Archives for the month of: February, 2014

Terrance Rafferty opined that ‘Losers are inherently sexier than winners, because winners are more self-protective; material success makes people cowardly, or at least unattractively cautious. (They may be full of bravado, but that’s not the same thing.)’

I am re-reading Bernard Cornwell’s splendid Sharpe series. These are 22 novels that are centered around a fictional character named Richard Sharpe, a soldier fighting for Her Majesty’s forces first beginning with the Siege of Seringapatam in 1799 and ending more or less at Waterloo in 1815.

Richard Sharpe by his own admission is a rogue, a former thief, the son of a whore who abandoned him to grow up in a wretched foundling home. He gets tricked into joining the army and there begins his story, first as a private then after an act of heroism, made sergeant by Wellesley himself. All the stories center on this one man who just can’t seem to get a break. His life is incredibly hard. He suffers, perseveres, and in some cases triumphs. He does the impossible but never receives any real credit nor gets the advancement that is his due. Cromwell brings the opening period of the 19th century to life using the backdrop of the Napoleonic Wars as seen through the eyes of this bitter and beautiful loser.

If you believe that vast majorities of the poor down here in Mexico believe in God because of their ignorance then you are sadly mistaken. The poor have taken up their faith knowing as they do the realities of their existence. Their faith in Divine Providence gives strength to them in times of failure, poverty, and need. Sometimes it is only after one has been brought to their knees in failure and found their own resources bankrupt can the quiet voice of the Almighty penetrate.

Cesar Vallejo died impoverished and unknown in Paris in 1938 at the age of 46. In his immortal poem ‘Black Stone on Top of a White Stone’ he closed with:

César Vallejo is dead. They struck him,
All of them, though he did nothing to them,
They hit him hard with a stick and hard also
With the end of a rope. Witnesses are: the Thursdays,
The shoulder bones, the loneliness, the rain, and the roads…

Sad as it may be, some people just seem born to lose. And it seems to me in the end that it always comes down to what you believe in. For example, do you believe enough in your art to sacrifice your life on the altar of poverty as did Cesar Vallejo?

The ancient Japanese way of Bushido defined courage merely as ‘doing that which is right’, regardless of the outcome. Poverty and failure were always accepted without shame as possible consequences.

It must have been the fall of ’98 when we made the 1000 mile trip to northern Colorado to hunt elk. I still had a ton of miles in my account so I flew Stoehner down from Alaska to California where I was living at the time and we drove out together.

Mike Edison, an Intel work colleague had somehow managed to convince me that previous summer that joining him and two of his buddies for their annual elk hunt was something that I definitely needed to experience.

I had hunted white-tail deer in both Michigan and Texas so the proposition didn’t seem entirely out of the question. Stoehner, who I had meet at university in Texas, was a big time hunter and fisherman. He had me up to Alaska three times for fishing trips so I thought it was only fitting that I invite him along for my first elk hunt.

So the big question that summer of ’98 was what kind of firepower did I need to bring down big-game shot probably at a considerable distance? I got advice from practically everybody ranging from a 7 mm mag all the way up to a 50 cal. As much as I liked the idea of a 50 caliber, which shoots pretty much accurately out to a mile, they were a bit too pricey, costing then several thousand dollars. There is that little boy in all of us who wants to own the baddest gun on the block but most of us at some point manage to get a grip on ourselves before we actually buy something so stupid.

I was not inexperienced when it came to weaponry. As a kid I hunted with everything from slingshots and BB guns to .22s and .410s. I grew up in a small farming community in northern Michigan where fist fights and killing stuff was just another day in the life for a little boy. I am rather ashamed to admit it but from the ages of six to eleven I was Attila the Hun to the entirety of the Animal Kingdom.

We even fought amongst ourselves using such things as handmade spears, BB guns and rocks. I once knocked an older boy flat on his ass with a rock I threw from 20 yards. It hit him right between the eyes.

We were all terrible little savages. I went on my first 3 day camping expedition with my two best friends, Jim Wilson and Jerry Cook, when we were just eight years old. We spent 3 glorious unsupervised days and nights camped on 5 Mile Creek near Harbor Springs; right on Lake Michigan. We had our BB guns, sheath knives, and enough matches to have burned down everything between us and the Mackinaw Bridge. But when we broke camp the trees were still standing and not one of us had managed to lose as much as an eye.

I ended up buying a Browning 300 Winchester Mag in stainless steel with a composite stock. Sighting it in that summer I discovered that it positively hurt to shoot that thing. The only other rifle that caused me pain was shooting Jeff Albrecht’s Marlin 44 Mag. He was a big guy and he laughed when I handed the rifle back to him and refused to shoot it anymore.

The debate then became at what range could I take down an 800 pound elk with that cartridge? Another Intel colleague collected Sako’s; an expensive brand of Finnish rifles. He participated in a couple of message boards to which he posted my question. The answers that came back were mostly sissified. Not more than 200 yards was the typical answer. Anything further risked wounding a magnificent creature.

As a little kid I had once shot a crow out of the top of a tree at a hundred yards with an open sight twenty-two. That was the same summer that I went through a case of .22 long rifles in a month; those thousand rounds were supposed to have lasted all summer. My grandfather was not pleased. So anyway, I reckoned if the 300 Winchester Mag shot flat to 200 yards then with the proper scope I felt that 400 – 500 yards was doable.

We spent the night somewhere in Utah and got up early the next morning to make the final 500 miles into northern Colorado. When we got there I was rather unhappy to find out that we’d be renting horses. If there was anything that I liked less than a horse, it was a rented horse. We were going to be hunting between eight and nine thousand feet so that high up, Ed explained, we were going to need horses. That was really something I would have liked to have known before I left California. Riding a rented horse is one thing but being responsible for it was an entirely different matter. Getting out of a warm sleeping bag at dark-thirty to feed and water a horse every morning for 5 days was personally a painful proposition. Then to saddle and bridle the beast and mount it in the freezing cold with a heavy rifle strapped across my back made each successive morning a less than look forwarded to event.

We’d ride every day in different directions for a couple of hours scouting and looking for good places to hunt. One afternoon coming back my horse stumbled crossing a creek and went to its knees. I thought, ‘This is just great. I am going to end up upside down under this clumsy horse with a broken back because I got this damn rifle strapped across me’.

The hunt ended safely and successfully. I neither shot an elk nor even saw one. I had one of those existential moments miles from camp where I envisioned having killed one of the beasts only to confront the specter of having to then deal with 800 pounds of inert steaming meat. Sometimes success turns out to be the exact opposite of what you initially reckoned it to be.

“You tell the truth and what do you get? Nothing. If, on the other hand, you know the truth but tell a lie, you create a secret about the truth. And that secret has value.”   Unknown.

I am not even going to try and review this cigar. Cigar Aficionado did so in their February 2014 issue and ranked it no. 5 in their 25 best cigars of 2013.

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The magazine also said that it was one of the more expensive Cuban’s. At fifteen bucks an inch – make that twenty bucks as you really can’t smoke the last inch without burning your lips – that must truly be a statement of fact. It is certainly the most expensive cigar that I’ve ever smoked.

Was it worth that kind of dough? I don’t know. Was it better than the Cuban Montecristo No.2? I liked it better but then again they were two completely different cigars. At a certain point good, better, best is all about a person’s preferences. My only disagreement with the Behike was that it lasted only about an hour.

If you want to read a short but well written commentary on the pedigree of the Cohiba Behike, go to my friend, Mike’s blog – http://lohandbehold.com/2010/05/01/the-new-cohiba-behike/ which is posted in his ‘Thank You for Smoking’ section. Also read http://lohandbehold.com/2009/07/16/the-raccoon-has-peed/

If you want to read some good food writing also have a look at his ‘Eat Drink Men Women’ section.

I love cigars. I love the very idea of cigars; right down to the growing, the curing and fermentation processes. I love cigars in the same way that I love leather. Wearing leather sandals is as close to bare feet and touching the earth as you can get.

I love the simple things: white pocket t-shirts, khaki cargo shorts, a straw hat, books, paper, hot sun, cool water, hospitable people, intelligent conversation (or silence), cigars, and cold beer.

Oh, and I love Mexico.

“Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.” Helen Keller

Put aside all your learned affectations from those opinions written by the ponces of those multiple men’s lifestyle magazines that you look to for advice and know this: a great cigar should be laid to rest only after you have smoked it to the nub; to the nub my friend.

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This is the remnant of a Cuban Montecristo No. 2, considered by many aficionados to be the finest cigar in the world. Waste not want not.

I see that I still have a few minutes before the clock strikes 5 pm; when the magic carriage pulls up, loaded with gifts of good booze and great cigars. So I’ll take the next couple of minutes to post the struggles of this past week.

The transformer blew up at the factory week before last so it wasn’t until this past Monday when power was restored that we were able to get out there to document the process of how sahara sandals makes the best handmade sandals in the world.

I assembled all of the photos into a document for a presentation that I then made on Tuesday to the State of Michoacan’s Ministry of Economy. If you are interested in the frustrating results of that meeting, please see the post from a couple of days ago entitled ‘Government’. And if you are interested in my rather scathing and acerbic Ambrose Bierce Devil’s Dictionary [style of] definition of ‘bureaucrat’ please see the post of that name.

Then I spent the rest of the week handholding, babysitting, pleading and cajoling my custom’s broker into doing his job to deliver the information that I need that it very critical to the one and only real deal that I have on the table at the moment.

And this morning I wrote letters to both the municipal and state governments asking [again] in a slightly different way for their endorsement and support for my sandal-making company. My guys translated the letters to Spanish, I signed them, and then we faxed them.

Happy hour is now just 15 short minutes away so if you’ll excuse me, I have preparations to make.

Oh yes my friends. Happy Hour is now just 54 short minutes away. And I am going to indulge myself in smoking one of Mike’s recently received Cuban’s; the Montecristo No. 2.

This February issue of Cigar Aficionado in it’s ranking of the top 25 cigars of 2013 ranked the Cuban Montecristo No. 2 as the number one cigar of the year and awarded it 96 points. The editors said, ”The score of 96 was the highest ever rating we have ever bestowed on the cigar in a blind taste test’.

Do I deserve to smoke such a fine cigar? The answer to that question is a big ‘hell no’ but with the tiny caveat that as a true underdog; I fought the good fight this week. And even a dog sometimes gets his day.

So cheers to you Mike for your most generous gift.

And cheers to each and everyone of you who are out there playing unsafely in the deep end of the pool.

I received a box of mixed Cuban cigars in the mail a couple of days ago sent all the way from Singapore from Mike; the greatest friend that I’ve yet had the pleasure to meet. And I opened them yesterday afternoon and this is what I found:

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I anxiously kept an eye on my watch all afternoon waiting for the big hand and the little hand to meet in that proper alignment that millions of us around the world look forward to; the celebration known as Happy Hour. Laying out the cigars, I felt like Fester Adams, recollecting him as his nervously hopped around his precious possessions. A big decision lay before me as I tried to chose the perfect first cigar.

I raced downstairs and grabbed an ice cold Modelo out of the fridge, grabbed a shot glass of most generous proportions (this is Mexico after all), a bottle of Herradura Blanco, and decided on the Romeo y Julieta Limited Edition 2009.

I put on Dave Brubeck’s immortal piece of jazz ‘Time Out’ and after sinking into my chair out on the terrace, gingerly cut the wrapper and fired it up. It was immediate beefy goodness.

I’ve mentioned it before but it is worth saying again that cigars have more in common with all those things culinary than they do with those vulgar addictive cigarette things. Smoking a great cigar is like eating the finest Texas mesquite grilled Porterhouse steak. And after you burn down an inch or two and enough of the oils from the aged tobacco have been pulled into the cigar you reach that sweet spot which is kind of akin to hitting the tenderloin piece close to the bone. And depending on the cigar, that sweet spot can be a mile long.

I smoked that Romeo y Julieta down to the nub. It was so small that I finally had to let it go because it was burning my fingers.

Thanks again Mike. Your gift is greatly appreciated.

PS – A further note on cigars. Many people don’t realize it but cigars (properly taken care of) age like fine wines. There are humidors in the world that are still stocked with pre-Castro cigars.  We’re talking Cuban cigars that are over 50 years old. At this point in my life I am seldom covetous of either things or experiences but I think it would be a great pleasure to smoke one of those cigars accompanied by a brandy of similar provenance.

noun. a sexless species unpredicted by the likes of Darwin. its characteristics are two-fold: with its voracious appetite for paper, its  primary activity is spent shitting; the product of which is used to form the next generation of itself.