The Art of Cigar Smoking

There is an art to cigar-smoking. Perhaps not a fine art, but an art nonetheless. A learned activity at which one can always improve. An expression of refinement, with its own self-sustaining world of connoisseurs, opinions, styles, and products, inaccessible and pretentious to outsiders, repugnant to those overly concerned with hygiene. It is a multi-layered and multi-dimensional world that the amateur observer, no matter how curious or intuitive of mind, simply won’t understand.

First of all there is the quality of the cigar. These are more than fist-fulls of tobacco wrapped in a brown-colored leaf. Cigars are cultivated and crafted with care in a variety of locales and a variety of styles, analogous to wine. Also like wine, cigars command a certain aristocratic respect. A person sees a man, because it is usually a man, smoking a cigar, and the observer will instantly experience a slight sensation of inferiority. The man with the cigar is proud. He is making a statement: “I am smoking this cigar,” he says. “I know its smell is pungent, I know its ash is considerable and requires accommodation, I know I will bear the residue of this cigar long after I have finished smoking it, as will the place I have chosen in which to do so. I know some people find it abhorrent. I know this. But I’ve decided to smoke it anyway. And you know what? This cigar is already lit. So the rest of you will just have to deal with it.”

Further conclusions about the smoker’s character can be drawn, and very likely will be, following closer observation. And a qualitative deduction of this kind, while certainly carrying the risk of intensifying the observers’ feeling of inferiority, carries with it an equal risk of backfire for the smoker. Because the observer will try to take in the whole breadth of the cigar-smoker’s statement: his choice of smoking place, his manner in so doing, the expression on his face, how self-consciously he seems to cultivate the almost contrived image he presents.

For instance, picture a quay at sunset; perhaps you’re taking a stroll with your significant other. There are benches on this quay overlooking a modest harbor docked with sail boats and dotted with father-son fishing teams. The boardwalk is lined with romantic restaurants and trendy storefronts. It is a public place, but it is a warm and intimate one. There is a fairly diverse array of quay-side patrons. It’s the meaty part of the evening, when the sunset is about three-quarters complete and the sky is at its most colorful.

You and your significant other are strolling down this boardwalk, enjoying simply the comfort of the familiar, becoming a part of the wholesome and relatable interactions going on all around you. You and your partner are at peace, and maybe you put your arm around your partner’s shoulder, draw them in closer, and they lay their head down near the crook of your neck in response. You share a silent smile.

And then, a short distance ahead, you see the cigar-smoker. He has chosen one of these benches for his own, and he stands out unavoidably. Sitting markedly erect, as it can be hard to smoke a cigar and recline at the same time, he seems to be staring straight ahead at nothing in particular. You don’t notice the cigar yet, but when you do see it the irritating object only further confirms your initial impression.

Most likely it is a middle aged man. Most definitely a solitary man. He’s wearing a coat and jeans, probably understated-yet-fashionable, and the expression on his face is of such intense distance and concentration that you very nearly laugh out loud. For a moment you forget the body that you are holding to you. Hate clouds your vision. You glower at the cigar-smoker, and as you draw closer you develop a small plan to disrupt his attention and invade his protective cloud of cigar-smoke. As you and your significant other pass him, you cast him a look and you sneer: “I don’t care that you’re smoking a cigar,” you try to tell him. “I could be smoking a cigar too but I have more important things to do. See, I have a girlfriend. What do I need a cigar for? Foul-smelling thing. You know they cause gum disease, don’t you?”

Once you’ve passed him you probably don’t look over your shoulder. That would be too obvious, and your significant other might become irritated at your divided attention. But you still can’t resist just one lightning quick glance to make sure that he got your message. Indeed, it seems that he has. His imperturbable seriousness has been perturbed. He is looking after you with an irate degree of envy, and he quickly looks away, the smoldering dark brown appendage sticking up out of one hand like a demolished chimney. You continue on, gratified. Behind you the cigar-smoker adjusts his posture and takes a few hasty, disconsolate puffs.

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