As I finished the cigar humidor last week and shipped it to Oceanside, California, I mused about how I came to be so bold as to think I could produce a worthwhile humidor. Let me tell you how I learned about cigars and have gained my appreciation of them. I have to take you back in time to around May of 2004, during the “winter” rainy season of San Ramon, Costa Rica.
I sit back in my chair and close my eyes in remembrance of a time in my life when smoke billowed through a sunlit window in the far left corner of Don Pablo’s cigar shop in Costa Rica and Buena Vista blared “Chang Chang” as I simply enjoyed the moment and a fresh cup of shade grown coffee. At that time in my life, I was a rigorously church going youth, and I would stop daily at the Cathedral, when the other students abroad were at play, to confess my sins committed at the discoteca during previous nights. It was on one of these daily visits that I was caught in a twist of divine humor and was able to experience guilt free humanity again. I’m not saying I was like the folks on “Breaking Amish” or anything, I practiced my faith in a freakishly OCD way and in hindsight could have been much kinder to myself. What can I say, I was the kid who wanted to get an A+ at everything, even faith. On one particular day, the Cuban professora, Dulce, brought me and a few others to a cigar shop to meet an extraordinary couple who have left their mark indelibly on my soul, Don Pablo and Dona Marie.
Don Pablo stood maybe 5’10, was 80 years old, and smoked at least two cigars everyday for most of his life. He had almost all of his teeth, which he showed regularly when he smiled from ear to ear. He romanticized everything CIGAR. He called cigars “Puros” or pures. He was the leader of a cigar manufacturing and tobacco growing family, a keeper of the puro tradition. How could such a smelly, ethoxic, chauvinistic, show of excess be pure? He would say, “Never hold your smoke in such a way as a cigarette to appear to show off. Never smoke in front of others who do not have cigars, because you will ruin the relationship.” “The relationship?” I asked. When you choose a cigar and light it, you are forming a relationship with something pure from the Earth, and when you puff the smoke, it touches God’s toes. He says, hello Don Pablo. I know you are there my friend.” He also took issue with snubbing the cigar out at the end of a smoke, “When you are finished, you say goodbye my friend and return it to the Earth. Do not mash it up in an ashtray like you are using it. It is a relationship.” Get the picture? I know it may sound funny without being there, and I hope I do him justice with this piece. Once, I offered to light his cigar and he recoiled from me saying, “You must never offer to light another person’s cigar, because it is taboo. If you do so, you will spoil the experience and the relationship with that cigar.”
Don Pablo and his wife were Cuban expats. Marie Capone claimed to be the relative of Al Capone, which made her that much more interesting. Further, the young Don Pablo was in attendance at Woodstock. Brought up in the family cigar business, I couldn’t help but muse how Don Pablo must have brought a unique hippy spin to the rigors of the family production operation. He only allowed maybe 20 cigars to be stocked in his shop, in stark contrast to the essential American walk in humidors at every local cigar lounge. Don Pablo said, “Why should I stock more than what I will sell in a day or two.” He had the means of production at his disposal and could have stocked thousands inside the shop, yet he was committed to peak freshness that, in his opinion, no humidification systems could compete with. I understand the tried and true American business model of shipping in bulk and stocking upwards of 1000 premiums cigars, as I worked in a regionally famous cigar store on Magazine St. for a time. I don’t fault it, but I certainly see Don Pablo’s point. At a simplistic “Al Bundy” level, the working person will light up at the end of a work week on the back patio and relax. That simple act of relaxation, of being precisely in the moment, is cosmic in complexity, however, as complex as knowing one exists as Buddha did under the lotus tree, as Heidegger exhibited in his Dasein, or “there being.” Puros are not signs of excess, but instruments to clear the mind and connect with the universe at a core level.
I asked Don Pablo how he humidified his cigars, and he showed me a tiny wooden box made of Spanish Cedar. “What is it?” I asked. He said, “It is a humidifier I made myself.” “You can make those? I thought they had to be metal or plastic,” I said in my ignorance. He showed me how to make it by placing wet floral foam into the box and letting the magic of the Spanish Cedar humidor liner do the rest of the work. He showed my that a humidor was just a box with that very special type of wood as its liner. These and many other lessons were passed on that summer abroad in Costa Rica, outside of the protective shelter of my parents and pastor. When I traveled by bus to a surfing trip at Tamarindo, I packed a few fresh honey dipped piccolino cigars with me. I lost all of my luggage at the bus stop, but I had a pocket full of Colones for my hostel and my piccolinos. I couldn’t have been happier, and it was an amazing trip for a Louisiana boy to see such great waves.
I’ll leave it up to my upcoming You Tube video to explain the intricacies of humidor craftsmanship along with dovetail joinery, liner making, hinge and lock setting. I hope this post explains to you what the essence of the craft means to me. The humidor is “just a box” with magic lumber, but I would hope that next time you smell a stinky cigar, you think of Don Pablo saying, “Every woman is a universe. Every cigar is a friend. When I am sitting in my chair in the evening, I puff a bit of smoke up to God’s toes, and he knows I think of him. He says goodnight, Don Pablo.”
I do not know if Don Pablo is still alive, but he would be almost 90 now and probably still smoking two cigars a day. Thank you my friend for all you taught me. I will always remember you upon a good cigar. Pura vida!
Thanks for reading my post this week. I hope you are enjoying this series. Please post you magnificent thoughts and comments, letting me know what you think. I promise to respond to you, even if it is just a question about blogging in general.
Best Regards, Mike Gennaro