As far as Cuban Edición Limitada cigars go, 2007 stands out as probably the least interesting year to date. The Trinidad Ingenios was the standout, being that rarest of beasts, a long, skinny cigar in the limited edition program, but the other two, the Hoyo de Monterrey Regalos and today’s smoke, the Romeo y Julieta Escudos, were neither fat nor skinny not short nor long. They weren’t oddly shaped, and were from brands that sit in the meaty part of the bell curve; neither global powerhouses nor cult aficionado favourites. None of them sold particularly well, and all are still reasonably easy to come by eight years later.
It’s a perfect spring day and, for the sake of variety, I have crossed the river to the park that overlooks the riverside boulevard where I often enjoy my cigars. I find a place in a little sheltered horseshoe that in Europe would be an ancient burial mound, but here I suspect was just a convenient way to dispose of construction rubble and call it landscaping. The cigar lights well, and after an initial bitterness mellows into mid-tobacco with a nice floral note. A little almond maybe, with a sting on the back-palate. Some coffee.
Of all the adventures on my journey, of all the half remembered drunken tableaus, of all the brief encounters with desperate souls in varying stages of personal crisis, there is one vignette that often comes to mind.
It was the night of the Brownlow medal, the most prestigious award for the fairest and best in Australian Rules Football, that is celebrated with a gala at the Casino, just a little way up-stream from where I am sitting. At around about 10:00pm my phone rang. “Mate, what you up to? You want to go to the casino, check out all the trim from the Brownlow?” AFL footballers, being peak physical specimens, tend to attract females that are similarly well put together, and the Brownlow is their night of nights where, with ball gowns and diamonds and a lot of double sided tape, they compete for adoration of the gossip magazines. “Sure” I said. “Why not?”
The Brownlow is held on a Monday night, and if anything, the casino was quieter than usual, with all the action well off limits in a distant ballroom. We did a lap of the casino floor and found the serious punters in the sports bar; the television broadcast of the Brownlow medal is about as unbearable as you can imagine, an endless stream of numbers as they tally the votes for the umpire’s favourite players at every game of a season, but there they were, a silent room full of dead-eyed men watching television. They disliked our intrusion.
At the midpoint the cigar is on the lighter side of medium, with just a hint of that cherry note that one looks for in Romeo ELs, along with coffee bean and saddle leather. There still persists a vegetal tang that I can’t quite put my finger on… perhaps the cyanide of bitter almonds, or the capsaicin taste of capsicum peppers.
We left the sports bar and headed out to the terrace for a cigarette, and then back indoors for another lap. The casino has an effect on you: we were listlessly wandering, watching the gamblers at their high and low points. Eventually we wound up at the cocktail bar. There are three bars on the gaming floor, and theoretically, the cocktail bar is the classy one. It has a lot of chrome and red leather. The lighting is dimmer. There are less televisions. We were mainly there for the quiet, alone except for a clutch of girls in the back booth who appeared to be consoling a weeping friend.
We were chatting idly and sipping our beers when a man sidled up to the bar. He was probably in his 50s, and in every way unremarkable: he didn’t look drunk, he was dressed nicely, but not fancily. He didn’t look crazy or homeless or anything like that. Ethnically he looked Australian, as much as one can look such a thing – perhaps a second generation European migrant. I wouldn’t have given him a second glance, and didn’t, and until my friend said “hey look… this guy is pissing on the bar.”
And so he was. The bartender came over and took his order, two rum and cokes, while his urine flowed freely down the textured paint of the under-bar, and pooled around his shoes. Unsuspecting, she set his drinks before him, while he deftly extracted $20 from his pocket using his free hand. She left to get his change and, just at that moment, by pure chance, a floor manager walked by. He didn’t see the man at first, just my friend and I, wide eyed and mouths agape, awestruck by the spectacle. He followed our gaze to the man standing in the puddle, just shaking out the last few drops. He did a double take, and turned back to us. “Is this guy pissing on the bar?” “Oh yes.”
The floor manager bolted behind the bar and poured the drinks down the sink. The man looked bewildered as he was handed his money back, and even protested for a few moments before shrugging his shoulders exasperatedly and heading back onto the floor, where I assume he was ambushed by security and beaten up in an alley. My friend and I stayed for a few moments as a few groups of people came to order drinks, unaware that they were standing in a puddle of urine. When we had finished ours I mooted the idea of another, but my friend replied that there was no point, our night wasn’t going to get any better from here.
It’s the logic of the vignette that haunts me to this day: if he’d pissed on the floor by his slot machine, so as to preserve an imagined hot streak, I would think him demented but I would understand it. As it was he had left the floor, left his machine or his table, and the bathroom was only ten meters further away. It also sticks with me how cool he was: to look another person in the eye and engage in an everyday financial transaction while you surreptitiously urinate is a level of cool that I will never possess. He was truly the fairest and the best.
The cigar ends with a little tar, and the same vague cherry/coffee/tang triumvirate it has had throughout. I don’t want to come down too hard on it: it was well constructed and pleasant throughout. That said, a lack of complexity keeps it from the top of the pack. Out of respect, I rate it higher than the Petit Coronas. Nowhere near as good as the Ingenios though.