I’m on the waterfront, the docklands, Melbourne’s great urban renewal project of the 1990s. It’s widely derided in Melbourne as a failure, a soulless ghost town, and a disaster of urban planning, but failure is a relative term that rather depends on what you set out to accomplish. The docks, after all, were renewed, were they not? Luxury apartments and frozen yogurt shops have definitely taken the place of the cavernous warehouses and the greasy chip shops that the stevedores of yesteryear frequented. The main criticism is that nobody comes down here, that the streets are empty, but I’m sure the young professionals who live in the luxury apartments here aren’t too bothered by the rural serenity of their inner city suburb. To me, about to enjoy a Partagás Sobresalientes from the Replica Antique Humidor on my own private pier on a wonderfully still, cloudless day, the lack of foot traffic doesn’t seem like such a bad thing at all.
I open the end and puff a few times with the cigar unlit, testing the draw. It is very loose, right on the cusp of unacceptably so. I bring a flame to the foot, and after a few sour puffs it turns quite velvety, with a heavy, herbal taste that is reminiscent of a good quality gin. There is a light dusty dryness in the aftertaste.
An old blanket is draped on the slime covered rocks below my position, and has been there so long that it appears to have become one of them, soaked in the same mud that has coloured the rocks, and sharing the same patina from the tides and the same slime pattern. I watch a dozen or so bright orange crabs as they move about, grazing on the muck. There is something going on under the water as well: for the first few meters off the shore it is punctuated by columns of air-bubbles rising to the surface. I can’t imagine what from – they seem far too regular and vigorous to be the work of crabs or photosynthesizing algae, but there’s so many of them that if they’re from a leaky pipe or tunnel then somebody has a big problem on their hands. A black swan, tag number G10 swims sedately by. He spies a floating apple, and, smart enough to pick it out from the non-edible flotsam, has a go at it. It’s too big for him, and after a dozen or so attempts he gives up and drifts away. He leaves the crabs unmolested.
When I lived in Shanghai I always used to marvel at the subsistence economy that existed on banks of the Huangpu and its tributaries, undoubtedly one of the most polluted waterways in the world. I’d often walk the banks of the river during my lunch break, and when the tide was low the rocks would be covered in scavengers, picking them clean of crabs and mussels and other shellfish. When I was a boy it was not unusual to see bodies floating in the Huangpu, presumably belonging to onetime scavengers who had lost their footing on the river’s slimy edge. By the time I returned to China as an adult the corpses were a lot rarer, presumably fished out at one of the gargantuan new dams upstream (or perhaps ground up in their power turbines).
Part way through and the cigar is very mellow, a light tobacco flavour with a lot of wood and straw. There’s not a huge amount to it at this point, especially for a cigar of this ring gauge, but it’s an extremely pleasant, mild and elegant smoke, and perfect for an afternoon like mine. I was enjoying a cup of coffee with this but I finished it a little quicker than I meant to and am enjoying the later part of the cigar on its own – my main observation is that it would go extremely well with a dry, non-threatening cocktail, or perhaps a light white wine.
The Shanghai waterfront was anything but deserted. Once, late at night, I was in need of a romantic spot to canoodle with a girlfriend, and with Melbourne’s desolate waterfront in mind I headed for the river. It must have been one in the morning, and it wasn’t even a weekend, but the place was teeming: a thousand other canoodling couples were there, occupying every bench, bollard, and railing. They were serenaded by cacophonic street musicians and serviced by a range of food carts and several hundred hawkers who zipped back and forth on LED lit roller-skates, each flogging the same selection of laser pointers, electronic toys of the yapping, back-flipping dog variety, and glow-in-the-dark toy helicopters. One particularly stubborn girl selling roses latched onto us, following us for five minutes along the embankment, repeatedly trying to force a rose into my pocket despite my increasingly irate protestations. Eventually driven to breaking point I yelled at her, and made to throw her product into the river, and she skulked away. My girlfriend grew cold on me after that: she denied it at the time, but I suspect that she secretly wanted a rose.
The cigar remains mild to the last, never turning bitter, but also never offering the dirty old Partagás flavour of the better Partagás exotics, or terribly much else of note. It’s a very pleasant cigar, a mild, cruisy smoke for mild, cruisy days. It’s totally inoffensive, and better than a PSD4 and some of the lesser limiteds. If you have a box I wouldn’t treasure them. If you don’t have one I wouldn’t seek one out.
Partagás Réplica de Humidor Antiguo on the Cuban Cigar Website