: he’s married with kids, runs his own business, and is deeply involved in the political fundraiser networking circuit. It was not always this way. I’ll never forget the first day we met. I was sitting in a university tutorial at the start of second semester, waiting for class to begin, when a gungy looking skinhead thug sat down next to me. He really had it all going on – heavily studded leather jacket, ripped jeans, boots, tartan flannel shirt, and he offered me his hand, saying “hey man, I’m so glad there’s somebody I know in this class.” I had never seen this person before in my life, and was about to say so, when the second words out of his mouth gave me pause: “I’m so happy today, man. It’s the last day of my suspended sentence.”

We became fast friends, and ten years later, long after his rebellion against society had ended, he sent me a text. It was Grand Final Day (the final match of the year for our home grown football code), which is a sort of public holiday in Melbourne, when your average male traditionally has a barbecue and watches the game, or go to a pub and watches the game. Bookish nerds like me traditionally stay home and play video games in protest. Bogus’ text was inviting me to a pub crawl. “Just me and some friends,” it read. “It’s okay but they’re a bunch of punks.”

Assuming he meant “punks” in the same sense as “kids,” I decided to dress in the most neutral way I could, so as not to affiliate myself with any football team. The final ensemble – a beige guayabera, chinos, and a calf-length chestnut coloured overcoat – looked good, but it was weird as hell. I looked like a moneyed eccentric, home from the equatorial colonies. When I walked into the pub and found myself in a room full of leather, tartan, Mohawks and piercings, I looked even more out of place; in a room full of non-conformist weirdos, I was the non-conformist weirdo.

The event turned out to be the annual Punk Crawl, a decades long tradition on Melbourne Grand Final Day, where a hundred or so punks trek around the CBD, occupying various bars. Outside each venue, and accompanying the walk between them, was a heavy police presence. I had joined the crawl at pub number three. We stayed there for about forty-five minutes before walking down the street to pub four, only to find that the cops had phoned ahead, and the owner had closed the place in anticipation. The thing about punks is that they’re anarchists. They lack strong leadership. With the planned venue closed to them, the crawl pretty much disbanded. Some punks went to the next pub on the list. Others went back to the place we had just come from. Some scattered to various nearby bars, while a final group stayed outside the closed bar, yelling indignantly that it was a free country and they were just trying to have some fun. For my own part I wound up around the corner at a university bar that did not feature on the official list.

Romeo y Julieta Churchill Reserva Cosecha 2008, an inch is smoke

The Churchills Reserva has a bit of tighter draw than the regular production model and, perhaps because of this, or perhaps my more practiced smoking technique, it is burning a good deal slower. Its flavours are light, with coffee and a distinct sour cherry note. It’s an artificial cherry flavour – red Starburst, specifically. By contrast the regular Churchills is much fuller tobacco, with bitter coffee and earthy tones.

There were ten or so of the punks that came with us to the university bar, and I was hanging out chiefly with Bogus and his friend Moby. Like Bogus, Moby wasn’t really a practicing punk any more. At one time he had been as punk as they come, with leopard print and ACAB (“All Cops Are Bastards”) tattooed around the base of his Mohawk. The Mohawk had gone years ago though, and he’d grown his hair out to cover the tattoos, which were now starting to show again as his hair thinned with the approach of middle age. He wasn’t quite as square as Bogus – he worked at a combat gym, selling custom made knives and non-lethal weaponry to security guards, hunters and martial artists. At first he eyed me with suspicion, but when I started to smoke my cigar (Upmann Monarchas), much to the distaste of the straights in the outdoor dining area, he started to come around. “You dress like a fascist” he told me, “but actually, you’re pretty punk.”

The Punk Crawl had been scheduled to end with a concert at the Grey Duke Hotel, a dive bar in a bad area that was known for its heavy metal shows, and that seemed as good a place as any to rendezvous with the main body of the crawl. We arrived about 8:30pm, just as the second act was about to go on. By all accounts the first act hadn’t been much good, but the second were shaping up to be better, and the place was starting to fill up, as the scattered groups of punks began to trickle back in. The band started to play, a few people started to head-bang, the beer was flowing, there were some cute baby-punk girls in little tartan skirts around – all in all it was a good vibe. Yes, the crawl so far had been a bit of a disaster, but now we were back together. It felt good to be punk.

Just as things were starting to come together, Moby walked up to Bogus and I with a huge grin on his face. “Well guys,” he said, “it’s been fun, but I gotta go.” “Where are you off to?” asked Bogus. “Oh, nowhere. Just things are about to get a bit rough in here.” He winked, and handed Bogus something. “Enjoy yourselves.” Bogus inspected the item Moby had handed him. It was a small aerosol can on a keyring. Bogus sniffed it gingerly, and recoiled. “It’s a pepper spray can” he said. “And it’s empty.”

It quickly became obvious that the contents of the can had gone into the air-conditioning intake. Forewarned somewhat, Bogus and I were two of the first out the door, but we were still exposed enough that my eyes and nose were streaming, a feeling like the worst hay-fever imaginable. Within a minute the place was empty. On the footpath outside punks were coughing. Punks were crying. The dance floor seemed to have gotten it worst. One of the cute-baby punk girls throwing up in the gutter, while her friend sat next to her, crying and hyperventilating hysterically. The punks were upset. “It was the bastard cops,” I heard one say. “They must have maced someone right outside the window.” “Nah,” his friend replied. “It was the owner. He saw we were starting to have fun so he shut it down.” “C’mon man,” said Bogus. “Let’s get out of here before the cops show up.”

We headed up the road to a different pub, Bogus disposing of the mace can in a storm water drain along the way, and had a beer on the deck and watched while fire engines, ambulances and cop cars arrived one after another. After a while Moby showed up and joined us. “Why did you do it?” I asked him. “Those are your friends, shouldn’t you stick together?” “Because it’s punk” he replied with a sneer. “Those poseurs just don’t get it. Of course punks pepper spray other punks. Nothing is more punk than that.

Romeo y Julieta Churchill Reserva Cosecha 2008, final third

By the last two inches the Reserva Churchills has gone much the same way as its brethren: bitter coffee, rough tobacco and tar. It’s not terrible, and I don’t need to spit, but I do need to take more regular sips of rum. These are big cigars, and a lot of crap is going to build up in two and a half hours of smoking. You have to expect that they’ll end like this.

And so the verdict: the Churchills Reserva is a way better cigar than the regular production Churchills, but it probably isn’t worth twice as much. When compared to the wider cigars of the world, it’s good, but it’s not transcendental. You could probably find a better use for your $100 in an aged EL or commemorative box. Way better than a Petit Coronas though.

Romeo y Julieta Churchill Reserva Cosecha 2008 nub

Romeo y Julieta Churchill Reserva Cosecha 2008 on the Cuban Cigar Website

Romeo y Julieta Cedros de Luxe La Casa del Habano Exclusivo 2014

Amongst the more inexplicable releases of 2014 was the Romeo y Julieta Cedros de Luxe, that year’s addition to the La Casa del Habano Exclusive line (which are not especially exclusive, either to La Casa del Habanos stores, or the year of production, and least of all in number produced). The Romeo y Julieta line can loosely be broken up into several lines: the numbered series, which come in tubes, are available in gas stations, and are smoked mainly by non-aficionados; the Churchill series, which have the classic name, command a premium price, and are smoked by both the aficionado and non-aficionado alike; and the Exhibición series which are the exclusive domain of the aficionado. Then there’s the en Cedros cigars, which fall strongly into the “sell well in Spain” category (or to put it another way, are smoked by nobody).  Why Habanos felt that adding a Gorditio to the cedros line (a size that was last seen de cedros as the 2007 Escudos EL) was a good idea is beyond me, but so it is. Today one shall burn.

Romeo y Julieta Cedros de Luxe La Casa del Habano Exclusivo 2014 unlit

Readers are sometimes surprised to learn that I don’t really smoke all that much. Aside from the odd social event – where I’ll hang a cigar out of my mouth and not really think about the flavours – the cigars you see burnt in these pages are pretty much the sum of it. Because of this I am approximately the world’s most spoiled smoker, with a palate accustomed exclusively to ancient limited editions and other rarities. Despite being 2014 cigars, the Cedros de Luxe only finally materialised in mid-2015, making this example the youngest thing I’ve smoked in years. It’s got a real tang to it up front, like biting into a vine leaf. That note only lasts for a second on the palate though, quickly fading into a sticky, milky sort of taste, with a walnut bitterness. Tobacco strength is a light medium. It’s not bad at all.

It’s mid-morning on a Tuesday, and I have decided to call today a Vitamin-D break. I logged into the office chat-program first thing, and when somebody addressed a question to me I replied “I’m out of the office this morning, will get back to you this arvo.” Nobody seemed to question it. There is a cool breeze blowing, but the little park I’m in is sheltered, and it’s nice in the sun.

I picked up a coffee on the way over. The sprightly young waitress took my order, but told me to wait for the barista, and made small talk with me until he arrived. He turned out to be an elderly Italian man, who was delighted when I declined his offer of sugar. “Good, good!” he said. “The last guy, he want hot chocolate with two sugars! Two sugars! It’s like can of coke! He want to kill himself, I think.” I smiled along, and murmured the platitudes one murmurs when somebody rants passionately at you about something you don’t have a lot of stake in. While he was talking the waitress had started wiping down the large tables, and was bending deep to reach the far side. The barista caught me checking out her butt and winked at me. “I think maybe sometimes you like the sugar, eh?” I threw up my hands, and smiled. “Sometimes I like two sugars.”

Romeo y Julieta Cedros de Luxe La Casa del Habano Exclusivo 2014 partially smoked

The burn of the Cedros de Luxe is not great, the coal burning only in the centre, and leaving the wrapper untouched. It has yet to totally go out, but has required several touch ups to keep a semi-decent smoke volume going. The ash seems unusually white for a cigar this young. By the mid-point the initial tang has transformed into a dryer one, resembling the herbaceous element of a martini. Hendricks gin, if I’m not mistaken, with a tiny splash of Noilly Pratt. Dry is a good word to describe this cigar. It sucks up the saliva.

The park I am in is a little patch of green between office complexes in Melbourne’s desolate docklands, so on a sunny morning like this it is naturally deserted. A beaded man, of a similar age to myself wanders by, a large pipe between his lips. He does a double take when he sees my cigar, and nods to me. Brothers of the leaf. The man wanders down to the water and out onto a small pier there. As I watch he places his pipe on a bollard (the very same bollard that my dusky beauties have rested on from time to time), and takes several photos. I wonder if he’s writing a pipe website somewhere.

Romeo y Julieta Cedros de Luxe La Casa del Habano Exclusivo 2014 an inch left

As the coal touches the final inch of the Cedros de Luxe the tang is stronger, the tobacco strength thickening to a full medium. It goes out, and I relight it, and puff vigorously for the last ten minutes or so, finishing it off. Surprisingly it never grows bitter. The final notes are very herbal, quite milky.

In theory, en cedros cigars will gain a cedar quality over time, but at this stage the Cedros de Luxe doesn’t really exhibit one. It’s not a bad cigar, undergoing several flavour transitions while I was smoking, even if those were more or less variations on the same three notes. Still, for what it’s worth, I’d much rather smoke another of these than head back to the office. I even rate it marginally higher than the Escudos, and certainly the Petit Coronas.

Romeo y Julieta Cedros de Luxe La Casa del Habano Exclusivo 2014 nub

Romeo y Julieta Cedros de Luxe La Casa del Habano Exclusivo 2014 on the Cuban Cigar Website

Romeo y Julieta Double Corona 125 Aniversario Humidor

There is an interesting bit of trivia about the Romeo y Julieta Double Coronas from the 125th Anniversary Humidor. Romeo had two notable releases in the year 2000, the aforementioned humidor and, from the first generation of Edición Limitada cigars, the Exhibición No. 2. The Exhibition No. 2 has a 49 ring gauge and a 194mm length. The Double Corona has a 49 and an 180mm length. If you look at the 125 Humidor, the layout is very hap-hazard. The cigars are in four compartments, in uneven numbers. For the most part the compartments are the right size for the cigars, and are divided by double walls of cedar, but in some places a single wall is used, and one of the compartments is about 15mm too big for its contents. The rumour is that the humidor was originally supposed to contain Exhibición No. 2s and Romeos, but they messed up their estimates and accidentally made the humidors too small. The solution they came up with was to lop 14mm off the Exhibición and call it a Double Corona.

Once lit, the cigar exhibits a light mid-tobacco note that leaves a little lactic stickiness on the cheeks. There is a slight note of whiteboard marker. The aftertaste is grassy straw.

Romeo y Julieta Double Corona 125 Aniversario Humidor unlit

When we last visited with my friend Lance Hendricks, he was in Taipei, living out the fugue spiral of an unemployable foreign cripple. Things have changed. A few years ago he returned to Melbourne, occupied the garden shed in his parent’s house, and began anew the fugue spiral of an unemployable cripple in Australia. His primary aspiration in life seems to be to upgrade from the regular unemployment benefit to the ‘super-dole’ (the disability pension).

Somewhere along the line he managed to ingratiate himself with a crowd of people – mainly female – in their early 20s. To peers in his own age group he is a fuckup; no career, no wife, no kids, living with his parents, with nothing more to show for his life than a few thousand views on his YouTube videos. People in their early twenties don’t care about that stuff though. To them he is an artist, a free spirit, living life outside of society’s norms. They don’t care that he still lives with his parents. Half their friends still live with their parents.

I welcomed his new friends with open arms, delighted at the prospect of ani influx of new life to my parties, which had become a bit dead since all my friends got married and had babies. Besides, if the girls were impressed with him, imagine what they’d think of me and my myriad accomplishments!

It was a beautiful dream, but it perished fast. A few months after he joined their circle I hosted one of my blowouts, and sure enough, the girls were impressed. “Wow,” one of them remarked. “I thought parties like this only happened in the movies.” Deep in my host state, and resplendent in my white dinner jacket (an exact copy of the one Humphrey Bogart wears in Casablanca [I’d had a tailor make it for me in China]), I was shaking up a cocktail for one my friend’s girlfriends when Jill (one of the 20 year olds) asked if I could make her something. The drink I was mixing was fairly weak already (its intended recipient was known to get rowdy) but nonetheless, I diluted it a little, and split off a glass for Jill.

Some hours later there was a tap on my shoulder, and a guest informed me that a girl was throwing up in the bathroom. I went to investigate, and found Jill in as bad a state as anyone has ever been. She was face down in the empty bathtub, bleary eyed, throwing up, and babbling incoherently about how she was going to die. She refused my offer of a bed to pass out in, and didn’t want me to call an ambulance, so I summoned Shortcake, a nurse and fellow guest. For the next few hours we sat together in the bathroom, assisting Jill through her crisis. I missed out on most of the bash, but it wasn’t so bad, really; Shortcake is extremely charming, and I enjoyed the intimate moment with her, if nothing else. In the end we drove Jill home together and put her to bed.

A week or so later Lance came to me and said he had bad news. “You know that Jill chick?” he asked.
“Sure, how’s she doing?”
“Well… ahh… she’s telling everyone you spiked her drink because you were trying to rape her.” I was mortified, but what was I to do? The arrows of injustice had been cast. I had no forum to defend myself. The 20 year olds never came to my parties again. From time to time I would see them sometimes at his soirees, and to be honest, they always seemed to be fine with me, friendly and easy going, but Lance would assure me that they all hated me. “You should hear what they say behind your back” he’d say. “They basically think you’re a paedophile rapist creep.” Over time, I grew to reciprocate their alleged feelings. When Lance would ask me if I wanted to go to one of their parties with him I would reply “No. Fuck those two-faced pricks.”

Romeo y Julieta Double Corona 125 Aniversario Humidor somewhat smoked

At the mid-point the cigar is very light, with slight notes of cedar and slighter ones of balsa wood. There remains a slight, chemical trial on the back end that is reminiscent of PVA glue. I’m drinking a beer, which is never a great pair with cigars, but this particular beer is an especially strong hoppy thing that completely drowns out anything more delicate that the cigar might have to offer. For an aged cigar like this, where delicacy is everything, it was a terrible choice.

One evening, after some years of animosity between myself and Lance’s young friends, I found myself in a nightclub, and at the bar I ran into one of their number. Her name was Sara. She was twenty-two years old, and looked happy to see me. We chatted for a few minutes before she took my hand and pulled me onto the dance floor, where she gyrated against me, hot and slow. Soon we were necking, and not too long after that we were lying sweaty on my bed in a state of post-coital bliss. “Wow,” she murmured. “That was amazing. Exactly like I imagined it.” I looked at her quizzically.
“You’ve been imagining it for a while?”
“Oh yeah,” she said. “I’ve wanted you for years. Since the first moment I saw you. I never thought it would happen though because Lance always told us you hated us.”
“What? I don’t hate you. He told you I hated you?”
“Yeah, all the time. He says you look down on us. You think we’re drug addicts and fuckups and you hate us because we’re poor.” I laughed.
“He always told me you all hated me because Jill told everyone I tried to rape her.” She laughed.
“What? That’s not true. I never heard that. When?”
“At that party of mine where she was throwing up in the bath.”
“Really? I don’t think she ever said that.” I laughed, as the nature of Lance’s betrayal became clear to me. That son of a bitch.

Sara and I continued our affair for some weeks, and together we would delight in Lance’s continued duplicitousness. Once she showed me one of his texts: “I know you’re having fun with Groom, but he’s not all he seems. Don’t trust him.” As the weeks wore on, it became clear that Sara was falling for me a little bit. Coyly, she would sound me out. “Do you like me?” she’d ask. “I like you.”

And then, as quick as it began, it ended. She stopped returning my texts. After a week or so of silence I took the case to Lance. “So”, I began, accusatorially. “Sara has stopped returning my texts… any idea why that would be?”
“Yeah,” he said. “That chick isn’t interested in you. She was just using you for sex, she said you were getting too clingy so now she’s with some other guy.”
“That’s not true,” I told him. “That girl is halfway in love with me. I know you’ve been trashing me to her, c’mon, be honest, what’d you tell her?”
He got all embarrassed and stammered out half an admission, but wouldn’t go into specifics. A few minutes later he made an excuse and left.

Finally, I sent Sara a text. “I get that you don’t want to see me anymore and that’s fine, I won’t hassle you again, but please, just tell me, was it something Lance said? What did he say to you?” The reply came a few hours later, at two in the morning. “He showed me your Facebook chat you two-faced arsehole.”

In the morning I scrolled through years of Facebook chat with Lance, and found what I think might have been the offending text. It had been sent two years prior, and at the time had seemed more flip than it did in retrospect. “Hey man, that chick Sara is having a party tonight if you want to come and hover awkwardly.” “Thanks, but I think I can live without an evening in a squat with a bunch of crack addicts. Besides, I don’t think I have enough clothes from Savers to fit in there.”

Romeo y Julieta Double Corona 125 Aniversario Humidor, with a bit less than half remaining

In the final few inches the Double Corona thickens up nicely, with burnt caramel and wood-smoke, and some nice, earthy vegetal notes. On the whole, it’s a nice, old cigar that I suspect is a few years past its prime. The same, admittedly, could be said about the Exhibición No. 2, but to me that cigar had just a little more elegance. Perhaps it’s the extra 14mm.

I’d take the Double Corona over a Petit Coronas, but under an Exhibición 2 or 125 Romeo.

Romeo y Julieta Double Corona 125 Aniversario Humidor nub

Romeo y Julieta Double Corona 125 Aniversario Humidor on the Cuban Cigar Website

Romeo y Julieta 109 130 Aniversario Humidor

It’s a temperate evening in the late summer, still, and not too humid. A good night for cigars and white wine. Let’s hope the fragrant smoke keeps the mosquitos at bay. I’m in a backyard and, lit only by a dim yellow spotlight from the porch, there is one element of the experience that won’t be up to par: the photos. Apologies for that, friends. I simply can’t bear to use a flash.

The cigar of the moment is the Romeo y Julieta 109, from my 130 Aniversario Humidor – at least, that’s what the official literature calls it; really a Nro. 109 vitola cigar should have the trademark bullet tip, which this cigar does not. Then again, the official literature also says there were 500 humidors released (actually 250). Official literature has never been Habanos’ strong suit.

Romeo y Julieta 109 130 Aniversario Humidor unlit

Alight, the cigar begins well, somewhat reminiscent of its baby brother, the Aguilas: nutty, very light tobacco, with hints of dessert spices: nutmeg, cinnamon, and cloves. There is a deep creamy sweetness that bodes well of things to come.

In the summer of 2006 I was still somewhat new to cigars. I had been a fan of the leaf for around three years, and although my regularity was increasing, I was still smoking no more than once a month. In the world of exotic cigars I was a complete neophyte, with perhaps three Edición Limitadas in my ashtray. My knowledge though, was definitely on the upswing. In June of that year I had been given the bible: Min Ron Nee’s An Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Post-Revolution Cuban Cigars, and read it cover to cover and lustfully. I had a lot of free time that summer, much of it in front of a computer with a high speed internet connection, and I read voraciously of an online cigar forum run by a local merchant.

In 2006 Texas Hold ‘em Poker was also on the upswing, and at some point that summer the forum added a new feature: a poker room. It was an online Flash based thing, with daily games at midday Australian time (playing mostly against Americans in their evening).  I’ve always had a good instinct for games. To this day my boyhood next door neighbour Matias still complains about how relentlessly I used to beat him at Monopoly, Cluedo and The Game of Life (I had to cheat to win Life). In any event, I won the first poker game ever played on the forum, and was therefore the first incumbent of the no. 1 slot on the leader board, something I wouldn’t relinquish for almost four years. I was hooked, and when I wasn’t reading about cigars that summer I was reading about poker strategy.

In November the proprietor of the forum announced the first occasional poker tournament, with ten rounds, the winner of each moving on to a final table to play for a winner-takes-all grand prize: the Romeo y Julieta 130 Aniversario Humidor, number 244 of 250. Retail price $4500USD. $8000AUD, thanks to our taxes. My qualifying round was the first one played, and I won. It would be three weeks until the other rounds were finished and the final was played, however, and in that I was headed on a vacation.

It is here that this story picks up from an old Dusky Beauty: it was Paris in the intermingling into one puff of steam. A lone snowflake fluttered down and caught in her hair. “Won’t you stay the night with me?” she whispered. “Sorry babe,” I replied. “I want to, but I really have to play this poker game.” I kissed the girl goodnight, and bolted the 200m or so back to my hotel, logging into the poker room at 12:03pm Australian time. I was late, but they had waited for me.

In the end the game really came down to one hand. There were four players left, all with about even chips. I was dealt the ace and six of spades. The player with the least chips folded before the flop, which included two spades. All players bet, and the turn revealed another spade, giving me a flush. Again, the betting was strong, but nobody went all in, nobody folded, and we saw the river. An inconsequential diamond.

Coolly I assessed the table. There were no pairs among the shared cards, which meant that nobody had a four of a kind or full house. The spades were spread enough that it was impossible for anyone to have a straight flush. With the ace high flush then, I had the mathematically best hand that could be made from these cards. The other players obviously liked their hands. Perhaps they had king and queen high flushes, cards that on any other day would take the pot, but not today. Today I was going to win. I went all in. They followed. I won. That one hand eliminated half the table and gave me a stack of chips more than three times the size of my last remaining opponent. Five minutes of aggressive play later and I was the owner of an $8000 commemorative humidor.

Romeo y Julieta 109 130 Aniversario Humidor a little smoked

At the midpoint the cigar is progressing wonderfully, with a rich, creamy sweetness that sits viscous on the lips. The spice palette is much the same, and reminiscent of hot cross buns or mother’s bread and butter pudding. With three inches to go, however, disaster strikes. The cigar goes out, seemingly of its own accord, and when I relight it it is ashy and tasteless. Desperately I huff through it, trying to purge out any stale smoke – I even cut the coal off and start the blaze afresh at one point – but nothing I can do brings the old flavours back.

A month or so later, after I had returned to Australia, the humidor arrived. It came in a crate. A proper wooden crate! I had to open it with a crowbar! Inside, packed in shredded copies of Granma (the Cuban state newspaper), was a custom made leather satchel, and inside that, the humidor. It really is a lovely thing. The red lacquer is thick, and silky to touch, the hue richer than any plastic. The thin gold plated handles are strong and solid, more than able to take the weight of the full humidor, and even ten years later they swing smoothly and silently. It holds temperature and humidity perfectly, almost never needing maintenance. I’ve never had the pleasure of owning a high end humidor from Elie Bleu or the like, but compared to my $150 eBay job, the 130th Aniversario humidor is a league apart.

One criticism: the little magnetic hygrometer it came with is total garbage. I guess there must be a short circuit in it or something, because while it does work, it drains any battery you put in it in less than a day.

Romeo y Julieta 109 130 Aniversario Humidor final third

The Romeo 109 never recovers from its extinguishment, unfortunately, remaining bitter and ashy till the last, despite my considerable efforts to restore it. I suppose it was largely user error: a man with a better smoking technique would have kept it ablaze, and had a better experience for it. I apologise, Romeo 130 Aniversario Humidor. A creature as lovely as you deserves better than a ruffian like me.

The first half was very nice, though. I’d take that over a Petit Coronas any day.

Romeo y Julieta 109 130 Aniversario Humidor nub

Romeo y Julieta 109 130 Aniversario Humidor on the Cuban Cigar Website

Romeo y Julieta Aguilas 130 Aniversario Humidor

The cigars that are immolated on these pages are very often among the rarest collectable Cuban cigars, coming from limited release humidors of which only a few hundred are ever made, and which retail for thousands of dollars each. In my custody, unfortunately, most of these cigars exist only as singles; gifts from benefactors with pockets far deeper than my own who can afford to buy the humidors and break them up. There is one exception: the Romeo y Julieta 130 Aniversario Humidor. There are 249 like it, but this one is mine.

The humidor comes with 100 cigars, 50 each across two sizes, a 109 (that isn’t actually a 109 – more on that later), and an Aguilas, a nice mid-size perfecto, which is what we shall examine today.

Romeo y Julieta Aguilas 130 Aniversario Humidor unlit

The cigar lights well – I love a good perfecto. The dominant flavor at the outset is very nutty, walnuts over hazel. The tobacco is medium strength with smooth, rich smoke. The quality of the leaf is undeniable.

There was a time in my life, early in my career, when I worked two days a week in the sheltered workshop of a university administration building, keeping the faculty’s website up to date. It was a simple job. From time to time, subject administrators and professors would send us an update to a webpage – a revision to a timetable, an article about their new research project, things like that – and we had to apply these updates to the website. For me, a boy of twenty-three with a fairly advanced knowledge of HTML, one of these updates would typically take less than five minutes. On a busy day, we might receive ten updates. There were four of us in the team. I was hired because my three colleagues were having trouble getting through the entire workload each day.

Florence was our team leader, a very sweet Filipina who took the job extremely seriously. She did, admittedly, spend about four hours of every day drinking tea and gossiping in the break room, but during the other four she was hard at work, staring worriedly at her screen and wrestling with the update jobs. I mentioned earlier that a knowledge of HTML was helpful. It was. Without HTML, you would have to deal with the ungainly custom editing software that the university had provided us. It was an extension for Microsoft Word that was supposed to make editing web pages simple for anyone with basic computer literacy, but unfortunately, the software wasn’t very good. It would leave odd gaps and font changes everywhere. Bullet points were a real mess. The issues were simple enough to correct if you knew HTML – you just had to go into the code view and remove a few erroneous tags. If you didn’t know HTML, then you had to figure out a few tricks. Remove the fonts from everything and then reapply it in a big block, that kind of thing.

Florence, despite four years in this job, had not learned HTML or figured out the tricks, and her computer literacy was questionable at best. For her, the job we were doing was a difficult, technical one. She genuinely tried hard at it, and often stressed about the workload, sometimes working late to make up the difference. I think in all honesty, she was genuinely unaware that she was staggeringly incompetent.

Stephen, on the other hand, was just lazy. About my own age, he was a sly, pudgy fellow, who regarded me with suspicion. He had somehow convinced all and sundry that he had a medically diagnosed health condition, and must not be allowed to get stressed. Whenever Florence tried to give him work she would do so apologetically, with platitudes like “don’t let yourself get stressed, take your time, if you can’t do it that’s fine, just let me know.”

The highlight of my time with Stephen came on a pleasant spring day. It was about 10:30am, and he’d been at work for perhaps 45 minutes when he announced that he was feeling stressed, and was  going to go to the break room for a bit. “Oh yes, of course, take as long as you like, your health is the most important thing” Florence told him. Five hours later I happened by the break room: he was still there, slouched on the couch, watching the cricket.

Finally, there was Asha, a sort of vague hippy who kept her computer covered in the detritus of Eastern spirituality: little Buddha statues, various charms, a portrait of her yogi, that sort of thing. Her job was to answer the phones. Every now and again – perhaps twice a day – a professor would call up rather than log a page alteration through the system. Maybe the change they wanted was so small that they couldn’t be bothered sending it, or maybe their own computer literacy wasn’t up to figuring out the change request system: either way, Asha’s job was to take their request and either do it or log it in the system for one of us to do. In the hierarchy she was considered to be less technical than Florence or Stephen, so most of the ‘difficult’ jobs she would assign to them. It worked out fine. Asha was chatty and personable, and the professors liked her. Even if she didn’t do all that much work, she gave us a good public face.

About midway-through the spring Asha sent an email around to entire department. “Hi guys,” it read. “I’m taking a vow of silence for the next twelve weeks, so please don’t think I’m ignoring you if I don’t answer when you talk to me around the office. I’ll also be trying to minimize written communication during this time, so if at all possible please don’t email me.” Essentially she was saying “I’ll show up and collect cheques, but I’m not going to be doing my job for the next three months.” Nobody seemed to mind. Florence took over the phone answering duties, and fretted all the more about the amount of work that was piling up.

Romeo y Julieta Aguilas 130 Aniversario Humidor an inch smoked

Midway through, the cigar is mild but luscious, with thick notes of cream. It is an after dinner cigar, really, one that leaves a sweetness on the lips, and has the slight zap of dessert spices, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg. Above all, nut notes still dominate. Mainly almond.

My interview was as much a farce as the rest of my employment there. I showed up a bit drunk, being as the interview was at 4:00pm and I was twenty-three and still had the habit of drinking beer with my friends on sunny afternoons. The interview panel policy dictated that four people must be present: the immediate supervisor (in my case, Florence), someone higher up the chain (David, the coordinator of the communications section of the department, and the only hardworking and competent person I encountered in my time there), someone from HR, and an entirely disinterested person, preferably from another department. In the best case scenario, therefore, there would be one person on the panel that could assess whether or not the candidate was qualified for the position. With Florence as my supervisor, there wasn’t even that. Most of the questions were about my hobbies, and vague HR nonsense. I guess they liked my drunken swagger, and were able to overlook my slight slur, because they hired me in the room.

Once I started, my colleagues soon came to hate me. The first task Florence gave me was a simple clean-up exercise of a lot of old pages. “Just go through and familiarize yourself with the system” she said. “Ask me if you have any questions.” There was a thirty minute or so learning curve while I figured out how the software worked, and after that I started chewing through them. Three hours later I brought my results to Florence. She was horrified. “Oh my God” she said. “That was supposed to take you a month.”

Initially I was hired full time, but more or less immediately they cut me down to two days a week, Thursday and Friday. A pattern soon emerged: on Thursday mornings I would arrive at 9:00am, and start on the backlog of jobs that had accumulated over the first three days of the week. I would normally be finished by 9:45 when the others began to trickle in, mouthing the same platitudes each week about how the “trains were hell today.” There would then be an hour or so while they settled in, got their coffees, said hello to everyone, but by 11:00 each of us would be at our desks, silently browsing the internet, trying to look busy, all fully aware that there was absolutely nothing any of us had to do, and them seething with resentment with me for doing it all. When something new would arrive, it would ping into all of our inboxes simultaneously. I would glance around, making sure that Asha had made no attempt to close her organic food blog, or that Stephen hadn’t alt-tabbed off the footy scores, and then I would do the work.

On Fridays they just didn’t show up. For the first few weeks Florence would send me apologetic emails, saying that she was sick and she hoped I wouldn’t have too much work, but after a while she just stopped showing up. Once the others realised that their supervisor wasn’t coming in, they followed suit. I would blatantly read books at my desk, and take four-hour lunch breaks. It was that kind of a gig.

I never actually quit. Eventually I just stopped going in. There was never any phone call asking “where are you?” No email. Some months after I left I was passing the office late one night, and decided to see if my key still worked. It did, and there was my computer, still set up with my post-it notes, just how I left it. I’ve often wondered, in the intervening decade, if I should just start showing up again. Start submitting timesheets. The pay was pretty good.

There is a greater point to telling this story than simply to slam my long lost coworkers – I’m setting up the idea that over the spring and summer of 2006 I had a lot of time on my hands, and that free time set in motion the sequence of events that led to my acquisition of my Romeo y Julieta 130 Aniversario Humidor. That is a story for another time, however – next week, specifically – with my review of the 109 from that same box.

Romeo y Julieta Aguilas 130 Aniversario Humidor final inch and a half

The cigar ends sweet and mild, with just a slight taste of tar that tarnishes its perfection. Overall though, a fantastic, top notch smoke, that falls only barely shy of the pinnacle of Romeo y Julieta.

Romeo y Julieta Aguilas 130 Aniversario Humidor nub

Romeo y Julieta Aguilas 130 Aniversario Humidor on the Cuban Cigar Website