I spent two hours stuck in an elevator alone this afternoon. Let me dispel the common beliefs that there is an emergency hatch or that people will readily come to get you; you are pretty much alone. I spent about thirty minutes pressing the help and alarm buttons intermittently to little avail. Eventually a security guard came along and began the process of getting the elevator company representative to come and get me out.
Top Five Things I Learned While Stuck in an Elevator
- Elevators are solid boxes with no alternative exits.
- Solitary confinement is no fun without reading material.
- The fan noise is just that…noise.
- The help button calls random people who only say hello once before hanging up.
- Firemen do not like being called to get a man out of an elevator.
On to topics more soothing to the human condition: the cigar scene in Havana. Before expounding on the brilliant revelations I enjoyed while sampling the finest tobaccos and rums, let me qualify that I fully understand that cigars are not healthy and that alcohol is addictive. I am not a smoker. I grew up with three cigarette chain-smokers, and I detest the stale smoke smells and hacking coughs tobacco can produce. At the same time, I adore finely crafted products that are meant for aficionados at appropriate times in moderation. Personally, I might be able to smoke one cigar a month, and half of the time I feel pretty ill afterwards. However, I love the smell of tobacco and cedar in a humid environment, and the ritual of cigar smoking is life-affirming. Yes, smoking sticks regularly will kill you, but so will regularly eating McDonalds, watching TV and talking on your cellphone while driving. When these comparisons are made the validity of the New Puritans become less clear.
Canadians are permitted to purchase 50 cigars without paying duty at the border. 50 cigars are a lot for a non-smoker to buy, but given the considerably cheaper prices, higher quality of product and that there was nothing else to buy in Cuba, I decided to buy two boxes of 25 cigars. V.’s suggestion was to try a different cigar each night while we were in Havana so that I had a good idea of what I was getting. While it was an excellent suggestion, V. was not overly impressed with the “dirty socks” smell produced by my first and second cigar choices (a Cohiba from the Partagas Factory tour and an Upmann from El Templete restaurant). She was quite right, and I did do my best to take things outside or where there was ventilation – like the balcony of Hotel Florida while watching lightning and listening to a bass play some Cuban jazz into the night.
The major revelation I had while going to the better humidors was that the selection was pretty limited and questionable even there. Hotel Nacional, Partagas, and visits to a few other well-known shops revealed a lot of Cohiba for tourists and a random collection of other brands. Their main raison d’etre was to sell souvenirs to tourists looking for Cohiba to smoke by the pool of an all-inclusive. With each visit, I decided that the best chance I had of buying quality boxes was at my hotel’s humidor, NH Parque Centrale. There I was able to try a Hoyo de Monterray, a Vegas Robaina, a Partagas and a Montecristo over our stay. After many returns we gained some confidence from the matron overlooking the lounge, and buying items regularly made her more confident to try her English. V.’s least stinky favourite was the Vegas Robaina Unico, and I was able to score a box of aged 2007s which was approved by the store matron as being a lucky find (though in a box that was less immaculate than the 2009s). The Vegas brand is newer than Romeo y Julieta or Cohiba, but they are well-appointed and milder to the palette. As pyramids, they also look more attractive and smoke cooler.
The second choice was an H. Upmann 2009 Magnum 48 Limited Edition. Short, rich and beautifully rolled, I really connected with these as a second choice that would serve as a solid counterpoint to the Robaina brand.
Next, I had to get them home and keep them from turning to dust like the Romeo y Julietas I bought in Paris last year. Between the fridge and bags, I only had a few days before they started losing their worth so I headed to The Smokin’ Cigar Inc. on Bayview Avenue. Fortunately, I again lucked out and saved 35% on a gorgeous red lacquer box humidor made out of Spanish cedar. I am currently in the process of trying to acclimatize it to the cigars, which is not as simple as you might think.
Yo ho ho…the bottle of rum? We decided after trying a few different brands and vintages that the Barrel Proof Havana Club was the best buy at $35 for a litre. We did have a beautiful aged rum at the hotel, but it was not available anywhere in the Havana stores, so we bought what we thought would go well with a cold Canadian night.