Monday, 5 February 2018

Doña-Elba Corona

As I may have mentioned in seasons past, this website was once registered as 'finecubans.com' (or a URL to that effect). The visions I had! The passion forecast! I envisioned the expense, the late night hacking at my keyboard, the content barely keeping up with the reviews magnificently spooling up inside my bulging head. The lamplight, the untouched tumbler of scotch, the unpaid bills, and the smouldering notoriety as my grip on the cigar world slowly took hold. Finecubans.com was to be a gritty èxpôśe into the best from Cuba, brutally honest and punctiliously perspicuous. If you don't know the sad and immediate decline, you can probably start here. There have certainly been some Cubans from the finer end of the scale but, as long-term readers will know, your sturdy host was always destined to wallow wretchedly in the muck. And so I come to smoke the Doña-Elba Corona. Shamelessly Nicaraguan, and so unknown I had to be the one to name it.

I remember laying in bed as a young boy, maybe eight or nine years old. I had a steel framed bed in the back of a crumbling weatherboard property in the suburb of Keilor, which in the early 1990s was a fairly wretched place to live. My curtains were splash-patterned orange, sewed by my mother (vale) from fabric purchased by my father (vale), and which would eventually form part of a bitterly contested property dispute between the two parents. As a child I would lay in bed watching the moonlight play through the curtain's shades while my parents screamed at each other in the kitchen. For reasons I can't recall, I dreamed of us visiting Movieworld on the Gold Coast as a happy family, where I miraculously had some spending money all to myself. In my dream I was not riding roller coasters, but was instead visiting the various shops and stands for souvenirs for my family.

The cigar tastes like ashtray, burns poorly, and draws inconsistently. Truth be told there's no real way to confirm what the Doña-Elba is actually called. Their website gives no indication beyond the colour of the wrapper leaf ("habano"), nobody has ever bothered to review them before, and most of the google search results are from Granada-bound tourists visiting the Doña-Elba factory.


In my nightly pre-sleep dreams I would wander the streets of Movieworld to stands that sold crisp, brightly coloured Warner Bros. merchandise. A Tweety bird t-shirt for my mother might be within my budget, and surely she would love it. Father would be chuffed to own a pair of Daffy Duck slippers. My brother (vale) was only little, so maybe a plush toy of some sort. I never knew what I would like for myself. It had to be a toy, something fun but inexpensive, and not dramatically 'better' than what I bought for the rest of the family. Then logistics would sneak into my mind. Would I have the requisite time alone on this family trip to buy these things? How would I keep them a secret until we got back to the hotel room we all shared? And they never liked me spending money. I'd probably get sat in the corner while father rummaged through the crisp plastic bags for receipts to return the goods, while I cried in shame. Mother might defend me, screaming at my father to let it go, before the name calling and wall punching and door slamming. Finally the fantasy would meld horribly into reality as my father began his nightly threats to just burn the whole fucking place down with us inside because now everything is ruined.

I have been alternately sipping Sierra Nevada pale ale, and Canadian Club whisky mixed with Benedictine. I am beyond sloshed. My palate is pasty from the syrupy liqueur, and the acrid Nicaraguan smoke chokes my nostrils and makes me cough. The burn is excruciatingly slow, and I suck deep to speed it up, fanning the flame and adding tar to the ash. I dip my grimy fingers in my drink and fish out a piece of liquor-soaked orange, and wince at the pithy bitterness as it not masks, but mingles with the ash and the sugar and the tar.


I remember being in school years later, long after predictable tragedy made the Movieworld fantasy consummately impossible. Long after the curtains stopped being something to bicker about, long after the arguments settled in the ashes, and still with a long stretch of state wardship and foster homes and kindly counsellors and police stretching out ahead of me. In the schoolyard, in my new black school shoes and white socks and my cotton interlock of blue shorts and shirt, I confided in a classmate that I'd love to see Movieworld on the Gold Coast one day. "Movieworld is gay" sneered my peer, whose rebuke turned to waxation as he waned about an upcoming family trip to Disneyland. "Yeah, probably is" I replied, the enormity of explanation eclipsing any rebuttal. I felt my new school shoes cut into the scarred tissue on my ankles while any hope flickered its last, and died away.

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