Cigar Thoughts

My spirit, though fortified by a nice soup I made to go with a pinot noir, needed a lift this evening, reader. So I took myself off, wrapped up in an old coat and a scarf, for a walk under the sodium lights on the salt-crunchy paths of a thawing Putney evening. I wasn't alone, of course, having decided to take with me a Hoyo de Monterrey Dark Sumatra cigar. Like the night, it was dark, and fine, and touched only with a little light.

The tobacco is a blend of the Americas, Nicaraguan, Ecuadorean and Dominican--a buttery, pine-and mahogany mongrel that burns through a half dozen sorts of tastes. The friend who gave me a box containing it is a friend indeed. Bizarrely, I thought of a poet whose affectations and distaste for the Irish as a priest I dislike, Gerald Manley Hopkins. I'd be disinclined to anyone who patronised the Irish, of course, but before you think it, it isn't the absurdly exaggerated homoeroticism I find tedious; it's really that, well, my rhythm's not sprung and I wish all stresses were inned. I can't take any reading of The Wreck of the Deutschland without chuckling, which is a horrible thing to write. If there is anything to inspire Vaudeville beyond the Silvery Tay, that's it.

As I saunter-paced through the evening, chelsea boots crunching like a slow battallion beneath me, it wasn't dappled damson, or sloe I tasted, or excitement I felt; more a blend of coffee, very bitter chocolate and pine. Someone once compared a dark sumatra to salted cocoa, and perhaps, given the ground beneath me that's why I chose it, though of course I wouldn't want that in my mouth. The cigar was sensation enough. Indeed at one point the feeling was as though someone was dragging an old honeycomb up from my throat and through my palate.

That sensuality of cigars is very enticing. Perhaps there is something wired in our brains, some stem growth or synapse that encourages a fat ape of an ancestor to burst through our genetic memory and to sit beneath a tree and burn a leaf while waiting for the refusing coconuts to fall. There have been times when I've been drunk in fine places, but never enough to fall mouth open onto some swirling mahogany bar. If I had, I guess, the taste my mind would have conjured from the storied, circled varnish would have been like this.

What a pleasure there is in such destructive stupidity! After all, I could have been in the gym I avoided today, or finishing off one of the finer examples of the en vogue anticatholic fiction I've encountered, Michel Benoit's Thirteenth Apostle. It's more sophisticated than the average Maria Monk style screed popular on the shelves, partly because it is written by a renegade monk who genuinely thinks he has moved beyond the holy mother church. He'll learn, once the world exposes itself truly.

The Vatican is less of a jungle than it was--one doesn't have to watch The Mission to know that--but it's grown up with the lights and darknesses of the west. They are a part of it. Benoit's Vatican II was an aspiration, not a correction and excision, particularly and happily of antisemitism, as I see it, though some of the marks of the poison remain.

Benoit's idealism means that his novel is shot through with the embers of Vatican II's sixties hopes. He has loaded onto them misplaced aspirations, and he has attempted to build a scaffolding for mystic love and a mad attempt to relativise truth. Ultimately, engagement with a world determined on the limits of its level is still, in him, stamped with a sort of a posteriori reasoning that won't lead anywhere but the absurd, because for all the hopes of reason, people can be--are--absurd animals sometimes.

What a piece of work is a man, how noble in reason, how
infinite in faculties, in form and moving how express and
admirable, in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like
a god! the beauty of the world, the paragon of animals—and yet,
to me, what is this quintessence of dust? Man delights not me
Nor woman either--though by your smiling you seem to say not so

To which Rosenkrantz appropriately replies, I wasn't thinking that. I'd be smiling too if anyone came out with such a moan. Hamlet should have put himself about a bit frankly, since a woman or two would have easily cured his dwelling on Gertrude and Ophelia.

Who needs Dr Phil gibberish when you have me, eh reader? Fatuity, thy name is Meenagh. I guess Phil would say that I'm a serious person trapped in a silly body who just needs to be let out. Probably by trepanning, as a queue of my former flames would no doubt volunteer.

There is an awful lot to be said for a good cigar. In that, I agree with one of the few wise things said in the Wilson Administration, if by Vice-President, Marshall. Thinking of it, Marshall's taste for cigars was a marker of his character; he saw through Woodrow Wilson quite quickly, and should really have headed the ticket in 1920, against Herbert Hoover rather than Warren Harding. There would have been a fantasy election! It seems the job of the more decent Vice-presidents to be laughed at. Marcus Aurelius 'Mad Jose' Biden has therefore started off on the right track.

Now, as I sit at the keyboard with a port and the equanimity of my pretension restored, I have reason to be grateful to whoever rolled that leaf I've just burnt. Cigars do something to the head; perhaps they narrow the veins and arteries immediately, and speed the blood upwards. That at least, you may say, makes a change.

A person whom I love very much has a lung infection, or at least the appearance of one. I worry about her, though I am convinced that she will be alright. It's at times like this that the mind wanders onto the pains and worries of others, or at least attempts to. What else do the clouds look down on tonight? A tear here, an argument there, a sense of fear at the loss of money, or pride? Ignorance? A fight? I wonder what goes on in these closed houses and the hurried steps of those on the other side of the street. I wonder at the strength of the women I love.

All these thoughts, in the evening of a day when I wasted a little more time before I do a little more work. I tell you, reader, I recommend these Jose de Monterrey.


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