Montecristo A Montecristo Humidor

Here’s a question: have we learnt anything from five centuries of European tobacco? Do the smokers of today, with the benefit of our computers, of our collective hive consciousness, of our advanced theories of knowledge; do we enjoy the combustion of fragrant leaf any more than did our long expired predecessors?

What was the last real development in cigar smoking? The rinsing technique? (more on that later). Is anyone out there working to develop our hobby? What giant’s shoulders will the smokers of tomorrow stand upon, when trying to discover the perfect path to nicotine nirvana? Is anybody working on this?

Well yes. I am. In this edition of A Harem of Dusky Beauties we are going to go on a journey of discovery. This is real science here people. Or real hokum, I suppose, depending on your perspective. Today we’re taking cigars tantric.

Montecristo A Montecristo Humidor unlit on a yoga mat

My subject is the Montecristo A from the aforementioned Montecristo Humidor (as long a cigar as Cuba rolls; if I can’t find enlightenment within its four or so hours, then no cigar contains it). The setting is a small, sealed room (a bathroom, if I’m honest). I have heated it to 40°C, and unrolled a simple yoga mat, and over the stereo I play a gentle melody of pan-pipes and forest sounds. At the head of the mat I place my ashtray, my sweat towel and several cartons of coconut water.

Before I light the cigar I bring my head down to the floor in the Child’s Pose and relax. I breath deep, in and out, slowing my heartbeat to the rhythm of the earth. I clear my mind of my day to day concerns and focus on my intention for the session.

In Sanskrit the literal meaning of yoga is to join or unite, and so I hope to unite yoga with the world of Cuban cigar aficionadoism. The Cuban cigar is the most natural product in the world: its tobacco is grown by peasant farmers without fertilisers or pesticides; it is harvested by the calloused hands of itinerant labourers; it is dried in ancient wooden barns, before being transported to Havana by horse-cart where it is rolled into a cigar using nothing more than the hard thigh of a dusky virgin. A Cuban cigar is a totally natural relaxant that promotes meditation, and stimulates the mind and body! What better match than cigars and yoga! Lord knows the average cigar aficionado could use some toning up.

Rising from my meditation I light the cigar and work the floor, opening up my arms and legs, hinging from the hips and bowing into a forward fold. My awareness of my body begins to grow, as I practice my ujjayi breathing, deep breaths from the diaphragm, regular to my movement. I come to all fours and raise my hips up into Downward Facing Dog, holding the pose, stretching out my back, my spine, before bringing it down through a vinyasa and into a sun salute. I inhale, very light tobacco, notes of cedar, a little cream, and then hold the breath as I go back through the stretch, letting the smoke cool in my mouth before exhaling through the nose. I go through the exercise for several more tokes before kicking the right leg high, my weight over my heart centre. I feel it beat with the rhythm of my breath; I feel it beat with the rhythm of the Montecristo A.

Montecristo A Montecristo Humidor a couple of inches gone, with coconut water

Forty five minutes in, and it’s so fucking hot in this room. When I’m upright sweat sticks in the hair on my legs; when inverted it runs down my arms and face, and I have to wipe it away before each new puff on the cigar. Sweat is good, sweat cleanses, but it’s no fun producing it. Taking a moment’s break in the lotus position I mop my forehead with the towel and take a drink from my coconut water. The cigar has thickened up, medium tobacco now, strong cedar and floral with a little honey. The coconut water is a perfect complement, just enough flavour to clear the pallet, but light enough that it dissipates instantly, leaving nothing to effect the flavour of the leaf.

I work the legs, lunges and warrior poses, always returning with the breath to the Down Dog and the inhalation. I move through the balance poses, keeping the cigar in my mouth or hand, an extension of my body, an insectoid feeler that aids in finding my centre and adds extra height to my Ardha Chandrasana, my Moon Salute. Nine inches is a lot of tar to filter out, and toward the end the cigar grows very bitter, but never loses its class; every puff has been wonderfully refined, absolutely top quality tobacco.

Montecristo A Montecristo Humidor final third

After three and a quarter hours I lay the nub down in the ash tray and return to the child’s pose, my forehead on the mat. The cigar is utterly spent, and so am I. I feel my heart slow, then stop. My body begins to melt, forming tendrils that ease their way through the soft foam of the mat and down into the floor, finding the cracks in the tiles, moving between the grains in the cement slab, and then down into the dry earth. They weave around pipes, around bones, around rubbish and the remnants of prior civilizations, making their way into the bedrock. I move under the vast bulk of the Himalayas, the Andes; under the cool weight of the oceans, past laval vents and whale drops; past tectonic rifts and continental shelf. After a time I feel a tug, and my tendrils entwine with those of another. She embraces me and pulls me up, up toward a small island in the Caribbean, up toward a sheltered valley named Vuelta Abajo. I burst from the earth, strong and green, a crown upon my head. I flex my broad leaves up, reaching, saluting the sun, my every limb extended to its limit, basking in the radiant glow. I drink in the sun’s energy and feel its power within myself, storing it as fragrant aroma and humming nicotine. A warm tropical breeze sweeps across the valley floor, and my leaves join in the murmur of the leaves of a million of my sisters as we gently sway singing the song of the fields.

I am happy. 

Montecristo A Montecristo Humidor nub and ashes, with rubbish

I awake with a start. A shiver runs down my spine. Hours have passed. The heater globe has gone out, and I lie in the dark on the cold, sweat-damp mat, my entire body stiff and aching. I stagger up and stare at my haggard face in the mirror, dark lines and crow’s feet, the speckled print of the yoga mat impressed upon my cheek. I reach out and touch the cold, dead glass. Is this all there is?

The Montecristo A from the Montecristo Humidor. Better than a Monte 4.


Montecristo A Montecristo Humidor on the Cuban Cigar Website.

Montecristo Salomones II Montecristo Humidor

I never understood 2004’s Montecristo Humidor. On the Cuban Cigar Website we list it as a ‘commemorative humidor,’ but what precisely is it commemorating? The official Habanos S.A. page for it gives no clues beyond a vague mention of “large cigars.” What it really reminds me of is a Partagás Mafia Special – a humidor commissioned by a store or regional distributor outside the auspices of Habanos S.A., into which regular production stock is then repackaged and sold at a premium – a sort of faux special release.  The Montecristo Humidor, however, is not that: the Montecristo Humidor is 100% official. Seven hundred were made; each one contains fifty Montecristo As (more on those later), and fifty of the cigar I am about to smoke, the Montecristo Salomones II.

Montecristo Salomones II Montecristo Humidor unlit

I tend to think of my review of the Compay 95 Salomones II a few weeks ago as a negative one because of what happened after: for the first time in decades I got sick. I finished the cigar at dusk and then ordered myself a pizza (I hadn’t really had anything to eat that day, and I was feeling woozy from the nicotine). I can’t remember what I did after that – I probably watched a movie or something – but whatever it was, it was a quiet night in. No substantial drinking. No staying up late. I was surprised, therefore, to wake up the next morning feeling extremely seedy. Compounding the problem was the fact that I was hosting a dinner party that night (the traditional Easter feast for the small religious cult of which I am a leading member) and at 10am two of my brethren were arriving to begin the preparations.

I held it together most of the day, but ultimately threw up in the evening as the scent of rich cooking began to climax. The pizza of the night before formed the main part of my expulsion, seemingly undigested despite more than 24 hours in my stomach. The illness lasted several days, the cause indeterminate. The pizza seemed fine (one of my brethren ate the leftovers and reported no issues), so perhaps it was the 40 year old chocolate liqueur (although I only had the smallest sip), or perhaps the blame lies in the three and a half hours spent with the Montecristo Salomones II.

Most likely it was some kind of stomach bug, but nonetheless, once you throw up with a taste fresh in your mouth you tend to be prejudiced against that thing for a while: consider all those girls who say “oh, I can’t drink tequila – I had a bad night on that stuff once” when you offer to buy them a shot for their twenty-something birthday. I feel like I am prejudiced against the Montecristo Salomones II.

It is a surprise, therefore, when the cigar begins wonderfully, with light tobacco over heavy cream, the flavour I most like to find in a Montecristo, and a certain honey sweetness. Delicious. One could ask for nothing more.

Montecristo Salomones II Montecristo Humidor, an inch gone, with Crystal Skull vodka

I’m accompanying this smoke with vodka and fresh squeezed orange juice in a 50/50 mix. The vodka is Crystal Head, a vodka that I desired for years based on the strong pitch of its owner, Dan Aykroyd, and that came to Australia a year or two ago, and a while after that I finally acquired. I was instantly disappointed. The bottle has mould lines, and generally doesn’t seem like the high quality carved artefact that Aykroyd portrays it as, and the vodka, well, is vodka. Perhaps there’s something about vodka I don’t get; I’m more than happy to be a wanker about rum, whisky, port, ever tequila, but vodka? To me there is a fine line of differentiation between absolutely undrinkable paint-thinner vodka, and ‘drinkable’ vodka, and on neither side of that line would I drink the stuff straight. With orange though? Refreshing.

Part way through a cedar flavour dominates, over a heavy herbal flavour, almost that of Chartreuse or other herbal liqueur. The cream has gone, and the tobacco has filled out a bit, though there’s no trace of tar, and the quality is obvious.

Around the halfway mark the doorbell rings, and I abandon the cigar for 40 minutes or so while I deal with a friend who is dropping off some video equipment. It’s 40 minutes too long: I had thought I’d only be a moment, and didn’t snip off the coal or blow the smoke out of it or make any preparations for letting the cigar extinguish, and when I relight it a dirty, ashen flavour dominates. It’s a pity, that a cigar like this would be tarnished by my neglect as it really was quite lovely up till now. Hopefully it will pass.

Montecristo Salomones II Montecristo Humidor, an inch left, with an honest lighter

What started out as a glorious sunny day has become overcast, and light rain begins to fall. That’s the problem with giant cigars like this (especially when you live in a city like Melbourne with highly erratic weather); you not only have to find a whole afternoon to devote to them, but you have to depend on the weather to hold for that entire time. I retreat to the porch, where the seats are much less comfortable and the table much more cramped, jamming myself in a bolt hole against the wall. The cigar has not recovered from its abandonment, and tastes only of ash and bitter tar. Somewhat unadvisedly I have switched to gin and tonic. I had no lemon, so I stuck a few slices of lime in there instead. Bitter quinine. Sour lime. Dirty ash. Five inches of tar, filtered down to the last inch. I’m cramped, uncomfortable and cold. There is nothing pleasant about this experience, and yet, how can I not persist? How can I let this cigar, a rare and wonderful dusky beauty, a cigar that was generously given to me, a cigar I am one of a very privileged few  to smoke; how can I turf this out into the rain and let it slowly dissolve in the cold and the wet?

I cannot, and I persist.

At the end it gets a little better mainly because I start to feel the nicotine more.

This started out so well, and would have been a great cigar if I hadn’t ruined it, so I feel it unfair to label it worse than a Monte 4… perhaps if it hadn’t been so long though?

A Harem of Dusky Beauties. Consistency.

Montecristo Salomones II Montecristo Humidor nub in a glass ashtray

 Montecristo Salomones II Montecristo Humidor on the Cuban Cigar Website

Montecristo B Compay Centennial Humidor

It’s a glorious day in Melbourne, the last hurrah of an Indian summer, and my errands concluded I can’t think of a better way to spend the afternoon than on a bench by the river, watching the passers-by, enjoying the sun, drinking a milky coffee and smoking the Montecristo B from the Compay Centennial Humidor.

Montecristo B Compay Centennial Humidor unlit, with Ray-Ban Aviators

The Montecristo B was released in 1971 and supposedly discontinued in the mid-1980s, although by all accounts they are still produced in small numbers. They come in humidors of 50, and aside from the addition of a second band and an inscription on the inner panel, the Compay Centennial Humidor is identical to the ‘standard’ production.

I’ve never quite been able to understand where the B fits in the Montecristo line-up; I’ve never quite been able to understand who it’s for. I understand the numbered cigars, those are for everyone (they deliver the Montecristo flavour in a range of reasonable sizes), and I also understand the Especiales (for the connoisseurs), the Opens (teenage punks), and even the Edmundos (Americans whose mouths have become distended from chewing too much gum, a condition that leaves them tragically unable to smoke anything thinner than a 52 ring). Even the A has a place (people with too much time on their hands), but the B, who is that for? It’s 6mm longer than the Monte 4 and 7mm shorter than the Monte 3 – is this a niche that needs to be filled?

I suppose that’s why they’re so rare.

Montecristo B Compay Centennial Humidor, somewhat burnt, with Ray-Ban Aviators and a coffee

The cigar has a very rounded head, verging on a bullet tip, with a good thick cap. Construction is perfect, the draw nicely firm. The first puffs are tangy and herbal over strong tobacco, very heavy and rich, and obviously of the highest quality. I like the bands on this cigar, which are much less flashy that those on the 95 – just the standard Cuban personalised band below the regular Montecristo one. The effect is that of an affectionate birthday gift rather than a slick exercise in integrated marketing.

As I was taking the pre-light photograph a courting couple took up residence on the seat downwind of me, and as I light the cigar and the first billows of smoke drift in their direction the female of the species begins to cough and glare at me (her boyfriend is on his phone, oblivious). Doesn’t she realize what a special thing it is to inhale the smoke of a cigar like this? Only 7500 of this edition were produced, and even the regular B is a very rare beast. How would poor Compay feel to think that his birthday present would bother someone so? It’s a shame they couldn’t get him to roll the cigars for one of these humidors (well, it’s a shame he died five years before this one was released, but perhaps they could have tried it for the 95). Imagine what a collector’s item those would be.

She has reached the end of her boost juice, and slurps the bottom of it furiously in between hacking coughs and sidelong glaring. I admit it, I am at a stage where I am deliberately exhaling larger clouds in her direction than is strictly speaking necessary. They taste of strong coffee, with notes of hot roasted vanilla bean.

I am resting the cigar on my sunglasses between puffs, and they’re surprisingly well suited to life as an ashtray, at least at this ring gauge. The nose pads grip the cigar exactly tight enough, and the arm folds down just right as a retaining guard. It allows me to rest the cigar in the lee of my body, sheltered from the very slight winds that gust occasionally, and protects the cigar from whatever filth is on this public bench. I think would protect it from all but the most violent of accidental jostling.

It’s really a very nice cigar, this Montecristo B. Perfect burn, with woody notes over full tobacco. A hint of barnyard and some kind of sour fruit… grapefruit maybe, or bitter orange, that sour herbal aftertaste of Chinotto and Campari. A family of Scandinavians has replaced the couple on the bench downwind, and for a moment I feel slightly guilty exhaling my bilious clouds toward their clutch of fresh faced Aryan children, but they don’t seem to be bothered. There’s certainly no glaring going on. The smallest boy is coughing, but I think he has a cold.

Montecristo B Compay Centennial Humidor, inch and a half left, with Ray-Ban Aviators

In the bottom third of the cigar I begin to find myself swimming a little from the nicotine, its pressure on my temples. I’ve read that the B is a mild cigar, but for this example at least that is definitely not the case: this example is much stronger than a Monte 4, and stronger inch for inch than any other Monte I can recall. It really is a wonderful way to spend an afternoon though, out here by the water, fresh air and a nicotine buzz. The cigar ends in a very classy way, dark chocolate mixed in with the tar, the quality of the tobacco obvious to the last. This will not be a cigar that leaves a bad taste in my mouth tomorrow morning. I eschew the provided smoker’s bin, and instead lob the nub into a garden bed; a noble cigar like this deserves a better resting place that a cylinder of discarded cigarette filters.

All up, a fantastic little cigar, that is better than both the Salomones II and the No. 4 from the Compay 95 humidor. A Harem of Dusky Beauties – your home for practical consumer advice.

[Author’s note: a draft of this article was published a few weeks ago on a major international cigar forum, where several members took umbrage with my quip about Americans with mouths distended from chewing too much gum, seemingly under the impression that I was characterising their entire race as slack jawed ruminants who chew constantly at sugarised rubber much as a cow chews her cud. For this I would like to offer a heartfelt apology. The comment was intended in jest, but it is a poor example of the type, depending on both an inaccurate stereotype and a cheap shot for what little humour it contains. I fully and unconditionally apologise for it, and beg humble forgiveness for any offense caused. In my limited experience, I have always found Americans to be possessed of extremely small mouths that are rarely in motion.]

Montecristo B Compay Centennial Humidor nub, on a park bench

Montecristo B Compay Centennial Humidor at the Cuban Cigar Website

Montecristo No. 4 Compay 95 Aniversario Humidor

In the last edition of A Harem of Dusky Beauties I talked about the Salomones II from the Compay 95 humidor; in this edition I will cover the other cigar from that box, a humble Montecristo No. 4. Please read that article if you would like some greater history of the humidor (or indeed my thoughts on South African chicken restaurants and privacy in our Orwellian present) – I won’t repeat myself here… there simply isn’t time, as today I have for you a rambling essay about cigar construction and blending.

Montecristo No. 4 Compay 95 Aniversario Humidor unlit

Generally speaking, a cigar is made up of four tobacco leaves rolled into a bunch. The higher the leaf grows on the plant the stronger its flavour and the heavier its nicotine will be, and the slower it will burn. At the farms the leaves are sorted into categories based on what part of the plant they come from, and then they are dried, fermented and aged. The length of their fermentation and ageing, and the methods used to achieve it, vary dependant on what category they fall into. Eventually the leaves find their way into the central warehouses and the blender’s hands.

On one level the blend used in a cigar is a basic formula – an Upmann No. 2 might contain one leaf from the middle of the plant, one from the bottom, and another from the top (with a trained eye and a willingness to destroy an $11 cigar it is relatively easy to establish what proportions of each of these make up a given cigar), but there is some art beyond this in the blender’s occupation; the blender must search out some quality, a terroir is involved; he must inhale deeply of a leaf and say “ah ha! This has the subtle scent of coffee and vanilla bean, it must have come from the north side of the Vuelta Abajo valley, and belongs in a Montecristo Especial!” (presumably he goes on to say “but what’s this grassy aroma? My friend Boxer the plough-horse must have left some fertiliser near this plant… it smells like he had a good breakfast, that scamp!”)

Montecristo No. 4 Compay 95 Aniversario Humidor partially burnt with a glass of shiso vodka and tonic

Consider the case of the Punch Punch and the Punch Black Prince; these are two cigars of exactly the same size, from the same marque, from the same factory, bearing the same band and retailing at approximately the same price. What then is the difference then between the Punch Punch and the Punch Black Prince? The blend! The terroir! A hint of cinnamon and Boxer’s heavy lunch! My point is that blends are ethereal, hard to nail down, and that they matter, at least to the connoisseur.

I was once at a fundraising auction for the victims of a Cuban hurricane where the centrepiece of the items offered for sale was a box of special cigars donated by the Cuban ambassador to China. The cigars were Montecristo No. 4s with special bands celebrating 50 years of Chinese/Cuban comradeship, and the box they came in bore a similar sticker where the Habanos S.A. seal would usually sit. Diplomatic cigars, they were billed as, although what that means is hard to say. In the case of the diplomatic Cohiba Lanceros I think the consensus is that they represent the crème de la crème of the production; all Cohiba Lanceros are made equal, but some are more equal than others, and the diplomatics come only from the desks of the level 10 rollers, and while they all have the same blend, only those examples that are made from particularly fine leaves, only those examples that truly exemplify the blend are good enough for the diplomatic box.

At El Laguito with the Lanceros I can see it, but the Monte 4? Is someone sorting through the tens of millions produced annually, across many different factories, and plucking out the very best to throw in a box and send to China? Do high level rollers even roll Monte 4s? I doubt it. The ambassador probably purchased these cigars at the LCDH that morning and got a few bands printed up in a Chinese copy shop.

All of which is my long winded way of making a wider point about the Compay Segundo Monte 4: it tastes like a Monte 4, and were it to taste like something else it would on some level be a failure.

That said, it is a particularly fine example of the breed. Perfectly constructed. Well aged. Nice band. Recommended.

Montecristo No. 4 Compay 95 Aniversario Humidor final inch

(P.S. It would be remiss of me not to mention the drink with which I accompanied this cigar, a shiso infused vodka and tonic.

When I was a child my sister and I briefly tried to raise silkworms (to what end I don’t recall – there certainly weren’t enough for pyjamas). We fed them on what our mother told us were mulberry leaves (their natural diet), and they lasted a week or so before dying premature and mysterious deaths (my mother attributed their demise to the unnatural heating in our home). I was a curious child, and must have sampled a mulberry leaf or two, because twenty years later when presented with an odd leaf as a garnish on a meat platter in Japan I instantly recalled the flavour: “that’s a mulberry leaf,” I declared with authority. Nobody disputed it.

That was five years ago, and today my friend Stevespool (a well-known Japanophile) has begun to cultivate shiso (known in the west as the ‘beefsteak plant’) to infuse into vodka. He offered me a raw leaf to sample, and after trying it I looked at him in confusion. “No Steve,” I said. “That’s a mulberry.”

That night in the shower I put the pieces together, and the ghosts of my silkworms, wandering for more than two decades, were finally put to rest. My mother had misidentified the plant.

Anyway, shiso infused vodka is pretty good. Sort of sweet, with a strong herbal aftertaste. It turns pink when you add the acid of the lemon to it!)

Montecristo No. 4 Compay 95 Aniversario Humidor nub

Montecristo No. 4 Compay 95 Aniversario Humidor on the Cuban Cigar Website

Montecristo Salomones II Compay 95 Aniversario Humidor

Compay Segundo, sometime cigar roller, big time Cuban musician. Is it unfair to call him the Cuban Elvis Presley? I can’t say, as honestly I only know him from the humidors. My understanding is that he’s an old club singer that sprang to worldwide fame as the star of The Buena Vista Social Club, a film I never saw. The humidor features two sizes of cigar, 55 fairly nondescript Montecristo No. 4s (more on those later), and 40 examples of this, a glorious Salomones II.

Montecristo Salomones II Compay 95 Aniversario unlit

I do love a good perfecto, these giant, bulbous bastards. I showed this cigar to a non-smoker once, and he observed that it was “such a stereotypical big boss cigar.” If you must do a 57 ring gauge, Cuba, this is how to do it: 42 at the business end. A heck of a band, too: basically the Montecristo band, but in place of the crossed swords we have a portrait of the man of the hour, grinning and resplendent in a Panama hat. Has anyone else ever had their face on an official Cuban cigar band? The only one that springs to mind is Simon Bolivar, and with all due respect, he accomplished a little bit more with his time than Segundo did. I wonder if there’ll be a Cohiba Castro humidor for his 90th in a few years – 45 Lanceros and 45 Coronas Especials, each with Fidel’s smiling face on the band.

The cigar begins well, a little spice on the front palette, over roasted vegetables; the blackened skin of a charred capsicum. The tobacco is obviously first class, with a hint of cream and honey.

I’m pairing this with a bottle of crème de cacao that I found recently among my grandfather’s things. Although it appears unopened, the level has dropped down to the bottom of the neck: the angels share (although a little staining around the label indicates that perhaps the garage floor may have also taken a slice). I asked my grandfather where it came from and he said he got it from his brother’s place (my great uncle died in 1996). The fact that it was produced in Australia but bears no metric measurements or indication of alcohol content dates it to the mid-70s at the latest. Sugar and cocoa, aged in the bottle for more than three decades. I poor a little over ice, and observe the liquid churning vigorously around the ice blocks. Some kind of chemical reaction is occurring. I take a sip. It’s good. A sweet, understated chocolate. I’m not totally sure what this stuff tastes like new, but the decades of age haven’t harmed it. Well, not much. There is just a hint of mildew.

Montecristo Salomones II Compay 95 Aniversario somewhat burnt

Mid-way through the cigar is very heavy, full bodied and tannic, with a surprising amount of tar for a cigar that still has five inches left to smoke. Dusty wood is on the back palette, with a hint of dried wheat (the husks are burning). As it waters down, the crème de cacao is getting worse, with rust and musty basements now dominating the aftertaste, and not in a good way. I won’t have another.

I throw on a little Compay for the sake of atmosphere, and while I’d like to say it reminds me of wild nights in Havana, that’s not true. I was a young man when I was in Cuba, and although there were certainly bands playing this kind of music on the Malecon and in the tourist restaurants, the night spots I sought out were the ones where young people go to rub their sweaty bodies against one another (back then I was in the market for another kind of dusky beauty) and for me Cuban music will always be over-loud Spanish hip-hop played through cheap speakers. No, what this Best of Compay Segundo reminds me of is eating at Nandos, and I can never think of Nandos without thinking of her.

A few years ago I worked near Doncaster Shoppingtown and would eat my lunch in the food court there. It had been six months, and I was thoroughly sick of everything that was on offer, and so as I did most lunchtimes I was prowling around, my hands in my pockets, scowling at the different menus and trying to decide what was the least offensive on this particular day. This lunchtime was worse than most; it was a week into the school holidays, and every store had a long line of itinerant youth in front of it. Nandos was never really an option for me (I don’t consider their food to be good value), so I only gave them the briefest glance, but when I did my eyes fell upon an absolute vision behind the counter. She was wearing a Nandos hat, her light, almost white blonde hair in a ponytail out the back of it, a few tendrils loose, two hanging forward, framing her face. She had high, reptilian cheek bones and a wide, pink mouth, which was pressed into a bored pout as she waited at her register for someone to approach her (she would later smile, revealing teeth that were as white as they were straight and perfect). Her skin was porcelain, with a luminescent, almost transparent quality, but the real source of her beauty was her eyes; two large limpid pools of ozone blue. My heart skipped a beat when I saw her, and then rapidly tried to make up the loss. Unthinkingly I stumbled toward her, magnetically drawn. My voice caught in my throat as I tried to place my order, as I stammered “one classic chicken burger combo, please.” She had an accent, a slight South African, “how would you like that; mild, medium, hot, extra hot or lemon and herb?”

“Extra hot.”

I watched her while I waited for my food; watched her delicate hands folding stickers around toothpicks to make the sauce flags; watched her kneel to retrieve a Sprite from the low fridge; watched her toss and salt the chips in the fryer. Her beauty was mesmerising, intoxicating, and I couldn’t look away. I couldn’t understand how nobody else seemed to be noticing her. What was this girl doing in a Nandos? A goddess was standing before us and we were doing nothing to celebrate her! Where was the parade? Where was line of fawning suitors? Why was nobody starting a war for this angel?

Her name tag had read “Beth”, and I wasn’t back in the office long before “beth +nandos +doncaster” went into my search bar. I don’t know what I was looking for, really; validation, I suppose, a post about her on some internet forum where perverts evaluate the comparative beauty of our nation’s fast food vendors. I found nothing.

I ate Nandos for lunch every day that week, but come the next Monday she had vanished, back to the ethereal plane from whence she had descended. I loitered around the next few days, but no, she was gone.

Montecristo Salomones II Compay 95 Aniversario half gone

Into the last few inches, and surprisingly the cigar has mellowed, light tobacco over toast, with a little bean and sweetness. Perhaps a hint of citrus in there, in the same smoky, chemical way that scotch has a hint of citrus. I’m well into my second hour of smoking, and it’s starting to take a toll on both my palette and my constitution. I French inhale, trying to divine some deeper tasting note, but I can’t do it. I feel a little woozy. Perhaps it’s the crème.

Three months later she returned. I saw her from across the food court, a vision emerging from the water on a clamshell. Had someone been watching me as I caught sight of her they would have seen a man transformed, a scowling beast hunched in a winter coat suddenly erect and beaming, striding across the food court. She was just as I had last seen her; a perfect, lovely angel, with only one tiny difference: her nametag now read “Bethany.”

Back in the office I tried again, “bethany +nandos +doncaster,” and there she was. A Facebook page: Bethany Coetzee, seventeen years old, formerly of Cape Town, now of Doncaster High; my angel beaming at me in the privacy of my cubical. I highlighted her name and searched again, and was unsurprised by the result: a portfolio on the website of a modelling agency that listed her as ‘In Development.’ The pictures were mostly unflattering (I suspect that the makeup artist was also ‘in development’ and wanted to show off their stuff, really cake it on) but there were a few at the end that made my heart beat. They were simple Polaroids, presumably the ones she submitted to the modelling agency with her application, and in them she stood in a neutral pose, no makeup, hair unstyled, against her bedroom wall, wearing only a plain black bra and panties.

Montecristo Salomones II Compay 95 Aniversario final inch

I tug on my cigar and reflect on this anecdote, which is one I’ve been bringing out for a few years on later evenings amongst more degenerate company. I tell it as an illustration of far we’ve come as an information society: I never would have imagined twenty years ago as I played Commander Keen on my x486 that two short decades later we would live in a world where one could fancy a random waitress and minutes later be looking at pictures of her in her underwear. As I think about the story now though, I realize it makes me look like an asshole.

A few weeks ago I met a guy at a wedding with a very attractive girlfriend (although nowhere near as attractive as Bethany), and when I asked how they’d met he replied that he’d walked into a room and she was the best looking woman he’d ever seen, as if that was enough of an explanation. Well, what did I do when I walked into a room and saw the best looking woman I’d ever seen? I skulked back to my lair, and creepily stalked her on the internet.

What was I thinking? I should have talked to her! Asked for her number! At the very least I should have strode up to that counter, looked right in that perfect ice blue eye and said “girl, what are you doing working here? Don’t you know how beautiful you are? My Mercedes is parked right outside. Let’s go to the airport and make some real fucking money.”

The cigar ends well, with very little tar, which is surprising, given its length and girth. If you only smoked half of it (either half), it’d be better than a Monte 4, but as it stands it’s just too damn long. Total smoking time, 3:40.

Montecristo Salomones II Compay 95 Aniversario nub

Montecristo Salomones II Compay 95 Aniversario Humidor on the Cuban Cigar Website