Monster smoke

May 5, 2011

I live in Cuba, cigar country by excellence, and I do like the smell and taste of burning cigars. I like the look of cigars, I like their tan color, and I like the way bugs and mosquitoes keep well away from me if I am smoking one. I like holding a cigar, I like the smell left inside empty cigar boxes, and I even like collecting the empty boxes. I really like giving good cigars as presents to friends who appreciate them.

In the rest of the world there is always an air of indoor exclusivity, mysticism, complicity, conspiracy, luxurious pomposity, deep conversation, relaxation and a feel-good atmosphere around cigars. In Cuba, cigars mean something very different; they are a celebration every day, all the time. Apart from the ever-present feel good and cool factor, cigars are a normal part of daily life, can be found everywhere and are accessible to everyone. Here, they are not exclusive, and can be acquired for any price from a few cents to around $25 apiece.

Years ago I once carefully packed my suitcase in Havana with over three hundred hand-rolled, fresh Creole cigars, the ones typical Cubans smoke regularly. These are the type sold without the nice wooden boxes and rings, with a slightly rustic look but wonderful taste. I flew from Cuba through Europe, half way around the world to Asia, with the cigars for my own consumption and as gifts to friends who loved them as much. I calculated that in my suitcase there were around 45 meters of cigar if I laid them end to end, and I thought that was a lot.

I had never seen a single monster smoke that stretched 268 feet 4 inches (81.8 meters), or almost the length of a football field.

Yesterday, there it was resting on many tables sprawling through El Morro, an old Spanish fort overlooking Havana Bay, where Cuba is holding its annual International Tourism Fair.

The cigar, once it is officially accepted by Guinness World Records in London, will eclipse the previous world record cigar of 148 feet 9 inches (45.38 meters), both rolled by Jose Castelar Cairo, better known as “Cueto.”

I stood staring at it for a while, but there were too many people around it for a clean picture that would bring  viewers’ attention directly to the cigar. I waited for all the organizers, press, TV crews and others to leave before setting my camera to 1600 ASA with a shutter speed of around a 1/15 of a second, my lens stopped down to f/13 for plenty of depth of field. During the process I wondered if I lit the cigar up, how long it would last? Would it stay lit? How much ash would it produce?

A sentence attributed to Cuba’s Revolution leader Che Guevara, also an avid cigar lover, came to mind as I looked at this monster smoke. “Let’s be realistic, and do the impossible.”

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