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// By Richard // On July, 29th 2008 // 5:51 pm
Looking at a map of France, you quickly realize the geographical diversity of this country makes it impossible to experience all in one visit. Landscapes change from wild coast lines to limestone hills, to canyons, to mountains, to islands, and so on. From the wooded valleys of the Dordogne and the gentle meadows of the Loire valley to the glaciated peaks of the Alps, each region looks and feels different. Though the French word 'Pays' is the term for a whole country, people frequently refer to their own region as 'mon pays' – my country – and this strong sense of regional identity has persisted despite centuries of centralized government, from Louis XIV to date with Sarkozy. Centralized by government, but decentralized by tradition. These regional traditions are lived and vehicled through such areas as music, language, 'haute couture' (fashion), art, architecture and, of course, food and wine, just to name a few. My trip to France this time was devised with a single goal in mind; to visit areas not infected by the hustle and bustle of bland modern day life. Although I take pride in thinking and acting globally, my palate is definitely more locally inclined. I do not want to have the same tasting McDonalds burger wherever I go in the world, I want to try an Angus beef burger if I am in Scotland, I want to try a Kobe beef burger if I am in Japan. Why dilute everything in life, when what makes life worth continuing (apart from spreading our genes) is diversity, variety, novelty, creativity, ity, ity, ity, isn't it a pity to make everything so watery! Paris may be one city, but the different 'quartiers' have a heart and identity of their own and spending time in Montmartre is a very different experience than spending time in Saint-Germain-des-Près, both of which are in Paris. Eating a Camembert off a super-market shelf is a cheese-life away from savoring an AOC (Appellation D'Origine) Camembert de Normandie, where the cheese-maker knows the name of the cow that produced the milk to make the cheese. So go out and learn to love where you are from. Remember the grass is rarely greener on the other side.
// By Richard // On July, 16th 2008 // 11:04 am
'You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition. What you'll discover will be wonderful. What you'll discover is yourself' (Alan Alda). Taking the words of Mr. Alda literally, I have embarked on a tour of the different parts of the world to live and experience Cuban cigars through diverse climates and cultures to discover how these variations influence my smoking moments. I am hoping that this tour will open my palate to new combinations, a finer perception of difference and a true understanding of what I like. Our journey starts locally, just over the border in fact. Italy is one of Europe's most complex, colorful and enticing destinations. A country of contrasts and contradictions. Whilst being a modern, industrialized nation, with an artistic and architectural legacy that few other countries can rival, it's also a Mediterranean country with a southern European sensibility, where traditional attitudes still prevail and often act as law. Thriving small businesses contribute to strong regional identities, re-enforced by an unfaltering appreciation and promotion of local produce. This has helped Italy avoid some of the bland effects of globalization. In towns and villages all over the country, life grinds to a halt in the middle of the day for a long lunch. Coffee breaks are almost a religious experience, whilst love and business can be gained or lost over a 'gelato' (ice cream). Above all, Italy provokes reaction. If there is a single national characteristic, it's to embrace life to the full: in the importance placed on good food; in the hundreds of local festivals taking place across the country on any given day; in the obsession with clothes and image; in the ultra support given to local football teams and above all in the daily domestic ritual of the collective evening stroll or passeggiata – a sociable affair celebrated by young and old alike in every town and village across the country. The more time I spent in Italy, the more I appreciated my smoking moments. Was it for the incredible combinations of flavor; an unforgettable Romeo y Julieta Short Churchill paired with a fresh Sicilian lime juice that spurred my palate into overdrive making it one of the single most exciting moments ever experienced in my mouth. Was it for the awe inspiring setting in which I smoked; when one smokes a Bolivar Royal Corona beside the Trevi Fountain in Rome, you really really feel you are sharing a Cuban with the Gods. Was it simply the company with whom I shared these smoking moments; I will, and can never forget an evening in Padova (Northern Italy) spent with the local gentleman's domino team, during which I did not manage to get a single word into the conversation, even though we were discussing Cuban cigars (this was the starting point. We did finish the evening discussing the pros and cons of centralized and de-centralized governments....). As the local gentlemen, in heated debate, smoked their way through a full box of Montecristo No.4, I simply watched, completely immersed in the smoky atmosphere. I did not need to understand all of what they were saying to see, feel and share the pleasure they were experiencing. Italy remains one of my favorite places to visit and this trip certainly re-enforces my firm belief that the voyage of discovery through the world of the Cuban cigar is one that will never end. It simply goes on evolving and mutating, bundled forward and backward by our environment, our palate environment and ourselves. Enjoy!
// By Richard // On July, 09th 2008 // 5:15 pm
Open Air Music Festivals during the Summer Season are a tradition here in Switzerland. Everyone will find a Festival that suits their taste in Music. For the lovers of Classical music, the beautiful Alpine ski resort town of Verbier hosts the world renowned Verbier Festival (18 July - 03 August). For the more Jazz and Blues fans amongst you, the infamous Montreux Jazz Festival (04-19 July), which takes place in the Geneva Lake side town of Montreux, made famous in the Deep Purple song, 'Smoke on the water', you will find such legends as Herbie Hancock or Quincy Jones. For you Rockers out there and for those who can still envisage spending a week camping, the Paleo Festival (22-27 July) in Nyon, is the place to be. R.E.M., Ben Harper or Massive Attack are amongst the headliners who will rock this year's festival. With Geneva having now banned smoking in public places, these Festivals are a wonderful opportunity to enjoy a selection of cigars, whilst still being sociable. In fact, I bet there are not many places in the world where you will find more cigars being smoked at a cultural event (perhaps Havana being the exception), than here in Switzerland. I thank the smoking Gods above for having the wisdom to provide a little smoking paradise on earth. Enjoy!
Life is an experience, a cigar is there to punctuate that experience.
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