There are certain voices in the cigar aficionado community that loudly decry the Edición Limitada series, and particularly their trademark dark wrappers, which they (the aficionados) contend make them (the cigars) all taste the same. Perhaps as the years go by and the Harem begins to develop strong horizontals (reviews of every cigar produced in a particular year) in addition to its verticals (every cigar produced in a particular brand), I will be able to provide a conclusive position on one side or the other, however, for the moment I must content myself that for all their faults, the EL wrappers look gorgeous, and the 2012 H. Upmann Robusto is no exception: dark and rich and smooth, a fine cylinder of the best ebony.
The first notes are spicy, hot on the tongue. There is a strength here, full tobacco, and rich aromatic saddle leather. Once it settles down a bit there is a hint of cocoa and Mexican black bean. Within the first centimetre or so the thick umami of shiitake mushrooms emerges. This is shaping up to be something special.
Like most young men I have occasionally found myself in love, and like all young men in love, I have occasionally found myself heartbroken. It was London in July and she was gone. The whole damn city stank of her, her perfume oozing out of the Underground, that oppressive womb that worms beneath the old town, and permeating the streets and parks and most of all my room beneath the stairs in a Paddington flophouse. I had once found that smell so comforting: six months earlier and a continent away I used to place a scarf she’d worn on my pillow, so that her scent and my dreams of our future together could lull me to sleep. Now it sickened me. There was a serpent in my stomach and a boulder on my shoulders. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t think. The galleries and museums held nothing for me, so I just wandered the streets aimlessly day and night. My beard was growing out, but I spent an hour or more each day lying face down on the shower floor, so at least I was clean. When I went to a pharmacist and asked for something to settle my stomach she tried to nail me down on symptoms.
“Is it acid?” she asked. “Or gas? Perhaps a virus?”
“No, no” I replied. “It’s just love.”
She didn’t have a pill for that.
Eventually I split for Paris, taking rooms across from the Gare du Sud, and in a nearby café I managed my first food in a week, a pain au chocolat. Everything in Paris was an improvement: the wine was cheaper, the weather warmer, the food better, and her smell was drowned out by the cheese shops and the garbage heaps. During the day I was largely cured, but at night, once the shadows lengthened in the narrow streets, I found the City of Lights to be haunted by an altogether different ghost, and my malaise returned. Running low on options I took the only logical step: I headed for Disneyland.
About an hour on the train from central Paris, Eurodisney, or Disneyland Paris as it is known these days, is among the least of the world’s Magic Kingdoms. The problem is that the French just don’t take things as seriously as the Americans (or the Japanese for that matter). My ticket was dispensed with the same sneer that accompanies most acts of customer service in France, and while the waitress who told me that the register was broken and that I wouldn’t be able to eat at the Lone Star Saloon that day was certainly flummoxed by her predicament, she was also totally unapologetic. At no point did anybody take the time to wish me a magical day.
I’ve never quite understood what children see in Disneyland, and honestly, the place would be vastly improved without them. For children a day there is about seven hours of standing in lines screaming and an hour or so of riding rides. To a solo adult rider like me though it’s not such a bad time. I take a book to read while standing in the lines, which are usually shorter because I’m alone and can fill in the empty seat next to a group of three. The food is good, and they sell beer. I enjoy the nuances of the design of the place, the little details and jokes hidden in every ride, and I like to try and spot the concealed doors and functional elements that make the whole place work. There is a special atmosphere in Disneyland that you don’t find anywhere else on earth; perhaps it’s because of the constant subtle background music, or the unrelenting attention to detail, or maybe it’s the chemicals they pump out into the air, but the unreality of the place just makes me feel happy. It’s the perfect destination for the heartbroken.
At around 9:30 they had the parade, and at 10:00 the fireworks, and after that the Galician peasantry began to thin considerably. I always save my favourite ride, Space Mountain, until last, and after 10:00 there are not even enough passengers to fill one shuttle, so you can ride it several times without disembarking. If you close your eyes while you’re in the lobby they adjust enough to the dark of the ride that you can see the track and maintenance gantries. With my final ride complete, I took one last lap of the park and grabbed a crepe in Main Street. The midnight parade was just wrapping up, so I lingered a moment to admire the French Jasmine and Ariel, before finally calling it a day, cramming my mouse ears into my pocket, and heading for the train station.
The station was totally dark, the doors locked, and a sign in French indicated that there hadn’t been a train here for some time. I considered my options. There were a row of taxis parked in the nearby plaza, but across the way a group of people were waiting at what appeared to be a bus terminal, and loath to fork out the taxi fare all the way back to Paris, I wandered over there. I inspected the signs thoroughly as several buses came and went, but did not find in any of them a destination I recognised. Finally one arrived that had a picture that looked remotely like a train on it, and the name of a station I thought I remembered passing through on the journey up. “Ah” I thought “I’ll go there. The trains must only run all the way to Disney until a certain hour, after which they stop part way up the line and this bus connects you.”
I handed the bus driver a 10 euro note, and when he asked me something replied “le gare… fin… le fin gare.” He looked at me with contempt, but handed over eight euro or so in change. The route meandered through the dark streets of the Parisian suburbs slowly, stopping regularly to let off another of my ten or so fellow passengers, and I became increasingly anxious as it became clear that this was not the popular and direct bus to the station that I had anticipated. Finally I was the only passenger left, and the bus driver began to drive quicker, everything dark outside. Eventually he stopped and open the door. “Fin” He yelled “Out.” He barely waited for me to alight before speeding off.
I considered my surroundings. A single fluorescent light flickered above a hard bench in the bus shelter, which was situated in the centre of a giant, empty parking lot. Off in the distance was a building that I presumed to be the station and a few shops, all unlit and plainly closed. I listened for some sound of humanity, but found nothing. No voices. No passing cars. No busy roads. Nothing. I checked my phone. No data. I sat on the bench and contemplated my options. As I saw it they were twofold, and neither was much good: I could wander randomly out into the night and hope that I found a taxi or kindly citizen before a gang of French street toughs, or I could sleep on this bench. I spent the next twenty minutes composing a text message to my two nearest friends, one across the channel in Bristol, the other in Berlin. They both began the same way: “I’m fucked.”
At the midpoint the cigar is thick and earthy, with rich dirty espresso and cocoa bean. A bit of a squalling breeze has sprung up, and despite spending its time between puffs in my lee, in a fort I have made for it with my jacket, I am unable to stop the cigar burning a little hot. If anything, this cigar seems a little young: five more years are needed to take the edge from the richness. I’m sipping on a lukewarm Coca-Cola, whose cloying sweetness surely dulls my palette, but nonetheless takes out the hint of bitterness in the cigar. Cocoa is okay on its own, but you don’t get chocolate until you add a little sugar.
I was still sitting on that bench, contemplating my dubious future, when out of the dark, softly at first, but growing closer, came a sweet siren song: the lilting laughter of American girls. They emerged from the darkness and sat down on the bench next to me, two blondes in their early twenties, and two swarthy Frenchmen, all dressed for a night on the town, and passing around a bottle of vodka. They paid me no heed, but I didn’t mind: wherever they were going, I was going, and where they were going there would be people and light and noise and probably buses, or at least taxis. Soon a bus came, and we all embarked. I let them get on first, and when the bus driver asked where to I casually pointed at them and nodded, as if to say “same place as them, we’re all together.”
Again the bus meandered through the darkened streets, this time picking up passengers as it went along; most were young and dressed for dancing. Finally we reached our destination, and all piled off, one happy crowd. With a smirk I glanced around the plaza, recognising it instantly. We were at Disneyland.
I followed my young friends as they stashed their vodka bottle in some bushes and joined the thickening crowd of young people that were all streaming, not toward the main, closed entrance to the park, but to an auxiliary area of shops and restaurants on one side, and a western themed bar within. The place was packed with kids, young, good looking, and largely Americans. I thought I recognised the flummoxed waitress from lunch. It was almost two in the morning, but the party was just getting started, people dancing, hooking up. “This ain’t so bad” I thought to myself, “and the taxis outside aren’t going anywhere. I might as well have a beer.”
The crowd at the bar was five wide and three deep, so I waited politely for a while, slowly making my way to the front. Almost everyone was flashing an ID card or something, some kind of discount card, I presumed. I reached the head of the queue, and stood there for ten minutes while it became plain that I was being ignored, so I began leaning further and further over the bar, waving at the bartender. Eventually he begrudgingly came over. I ordered a Corona, and he banged it down with a lot of contempt, even for a French bartender.
I did a lap and found a nook from which I could watch the girls dance without making too big a spectacle of myself, and was about halfway through the beer when I saw the bouncers coming for me, two burly men who took the drink out of my hand, put an arm around my shoulders and escorted me to the door.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
“No,” he replied. “Disney party. Disney staff only.”
“I’m Disney” I protested. “I.T.”
He smirked at me and stroked his face. “Your beard.”
Defeated, I stole the bottle of vodka from the bushes and headed to the taxi stand. The drivers laughed when I said I wanted to go to Paris, but eventually I found one who would do it. 100€.
The next day I looked it up. All Disney staff must comply with the Disney Look, and facial hair is strictly forbidden.
The cigar ends surprisingly well, without any real bitterness: in a rich little bomb like this you expect a certain bitter tar finish, but no, this one ends very smoothly with a deep, rich, coffee note. As always, I take it till I burn my fingers, and only in the very final puffs do I feel a need to spit. It’s a great cigar right now, and is better than the travel humidor and the Royal Robusto, and in a whole other league to the Petite Corona, and think it will be better still in a few years’ time. Does it edge out the Magnum 48? Yes, I’m inclined to think it does. Nice work, Upmann brothers.
H. Upmann Robustos Edición Limitada 2012 on the Cuban Cigar Website