Monday, 29 January 2018

Hoyo de Monterrey Du Prince

This summer sun, dear reader, is no longer welcome. What was a gentle warming of my old bones has become an unrelenting barrage of often simultaneous sickly humidity, searing heat, and a glare that has me cucked to my core as I scrape under its pervasive gaze. The worst part is my daily hangovers, into which I wake on my damp, soiled mattress, and must navigate painfully as my doings necessitate. The heat last night has sucked the water from my head, leaving my brain to flop limply against my skull, around which it is now rattling painfully as I brain-shake it awake. The heat is so intense that I can't bear the thought of hot coffee and, in an effort to stave off my caffeine withdrawals, I splash ageing UHT milk over instant coffee, before gulping it, gagging, down my gullet. I feel the cold milk leak out the corners of my mouth and down my chin as I retch on the bitter granules, and I fight to quell the rising bile as the icy cold liquid hits my churning stomach. Guiltily I crack open a beer and, wincing down the first icy cold swigs, wander over to my humidor. I lift the lacquered lid and select one of many similarly low-priced cigars, and sit at my old desk. I am hesitant to smoke inside but the heat, my headache, the growl of my gut, my almost reflexive need for chemical relief, and the crippling hopelessness, have decided for me. I snip, fire, suck, and blow. Consume and expel. Inspiration and exhaust. A meta for the metaphorical breathing, drinking, shitting, pissing man, living to die, and feeling nothing. It's a Hoyo de Monterrey Du Prince, I believe.

I have had a few friends die in my life. Mostly young, and always unexpectedly. A death from my distant past that has haunted me in particular of late is that of my high school friend Han Wang, who attended my high school in the years before I dropped out. Han was the son of a wealthy Honkinese politician, and found it more awkward than most to fit in amongst the Australian teenage yobbery. My inherent racism prevented any sort of friendship initially, but a particular event in middle-high school impressed me so much that I figured I'd want this kid in my corner some day. We were waiting for a bus to take us to one of my school's many mandatory sport days when one of the many bullies, Ben Margiannis, decided to target Han. Margiannis, in prison at time of writing, pushed the unassuming Wang in front of our approaching bus. Han never lost his balance, and stood confused as the decellarating bus bore down on him. The screams, the air horn, the hydraulic screech of brakes and the shriek of rubber against asphalt all melded into one horrific clangour that died with a gasp as the bull bar sent the gentle Wang flying sideways, landing meters away with a cracking sound, only to slide a further bus-length on his thick school blazer. The P.E. teacher who witnessed the attempted murder, Mr Tim Ellis, yelled at Han to "stop fucking around", and a relieved giggle arose from the crowd as Wang, shaken, returned to the fray. 'This kid is invincible', I thought as I shot him an impressed smile. Sheepishly he smiled back, and would later loan me $5.

The Du Prince is a well constructed cigar, despite the damage this one has endured in storage. The draw is perfect, the tobacco smooth, and the tar minimal. I taste some spice, but there is an enduring comestible tang that tastes of old Big Mac. I roll the smoke around my mouth, and realise that my teeth, unbrushed for at least a week, may be contributing to the off flavours. My current poverty dictates that I pair my cigar with an old, heavily infected, band-aidy home brew, which cloys on my palate in a thick smoky saliva paste. I feel a pang of guilt at my cigar collection, which stands in outrageous contrast against my crippling debt, both private and institutional. I suck too deeply on the Du Prince and detect a tannic chemical burn, and ponder my position. I drain my home brew, lay the smouldering Du Prince on a bottle cap on my filthy floorboards for a quick photo, and run on to the fridge for another beer.

"The Invincible Wang!" I would cry, regardless of location or company, whenever Han would approach. He would smile and bow foppishly as my other moron friends debated the actual invincibility of such a panty-waisted kid. But I remained convinced, and found the wealthy Wang to be not only a valuable source of answers to my consistently terrible math homework, but also a good source of interest-free, electively repaid, loans. At age 16 I decided that high school was for retards and fuck-ups, and worked instead as a kitchen hand until fate forced me to pursue my year-12 equivalency at TAFE. Of course this was long after my high-school friends had graduated, and even longer after they'd forgotten about me.

At the midpoint the Du Prince is coming good, with hints of sweet white pepper, some clove, little tar. Dominant of course is fairly bland mid-tobacco, but there's little to complain about cigar-wise. Do I regret the $500 worth of cigars in my $1600 humidor? Maybe. It's more the guilt than anything else. I have no money, and my only assets are combusted on a weekly basis. I owe Mr G about $400, about which he harangues me daily. I also owe the notorious Buckley $5, about which he has forgotten. I'm suddenly awash with resumed sadness at my situation and, terrified that my parasitic habits will drive my isolation further, fire off a conciliatory text message to Mr G. I just need a mate right now.

A few years ago I was browsing the domestic beer at the local bottle shop when I ran into one of my high school friends. We'd both been staring at one another off and on, clearly trying to establish where the familiarity lay, until we eventually performed a tandem head-cock and mutually engaged. We did the usual awkward catch-up; he doing some consultancy garbage, and me doing myself the usual disservice on the internet. We were running out of conversation as we approached the counter, when he hushedly enquired if I'd heard of Han Wang's fate. I answered in the negative, and was informed that Han had come out as gay to his father shortly after graduating high school, been instantly disowned, and hung himself from his doorknob that night. How my long-estranged friend knew this I'll never know, as he quickly backed out of the store promising coffee one day, and will likely never be seen again. Still, it rattled me to my core. Han Wang, the invincible kid who survived being hit by a bus, was a woofter. Gross.

My filthy apartment is now filled with a haze of grey cigar smoke, and my lungs crack and wheeze as I draw breath between drags. The Du Prince is finishing strongly, though it could be a little less temperate. It's mostly heavy tobacco, some tar, a little spice. The construction is first-rate, allowing me to nub the sucker with fingers relatively uninflamed.

The problem with smoking in my apartment is I have no retreat. I'm where I would otherwise return to, and it's horrible. I have demolished my refrigerated beer without the forethought to refrigerate some more, but the still-searing heat has sealed my next move, and I too-enthusiastically crack a tepid home brew. It's rinse and repeat here, my friends. I'll hopefully see you in a week.

Monday, 22 January 2018

Fonseca KDT Cadetes

It is not a happy place, between the dusk and the dawn
Deep below the well lit and open spaces
I wait under the under
For them to come and rip me asunder
Tearing my core until morning.

This is a poem by Zachary Norman, who was the writer for a 1990s computer game called Interstate '76, in which you played the role of a vehicle-based vigilante. I remember playing it as a teenager and finding the fun of the game was constantly countered by the misery of the character's back story, along with the desolate Midwest hellscape in which it was set. Poetry was the medium by which your in-game mentor, Taurus, would express his dark past, and it is amidst these works that I'm finding a gloomy outlet. Today, some might say, I am even feeling a sense of happiness in my connection with these characters from my own past, however fictional. It is during this gentle poetic erudition that my phone blares out the opening bars of Limp Bizkit's Break Stuff, heralding a phone call. "Davidè" comes the oily tone of Mr G. "If you haven't killed yourself yet, come to my compound. I have a cigar that may interest you." And so, curiosity piqued, I terminate my scholarship, and catch a train into the city.

The cigar is a Fonseca KDT Cadetes, and an interesting beast to behold. The wrapper is the lightest possible wrapper I have ever seen in my life. It is white, as if a double claro had been left to bleach in the sun for months. I ask Mr G if this is some novelty cigar, to which he simply sneers. I shrug, ever trusting, and take the Cadetes to the flame. The foot instantly combusts, shooting licks of flame into the air while filling my nostrils with sooty smoke. I hack and cough under Mr G's quizzical eye, until the Fonsesca finally subdues. After the influx of carbon particles, the secondary flavours are almost refreshing, if a little bland: dry grass, tea, amidst mid tobacco. No tar is evident, but every fifth puff burns more of the papery quadruple claro wrapper leaves, which buffets soot into my lungs which needs to be suppressed with liberal swigs of beer. Purists often tell me that a simple glass of water is the best accompaniment to a cigar, but as is there isn't a day goes by where I don't imbibe, so why would I go dry while sucking ash? Questions such as these run on and on, dear reader.

At the midpoint the Cadetes becomes extremely bitter, like dregs of overbrewed black tea in the base of a cup. The cigar really does leave you in a recondite solecism, whereby the coal goes out in an instant, but a relight makes the thing combust spectacularly, only to go out again in a cloud of its own ash. The draw is tight, the construction shabby, and even the band is kind of ugly. I am pairing it again with one of the cheapest beers one can get in Australia - the Oettinger pilsner, which comes in six-packs of 500ml cans for about sixteen of our Australian dollars. It is crisp, not too complex, but refreshing enough for such a day. And really, its main job is to douse the fuliginous cloud that palates my mantle with each puff. As usual, my desire for nicotine overcomes my distaste for the cigar, and my draw intensifies as I spur the Cadetes to the final inch.

Long time readers of this blog know what's coming. It's a pitiful sight; one man, eyes rolling back in his head, sucking the dregs of a cheap cigar while his lips and fingers smart. I peel the band off and, to my disappointment, the entire wrapper leaf comes away, leaving behind deep Colorado filler. In desperation I reach for the multi-tool in my bag, with which I clasp the little Fonseca, and suck the remaining cigar until it is done. 
And so, spurning the cigar, I bid my host adieu. And, dear reader, I bid the same farewell, to thee.

Monday, 15 January 2018

Montecristo No. 5

Today, unlike any other, your sturdy host finds himself in Frankston, which is a large regional city in Victoria's southeast. My friend Connor caught wind of my current depressive funk, and decided that a four-hour round trip to sink beers in his backyard might cheer me up. I noted at the time that I was fairly content to sink beer at home by myself but, weak against Connor's reproach, eventually capitulated. As I was getting ready a text message came through from Connor, stating only: "bring cigars". I deliberated briefly on why Connor thought he had the social capital to demand such an oblation but, cursing my cowardice, perused my humidor anyway. Amidst the mid-range garbage are some cigars that I purchased purely to have a stash to offer guests that never came: the Montecristo No. 5. And so it is that I switch verb tenses anew, and put the Monte 5 to the flame.

The Monte 5 starts well. There's no need to flower here. If you've had ten cigars in your life, there's a fair chance one of them has been one of these bad boys, and "it's started pretty well" is probably how you'd describe your first few puffs. Connor, being a long-time cigarette smoker, is dragging and heaving on his cigar, thirsty for the nicotine he so craves. I take the time to draw gently on my own cigar, and do note some subtle woodsmoke, maybe a little straw, amidst the mellowing mid tobacco. We are in Connor's backyard, seated on camp chairs and, though I want to remark on the flavour profile to him, the setting demands I focus more introspectively. Truth be told, despite the promises made in my season return post but a few weeks ago, the Fitful Fires brand is back to its old tricks. My depression, culminating from the months of solitude, poverty, breakups, breakdowns, and the cycle of intoxication and withdrawal, has had an almost petrifying effect. I can hardly mutter replies to Connor, let alone share my thoughts. Taking a leaf from his book I drag hard on my Monte 5, cleansing any lingering subtlety with an inundation of tarry smoke. I throw the Monte 5 on the table to snap some pictures, drain my Mexican lager, and feel a sob rattle through me. It starts at my feet, and I feel it coursing through my legs, my bowels, stopping briefly to seethe in my stomach, before I catch it in my throat with a physical lurch. Connor eyes me curiously, cigar in hand, while I lean forward, wind knocked out of me. I excuse myself for more beer.

At the midpoint the Monte 5 is starting to really impress. I've been treating it poorly, yet the coal burns long and cool, the smoke mild and refined (if a little bland), and the construction in general is perfect. Connor's cigar has burned nearly to the band under his wanton guzzling, and he tells me I shouldn't waste my money on such fast-burning cigars. Hardly able to speak, I just nod and stare at my boots, before reaching anew for my beer. Could if I would, gentle readers, tell you a better story. Under the tutelage of Mr G, I have always tried to follow a general formula for my reviews. An intro, a photo, then an alternating story-review dichotomy until I conclude. I also try very hard to get these posts out weekly, but alas this week my inspiration has waned. I've got as little to talk about as I do to look forward to, and that thought alone nearly kills me. Maybe it will kill me.

The final inch. The tarry nub full of sense-numbing nicotine, filtered through a moist and resinous cap. Connor has long since discarded his cigar, having smoked it barely past the band. He is telling me about the type of cigar he wants me to bring him next, but after the first "Churchill minimum, mate" I tune out. I am drunk, wretched in my own misery. What am I looking forward to today? A two-hour commute in the searing heat? My shithole apartment? A cask of wine and a disgusting hangover? I'm dragging frantically on my cigar, now pinched between my long nails growing from my thumb and forefinger, tasting nothing and feeling even less. My head swims and the churning in my guts threatens to rattle another sob through me, but I bury it in beer while dashing my cigar into the ashtray. I think this is the end.

Like I said at the start: you've probably had a Monte 5 before and when, inevitably, you have one again, I hope it at least brings you some joy. And I hope you have a wonderful life.


Monday, 8 January 2018

Quai D’Orsay Corona

It is a beautiful day in Melbourne's south-east. Warm, some cloud cover, and only the lightest of breezes that barely penetrates the widening cracks in my derelict apartment. As usual I wake alone, sprawled face down on a bare mattress, and stagger foggy-headed to the bathroom. Such is my solitude lately that my toilet is largely decorative, with my waist-height sink long doubling as a place to rest my lewdly pissing dick while I study my face in the mirror. My skin is ashen. Cracks extend from the corners of my yellowing eyes, and greying hairs grow wildly down my sullen muzzle. I force a smile, and see only tarnished teeth amidst a pained scowl, shocking against my bleary countenance. I tuck my still dribbling penis into my trackpants, decide against killing myself for one more day, and head to my humidor. I select a Quai D'Orsay Corona, for its drab band if nothing else, and head off in search of a park.

I have always had a penchant for damaged women. Whether caused by misfortune, or deliberate exploitative effort, or perhaps a subconscious projection of my own deficiency, the women with whom I have been intimate have been magnificently, thoroughly, broken. My most broken, and most fondly remembered, was Jade. She was a gorgeous Singaporean princess with ivory skin, delicate features, and one eye iris that was situated constantly in the inner corner of her eye, giving her a slightly cross-eyed, kind of exciting, totally crazy appearance. Adding to this, during a Britney Spears meltdown, she had completely shaved her head, leaving her either bald, or wearing one of the many wigs she quickly acquired. She was a diplobrat who had settled in Melbourne to study, and had more cash than she could spend. This suited her, because she huffed nitrous-oxide canisters for every waking moment she was at home. By day she would scream at me to scour the city for increasingly suspicious kitchenware suppliers, where I would buy boxes of the canisters at a time. By night, I would try to sneakily dispose of the used canisters for her, but never succeeded in even denting the mountains of used nang tubes that littered her apartment. Dinner plans were postponed for hours (and usually, eventually, cancelled) while she huffed the gas, and I would find myself woken at all hours by the hiss of a canister. She took them as a supposedly non-addictive means of managing her fibromyalgia, but in the process had become hooked to the point of debilitation. And I, guided by my loins, was powerless but to do her bidding.

The Quai D'Orsay starts poorly, with harsh sulphuric smoke and and a sharp, ashy, aftertaste. I want to blame the burn on my ham-fisted method of lighting but, since my application of flame is pervasively clumsy, decide it must be the cigar's fault, and let it rest while I open a beer. I am pairing this smoke with a fruity session ale which, though purchased in an effort to not get too maggoted, is already making my head swim. I didn't bother changing out of what I slept in, and my piss-spattered trackies and grubby singlet ward off any park-goers that may seek to disturb my public impudence. I eventually notice the previously blackened foot of the Quai D'Orsay has mellowed into a pearly grey ash, and I chance another puff. Grassy notes, some old leather, with a slight buttery undertone flood my palate, and I remark to nobody in particular that there's hope for it yet. A desperate swig of fruity ale cleanses my palate of any lingering complexity, and I allow the cigar to mellow anew into the midpoint.

Once, while sleeping as usual at Jade's apartment (she was too suspicious to allow me to sleep at my house), I woke to a blood curdling cracking sound. I sat bolt upright and saw Jade on the floor, mouth agape, but no noise was coming out. Confused, I simply stared at her, until I realised what was wrong. In each hand she held a separate piece of the cream whipper she used to charge her nangs, and suddenly, like a toddler who had just realised its own audience,  started to scream. She had nanged until she blacked out, fallen off the bed, and in the process had broken what was surely her most prized possession. Never in my life have I experienced anybody, child or adult, so inconsolable. She screamed and wailed, in between cursing at me for not "looking out for her". It was 2am, so anywhere that sold the canisters would not be open for hours. I held her like a child while the wailing continued until, as if a switch had been thrown, she stopped. "Davidè", she said, each syllable sharpening under her Singaporean accent. "You need to fuck me. And you need to make it hurt".

At the midpoint my little corona is starting to come very good. There's no real complexity here, but the smooth mid-tobacco has developed a peppery spice, with none of the harshness evident when first lit. I live in an area of Melbourne that has been about 85% gentrified, and the park in which I am indulging is home mostly to young children strolling with their parents. In my self loathing I have consumed beer at an even faster rate than usual, and I loll and lurch on my bench while a voice, presumed to be mine, chatters about the worthlessness of my own being. I drag hard on my cigar, desperate to feel something, and choke the air into my benumbed lungs. I expire with an urgent hacking and, feeling my head spinning while stars dance about in my vision, steady myself against the bench. An older Jewish lady scowls at me, and I drain my beer can under her gaze. The corona, still buoyed from my puerile pull, glows in my excessive ashtray as it angrily fades to the final inches.

"Hurt me, Davidè", came Jade's almost detached voice, over and over in my ear. "Hurt me. Fuck me and hurt me, I need to feel something". Despite her madness she was a sweet kid and, though the sex could be fairly freaky, I didn't want to hurt her. The sudden 'thwack' sound, followed by a ringing in my ears, then the blinding pain in my jaw, told me things were going to escalate. "FUCKING HURT ME, YOU PIECE OF SHIT" came Jade's now frenzied screaming. "FUCK ME, you pussy. You coward", followed by a crazed clawing at my cock through my underwear. I again refused, and pushed gently at her face, to which she responded by grabbing my nuts in a vice grip. I grunted with the pain and threw my elbows, connecting one of them with her face, knocking her on her back. "Yessss, that's it boy. Now fuck me". I looked at her prone on the bed, balls throbbing under my inexplicably expanding cock. I yanked off her panties, turned her face down on the bed, and entered her dry. "Fuck me properly" came the muffled cries as I slammed into her, feeling the staccato dragging of her dry vagina on my cock. "Harder, make it hurt". I slammed into her as hard as I could. I slapped her, I punched into her cervix, I called her every degrading name I could rally, while Jade, still face down, admonished me. "You pussy, I said to make it hurt!" came her sarcastic, accented English. I saw only one outlet to her demands, and roughly grabbed the crown of her tiny head in my hand. While mashing her face into the mattress I roughly withdrew my cock and, ignoring the blood streaking its sides, aimed it at the tiny crinkle of her arsehole. The bulbous head of my cock wobbled back and forth above its target a few times then, with a thrust of my hips, started its penetration. Jade bucked and thrashed, eventually dislodging my weight from the back of her head and, with a swivel, kicked me in the face. We stared at each other silently, while l I felt my cock deflating slowly against my thigh. "You know I have fibro", uttered Jade tearfully. "What the fuck is wrong with you?"

The peal of children's laughter cuts through my foggy ruminations, and I notice the blackened final inch of the Quai D'Orsay Corona snuffed out in my hand. A sloppy relight brings heavy tar, and I suck the nub until my fingers sear with the ever encroaching coal. It is close to midday, and the park is now busy with families, older couples strolling, and some fresh-faced youths kicking a football around in the sun. I shift my weight to take the final photograph and send empty beer cans tumbling to the trodden patch of dirt where, as far as I'm concerned, they can stay. I haul myself to my feet, spurn the contents of the giant ashtray to the gentle breeze and, in solitude, make my way home.

Monday, 1 January 2018

Season return - H. Upmann Regalias

How the seasons change. It feels like only eight months ago that I last laid bare my soul to the cigar world, regaling you with stories of war, shame, and isolation while reviewing stubby rubber-fires that passed for cigars. But there have been some changes around here during the freezing winter months. While I'm sure you have been curled in front of a fire, mulled wine in hand, drawing your true love closer while rain pelts the window, the team here at FFHQ has been working tirelessly in preparation for this coming season. The finest cigars have been sourced from the cheapest possible places. The servers have been bolstered, the salt'n'vinegar chips have been re-stocked, and the deep crimson blood that I hacked up every morning has diminished to a viscous brown catarrh. As you may have guessed, the time is nigh for new beginnings.

I extend a warm welcome to my dear friends, gentle aficionados, and Bulgarian referral-spammers, to Season 3 of Fitful Fires. We kick off with a review of the H. Upmann Regalias.


It is a fitting first coming together of two of my rare and regular smoking companions. Mr G, who has once again opened his grand courtyard to our depravity, sits reclined, gold chains shining resplendent through his thick chest hair, and barely acknowledges anyone. Dayu, who is visiting from Osaka, has joined us, and we make polite chit-chat about whatever depravity we last got up to in Japan. I will be smoking my first ever H. Upmann, a Regalias, and remark to my friends that I would like to set it ablaze. "Davidé", came the oily rebuke of Mr G. "Dayu has brought us some cheese. Show some  restraint". It was delivered so coolly and in such contrast to my own excitement that I could only shamefacedly busy myself in photographing the rich, brown, veiny Regalias while Dayu, embarrassed on my behalf, gently produced his cheese platter.

I was last in Japan in 2013, which was the best and worst year of my wretched life so far. I spent 28 days of every month in the outer suburbs of Adelaide, seeing out my last contracted year in the Army. The remaining few days were spent in Melbourne, basking in the light of a woman that, inexplicably, had consented to a long-distance relationship with your grubby author. And so my one-week trip to Osaka for the notorious Buckley's bastard interracial wedding was a time of confusion for me. A week away from my paramour didn't bother me so much. However, on a night out with Mr G, Dayu joined us with a Japanese Goddess on his arm; an event that would change my life forever. Enter Yuri: the most confusing thing that has ever happened to me in my entire, awful, existence.

The cheese platter now yellowing and sweating in the sun, and my shame slowly fading as I sip my mojito, I chance another request, hat in hand, to partake in the leaf. Mr G squints his beady eyes at me, purses his lips into a sharp point, then makes a fricative squeaking sound as he ingresses air through his slowly exposing fangs. I take this as consent, snip the cap of my cigar, and smartly set it  alight. The Regalias starts well, with mild tobacco over traces of damp wood. The construction so far is excellent, wrapper thick with veins, giving it a heft that belies its small size. I drain my mojito and fill my glass, replete with ice cubes, mint leaves, and a lime wedge, with a cheap German pilsner that has spent the summer warming in the boot of my car. I note that the draw of the Regalias is excellent, the burn razor sharp and, despite my wanton sucking, it surprises me with a hint of cream before the tobacco harshens slightly as it burns crisply to the midpoint.

To describe Yuri is almost impossible using the spoken word, because one just falls over oneself with adjectives and parallels and anguished groans while others in your midst who may have met her interrupt with their own clumsy descriptions. Basically, you take your stock-standard Japanese girl, imbue her with the bratty mannerisms of Sailor Moon, give her Angelina Jolie's proportions, surgically enhance her eyelids so her eyes become like deep, moonlit lakes, then dress her like Sophitia from Soul Calibur. I have re-written the preceding sentence twenty times and this description does not even come close to doing justice to her overall hotness. She's a sultry Bond girl and an anime wet dream and an overdone cam-girl all rolled into one. You get the point.

I was instantly smitten. She sat down opposite me in a restaurant and, obviously used to dealing with drooling men, cocked her head and smiled and applied eye drops to her gigantic eyes and imprinted in me a standard that no girl, no woman, no being in this earth has even come close to matching. She spoke limited English, and over the coming week would grab my arm, ply me with drinks, and scoff dismissively when I told her I had a girlfriend. I don't believe her interest in me was real, but instead serving to add to a network that might one day converge to keep her in riches for life. However, it felt real and, as I drank myself into a stupor with her every night, and nursed myself with more booze every morning, that wretched week in Japan fostered in me an obsession. I would lay on the Tatami in Mr G's suite and wax poetic about her. I would try to distract myself by sending unanswered emails to my indifferent girlfriend in Melbourne. I have an addicts wiring, and Yuri was the bitter poison that I thought I needed.

At the midpoint the Regalias impresses me still. Mid tobacco dominates, with an occasional cocoa bitterness, some coffee bean. The burn remains as if cut by laser, and despite my inattention no relights have been required. I am drinking my pilsners as fast as I pour them to mitigate their rapid warming in the summer sun, and I find myself slurring to my companions about what fleeting thought my boorish mind came across. I recline under the gaze of Mr G and suck deeply on my Regalias. The draw catches the back of my throat and I make a grotesque, open-mawed gag to rid the smoke from my windpipe, noting undertones of burnt vanilla against increasingly bitter bean, before I wash it away with a large swig of tepid beer. I turn to Dayu and ask the question he knows has been smarting the tip of my tongue since we sat down. Dayu smiles. "Yuri's good, man. She's still waiting for you". I grimace, and peel away the wrapper that is starting to fray at the foot of my cigar. That wasn't what I wanted to hear.

Unfortunately I'd been to Osaka before, so the museums and other sights were directly competing with the many tiny bars that litter the Sinshaibashi district in which I was staying. I boozed. I mourned my clearly dying relationship back home. And I steeled myself against the temptation presented by Yuri. Her every grab of my arm, her flirting in broken English, her eyes that widened and sucked in my very soul when something caught her interest, all bolstered my resolve. I knew it was all pretend. I knew there was no real interest on her part, and I was still madly longing for my relationship back in Melbourne to regain its spark. In a desperate effort to make her dislike me I showed her the tattoo adorning my back, which is a giant and accurate depiction of the Fat Man atomic bomb as it hurtles toward a tiny outline of the Japanese islands. She recoiled with a hurt look on her face then, realising I'd realised my mistake, smiled and cocked her head and pointed toward my drink. She rubbed my back as I drank deep from my umpteenth beer of the day, wretched and repentant and, under her tiny hand, absolved. I returned to Melbourne the next day, uncorrupted by the flesh, but with megatons weighting on my slumped shoulders.

It has been many months since I last smoked, and the nicotine is causing my temples to throb while the alcohol, having long since loosened my lips, makes me press Dayu for photos, text messages, anything that might let me relive the dream state that was my time with Yuri. I reflect now on the willpower I showed in not once pursing her, making a move on her, or succumbing to her seduction. But willpower is easy. We demonstrate willpower daily by not yelling at strangers, or pushing people onto train tracks, or punching our bosses. True strength of character is surely in being able to let go of what one cannot, should not, have. Years have passed and I'm still the obsessed creature I was, sucking down beer while sabotaging my own happiness, this time by fuelling my obsession, rather than quashing my interest. The H. Upmann Regalias has been a fine accompaniment to this jumble of feelings, this menagerie of emotions, this hodgepodge of homologues. I grasp the nub between my rat nippers and suck until the wrapper finally disintegrates, a scoundrel clinging to the only pleasures left in a feebly lived life.

Tuesday, 4 April 2017


Once again, friends, the season has changed. The sweet morning dew has become a bitter, pervasive frost. The warm, still afternoons have harshened for the lay smoker, with gusts of wind lapping relentlessly at the coal, and rainfall forces us further toward the cruel indoors. Smoking has again turned tiresome, and the time has come for a brief hiatus.

I hope that you have enjoyed this second season of Fitful Fires.

I will return, of course, in the summer, when my limbs thaw, when those first desperate swigs of beer refresh instead of freeze, and when the leaf beckons me anew from the depths of my humidor. Until then, my friends, may all of your fires be fixed.



Sunday, 5 March 2017

Cuaba Divinios

Mr G, my longtime associate and miserly employer, is hosting a party. I'm invited as a friend, for once, and have found myself on the outside of him and a familiar group of loud, balding, 30-something business types, each nursing an elaborate cocktail. They are trading stories, and the conversation ebbs and flows between long build-ups and raucous laughter as they try to outshock one another. My thoughts flick fitfully back and forth between my awful present, and my not-too-distant past; the shouts and jostling from the crowd putting me straight back in the war, and the lazy scotch and I've poured myself snapping me right back to my present with each smarting sip. I'm nursing a Cuaba Divinios, soon to be alight, when a sudden craving for the leaf washes over me. Scorning the balcony and backyard, I rip the cap from my Cuaba and set it ablaze, sending a waft of rich, grassy smoke over the guests. I've reviewed one of these before, and I'm hoping that it's the same punchy little smoke it was 12 months ago. Mr G stops talking and, ignoring my outrageously lit cigar, breaks into a vile grin. "I hear you have some war medals, Davidé", he bawls, silencing other groups of party goers until the whole room is looking at me. "What did you even do in the war?". I study my boots for what seems like an eternity, while rolling the rich tobacco and old leather taste of the smoke around my mouth. "That's what I thought", states Mr G, coolly, eliciting a collective snigger from the crowd. "Now take that fucking thing outside".

I drain my glass, fix Mr G with a wonky stare, and steal out of the lounge room, shouldering the doorjamb as I make my exit. I head not outside but to the kitchen, where the great central island is covered in every kind of liquor one could imagine. I suck my Divinios thoughtfully, tasting rich berry over still-heavy tobacco, with some spice on the back palate. This is a heavy little smoke that I don't care about drowning out, and it needs a red, red wine to go with it. I leave the Divinios burning on the bench-top while I rummage through the bottles, eventually sourcing a $6 cleanskin red. I crack the top and take a sniff, instantly recoiling at the sulfuric tang that assaults my nostrils. This wine is not to my distinguished palate, and certainly not deserving of even the little Cuaba’s accompaniment. I take a deep drag of my cigar, now fading toward the midpoint, marvel at the enduring berry tang, and head toward the cellar for the good stuff.

The cellar, which is more of a multi-purpose laundry/bathroom/storage area, is flush with wine. Dusty old bottles adorn the bottom and make way for newer, cheaper bottles on top. The different levels of dusty burgundy contrast like a geolic time scale, showing graduations and promotions and investments and every other occasion where a serious bottle of wine might be cellared. I ignore the ready-to-drink garbage on top, go straight past the more expensive ($10-$40) bottles, and finally hone in on my prize. A bottle of Penfolds Grange, vintage 1970, label cracked and yellowing like old news print, and adorned with imperial fluid measurements. I suck thoughtfully on the Divinios while considering my next move, and note with disappointment that the berry has given way to a bitter bean, with harshening tobacco and increasing tar. I tap my ash in the sink, grab the grange roughly by the neck, and walk casually back toward the kitchen. I pour myself a stiff splash of cleanskin, place the Cuaba on the bench, and get to work.

I wonder why the kitchen island, replete with its smorgasbord of drinks, has gone untouched, but the sickly body odour of marijuana that wafts in from the lounge room saves me further rumination. I puff thoughtfully on the Divinios and begin to hack and splutter; I am parched, and can't enjoy the increasingly harsh, tarry smoke without a drink. I fish a corkscrew from the drawer, rip the foil with my teeth, and aim the screw's spiral tip at the alarmingly crimson cork. The cork disintegrates as soon as the screw tries to bite, and the pressure I apply causes a great wedge of cork to break off inside the bottle's slender neck. This Grange has been stored badly, but a wave of laughter from the lounge room spurs my drive to deprive Mr G of his prized Penfolds. I push hard on the corkscrew, disintegrating the cork into the wine, and eventually send the mass crashing into the liquid beneath. I roughly splash a huge serving of Grange into the tumbler that until recently held my dirty cleanskin, and take a deep swig. It is completely corked, and the musty basement aroma makes me gag. Still, this is a $400 glass of red, and denying the greedy Mr G such a bottle makes up for its shortcomings. I puff thoughtfully on my cigar, and note happily that the Grange, corked as it is, is a wonderful companion to the harsh burn of the Cuaba.

Time passes as slowly as it usually does when one is alone at a party, and my little Divinios eventually turns into an unsmokable nub. I leave it to burn itself out on the wooden bench, give my Grange a swirl, and consider my next move. Suddenly Mr G appears, eyes red and wild, stoned out of his head and smiling maniacally. “Davidé, my friend!” he announces, taking my hand in his. He doesn't notice the Grange, and seems to not even notice the cigar smoke hanging in this air. “Come”, he says, oilily, while grabbing a bottle of Johhny Walker Gold. “The action's out here”. I shrug, content to follow, and trot behind him back to the party.