Partagás 109 150th Anniversary Humidor

The Partagás 150th Anniversary Humidor: a bland wooden box, containing 150 gaudily banded cigars split equally over three sizes: a robusto, a coronas grandes, and an old school bullet tipped Nro. 109, one example of which will meet its maker today.

Partagás 109 150th Anniversary Humidor unlit

Produced in 1995 the Partagás 150th Anniversary Humidor is arguably the first of the official commemorative humidors. Yes, there were a few that preceded it, namely the 1492 (much more on that later), and the 1994 humidor – but these were created by the Cuban tobacco industry to celebrate the leaf itself, and not designed with a particular brand’s flavour profile in mind. Lost to the ages there were also probably some fairly special branded humidors – I’ve no doubt that in 1945 a few 100th Anniversary cigars did the rounds – but as far as official Habanos production, as far as the modern commemorative humidors, as far as things you could buy without a strong connection in the Politburo: this is the first. There won’t be any fucking around today, readers, no stupid stories of hedonism past or present. No, today we’re smoking history.

The day is mild, the coffee is warm, and the cigar is fantastic from the first puff. I honestly didn’t even want to smoke a cigar today, but I found myself with a few hours and thought I had better get the jump on a dusky beauty. One puff has completely turned me around. I’ve often described cigars as elegant, and this is a quintessential example of that: a light tobacco taste over a bucket of cream. More than anything it’s reminiscent of a well-aged Cohiba Lanceros. Smooth, smooth tobacco with a cake aftertaste. Vanilla sponge cake. More my grandmother’s than my aunt’s.

Partagás 109 150th Anniversary Humidor an inch smoked

Clouds of great heavy smoke hang in the air, fragrant and luxurious. I lay it down as long as I can between puffs, let it cool, let it burn at its own pace. Smoking this too quickly would be a crime. About an inch in there is a change, razor sharp between puffs. The cigar becomes fuller, with more of the dirty, woody note familiar to Partagás.

Handling it delicately I let the ash on this cigar get very long, over two inches. The long ash game is not one I usually play because it only has one ending (a pile of hot ash on my crotch) but for some reason I feel compelled today. The burn is a little uneven, and a long stretch of unburned wrapper on one side supports the column. I could even it up with the application of the tiniest flame, but I don’t want to interfere with this cigar at all, lest I spoil it. Cigars are much hardier beasts than they are generally given credit for – more than once I have had a cigar fall from my lips into a swimming pool to find it still lit and perfectly smokable when quickly fished out – but certain things deserve respect, and this is one of them.

Partagás 109 150th Anniversary Humidor half smoked

The ash eventually starts to crack and tremble a little way past the halfway mark of the cigar, and I apply a match for just a second and let it down gently. Fantastic construction: for the first time in memory I have played the ash game to its limit and had my pants return unscathed.

With three inches remaining the cigar goes out, and when I bring it back it has changed. A strength is evident now, although there’s no hint of tar or bitterness, but the profile is fuller, more tannic, robust mud and earth, some pepper and spice, dry dark cocoa beans, and just a hint of that drip you get in the back of your throat when you do a line of good cocaine.

Very notable is that more than two hours and five inches into this cigar I still have a quarter of a cup of coffee left. I am not at all drunk (alright, I admit that there was a small amount of rum in the coffee, but we’re talking two thirds of a shot over two hours here) as I was for some of the other very highly rated dusky beauties. I am sitting on a hard wooden floor. I am alone. My laptop is uncomfortably hot against my legs, but when I move it to the floor the Wi-Fi drops out (I think my body is acting as an aerial.) This cigar was sitting in my travel humidor for more than a week before I decided to smoke it. I didn’t even want to smoke a cigar today. So much of cigar smoking is about the environment – a Monte 4 can beat almost any other cigar when it’s paired with good drink, a warm night and interesting company – and everything about this environment is against the cigar, and yet it exposes its greatness with every puff. By far the best Partagás at this stage of the horizontal, and it’s up there with the very best cigars I’ve had the pleasure of combusting. I would love to have a cigar neophyte try this, preferably the kind of person that would make derisive comments about wafting cigar smoke at a social gathering, and see how they felt about it. When it comes to cigars I am as spoiled as they come: I smoke exclusively Cuban cigars, and more or less only exotic collectable ones. I’ve never claimed to have an especially sensitive or well-trained palette, but to me nothing is more apparent here than the excellence on the tobacco: utterly, obviously, and indisputably first class. I wonder if a non-smoker would feel the same.

Partagás 109 150th Anniversary Humidor final third

Even at the nub with my fingers close to burning there is no bitterness in this cigar, just the full heady flavour of wet earth and well charred whisky barrels. I have absolutely no inclination to spit. I don’t even want to take a sip of my drink. The smoke isn’t even hot! It’s practically refreshing! More than six inches smoked and if someone offered me another one of these right now I wouldn’t hesitate for a second. There is a salty taste on my lips, which might be an unusual quality of twenty year old tar build-up in the end, or more likely the jus from my scorched fingers has soaked into the leaf.

A little over three hours since I began, and the cigar is gone, reduced to so much ash and scattered on the lemon tree that grows under my balcony. At one time there were 7500 of these in the world, and now there is one less. Is the world worse off? I like to think the atmosphere was improved by the smoke.

If this is a cigar, I don’t even know what to call a PSD4. They’re not the same thing. If you have the means I highly recommend you pick one up.

Partagás 109 150th Anniversary Humidor nub

Partagás 150th Anniversary Humidor on the Cuban Cigar Website

Partagás Salomones La Casa del Habano Exclusivo 2008

A hot-tub in Taipei, Taiwan. Lance Hendricks, a friend blessed with the intelligence to dream of an exceptional life for himself, but crippled, both metaphorically (by a pathological fear of an honest day’s work) and literally (by a genetic pre-disposition to hip injury), has dropped out of society and washed up here. My own life in China was always that of the Western imperialist; earning an Australian salary that was a factor of ten greater than that of my equally ranked local colleagues, I lived the high life: the best clubs, the best drugs, the prettiest girls – all of them were the exclusive domain of me and my deviant expatriate friends. My man in Taiwan is the first white person I have known to live the life of a typical Chinese native, not in the glamorous heart of Taipei where glass sheathed towers flank wide boulevards and girls with short skirts and debatably genuine Prada handbags dance with the wài​guó​rén​ and sip Johnny Walker Blue Label mixed with sweet green tea, but in Tucheng, a rat’s nest of blind alleys and rabid dogs two stations from the end of the line. Being a cripple, his one requirement of my visit was that I find a hotel not too far from his burrow and the only place I could book online was a suites only motel near the freeway, the kind of place frequented by the discreet elite: those with the money and the inclination to take their girlfriends somewhere they won’t be recognised. Let me put it this way: the main drive is decorated by a forty meter frieze of nude sirens bathing. I am fairly sure my visit marks three milestones for this establishment: the first foreign visitor, the first solo guest, and the first person to stay more than one consecutive night. The room is as luxurious as any I have encountered in my travels. The floor space runs about 90m², of which the bathroom constitutes at least 40m², containing a fountain, a wet massage bed, a six headed shower, the usual sink and toilet along with a spa bath that could comfortably accommodate eight. It is in this bath that I find myself tonight. It is next to this bath that my Partagás Salomones finds itself tonight.

Partagás Salomones unlit, next to a bath

I dip the cigar in the clean bathwater before I respectively light and enter it. It doesn’t seem to do it any harm. At first the draw is a bit tight, as is typical of perfectos, but within ten or so minutes it opens up. The flavour is a mild, milky earth and light tobacco. Delicious. Dear Reader, I would like to submit that from the inside of a spa bath is the ideal condition to enjoy a cigar. With good friends and strong drink is undoubtedly delightful, but one tends to lose focus on the intricacies of flavour in that situation. A spa, however, is fun in and of itself, and it’s relaxing, focusing the mind and the senses. An added advantage is that the heat will hopefully leech from my body whatever toxins the tobacco might deposit. I’m pairing this cigar with a Gold Medal Taiwan Beer, which I bought because I was in Taiwan, and it seemed sensible to drink the national beverage. I can’t imagine on what criteria this alleged gold medal was awarded, as Gold Medal Taiwan Beer is as tasteless a brew as I have ever encountered, being essentially mineral water with a hint of malt extract. It does the job, nonetheless.

Lance was once a promising boy with a bright future, raised by a good family in a pleasant middle class area, he attended one of Melbourne’s best public schools. In his late teens he met a nice girl, Natalie, and after a few years of tertiary education he got a decent office job in a technical field.  He and Nat moved into a comfortable suburban home together, they purchased cats, and to all eyes their future was laid out: a few kids, a lengthy mortgage, and the occasional international holiday, followed by the comfortable twilight of the working middle class.

His decline started, as near as I can pinpoint it, about five years ago. I hadn’t seen him in a month or so when we ran into each other at a mutual friend’s art exhibition, and so, catching up, I asked how Natalie was. “Oh, she’s gone” was the response, surprisingly flippant for the announcement of the end of a seven year relationship. “I’ve got a new girl now. She’s over there.” The girl he pointed to was an unerringly beautiful seventeen year-old, doll faced Russian brunette wearing a short red cape. He leaned in and whispered “her name’s Natasha. She cost me twenty-five thousand dollars.” I’ve never been sure if he was joking.

From then on announcements came thick and fast. A few weeks later he got a new job. A month after that he bought a flat and one of the cats died. The next month he’d quit the new job and was collecting the unemployment benefit. When I first visited him in his new home where there wasn’t a lot of conventional furniture, just broken guitars he’d found at a hard rubbish collection. For reasons not entirely clear to me he’d demolished most of the bathroom, leaving exposed pipes and concrete. We smoked weed out of a bong he’d made from a large juice bottle and some rubber tube. He was very proud of it. We watched metal videos and he played the solos from Megadeath songs for me.

Partagás Salomones a quarter smoked, with a Taiwan Beer

About halfway through the Salomones a lump of ash falls into the water, where the jets instantly pulverize it. The flavour is very balanced, mid-tobacco with a sweaty, earthy note and slight peppery aftertaste, like a very light chemical capsaicin. It’s something akin the smell of freshly maced protesters.

Natasha lasted a year or so, and when she was gone he sold the flat (for a reasonable profit – he had someone come and finish the bathroom) and moved to Thailand to live in a kickboxing training camp. He returned to Australia three months later, lean and strong, with long hair and a beard. He moved back into the pleasant, middle class house in which he was raised and got a job driving a truck. It wasn’t a lot of work, a few hours a day at best, which left him with a lot of hours to get in his mother’s hair. He needed a retreat, and so strung up a heavy bag in the garden shed and would spend hours every day kicking it.

His family had always had weak hips. His father, only in his sixties, had had both replaced, as had his uncle and their father before them, but when Lance’s hip started to hurt him he was unconcerned. “It’s just the muscle growing” he told me. “Strength builds when the fibres in the muscle tear, and then grow back stronger. If I want to be strong I have to fight through the pain, keep kicking this bag.” After a month or so his body rebelled. He could no longer lift his leg high enough to kick the bag.

Even at his most lucid Lance always had a furtiveness about him, a hint of madness in his eyes that was considerably exacerbated by his permanently dilated pupils, a symptom of the weed with which he increasingly self-medicated his injury. In agonising pain and barely able to walk, with long hair, a beard, and dressed in ill-fitting athletic clothes from K-Mart, he went into a doctor’s office and was treated with suspicion; “It’s all psychological” they told him, refusing to prescribe anything stronger than Ibuprofen. “Go home and get some rest.” He tried a few different doctors with similar results, and grew increasingly frustrated by what he perceived as the uncaring system. Then one day he announced that he’d met a Japanese girl on the internet and was going to live in the suburbs of Tokyo with her for six months to convalesce.

Partagás Salomones mostly done

Into the final quarter, and the cigar remains largely unchanged. A slight creamy dairy note has emerged. Even more static is the flavour of the Taiwan beer, which remains as bland as ever.

Lance returned to Australia with his condition considerably worsened, now unable to walk without the aid of a cane and reluctant to drive. His once muscular physique was gone, and although he had no appetite, he was growing fat from inactivity. Most of his old friends had abandoned him, and he had acquired a new set, all much younger than him, but sharing the same circumstance: they were unemployed drug addicts living with their parents. Lance and I had always liked to go out for Indian food together, but now he was reluctant. He couldn’t eat without first stopping to smoke a jazz cigarette in a laneway, something I was loath to let him do. We fought over it, and drifted apart for a while.

When we reconciled he had found a new girlfriend, a twenty year old Taiwanese international student named Storm. A semi-professional basketball player in her native land, in Melbourne she played power forward for a bush league Tuesday night game, and Lance and I would go watch her play sometimes. I never saw her lose. She moved in with him, sharing his childhood bedroom. Once a Spartan cell, he covered the walls with egg cartons and miscellaneous fabric in order to make a better studio for recording self-composed rap songs to put on Youtube. Within six months Storm’s visa ran out, and within seven he had moved to Taiwan to be with her.

And so I find myself in a spa bath in Tucheng. Two days ago I met my friend by the fountain in front of the Taipei Main Railway Station. His eyes have turned milky, and he’s put on a lot of weight (he lives mainly on fried chicken and Red Horse beer – his preference due to its 8% alcohol content). I haven’t spoken Chinese in three years, and even then my vocabulary never went beyond thirty words, and yet, whenever Lance and I are in a store or restaurant and someone speaks to us in Chinese he looks to me to translate. I think he finds the language offensive and refuses to learn it on general principal.

Earlier today I visited him at his home. He showed me the supermarket where he buys his groceries. We bought some beer and drank it in a park. On his recommendation I bought a bag of beetle nut. It’s disgusting, but it makes you feel pretty jazzed. A little toasted we wandered into a junk shop and purchased an arsenal of air rifles (banned in Australia), and tried firing them out the window of his apartment. The little yellow pellets were too hard to see, so we came back to my giant bathroom and blazed into the fountain and the marble walls, the pellets shattering and sending tiny plastic shrapnel everywhere. By dinner time he was tired from the walking and returned home, leaving me with an evening to myself and Partagás Salomones.

What will become of my friend I cannot say; like all fugue states, his must eventually reach some kind of conclusion: perhaps death, perhaps epiphany. I look forward to finding out.

In the last moments the Salomones becomes harsh, but not without due cause. This was not a small cigar. The final notes are bitter tar and earth wood smoke. An excellent cigar, considerably better than a PSD4.

Partagás Salomones nub and ashes

Partagás Salomones on the Cuban Cigar Website

Partagás Serie C No. 1 Colección Habanos 2002

Saturday morning at the yacht club and the sun is shining. The upper deck restaurant is busy with middle aged foursomes eating oysters, and at the jetty out front a small skiff comes and goes, ferrying eager seamen to the larger boats moored a little ways offshore. On the beach a clutch of small children run and scream, the older children’s game of beach cricket intersected and interrupted but the younger children’s tag. The clutch of tables on the grassy lawn between the clubhouse and the beach, however, are empty save for a few bags, and so it’s at one of these that I settle myself and begin to pick at the cap of a Partagás Serie C No. 1, Colección Habanos 2002. I’m not a member of this club, but I am wearing a Hawaiian shirt and Clubmaster sunglasses, so I doubt I’ll be questioned.

I have high hopes for this cigar. Regular readers may recall that the Montecristo Maravillas No.1, the 2005 entry in the Colección Habanos series, topped the leader board in my final summation of all the exotic Monties in the last season of A Harem of Dusky Beauties. Will the Serie C No. 1 (which at 48 x 170, is sized the same as its historical counterpart) be able to do the same thing for Partagás?

Partagás Serie C No. 1 Colección Habanos 2002 unlit

I set it ablaze and see, accompanying it with a cappuccino purchased from a pair of surly teens manning the galley bar. The cigar’s draw is a little on the loose side, not a Cuban draw. The first puff is bitter, over hot from the lighter, but on the second it mellows, and a nice tannic spice over mild, first rate tobacco spreads over my palette. There is a sort of sharp aftertaste that I can’t put my finger on. The wrapper is a bit dry and has been manhandled at some point (it made the journey over here loose in my breast pocket), and is peeling a little. Nothing I can’t deal with.

My uncle was a member of this club when I was a boy, and he kept a little boat named the Sophie-Lou moored off this very jetty. He took me out on it precisely once, when I was about eleven. Readers may be surprised to learn that I was a sulky, contrarian sort of boy, and not much for sports or the outdoors, and wasn’t impressed by my uncle’s proposal of a day out on the water. I think I mainly went because my cousin had told me that they saw a seal when they went out a few days earlier. My father and another uncle came with us, and we cruised out into the bay, where no seals were in evidence. I quickly lost interest and started reading my book. Eventually we stopped in what my uncle considered a likely place for fish. He cast my rod for me and then left me monitoring it while he went to drink beer with the others, and I promptly wedged it into something and went back to my book. A few beers later for the others, and a chapter or so later for me, and my uncle declared that the fish weren’t biting here and that we should reel in our lines and move the boat. I hadn’t been reeling in long when I began to sense that perhaps there was something more on the end of this thing than just a hook – the line didn’t fight me exactly, but it dragged like it had snagged some seaweed or something. I pulled and pulled, my uncle’s attention now fully on me, laughing at the idea that this disinterested, surly boy might have caught the only fish of the day. As the line neared the surface it became clear that there was something there, there was a fish, a fish that a large squid as in the process of eating. I had it just beneath the surface, my uncle reaching for the net, when the squid realised what was up, fired his ink jet, and disappeared in the cloud. The weight released the line jerked out of the water, and I reeled it in to inspect my catch: a half-eaten, ink covered fish. We threw it back.

Partagás Serie C No. 1 Colección Habanos 2002 a quarter smoked, with some Ray-Ban Clubmasters

A little beyond the halfway point and the cigar is still going beautifully. Somewhere between mild and mid-strength, a rich spice still dominates. I’ve returned to the galley to purchase Australia’s favourite snack, a Golden Gaytime, a treat of caramel ice-cream, coated in chocolate and honey cookie crumbs. They’re usually a little sickly sweet for my taste, but it accompanies the cigar well, taking the edge off the tobacco.

I spent New Year’s Eve in Monaco one year. My parents had holed up in a little village in Provence someplace, and I’d joined them there for Christmas, but come the 31st I was going a little stir crazy and I decided I’d better head somewhere a bit more lively for New Year’s Eve, and what better New Year’s town is there than Monaco?

It was everything I hoped it would be: I arrived at four o’clock in the afternoon, and the first thing I saw when I walked out of the tunnel at the station was a man throwing firecrackers out of a Ferrari. I found my hotel (the cheapest hotel in Monaco proper, which wasn’t all that cheap), had a quiet dinner alone, and then changed into my tuxedo. I set out about nine, wandering the streets with a Siglo VI between my lips, admiring the traffic jam of three hundred thousand dollar cars. I sat in the park behind the casino for a while and admired the twenty million dollar boats. Monaco is a nice city to visit in any capacity, but it’s really designed as a destination for people with twenty million dollar boats. For a while I watched an impossibly beautiful girl in a sort of sailor’s uniform chase three small children up and down the four decks of a giant boat in the marina, presumably a nanny left to mind the children while the parents went to some party in the town proper. At midnight there was fireworks and dancing in the casino square. I saluted a man who was standing on the casino steps, surveying the scene while puffing on a Romeo Churchill. It was about one AM that I found Roger Moore. I was walking back along the waterfront, and there he was, on the rear deck of a boat named The Miss Moneypenny, drinking cocktails with four beautiful girls who looked young enough to be his daughters but I don’t think were. “Happy new year, James Bond” I yelled to him. He scowled, and called “Happy new year, young man” before going inside. A little further around the bay I ran into a clutch of French girls who were screaming and cackling uproariously at their friend who was throwing up in the gutter. A Monegasque woman appeared in an apartment window and yelled at them in French. They yelled back for a while and then staggered off into the night.

Partagás Serie C No. 1 Colección Habanos 2002, a bit more than an inch left, with a half-eaten Golden Gaytime

The cigar grows bitter before its time, with almost two inches remaining. There’s an earthy taste beneath the tar, and a slight coffee. The spice is gone. I’m a bit light headed from the nicotine, which is odd as the cigar seemed mild throughout. I nub it nonetheless.

All things considered, this was a great cigar, and better than any Partagás that I’ve smoked this season. That said, as great as it was, it doesn’t come close to the Monte Maravillas. It may be partly down to my personal taste – I’ve always been a much bigger Monte fan than Partagás – but to me the Monte was in a whole different league. Not that this wasn’t great though. It’s certainly better than a PSD4.

Partagás Serie C No. 1 Colección Habanos 2002 nub

Partagás Serie C No. 1, Colección Habanos 2002 on the Cuban Cigar Website

Partagás Serie P No. 1

Before I begin, a word about jars.

Starting in the 1920s, Cuban cigars have occasionally been released packaged inside ceramic porcelain jars. Lined with a cedar sheet, and with an airtight seal and small humidifying sponge in the lid, these jars make nice little humidors. Aficionados opine that much like in aluminium tubes, the air circulates less inside a sealed jar than it does inside a porous cedar box, which means the oils in the leaf take longer to evaporate. Less oil movement means that the cigars (in theory, at any rate), age slower, and as the legends tell us, slower aging is better ageing.

The Millennium Jars in 1999 marked the return of the special edition porcelain jar to the modern era, and since them a special edition jar of some kind has appeared more or less annually. They’re very popular among collectors, and I can see why, as they are really very nice things. The cigar we consider today is the Partagás Serie P No. 1, which was released (in a jar) exclusively for duty free retail in 2010. The lid on my example sits on very lightly, held in place only by gravity and the slight grip of the rubber membrane that creates the seal. The very best jars from days of yore would have a seal made only by two pieces of perfectly milled porcelain, but our modern mass manufacturing techniques can’t match the old precision, at least not at the price Habanos S.A. is willing to pay.

Partagás Serie P No. 1 jar

As I discussed in my article on the Serie D No. 4 (and most every essay since), the letter in a Serie cigar theoretically denotes its gauge, and the number its length. Not so much in the P1: the P presumably stands for piramides, but the 1 should indicate a considerable length, which this does not have: by rights it should probably be a P4. What that means for the series overall though I don’t know: the P2 conforms to what you’d expect.

To me the P1 was always a working man’s sort of cigar: a knock about little pyramid of spice and tar for the tradesman on the go, and so I’ve brought this one today to a working man’s sort of venue: the smoking section of a McDonald’s restaurant in Osaka, Japan. I rarely pair cigars with food – I find the cigars tend to drown out the taste – but in this instance I think I may have found a perfect match: the Partagás Serie P No. 1 and a Medium Big Mac Value Meal.

Partagás Serie P No. 1 unlit, with a Big Mac Meal

Every McDonald’s in Japan has a smoking section, the size and pleasantness of which vary depending on the size of the restaurant. A larger branch will usually have a whole floor set aside for the smokers, but not so this one, where the smoking area is a small glassed off booth with eight seats. It’s not nearly as ventilated as I’d like. Besides myself there are four occupants, three teenage hoodlums and what appears to be a homeless man (a rare site in Japan), and between us we are adding a considerable pall to the air. There is an air-conditioner, but it seems to be blowing air around more than it is filtering it.

From the first puff the cigar doesn’t mess around, straight into dirt and spice and tarred cedar wood. When you’re only a three and a half inch cigar first impressions count, and the P1 is definitely a rough kid. Sometimes I like them rough.

Partagás Serie P No. 1 two thirds, remain

I’m not sure if it’s by design or by accident – although knowing both Japan and the McDonald’s corporation like I do, I’m going to bet design – but the ashtray they have provided fits perfectly within one half of the Big Mac burger box. The further I get into this meal I begin to think that perhaps the Medium Big Mac Value Meal has undergone a similarly intensive engineering process, with just one design goal in mind: to totally swamp a cigar aficionado’s palette. The salt of the chips, the sweet of the cola, and then the greasy mess that is the Big Mac touches sweet, salt, sour, umami – every taste button bar one: bitter. Fortunately the Partagás Serie P. No. 1 is happy to oblige and complete the sensory overload.

Confines are cramped in the smoking area; seated on a stool at a counter facing the wall I feel that my personal space begins and ends at the borders of my meal tray. My cigar makes its cyclical journey from the ashtray to lips within this zone, and small flecks of ash have dropped from it onto my chips. To my overloaded palette it is lending them a subtly peaty flavour, much like one might find in an Islay single malt. From the cigar has emerged a note of aniseed.

Partagás Serie P No. 1 an inch left

My visits to McDonald’s these days are generally limited only to the occasional particularly desperate morning after the night before, when only the most efficient mechanism for delivering a jolt of sugar and fat and salt and caffeine to my system will suffice, but I’m appreciating it tonight for reasons beyond the gimmick of smoking a cigar in the world’s most iconic family restaurant. The example of a Big Mac that one finds in Japan, a country where even punk teenagers in minimum-wage jobs have a work ethic, is substantially better put together than the Australian variety, but once one takes a bite they are utterly indistinguishable, both from each other, and from their ancestor I consumed twenty five years ago at my best friend’s birthday party, and from the countless others I have eaten all over the world. Consistency is important, and pleasant for its own sake.

Like the Big Mac, the Partagás Serie P No. 1 is a consistent cigar. I’ve smoked a heap of these little guys over the years, and always enjoyed them as no-nonsense firecrackers, an efficient tool for delivering the joy of a great Cuban smoke directly to your pleasure centre. They’re not the most complex things in the world, and I don’t really think they’re worthy of their packaging: these should be an everyday smoke, not a collector’s trophy to age and admire. In my overall ranking of the Partagás specials these will suffer for their length, but inch for inch they’re as good as anything out there. I just wish that they were regular production, because they’re more deserving of it than a PSD4.

Partagás Serie P No. 1 nub, with ashes and detritus

Partagás Serie P No. 1 at the Cuban Cigar Website.

Partagás Serie D Especial Edición Limitada 2010

Macau, city of dreams. Well, The Venetian, actually. City of Dreams is across the road.

The world has turned and left me with a free afternoon to wander around Macau, and for the first time in life I’ve taken the trip across the bay to see the Cotai Strip, a broad avenue that is supposed to be the oriental version of Las Vegas Boulevard. I’ve brought a fellow traveller on this journey: a Partagás Serie D Especial, Edición Limitada 2010. In my article on the PSD4 I explained at length the significance of the letters and numbers in the Partagás serie cigars: well, this stick is as good an example of today’s Habanos S.A. disrespecting their own ancient traditions as anything. It has the ring gauge of a Serie D, and a length that falls somewhere between a No. 2 and a No. 3. By rights it should be a Serie D. No. 2.4. I suppose Especial is punchier.

Smoking is allowed on the gaming floors in Macau, so ideally I would be bringing this dusky beauty to you from behind a few feet of green felt, tasting notes coloured by the dizzying highs and terrifying lows that come in a couple of hours of baccarat. Unfortunately though, while they’re fine with smoking, the powers that be tend to take a dim view of note taking and a dimmer one of photograph taking, and such is my dedication to internet journalism that I have exiled myself to the forecourts outside the casinos, the strip itself, and its more or less abandoned footpaths.

There’s really not a lot to this Cotai Strip: just four mega casinos (The Venetian, The Sands, The Plaza, and the City of Dreams across the way), and a lot of huge construction sites. At the very tip is an old school Stalinist gothic concrete archway, a remnant of days gone by. In the distance is the Galaxy, the first of the big casinos on this side of the bay, but it’s not on the strip per-se. When I first came to this place in 2001 it was more or less a Portuguese fishing village, but it sure isn’t one any more. Long gone are the days when a cockfight was the best action in Macau on a Friday night.

Partagás Serie D Especial Edición Limitada 2010 unlit, with the Venetian in the background

I light up outside The Venetian, looking over the canals. St. Mark’s Square is indoors, near the McDonalds. I passed it earlier. The cigar begins excellently, with a good nose of cream, and a fruity tang on the back of the tongue that reminds me of dragon fruit.

I had a spinster great aunt when I was a boy, my grandmother’s sister, a stoic Christian solider who never married and never moved out of her parent’s house. A child of the depression she didn’t mind a little hardship, showering every day with cold water in an outhouse, and believed that her place on this earth was to serve her fellow man. She delivered meals on wheels nightly well into her eighties (by which time many of the meals’ recipients were a decade or two her junior). She passed away when I was about nineteen, and when she did she left behind the fruits of a lifetime of tireless labour and frugal living: an estate of several million dollars. Having no children of her own, and her siblings having preceded her in death, the estate was divided amongst her nieces and nephews, and as one of the fifteen or so members of the third generation, my father gave me a little taste.

One thousand dollars. It was my first experience with inherited wealth. At nineteen I was a university student and living with my parents. I worked in a bookstore a couple of days a month and fixed the odd computer here and there, my total lifetime earnings and net worth was probably somewhat less than five thousand dollars. That four figured cheque represented a lot to me. It represented an opportunity, and I had a plan.

Partagás Serie D Especial Edición Limitada 2010, one third smoked

My friend Niles and I had figured it out together one afternoon about six months prior: a new Blackjack strategy, one so flawless that we could hardly believe that nobody had thought of it before. The odds of winning at Blackjack fall pretty close to 50%, with a slight advantage to the house only because if you bust yourself they don’t have to play out the hand. With odds like that, we reasoned, why not simply double your bet each time? Sure, it won’t take long for the amount of money you have on the table to escalate out of hand, but the odds are so narrow surely it’s almost impossible to lose more than a few times in a row. You start at say $1, and when you lose you bet $2, then $4, $8, $16, until you win. Your $16 income offsets the cost of all the lost bets, and nets you the amount of the original wager as profit. It was so simple, so mathematically perfect. We went so far as to go to the casino and investigate where we discovered about minimum bets and table limits, and were foiled for just a minute before I refined the plan for online casinos. The bets need to be sequential, but nothing says they need to take place on the same table. With online casinos you can play on many tables simultaneously – heck, you can play in many casinos simultaneously, and you can sit there staring at a perfect strategy guide while you do it. It might even help a bit in preventing anyone from figuring out our genius plan. All we needed to put it into action was a little seed money… not much… just $1000 or so.

I’m smoking this cigar way too fast, and the mild tropical breeze isn’t helping it. It’s doing pretty well nonetheless: very light and creamy throughout, with some cedar notes, a trace of walnuts, and a little espresso on the back.

Partagás Serie D Especial Edición Limitada 2010, final third resting on a Parker pen

The first online casino I chose had an optional practice mode, and I ran that for a while. It worked. A few hours went by and I had made more than a thousand fake dollars. My plan was fool proof. It was working so well, in fact, that I decided a $1 starting wager (and therefore $1 per run profit) was for chumps, and after a few calculations on the back of an envelope set my starting wager at $7, which would allow seven consecutive losses in my $1000. Who loses blackjack seven times in a row? It’s just not possible. I made a deposit and began to play for real.

I played for a few hours every night for about a week. Even though there was literally nothing to my game – for each bet I was following my system, for each action I was following a strategy guide – this was still one of the most exciting things I had ever done. Every now and again I’d have a little run of losses and the bets would get up to $450 sort of territory, and I’d have to leave the room for a few minutes and collect myself before playing it out.

I had more than doubled my money, peaking at around $2200, when the inevitable happened: I lost seven bets in a row. I needed to wager $896 on a single hand, but it turns out that even online casinos have table limits, and without jumping through a few hoops to get a VIP membership, mine was $500. I put down two $448 wagers simultaneously and watched the dealer hit blackjack. With more than $1700 sunk into this run, and less than $500 left to play with, I was done. I agonised about it for a few days before going back in, restarting my system from $7. In the back of my mind I promised myself I’d play out the run I’d lost as soon as I had made back the money, place a single $1700 bet and get it all back. Gamblers are idiots, though, and pretty soon my system fell apart. It seemed like such a chump move to go back to $7 bets right after winning a $200 one, and before long I was betting whatever I felt like on any given hand, following runs, chasing dreams, and within a week I had lost it all.

A few weeks later I did the Google search I should have done on day one: “gambling systems.” Not far down the page I discovered the Martingale System, the well-known gambler’s fallacy that I had conceived and implemented. From the long winded explanation of chance and exponential mathematics I took just a few concepts: long runs of losses are far more likely in reality than intuition would have you believe, and a catastrophic loss will always eventually swallow the early winnings.

I take the cigar into the last inch as the sun sets over the Galaxy Casino. In the bitter tar of the last few puffs I’m sure I taste a little breadfruit. I turf the nub into some nearby bushes. Well folks, that’s it. A fine smoke. Better than a PSD4.

I’m off to hit the tables.

Partagás Serie D Especial Edición Limitada 2010 nub

Partagás Serie D Especial Edición Limitada 2010 on the Cuban Cigar Website

Partagás Serie D No. 2 Edición Limitada 2003

We open on the waterfront in Kyoto, Japan. Dark. Wet. Beneath the substantial canopy of a twenty four spoke umbrella a man, young, but with a face lined and leathered from decades of abuse, struggles to light a Partagás Serie D No. 2, Edición Limitada 2003.

Apologies in advance for the picture quality on this one folks – low light conditions, street photography, and the constant threat of attack by sewer rat are very much in effect. You may even be subjected to the greatest cigar blog photograph offence: a high resolution picture of my gnarled hands, hangnails and all.

Partagás Serie D No. 2 Edición Limitada 2003 unlit

The cigar does not begin well, with sulphur on the front palette, although the aftertaste does have a slight dirty honeydew that may become a thing. I’m willing to cut this one a fair bit of slack – it was sitting on a rock for several minutes in a light drizzle while I took about twenty test photographs trying figure out what settings looked best in the moonlight, and then lit one spark at a time by a lighter that refused to offer the barest wind resistance; it has a right to be a bit temperamental.

I’m pairing this with a randomly selected Japanese convenience store drink, name unknown (which is to say, “name written in characters”). The can boasts that “[they] introduce a new way to enjoy sake with this product.” It’s a mild, sweet nihonshu. Not bad at all.

For the uninitiated, sake is the general Japanese term for alcohol, and technically covers everything from beer to wine to highballs, although more usually it refers to shōchū and nihonshu, the two main genres of Japanese fermented rice drink. Nihonshu is what we in the west know as sake. Shōchū is a rougher, meaner, more vodka-ish sort of beverage, that’s usually drunk mixed with lemonade or similar. The drink that I am drinking as I write this is nihonshu, and as mild and refined a fermented rice drink as one can buy in a can from 7-11. Nihonshu has a bit of an image problem in Japan, namely that only old men really drink it. I suppose that’s why they’re presenting us with a new way to enjoy it: for the kids.

The cigar has mellowed out nicely, with flavours of wood, hay, wet earth, and perhaps a hint somewhere of large horses. Clydesdales. I was last in Japan in 2010, when raw beef liver was a popular delicacy. In 2011 it was banned after a few cases of e-coli poisoning. It has largely been replaced with raw horse liver. True fact.

Partagás Serie D No. 2 Edición Limitada 2003, one third smoked, on a park fence

My shoes soaked after a kilometre or so of leaping from stone to stone over the little creeks that flow into the river from storm water outlets and other gutters, I leave the riverbank and head up to the street that runs parallel to it, one of Kyoto’s traditional nightlife strips, filled with little bars and seedy alleys. I’m starting at the quiet end, where there are still a few residential buildings, pedestrians are scarce, and what bars there are hide themselves behind calligraphy signs and wooden panels. Further along the strip I will find bars for tourists and teenage party animals, but these are not them; these are geisha bars, for the bosses with the money and the inclination to fulfil the ultimate Japanese masculine fantasy: one night as a samurai.

Entering a more heavily trafficked part of the strip, I detect that something is up: there are pedestrians here, and unusually for Japan none of them seem to be smoking, and even more unusually, there are seats and full ashtrays outside the convenience stores. It’s not until I pass a little glassed in smoking area that I realise with a start that what I am doing is entirely illegal. Japan is a country where, by in large, you can smoke anywhere you want: bars, restaurants, hotel rooms, and hospitals all allow smoking inside to some degree. The only place you can’t smoke is on the streets. Generally this is limited to busy streets during rush hour, although in this instance it appears to cover the entire central tourist district of Kyoto. The fine for violators, admittedly, works out to around ten Australian dollars, but I don’t have my passport on me and it seems like it would be a hassle to rumble with the jacks, so I retreat into the smoking area.

I was there when the no-smoking-on-the-street laws were introduced in Osaka, and I remember the public awareness campaign that preceded them. In Australia we have endured three decades of increasingly escalating anti-smoking legislation, always justified in the name of the public health, to mitigate the burden that the phlegmatic death throes of smokers place on our medical infrastructure. In Japan their smoking bans were introduced for the good of Prada jackets. The flyers showed a cartoon of a man being shocked to find a small hole in his overcoat: “don’t smoke in a crowd” the caption said “coats are expensive.” Cigarettes here are four dollars a pack. There was outcry a couple of years ago when they raised the price from three.

Partagás Serie D No. 2 Edición Limitada 2003, final third, with a Kyoto no smoking sign.

Two inches remain, and the cigar is growing bitter. Readers will be surprised to learn that a public smoking area in the rain (the bins are sheltered, the smokers are not) is not conducive to the slow, meditative enjoyment of a double corona. I wish I could find a Japanese flavour for you in here: edamame, miso, something with umami, but no, everything in this cigar is of the earth: dirt, wood smoke, and wildfire.

While smoking may be marginally restricted, public drinking in Japan remains fully unregulated and a matter of national pride, a fact that one of my fellow hedonists is celebrating vigorously, heading to the Family Mart across the way for a fresh beer in between each cigarette. By my count he’s on his fourth in less than half an hour.

The cigar has reached the bitter nub, where only tar remains. The smoke is drifting up into the canopy of my umbrella, where it pools and gets in my hair. Taking inspiration from my cohort, and with the nihonshu can long exhausted, I think it might be time I visited the Family Mart and find myself a little something to wash the asphalt from my palette. I bin the cigar in the anonymous dirty ashcan so thoughtfully provided by the municipal government – an ashcan that I imagine has seen very few Cohiba Lanceros, very few Cuban Davidoffs, and probably only one Partagás Serie D No. 2.

A good cigar. Better than a PSD4.

Partagás Serie D No. 2 Edición Limitada 2003 nub

Partagás Serie D No. 2 Edición Limitada 2003 on the Cuban Cigar Website

Partagás Serie D No. 5 Edición Limitada 2008

I’m seated on a windowsill in Osaka, Japan, a town I lived in for a year half a lifetime ago, and the scene of my greatest conquests and my deepest defeats. It’s raining softly, a symptom of a typhoon that has been lingering uneventfully off the coast for a few days.

My cigar today is a Partagás Serie D No. 5 Edición Limitada 2008, appropriately named at 50×110. It’s very squishy, and might not be in the best condition (it has been in my travel humidor in tropical climes for two weeks now). When I peel the cap a great round pellet comes away with it, leaving an exceptionally deep and well defined divot (forgive me if I’ve gone into this before on A Harem of Dusky Beauties, but a divot caused by a round pellet of tobacco concealed under the cap is a signature move of some high grade rollers, and generally a good sign when it comes to cigar construction).

Partagás Serie D No. 5 Edición Limitada 2008

I’m in town for an old friend’s wedding. Today is the sixth day of the associated bender, and I’m suffering accordingly. It’s around five PM, I’ve been awake for four hours, and my first drink is around two hours away (I’m meeting some friends for what will surely turn out to be a very boozy dinner at seven). I’ve been able to keep down food since about two o’clock, and got my fluid levels back to normal around three, but I need to get a little nicotine and caffeine into my system before my pluck is restored and I’m ready to fall back off the wagon. I’m pairing the cigar with a Suntory Boss canned coffee from the vending machine downstairs. I chose Boss for two reasons: firstly because they had a picture of Tommy Lee Jones promoting it on the machine, and secondly because their advertising copy leaves no room for second places: “Boss is the boss of them all.”

The cigar begins very nicely, smooth, almost a hint of chocolate from the first puff. It unfortunately falls off from there, and by the time I’m a centimetre in it presents the typical earthy cedar PSD flavour with a mildly unpleasant acidity.

It’s a wonderful country for love, Japan. In Australia a 5’6” woman is considered to be a healthy weight at 60kg, but in Japan the same girl would be considered morbidly obese over 45kg. Those nymphets with their almond eyes and smooth rubber skin, the ones who never leave the house without five inch stilettos and an hour of hair and makeup, are unable to see me for the pencil-necked geek that I am. To them, I resemble Tom Cruise or Johnny Depp or whatever western movie star girls are into these days. The Japanese society is one of rules, where people act according to tradition, and everything has its place. The Japanese don’t have the same deep set stigmas about pre-marital sex that we do in the west; in traditional villages they still have an ancient custom known as night crawling, where if a father sees that his daughter has a suitor he approves of he will leave her bedroom window open at night. If a naked man is found in a house after dark it’s considered to be a perfect defence against a charge of burglary: he was only night crawling.

The rules governing relationships are complicated. Most people meet each other through friends, and go out on group dates where one person will be designated king and gets to decide who sits with whom, what food is ordered, what games are played and so on. The rules state that the third date is the sex date: if a girl agrees to go out with you three times, you can guarantee that on the third occasion she’s wearing nice underwear. Of course, the huge advantage to being a gaijin scumbag is that you don’t know the rules. Where Japanese men wrap themselves up in knots of respect and tradition and gifts and signals, western men, who have cut their teeth in a society where confidence and directness is key in romance, can cut through the rules and catch the girls off-guard. It’s a huge advantage.

At the half way point the cigar is very nice, very smooth coffee with some sweetness, and notes of citrus in there. I switch my beverage to Boss ‘Gran Aroma.’ It’s sweeter than the boss gold. Sweeter and smoother and it has a slight aftertaste of sour milk. It is not the boss of them all.

Partagás Serie D No. 5 Edición Limitada 2008, one third smoked, on a Suntory Boss Coffee

There are clubs specifically for foreigners (or more specifically, for foreign men and the Japanese girls who want to meet them), but I didn’t care too much for those – what is the point of being a foreigner if you go to the one place that’s full of other foreigners? I remember one night I was in a local club, the only white guy in the place. It was a techno show, very loud, with smoke machines and lasers and video screens all over the place. I was dancing on my own with my eyes closed enjoying the viscera; the noise, the smells, and the radiant heat of my fellow beings, when I noticed that I was having a suspiciously large amount of accidental body contact with the supple willow in front of me. I put my hands around her waist and smelt her hair and for half an hour or so we danced close, exploring each other’s bodies to the music. I pulled her into the shadows at the edge of the dance floor and kissed her hard, our bodies grinding rhythmically, a simulacrum of the sexual act to come. I took her by the hand and led her from the club. She came, but after a block or so she stopped asked me something in Japanese, the first words to pass between us. I didn’t understand but showed her my ID card, hoping that she would glean from it that we were going to my house and that it was close. The next words that passed between us occurred when we were sitting on my bed: I started to unbutton her blouse and she stopped me while she furiously typed something into her phone, eventually showing me some English word salad and looking at me quizzically. We communicated as I imagined early explorers did with aboriginal peoples: I pointed at myself and said my name and then pointed at her. She looked at me blankly and we both laughed.

In the morning she cleaned my house a little and put her name into my phone, the only name in there in kanji. I asked a friend once and he told me her name was Takako. She had a friend text me a few times, but it never went anywhere.

The cigar has fallen off a little from its midway peak, but it’s still very acceptable. Coffee predominates, but there is a strong herbal earthiness in there as well, and a little more bushfire than I’d like.

Partagás Serie D No. 5 Edición Limitada 2008, half smoked, on a Suntory Boss Coffee

Less than 100m from where I now sit was the end of Audrey (she of Ramón Allones Gigantes fame) and I. We saw each other off and on for a few years after Paris. She worked a job organising conferences, and from time to time I would receive a late night SMS: “meet me at the Grand Hyatt. 10:30. Room 404.” I have never been as physically exhausted as I was after one passion filled day at the Airport Hilton.

She came to spend a week with me in Japan. On the second day I took her to the Tsukiji Fish Market. At the time gaijin were technically excluded from the tuna auctions, but we snuck in and watched men in bloodied aprons auction off man-size oceanic tuna, fresh from the water, for tens of thousands of dollars, their rich flesh destined for Tokyo’s finest restaurants. Afterward we ventured into the Miscellaneous Creatures Hall, a hive of scum and villainy, where myriad sightless beasts, hauled from the darkest depths of the earth’s oceans, spend their last few hours suffering in shallow plastic trays. She looked especially lovely that day, her porcelain skin and light blonde hair perfect in the dim lighting of that cavernous place. As I walked behind her down a narrow aisle I noticed a peasant fishmonger staring at her with a look of such lust, of greater lechery than I have seen on the face of any man before or since. Something in his gaze sowed a seed of jealousy in me, a feeling of inadequacy. The whole rest of the week I mistreated her. I refused to accompany her shopping, or to any but the most convenient of sightseeing expeditions. At the end of our time together I took her to the airport train, and before she walked through the gates she sarcastically said “thank you for a magical week,” our private term for our time in Paris. A few days later I received an email that began “I’ve decided not to see you anymore.”

Our paths have crossed precisely once since then, on a street in Melbourne, years later. She saw me and crossed the road.

The last few centimetres are sulphur and tar, but it’s not unpleasant enough that I don’t relight it when it goes out with a centimetre or so still smokable. The extinguishment does it good; the flavour cleans up, there’s no more tar. I’m already fifteen minutes late for my dinner date, but I gotta take this guy to the limit. Very nice.

Better than a PSD4.

Partagás Serie D No. 5 Edición Limitada 2008 nub in a Suntory Boss Coffee

Partagás Serie D No. 5 Edición Limitada 2008 on the Cuban Cigar Website.

Partagás Serie D No. 4

Sunday afternoon, Hong Kong. I had planned to catch the tram up Victoria Peak and smoke a Partagás Serie D No. 4 on the walk down, taking it on a tour of leafy little back paths, colonial era fortifications, and some of the most expensive real estate in the world, but unfortunately the tram had a 90 minute wait and I don’t have time for that nonsense. My next thought was the nearby Hong Kong Park, in front of the puffin cages perhaps, but alas, Hong Kong prohibits smoking in its parks and gardens. The result is this, a dusky beauty brought to you from the miscellaneous streets and alleyways of this sweaty metropolis.

Partagás Serie D No. 4 unlit

The Partagás Serie D No. 4 is about as default a cigar as exists in this world. The Monte 4 is still, as far as I know, the biggest mover, but number two, and by all accounts gaining fast, is the D4. It’s a good size for today’s punter, which is to say it’s short and fat, and honestly it’s not a cigar I’ve ever had much fondness for. This example though opens well, with mild tobacco and straw, and I swear that I can detect a hint of spring onion in the back palette.

Hong Kong and I go back a long way, back to the old Hong Kong before 1997, when it was the last remaining diamond in the crown of the British Empire. It was early 1989, and my father was ready to change his life. He had applied for a highly paid position on an Australian government aid quango, setting up an accounting university in Wuhan, China. It was a job for which he was vastly underqualified. An accountant by training he’d worked for six months as an auditor with KPMG before deciding that he couldn’t spend his life counting boxes. Those who can’t do teach, and he’d spent the next decade or so teaching high school accounting, mainly as a volunteer abroad in third world island nations. In the year before his application for the Wuhan job he was working as a first year accounting tutor at a second rate technical school. Unsurprisingly, his application was turned down.

His second choice was to move his young family to an acreage outside of Frankston in Melbourne, where I was to be enrolled in Frankston Primary, and later Frankston High (non-Melbourne readers will not understand this reference, but suffice to say, Frankston High has produced a far greater number of teenage mothers and career criminals than it has globetrotting cigar aficionados). And then came June 4th. And then came the incident in Tiananmen Square.

Partagás Serie D No. 4 partially smoked

An inch or so to the wind and the D4 is still quite mild, with a little peppery spice and a muddy overtone.  There is just a tang of diesel exhaust on the back end, which is more pleasant that it sounds. The D4 is the descendant of a grand old line of lettered cigars, begun sometime in the 19th century and discontinued in the 1930s. In the original incarnation there were sixteen cigars, running letters A to D and numbers one to four. The letter represented the ring gauge, with A being 38, B 42, C 48 and D 50; the numbers represent the lengths: one is 170mm, two 156mm, three 140mm and four about 125mm. The D4 was revitalised in the 1970s to fulfil a perceived need for a Partagás robusto. Over the coming weeks and months I plan to smoke my way through a few different Partagás specials and limiteds, many of which are revitalised members of the original letter series, or latter day expansions of the line. Expect the factoids mentioned in this paragraph to be referred to a lot.

After Tiananmen Square the project that had so roundly rejected my father was in turmoil. The chosen staff had spent a couple of months in cultural training in Australia, and were just weeks from their scheduled departure when they saw footage of tanks in China’s capital and heard reports of thousands of students being massacred by the Red Army. Frantic phone calls were made. Letters of resignation appeared on desks. With the hard targets of their joint venture contract to meet the quango heads were forced to go down their list of rejected applicants looking for anyone who was still willing to go. My father was, and by August I was a resident of Red China.

Even in 1989, Wuhan was a major metropolis, but it was by no means a cosmopolitan city. Today its business district is all mirrored glass high rises, but back then the entire city was row after endless row of utilitarian concrete apartment blocks. Lying deep in the heartland on the banks of the Yangtze, Wuhan is known as one of the three furnaces of China, firstly because of its oppressively hot and humid summers, but also because of Red Steel Town, a district to the north of the city where a great deal of China’s steel is smelted. The river was a short bicycle ride from my home and from the top of the levy bank I watched an endless parade of tugs and barges: coal and ore going in, giant steel girders going out.

China in 1989 was making its first faltering steps toward openness, but particularly in the provinces it still had a long way to go. White people were almost unheard of; when my sister and I ventured out to the market outside of our compound old women would point to us and whisper in their grandchildren’s ears. Both brunettes we had it easy: the children next door were blond haired and blue eyed, and wherever they went strangers would reach out and touch them. Cars were a rarity back then, every street crowded with thousands upon thousands of bicycles. Every night when the traffic died down platoons of old ladies would emerge from the high rises to sweep the streets with wicker brooms, their only discernible purpose to move the dust from the ground into the air.

Partagás Serie D No. 4 final third, with Kowloon in the background

China, in a word, was chaos. Every month or so we would need a break, a brief gasp of the rarefied (unpolluted) air to which we westerners were accustomed. Air travel in China was a rare privilege in 1989, reserved only for high ranking party members and those lucky enough to travel on business. The only airline was the government CAAC (which the expats jokingly referred to as China Airlines Always Crashes), flying old Russian jets that groaned and rumbled and landed hard. You could fly to Hong Kong only from Shanghai and Beijing, and so for us escaping China for a few days generally meant a train ride to Guangzhou. Today a high speed train makes the journey in a few hours, but 1989 was the era of the Iron Rooster; steam trains, with classes ranging from Hard Seat (a wooden bench in with the livestock) to Soft Sleeper (six to a cabin, bloodstained sheets). The journey took an unpredictable amount of time, variable depending on how often and where the train broke down. You knew you were going to be stationary for a while when you saw the engineer pedal past your window on a bicycle, heading back in the direction you’d just come from. Once in Guangzhou you made your way to the border, where, within a giant Stalinist gothic edifice you would fight your way through the crowd of peasants to the window for your permission to cross. Once granted you would be herded through a series of large cages, your papers checked again and again, being jostled by Chinamen all the while, before finally, some hours after you first began, you would be granted permission to leave Red China.

Released from the cages you would cross the bridge over no-mans-land, over a well mown killing field and a tall, razor wire topped fence. At the end of the bridge some glass doors would slide open with a smooth hiss, revealing a pristine white tiled customs hall, the Union Jack hung proudly over an aspidistra in the corner. “Welcome to Hong Kong” the guard, resplendent in his crisp blue uniform, would say, his accent a plummy, well-practised British. Moments later you would step onto a monorail and glide silently through the lush forests of the New Territories, disembarking twenty minutes later in the heart of Kowloon, back in civilization. It always felt like you were waking from a bad dream.

I finish the cigar on public pier number nine, overlooking Kowloon, watching the Star Ferries come and go. The cigar has remained mild and pleasant the whole way through, only turning on the heavy tar in the final puffs. In the final analysis it is a fine Cuban smoke, a good hallmark for the Partagás marque, but unfortunately, to my palette at least, it’s not as good as a Montecristo No. 4.

Partagás Serie D No. 4 nub

Partagás Serie D No. 4 on the Cuban Cigar Website