The tradition of this column, as the old timers tell it, is that the first cigar I light in any a new season is the fundamental example of the breed. The quintessential cigar that sums it up for any occasion. The “go to.”
Cohiba, however, is not a brand for just any occasion. Once the private marque of Fidel Castro, today it is mainly for the Chinese nouveau riche. The occasion when you reach for a Cohiba is when you want somebody to know that you’re the boss.
The Siglo II is by no means the quintessential Cohiba, and I doubt anybody much reaches for it very often. If you want a Cohiba, you want one with a bit of heft to it. You want a Behike 56. A Siglo VI. Maybe a Robusto if you’re pressed for time. Maybe a Lanceros if you’re an educated man.
I am giving the Siglo II the first smoke, however, purely because of its vitola de galera. The Siglo II is a Marevas; 42 ring by 129mm. The same size as the Montecristo 4, and a great many other quintessential cigars besides. It is long enough that you know you’re smoking a cigar, but short enough that you’re not back too late from lunch.
The example in question has a perfect domed marble head; a construction style that was once the standard for all Cuban cigars but since the 1970s has been rare, remaining only as a signature flourish for master rollers.
Lit, the first notes are a little more bitter than I’d like, but obviously first class, with black coffee over toasted grains. The draw is perfect.
One Easter Sunday some years passed I was coming off about three months of heavy internet dating; two nights a week walking the never-ending trail in search of something better than bachelorhood. Some dates were terrible, and ended with a hasty skolling of the first drink and pressing ‘unmatch’ on the app on my way out the door. Other dates went a little better, and we’d laugh and stay out late, and although things weren’t so good that I’d kiss her at the end, I’d still walk away thinking there might be something there. The next day I’d message to see if she wanted another go around, and in reply she’d say she liked me but “not in a romantic way.”
Once in a while, the dates would go very well, and the girl would end up in my bed. In the morning when she was gone, I’d lie there, my pillow still rich with her scent, and I’d try and imagine a life with her. Inevitably I would find some imperfection that seemed like it would drive me to insanity when subjected to a lifetime of it. Somewhat regretfully, but not wanting to waste her time, I’d send her a text: “I had a great time with you last night, but just being totally honest, I don’t really see it getting serious with you. Would be happy to see you a couple more times though if you’re keen.”
It was generally met with outrage. I couldn’t fault them for it.
The same cycle had played out time and time again, and I had resolved to end it. No more would I cast girls aside for some perceived minor flaw. It was Easter Sunday, and it was time that I became a better man. From now on I would see that the beauty of a rose is perfected by its thorns.
To be honest, I didn’t need a date that night. On Easter Saturday I had been out all night at a very druggy party. I hadn’t had a lot of sleep, and my dopamine levels were low. Elspeth and I had been chatting online for a week or so, and we were at the point where it was time to either meet in person or ghost her, so when she messaged with “how about we get together tonight?” I was a coinflip whether to accept the date or spend the night at home alone watching a movie. I decided that now was as good as any time to get it over with.
We met on the steps of the State Library and headed to a cocktail bar a few blocks down the road. She had chin length brown hair and a Mediterranean nose, and came off as shy, running through her chit chat with a wide-eyed hesitation. At first glance she looked like any Melbournite, dressed in black and grey, but if you looked a little closer, you’d see that she had some style. I would later learn that she shopped exclusively from Japanese fashion websites and it showed. Her things were just cut a little better than we see in Australia.
At the end of the first drink I was surprised when she consented to a second. My energy levels were through the floor, and she seemed nervous and uncomfortable. At the end of the second drink, I was even more surprised when she suggested we move to another bar. After six drinks at three venues I suggested we head to my place, and wasn’t at all surprised when she agreed.
Post coital, with her head nestled on my shoulder, I felt a deep affection for her.
“You know” I said, running a finger down her flank, “I’m sure you don’t think it, but you’re really very pretty. You have your little imperfections. Your nose. Your butt is too big. But you have nice eyes, and your stomach is flat, and your legs are long, and your tits are perfectly shaped. It might not be the Vogue Magazine idea of beauty, but everything is in proportion, and added up you look better than any of those bitches. You’re beautiful.”
She blushed and kissed me.
Halfway gone, and the Siglo II is coming along nicely, with the classic Cohiba notes of grass and hay up front, and honey sweetness in the aftertaste. Above all it exhibits the smoothness that is the hallmark of Cohiba, and all true premium tobacco.
Elspeth was the artistic sort, a museum curator, and on our first date, somewhere after the third drink, I had tried to boost my intellectual credentials by mentioning The Harem. “It masquerades as cigar reviews” I had said, “but really I use it to tell my life story, one anecdote at a time, with poetic prose and a literary sensibility. I elevate the form.” When she told me she would read it, I grimaced, immediately regretting my braggadocio. “Please don’t.”
The second date went well enough, but for one incident. She mentioned in passing that she was bad with money, deep in credit card debt from years of unsustainable spending. Ever the attack dog, I teased her about it, taking care of the bills from then on, but never without a smirking “I’d better get this.” After the fifth time, she put on her serious voice and asked me to stop.
The third date was magical. Using her connections at the museum she took us to the warehouse where the exhibits not on display are stored, and we held hands as we walked down long aisles of curios, while she pointed out her favourites. In the taxidermy section we kissed, observed by the glassy eyes of a thousand staring creatures. I liked her a lot in that moment. She had her flaws, to be sure, but they were just part of her easy charm.
Later that night we had our first fight.
We were post coital again, preparing for sleep. There are two varieties of pillow on my bed, some low loft ones made of hard latex, which I prefer for sleeping, and some puffy king-sized ones made from a honeycomb foam that I use when reading in bed. I tossed the big one on my side to the floor.
“Choose whichever you like” I said. “I prefer to sleep on the
hard thin one because I’m a hard thin man.”
“Mmm…” she said. “I think I’ll take this big squishy one…”
She trailed off, leaving the thought uncompleted. I grinned and poked her in the stomach. “You’re not that squishy.”
She went to the bathroom, and when she returned started getting dressed with the abrupt motions of a woman scorned.
“Are you going?”
“Because I called you ‘squishy’?”
There were tears in her eyes. I pulled her back onto the bed, and held her.
“I’m sorry.” I said. “It was just a joke… and I didn’t actually call you ‘squishy’… I sorta said you weren’t squishy.”
I felt her begin to relent.
“I’m sorry” I said.
“I’m sorry” she said.
We held each other a while longer, before she began a monologue.
“You remember the other night we when were in bed, you were saying such nice things about how beautiful I was… I don’t think anyone has ever said something so nice to me, but the next day all I could think about was the other side of it, how you didn’t think I realised it, and it just really upset me, thinking that that must be the way I present myself.”
I deflected. “I’m sorry,” I said. “That was just pillow talk.” The look in her eyes said that hurt her even more.
The next morning I walked her to the station, and once she was gone I mulled the situation over. My instinct was to end it; to send her some text saying I’d had fun but it wasn’t going to work, and quietly block her number. But this was the new Groom. Love is about tolerance. The girl was probably a bit thin skinned for a vicious predator like me, and tears on the third date are never a good sign, but I did like her. She was sweet, and smart, and funny, and had a bit of a flair that set her apart from all the other fans of wine and adventures. And I had meant what I said: her nose was a bit big, and her hips a bit too good for child bearing, but her eyes were bright and clear and she was beautiful. “This is the one, Groom” I said to myself. “Love is a many faceted stone, made perfect by its flaws.” I can make this work.
But the Groom of the past had other ideas.
Later that day, she sent me a text:
“I’ve been thinking about you a lot.”
“I’ve been thinking about you too.”
“I read your blog…”
Not one to be provoked by a hanging ellipsis, I left her text unanswered. There was no need. I knew it was over.
Some hours later she got tired of waiting and confirmed it.
“I don’t think we should see each other anymore. I don’t want to wind up as just another one of your stories.”
The Siglo II ends mostly with fairly clean tobacco and dry grass; there is nothing too revelatory about it, but it is smooth and delicious and a first-class smoke in every way. I’ve been smoking alongside Davidé, and have made him a gift of a Siglo II to smoke alongside me. His tastes and budget run more often to White Owls than Cohiba, and he is rightly blown away by it. He declares it the best cigar he’s ever smoked. I hope that most of the aged and limited Cohibas that are to come resoundingly defeat the Siglo II, but it sets a high bar that few cigars from lesser marques would clear. If you need a perfect sized cigar for a daily smoke, and you have the means, you can’t do much better than a Siglo II.