Category Archives: General Topics…

…And A Lovely Day Overall – Loading Up For Lung Kong!!!

So, after my lovely gastronomic experience at The TWH Social Bar & Bistro, I sat around further in the afternoon for that court case there in Kitchener.  Annnnnnd, only to have things get backed up, and the case to be put over until the end of June.  C’est la vie.  Such is the justice system sometimes.

But, I made the best of my day by cruising into downtown Toronto this afternoon, into Chinatown, and loading up on this…

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Just awesome how far I was able to get $125 to go.  Four dozen “long life”-design teacups, lots of cooking utensils, some very gorgeous looking exotic wood chopsticks (a darkened bamboo perhaps?), and a few other much-needed cooking items – all for the Sociedad Lung Kong in Havana.

Again doing a bit of co-ordinating with Tom mainly (and hopefully with Nino’s help to translate for my sorry ass when I meet him and others down in Havana at the end of the month), I was able to pick up this stuff at a great little trading-company store in Chinatown.  Man, Tom surely once again steered me right – I went in there with my list, and this little 4-foot-nothing Chinese octogenarian hauled my huge ass around the store in a whirlwind, helping me grab the items in a flurry.  At one moment she was in my shadow, the next she disappeared and zipped to an upper-floor storeroom to grab me the four-dozen teacups once I picked out what I thought would be best.

It’ll be a decently hefty load to stash away into my luggage for the trip.  And while its a fairly decent deal, in my mind, for the amount of stuff I got for a lowly $125, I know it’ll bring immense joy to the Lung Kong ladies and gents, and be tenfold its value to them in long-term usage.

Therein lies the true value of today’s trip.

And hey – I capped it all off with a lovely sea bass super and flan finale at a certain favorite Mambo Lounge…

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‘Twas a very good day indeed.

Cheers all.

A Great Canadian Lunch Experience at the “TWH Social” in Kitchener, Ontario…

So, since my dumbass decided to call in a major traffic offence last June from the 401 highway when I was traveling through in my personal vehicle on my way home on my days off, I was stuck in attending court in Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario, as an off-duty police witness.  To anyone who hasn’t attended court before for any particular reason, I highly recommend you do so at least once in your life.  Once for traffic / provincial offences court, and once for criminal court – just sit in the back gallery and take in the show.  Yes, it’s very procedural and long, and everyone refers to each other by “my friend” and old titles, and occasionally speak in a dead language.  But, it’s also hugely interesting and a great visage of due process at work.

That said, it can put a hink in your personal schedule.  A 9:30 am courtroom start, with minor stuff first, and then the trial I was there for was delayed until 2 pm.  So off I went at 11 am, strolling through downtown Kitchener, in look of a funky little spot to enjoy a nice long lunch.

So, out comes Google Maps – a ha, “Rainbow Caribbean Cuisine” on King Street East.  I like Caribbean things!  Sounds interesting.  Walk my ass down there, and – yeah…um, no.  One look in the front windows, and I knew it was a no – cafeteria-style cheap seating, torn up and duct-taped over, grungy looking; not what I was looking for today, especially being all gussied up for court.

So, strolling the other way, up King Street West, I came across a little cigar shop that grabbed my attention (the Walper Tobacco Shop, quoted as the oldest tobacco store in Canada, established in 1891 – met Pete the owner, and picked up some NC goodies as outside-the-norm treats for some Cuban friends).  It was right at the corner of King and Queen Streets, right by the historic “Walper Hotel” (went to a cousin’s wedding here many years ago – great venue).

But looking at the facade of this cigar shop’s storefront, I noticed what looked like an interesting spot next door.  The “TWH Social Bar & Bistro”.  Looked interesting enough.

Going through the front doors – confusion and slight disappointment.  While the signage was inviting outside, stepping through the first set of glass double-doors revealed…nothing really.  Another set of plain, solid double-doors that appeared to be emergency / fire-exit doors from the Walper Hotel.  Ok.  Must not be anything here then, I thought. Turning around, I noticed a fairly nice and well appointed stairways to my right, leading down to the basement.  Not much noise coming from the bowels below, but I decided to creep down and check it out.

I’m so very glad I did.

Two lovely ladies awaited me below, all dressed in classy black semi-formal attire.  The stairwell opened up to a long and leanly appointed bistro hiding in the basement.  Are you open? “Yes sir, we opened at 11 am.  Would you like to sit at the bar, or a booth?”  11:15 am – I was in business.

What a true treat of a place.  Classic light-tan sandstone bricks, hand-hewn wood table-tops to the booths, a long marble bar top, herringbone-style tiling patterns throughout, immaculately white open-ceilings, and soft diffused lighting.  What an absolute treat!  Classic Motown and 70’s-80’s tunes on the speakers, lots of beverage choices, and a very simple but elegant menu to account for a wide array of tastes.  Gawd, even though I had apprehension going down those first stairs, the non-dungeon-like and open-atmosphere made it very enjoyable.  The small touches even – USB charging outlets at the tables, a nice little wine rack selection, hell, even extremely clean and elegant bathrooms (though the toilet stalls themselves were quite dark).

To start my gastronomic experience here, I indulged in an octopus appetizer.  While a bit more firmly cooked and salty than I prefer (though the sweeter tomato-Apple chutney balanced it well), it was still the best I’ve had outside of “La Terraza / Prado 309” in Havana, or from St. Lucia or other Caribbean locales.  Considering where I am in Canada, and the logistics involved in getting fresh and good seafood, it was a wonderful treat to have, and still tasted lusciously rich and fresh.

Then, a wonderful Brie, pear and chicken panini, with stellar pub fries and aioli.  Fuck, I can’t begin to recollect how many places I’ve been to where the sides are just an afterthought.  These were classically good pub fries, dressed up just enough with the aioli.

I finished off with a vanilla Bavarian custard, walnut and hazelnut creme dessert.  Lovely.

Talking to the staff, this bistro has only been open an astonishing two-and-a-half weeks!!!!  The staff operate like a skilled team already – no delays or screw-ups, no service flaws at all (aside from a playfully-but-accidentally broken glass behind the bar). T he vibe this place gives off is very hip and well-done.  The head chef is actually Terry Salmond, runner up from the TV show “Top Chef Canada” (not that I knew that before, or even watched the show itself), but it’s laudable with quite the credential background to him, and the menu is very well done in it’s simplicity.  My waitress, Courtney, regardless of the newness of the joint itself, seemed to be enough of a skilled young pro to also be keenly aware enough of my overall enjoyment and interest in being here that she brought me a copy of a local business magazine featuring an article on Mr. Salmond prior to him starting this bistro.  Good show – recognizing the branding, and getting it out there.

Now, don’t get me wrong – I’m not a food or restaurant reviewer, or anything along that means.  I don’t plan on filling this blog with food or restaurant reviews too (aside with that from Cuba).  For the already thousands of viewers that this blog has gathered now, rest assured that I don’t plan on muddying up the waters with that.  But along with my mild travels, cigars, and rum enjoyment, I think it’s fair to say that my palate definitely appreciates and recognizes decently finer things – I’d like to think that my waistline bears proof to my years of enjoying some good food spots, and even maybe enjoying some luxuries that some others might not be lucky enough to enjoy, and I’m extremely thankful to have the experiences in life that I’ve had so far.  The food displayed here was in that upper stratosphere, and while not Cuba-centric, I thought it definitely deserved mention.

It was just a divinely indulgent lunch, at a fair-enough price, and well-worth the walk into blusteringly-cold downtown Kitchener.  It was something that I would expect to find and enjoy in downtown Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Chicago, Boston, Miami, etc., and to be paying at least two times as much.  So, I’m definitely glad I kept on following the rabbit hole downwards.

Check out their webpage here at www.twhsocial.com if you’re interested.  I’ve got family there in K-W, so I’ll have to make a point of stopping in there again.  Definitely worth a try if you pop through Kitchener-Waterloo, in my opinion.  Enjoy the experience if you do.

Cheers all.

What The Hell Has Happened To My Cadbury Creme Eggs?!?!?!

It’s a Canadian tradition.  With the waning winds of winter, and the hopeful beckoning of the longer days of spring around the corner, we know Easter isn’t too far away.  And, being that I’m not the most religious of men anymore (surprise, surprise, surprise!), and my waistline is in nearing-middle-age full-effect, it’s no doubt that I’m awaiting the true meaning of Easter – CHOCOLATE!!!

But – WHAT the FUCK has happened to my beloved Cadbury Creme eggs?!?!?!?

I was out on a bit of a shopping mission today (the simple execution of which was relatively flawless considering the weather around here lately), when I found these Canadian-centric treats at the grocery store.  While out perusing the aisles for goodies for the kiddies for Valentines Day (surprise, surprise that the stores are a month or two ahead in their displays, for fuck’s sakes), I saw some Easter stuff on display.  One item in particular always stands out to me – Creme Eggs, by Cadbury.

For those not in the know, these are a Canada-only (to the best of my knowledge) offering done by Cadbury.  A basically life-size egg, made of a rich milk chocolate shell, and filled with a sweet confectioners-icing liquid-candy center of white and yellow goodness (to resemble an egg’s cooked colours).  These things have been around since about the early- or middle-80’s (again, to the best of my knowledge).  Every Canadian now-grown-up-but-former-80’s-kid remembers these due to the “Cadbury Creme Egg bunny” commercials at that time, different variants of which all mostly featured a live white bunny rabbit going “bock bock bock” like a clucking chicken.  Ridiculously true…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yw_gEyg7Nt8

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=731B20sSX1w

And as those whose parents’ finally succumbed to the pressure and bought these for us knows, hell hath no fury like the feeling when we bit into them and then promptly writhed and screeched in agony after realizing that we neglected to remove all of the tinfoil wrapper which we had chomped down on.

Yes, these things were wrapped in a thin tinfoil-like wrapper of purple, red and yellow.  And you’d be fucked if you could be able to remove all of it – usually, there was a small piece or two which would stick to the seam lines of the chocolate shell where the creamy center leaked out and became a superglue-like holder of said tinfoil.

But therein lied the attraction to these candies.  If you WERE able to remove all of the tinfoil, it was a Herculean task, and led to just THAT much better of an enjoyment of the chocolately and creamy deliciousness inside.  It’s a Canadian tradition, dammit.  That’s why my wife and I have delighted in giving one of these every Easter to our kids as they grow.  And why we’ve always brought boxes and boxes of these to Cuba to give as treats to the maids and service staff at the resorts (rather than the typical toothbrushes and pencil crayons that every other tourist seems to bring).  And now, it appears, Cadbury has absolutely fucked with my world.

In my shopping trip today, upon coming across these little chocolate eggs of glory, I came across this…

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Now…Cadbury…WHAT the FUCK is THIS?!?!  Is there no stop to the plastic-ization of our world???  The colourful tinfoil wrap has been replaced by a shitty plastic half-and-half shell covering, a pale imitation of its former self.  It’s so utterly utilitarian.  So sterile.  So impersonally easy to open and enjoy.  The added treat of a tinfoil-free unwrapping-achievement has been ungraciously stolen from both myself and future generations.

This is GODDAMMED UNFORGIVABLE!!!!

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Mmmmm.  But they still taste so freakin’ gooooooooooood!!!!

EDIT – dammit!!!!!  Scratch that.  After cracking into one tonight, and Googling for more, I’ve read (and now tasted) the sacrilegious difference – it’s not the same Cadbury’s Dairy Milk milk chocolate.  Dammit Cadbury / Kraft!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

http://www.theguardian.com/business/2015/jan/12/shellshock-cadbury-comes-clean-on-creme-egg-chocolate-change

http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cadbury_Creme_Egg

Meh.

Cheers all.

More Coming Soon…

Okay, as of yesterday, I’ve graduated my QL5 course, my “coach officer” course for lack of a better phrase. Twenty started, 19 graduated, and I placed somewhere in the top three or four I was told (we’re not given all the specifics). Back at normal work now, and stepping right into it with court scheduled for tomorrow.

It was a bitch of a month. Definitely an intensive course – the added pay bump feels that much more worthwhile. But glad to be back to normal now, per say. I’ve got a couple reviews already done, and coming up for posting over the next few days. I have Trinidad Vigias and Por Laranaga Picadores in my hand now too, with reviews of those coming down the pipe over the next few days (much delayed, I know).

Further updates coming. Stay tuned.

Cheers all.

Nothing like some great cigars and great times with fellow BOTL’s…

Had the opportunity a week or so ago now to get together with some good friends / BOTL’s at the pad of one of them, and we shared some great cigars and times.  We had the chance to go over some of the Havana hijinx, which a couple of them missed out on this year.

Our gracious host for the evening had a lacklustre bar set-up though, LOL…

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Some great cigars were traded back and forth, and I had the chance to enjoy some of the following:

Monsdale, Nov 2014 roll – from the recent Cuba trip, of which I brought a bunch of these for the various attendees. Enjoyed this with some lovely Chianti, and in between some Pizzaiolo gourmet pizzas (the Godfather, and the Soprano).

Cohiba Robusto, Oct 2013 “BTO” – gifted this in kind from our generous host for the evening. Really got into this bad boy, drinking a Coke while smoking this, quite a noted powerhouse experience for this El Laguito rolled stick. Big, bold flavours – very interested to see what this production run ends up smoking like at about the 3-5 year mark.

I was also gifted a couple of other stellar sticks from the gents that night – a 2007 QdO Panatela, a 1970’s cello-wrapped RA Topper, and a lovely smelling Partagas 898.

A great night. No muss, no fuss; just a few nice cigars, great drinks, awesome BOTL’s, and awesome times.

An international visit to the Sociedad Lung Kong in Havana…

Additional photos courtesy of Tom MacDowall / "tmac77" and John Winston Reiner / "cigarsurgeon"

Ah, the joys of being in Havana, and bringing some good cheer to others.  That was basically the first order of business for us as part of this year’s trip for the Encuentro de Amigos de Partagas.

A little over a year ago, good friend Nino Munoz brought some info to light to many of us about this Cantonese society in Havana.  It started with a gentleman by the name of Mr. Pok Chi Lau happening upon meeting a lady by the name of Caridad, and her relating to him the story of her adoptive father, a Cantonese opera performer, and her adoption as a little girl in the Barrio Chino in Havana oh so many decades ago.  What evolved was a lovely documentary that Mr. Lau put together, illustrating the frustrating confliction of a zest-for-life and also the desparation that’s faced by many of the Chinese diaspora in Cuba.  The write-up and documentary videos, found here on Nino’s blog, are heartwarming and enlightening.

This was followed by many of us in the Canadian cigar community from FOH, and more specifically by many in the Toronto area directly, wanting to participate in some way.  Many of our members and friends are Asian, some have Asian spouses, and the Chinese community in the Greater Toronto Area, at just under 500,000 people, is the largest outside of China and Hong Kong themselves (take THAT San Francisco and Vancouver!!!)

In November of last year then, during last year’s Partagas Encuentro, a number of the Canadian travellers were able to meet the society members there, and bring some gifted donations.  Unfortunately, I missed that trip, but I heard from all the others about the continuing need.

So, in February/March earlier this year, a few of our Toronto area cigar-smoking-circle friends wanted to participate further, Edward and David.  They were able to meet up with Nino, and go to see Graciela Lau, the President of the Lung Kong Society there in Havana, and bring some more gifted items and cheer.

Onwards and upwards it would continue.

This past spring, when co-ordinating the planning for this past summer’s 2014 Toronto MegaHerf IV, it was agreed to by Art, Tom, Frank and myself that we would split the proceeds going towards charities, and include the Lung Kong Society in Havana to a 50% share (with the other 50% going to FOH friend Rob Schildt’s Nicaraguan Children’s Feeding Mission, a charity that we have provided for since the inception of the Toronto MegaHerf charity event).

So, as this August’s MegaHerf IV raised many thousands of dollars, we had some good will to bring last week to the ladies and gents of the Lung Kong.  Many suitcases were stuffed to the brim.  A generous benefactor from Hong Kong (thank you again, kind sir), who has donated in the past and has an emotional connection to the people we’re helping, even assisted us in providing some traditional Chinese items and assisting in shipping arrangements to Nino so that we could hand these items over in Havana.  Tom and Ed here in Toronto co-ordinated a gargantuan task of sourcing out needed and wanted items – a vast conglomerate of stuff from within the Chinese shops and communities in Toronto, kitchenwares, foodstuffs and seasonings, medical items, etc. – and they then led the co-ordination with other trip participants to ensure everything was transported safely and effectively.  Enough can’t be said of these two, and the pathway that they have led for the rest of us in this venture, as their heart’s are tied to the cause incredibly so.

And so, Nino (with his travel-mate-cum-partner-in-crime Yannick) assisted us in being welcomed by Graciela and the ladies and gents of the Lung Kong Society on the Sunday afternoon, after arriving in Cuba the day before.  We were treated as slightly-embarassed guests, welcomed at a head table, honoured to be allowed a little window into their daily lives, and able to bring some much needed items.

They are continuing renovations on their society’s building, in the hopes of opening up a small restaurant to become a somewhat self-sufficient revenue source for the society.  We were invited to their shrine, and requested to light incense sticks in honour of both the gods above and of elders gone before (both theirs and ours – miss you Dad).

It was an enlightening visit.  A stark reminder of the frustrating contrasts that exist in Cuba – of the happiness that Cubans (of all ethnic groups, ages, and persuasions) can have no matter how much or little they may have, and then, on the flip side of the coin, simply how little they do have to even be happy about.  I was exposed to these ironies many years ago while working as a missionary in the Dominican Republic while in high school, but these little reminders help to keep one grounded in today’s evolving world.

I’m happy to be a part of this small bit of cheer that we could bring to the Lung Kong.  I was able to witness the pleasure that our visit brought to them, and how much it seemed to energize them.  Prouder still that I was allowed a peek into this interesting side of Havana that was first opened to us by Nino and Ed and Tom, etc.  And as Tom stated so eloquently, and Nino assisted us in translating, we feel happy to help as much as we can and did, but sad in that it’s only a small piece of what’s needed.

I will say this…those ladies and gents have a great sense of humour as well.  They refer to Nino as “Santa Claus” – it seems somewhat unfathomable to them that some white-haired crazy gringo from a northern land of snow, and outside of their social or ethnic circle, would be simply gifting them with resources and items from their traditional culture.  So, it surprised me when I, lucky or not, got given a nickname as well – hell, I was simply a passenger on this visit, more so to be there to document all the work that Tom and Nino have put in for this.  But somehow (potbelly aside, I have no idea why – well okay, maybe I don’t have much hair left either), Graciela and a few others took to calling me “Buddha”.  LOL.  She said it was because I was part of a great group of givers.

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Well, as my wife would say, it wouldn’t likely be because I was “the enlightened one”!

Cheers all.

Texts from Drunk Dave…

Featured image courtesy of Marc Hubler.

So, “Texts from Drunk Dave”.

I’m hoping that most of you have had the enjoyment in the past of stumbling across the “Texts from Dog” Tumbler page.  Basically, for those who haven’t (and please click on the link – I’ll give you a shiny nickel if that page doesn’t make you smile), it’s pure comedy gold.  It’s set on the idea that a guy gets his dog a cell phone so they can communicate over the great man-versus-dog language barrier.  It’s a bunch of screen-grab pics of those various little conversation snippets, played out in cell phone texts.  Great in its execution and set-up of some of the jokes.

Then…there’s Drunk Dave.

Drunk Dave is the evil Doctor-Jekyll-and-Mr-Hyde arch-nemesis of David, a new guy on our group trip of Canadians down to the Encuentros Partagas last week.  Big tall guy, crazy marathon runner, churro lover like myself and Marc, out for a good time in Havana with the ladies, and able to recover from a night of drinking like nobody’s business.  This, then, led to David frequently becoming Drunk Dave.

He starts off the week with us all going on an arrival-night bender til the wee hours of the morning – and then running a 10k-variant of a planned 1/2-marathon with the Havana Marathon going on the next day.  Caps it off by getting slugged again the next day.

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Courtesy of John Winston Reiner

Rarely passed up a chance to fill his pockets with cans of Cristal, never turned down a mojito, and frequently twisted the arms of the rest of us (oh so hard, I know, LOL) into doing bottle service with lots and lots of rum.

But then it happened.  He had no “wingmen” for an evening.  He did end up going out with one older gent, but it wasn’t enough for Drunk Dave.  While the rest of us tried to have one single night of decent sleep during the week, and to try to prep for the mad dash which would become the last few days, Drunk Dave was in full swing.  At the bar.  Alone.  With a cell phone.

And so, with me going to bed at the completely unreasonable-to-Drunk-Dave time of about 10:40 pm, it began.  He started texting me.  Trying to get us to come out to the bar.  I tried to send him a tongue-in-cheek, shrug-it-off way of saying fuck off and let me sleep, but oh no, that wasn’t good by Drunk Dave.  As I snored away after switching my phone to silent mode, the texts continued…until damn near 2am.  LOL…

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But lord love him, he can recover from a 5am-ending night like Superman shrugs off a mosquito bite.  And like me – he loves a damn good super-loaded-full-of-rum pina colada.

Honey – for the record, he didn’t see shit.

Nice try, Dave – I know better than to store stuff like that on my cell phone.  Unlike others.  Ahem, ahem, ahem, Monsieur Dav-id!!!!!

Long live the Drunk Dave.  Here’s to next year’s trip.  I better start training now to keep up.  LOL.

Cheers all.

Time to get back to “normal”…

So, it’s been a couple weeks now.  October 20th and 22nd, 2014.  For Canadians – and especially those of us in the military – those dates will remain infamous in their connotations.

Corporal Nathan Cirillo and Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent.

THOSE are the names that need to live on.  Not those of any perpetrators.

Their tragic endings are most unfortunate.  The recent spate of occurrences are having drastic consequences on us as a society.  Granted, many more have perished needlessly in previous incidents around the world – the London subway attacks in July of 2005, the 2008 attacks in Mumbai, India, the 2014 knife attack at the train station in Kunming, China that killed or injured 176, and of course, 9-11.

But, as much as western media likes to thrive about it, it’s not about body count.  It shouldn’t be.  It’s about the impact that an incident has on a culture’s soul.

There are those of us, living in uniform, be it military, police, fire, etc., who have understood for years that this is the new reality of our world.  That something fanatical-/terrorism-based hasn’t excessively happened in Canada previous to these occurrences is, honestly, surprising.  People, society as a whole, like to keep their collective heads in the sand.  We watch the nightly news, and we see all that’s wrong in the world, all the bad stuff that’s happening…somewhere else.  Sure, we’ve had bad things happen here occasionally.  The shootings of RCMP officers in Mayerthorpe, or more recently in Monction, are a case in point.  The “lone wolf” actions (or “stray dogs” as they can be called as well, due to their misfit and seething nature leading them to find a home with fundamentalist propaganda) have always been on the fringes of the radar.  But, we were fighting terrorists (there’s that word) “over there”, over in the sandbox – not on our pristine shores.  The incidents earlier last month led people to wake up to the notion – yes, stuff like this can happen within our borders.  Fanatical people, coming from overseas or our own citizens inspired from online groups, could do something like this, in peaceful, quiet, world-loving Canada.  It was a shock to people to even have an understanding that this could occur.

I’ve had a tiresome couple of weeks with this (gawd, I need a good cigar!)  New levels of caution are out there, especially for those living in uniform.  Media coverage is running the gamut.  Some news stories and stuff from both inside and outside of Canada – it’s amazing to see.  While I don’t think it’s funny, I do laugh at the relative naivety of society as a whole – “in Canada??!!!?!” and “if it can happen in Canada, it can happen anywhere!”, etc.

Is religion to blame?  Maybe yes, maybe no.  I’d say – probably more yes than not; but not religion exactly – it’s the perversion of it by those wishing to control others.  But…don’t put the blame on true religous believers of Islam.  Who am I, or who are any of us, to judge others on that?  Of course, similar to 9-11, I’ve heard many discuss how “the religion of Brotherly love” is leading to the recent unforgiveable slaughters of many innocent people.  However – Christianity is no better (looking in historical context).  Neither is nearly any other religion out there.  In my mind, the overall history of organized religion is no better than any corrupt big business or mafia.  Hell, as is oft quoted and discussed – many more people have died in humanity’s history solely due to religion and religious beliefs, than over all other geo-political reasons.

All I know is that Canadians as general, especially with this happening in the run-up to Remembrance Day on November 11th, are definitely more acutely aware of our pretty country not being invulnerable to such heinous acts.  Something that some of us in uniform all knew and understood, but that with society’s blissful ignorance let “our guard down”, so to speak.  The national consciousness has now somewhat woken up to these possibilities.  Some will still choose to put their heads back in the sand.  The rest of us will move forward, always “on guard for thee”, remembering those that have unfortunately been taken from us.

To our future tomorrows, and that there be many more…time to have some good cigars again.

Cheers all.

Gurus versus Guides…

So, a topic of discussion came up on the Friends of Habanos forum (FOH) a bit ago, and it’s something that’s recurringly come up over the years.  “Cigar gurus”, and the passion that they can sometimes evoke from people.

Some swear by their “gurus”.  And I’m talking cigars here, so we’re looking at Min Ron Nee, James Suckling, Simon Chase, Hamlet Jaime Paredes, and various other personalities, be it in books, video form, photo blogs, etc.  Obviously, that’s not an all-inclusive list, and I don’t wish to debate those names – they’re just some of the most well-known names in the cigar world recently, just for the purpose of discussion.

Unfortunately, just as much as some follow every word of these gents for example, there are others out there who just as voraciously talk down about them.  Granted, most understand that once you publish a book, create a video, etc., you’re putting yourself out there for public discussion as much as consumption, and constructive criticism is a part of that game.  But, in this day and age of the internet, and the anonymity that it affords, some take the constructive aspect out of that, and are just…pricks, for lack of a more refined word.

They’re passionate debates.  Some in the discussions have close friendships with many of these “gurus”, and thus are defensive on their friends’ behalves.  Others have a bit of cigar jealously going on perhaps, some hateful envy, or just simply don’t know how other to state their opposition of said gurus’ perspective without putting spiteful and rudely-speculative comments into the conversations.

Some people on forums, no matter the subject matter, just DON’T KNOW how to have a courteous and respectful conversation with anyone, and are just socially retarded.

Especially in this day and age of blogs (lol, welcome, by the way!) and YouTube, if an everyday joe wants to start an online blog or show, they easily can.  It doesn’t cost much more than your time and effort.  I’m of the viewpoint of many others here – if it adds more to our hobby, if it informs just one more new cigar smoker, if it makes the journey better or easier for anyone, if it adds something to the cigar world, then GREAT.  Have at it.  Please have broad shoulders though – depending on how polarizing you are, if you get a thousand positive comments, expect a thousand negative ones too.  Please realize there are always going to be detractors, differing views, “haters”, contrarians on the other side of the conversation.  And please understand that if you’re going to profess the statements of a previous “guru” as your own, if you’re not edumacated enough on the subject matter itself, if you just repeat something you heard somewhere else (correct or not) and you have no personal experience or proper knowledge to add to the conversation, then you’re gonna get called out on it.  If you “set a stage” so to speak, and surround yourself with “big pimpin’” items and a set behind you, people are gonna see right through that and you’re going to polarize them.

And fans of these experts / gurus are sometimes on the wrong rationale in the conversation, too.  Unless you know the person personally, and/or have some other inside info to share, just since an expert has an online show and “works in a cigar store” doesn’t mean that his or her opinion gets to trumps anyone’s.  I’ve met people who worked in cigar stores who knew less about the subject matter than I or some others have forgot.  People who worked in, for example, private (non-LCDH) cigar stores for 10+ years and tried to tell a 3-month-into-the-hobby-buddy-of-mine, who had more than an ounce of common sense, that the warranty seals on Cuban boxes were “optional accessories” when he saw a stack of what appeared to be counterfeit Cohiba Espy’s.  I’ve seen other people simply acting as shills for various cigar manufacturers in their YouTube videos, and spouting the “company line” rather than giving an actual review or, gawd forbid, a real opinion.

So… “has a show and works in a cigar store” shouldn’t trump automatically, that’s for damn sure.  There are many passionate and EXTREMELY knowledgeable people in the hobby (and, yes, on many forums) who couldn’t give a DAMN to do a blog, YouTube videos, articles for a cigar magazine, etc.

I have a huge issue with people who are self-professed “experts”, or who thrive on the “guru” title and status that others may have afforded them.  I grew up being taught to be affable and confident, to take charge when needed, but to be courteous and humble, in everything I do.  So when I see flagrant egos come into the picture, I’ve always had an issue with that, like with someone calling themselves a Doctor on a subject when they have no degree, no background, no real specialty training, nothing more exacting than perhaps another average joe.  Someone who demands respect and admiration by a title, rather than earning it modestly.

The various online cigar forums, for example, have TONS of discussions of long-time-member and long-time-cigar-smoker recommendations and opinions (’cause they are mostly just that after all, opinions – full “facts” are hard to come by with this hobby, due to variable palates and personal preferences) on aging cigars, flavour profiles, tastes, etc., etc.  Some of these people couldn’t care less to do videos or a blog either – doesn’t mean their opinions are moot.

I believe it comes down to this.  We are EACH our OWN cigar guru.  There’s a number of other people who have said it before me, and I fully agree with their thoughts – in this hobby, due to its nature of being so heavily reliant on individual palates and personal perception, there are no full guru or expert opinions.  We are our own experts on our own palate.  Yes, there are many things where some of us can give a heavily qualified opinion on – aging cigars, coolerdor / humidor set-up, bands / packaging / counterfeits, general flavour profiles, etc., etc.  And it’s up to any individual person to take all those opinions with a grain of salt, and extrapolate what will best work for him/her based on his/her individual setups, palate, storage, etc., etc.

But no one can be a guru to all.  We’re all simply GUIDES for each other, until each person has hit their own threshold of being experienced enough to be their own “guru.”

Enjoy the voyage.

Cheers all.

Champ and Chump of the Week…

So, here we go again with my “Champ and Chump of the Week”.  What newsmakers this week, from various world events, would we generally like to see put into a Hall of Fame, or on a Wall of Shame?  I’m continuing making this a regular Monday thing here – my “Champ and Chump of the Week” when it comes to various world news stories that have impressed or depressed me over the course of the week previous.

A side note as well here…

I’m not sure if I really want to keep this section.  After I posted last week’s, I thought it over – about whether it really fit in with my personal nature, and the personna that I wanted to represent me here on my blog.  I mean, who the hell am I to say who should be a Champ or Chump?  Who am I to call out other people like this?  But, it’s kind of a tongue-in-cheek thing that I thought might suit this space on here.  Let me know your thoughts.  I know I only just started up my blog, but let me know how it sits with you all over the next few weeks.  If people get a kick out of it and enjoy it, I’ll continue; if not, I’ll axe it by November or sooner.

Enjoy.

CHAMP:  Scotland

Damn.  What a vote.

With this referendum on separating from the United Kingdom, Scotland has really put on a first class show.  To have as high of a voter turnout as they did is amazing – the highest in the developed world since universal suffrage in the 1920’s or so, with the next highest vote only being in Britain itself in 1950 after WWII.

Sure, this vote in Scotland had lots of divisions locally, yes, as any passionate vote can do that.  But no mass riots, no stupid anger killings, no widespread claims of vote rigging, etc.

Scotland really put on its game face for the rest of the world about how a vote of such importance can take place without the partisan hatred and voter apathy that many other countries suffer from.

Anyways, Scotland – you’re my Champ of the Week.

CHUMP:  the new Apple iPhone 6, iPhone 6+, and that dude who dropped it

Seriously – these i-Idiots stand in line for a week prior to the product release (apparently ordering something online is too outta vogue for them, and they gotta “hipster” their way to a new phone by camping out and surviving on Starbucks and Clif  Bars for 6 days while they wait for “the next big thing” to arrive on store shelves).

In the lead up to this variant’s release, some of these phones are going for over $3000 USD online through grey-/black-market vendors.  And…there’s i-Idiots who will pay for that.

To couple that off, some schmuck did a wanna-be box reveal live on Australian TV, at the front of the lines to get one of these new iPhone 6’s at the store, and then – he let the phone do a stage dive…

iPhone 6 drop…

So, instead of spending all that hard earned money on a downpayment for a car, or their higher education, or some home renovations maybe, these people (and I’ll generalize that its mostly college-aged kids, mind you, so it’s likely student-loans money, or Mom’s-and-Dad’s money), these people spend all this coin on something that could easily turn into a big shiny paperweight.

Hell, why don’t we spend that money and fly around the world just to be first in line, and then promptly drop the phone on purpose in a “drop-test review” video!!!!!!!

Hey, I’m an Apple fan as much as most care to be.  While I run a Windows desktop computer at home and then a laptop for on the go, my wife and I have thoroughly enjoyed the intuititve nature of our iPhones.  We both have an iPhone 4, that we both got back in – gasp – October 2011.  And yes, amazingly to some of these i-Idiots, they still work nearly perfectly (the vibrate function is toast on mine) and they DON’T NEED to be updated.  We both love how well they mesh with our styles, and everything else we do on our Windows computers (love how easy the syncing is).  My wife also bought an iPad Air back in March for school, and I’m looking at buying one also for the end of this month (or I may wait until the end of October to get the expected-to-be-released iPad Air 2) – it would make things a lot easier for when I’m travelling for work.  Hell, we’ve even been discussing for the last few weeks about going in and taking a free-upgrade offer from our mobile provider, and getting new iPhone 5S’.

But, here’s the thing:  while Apple makes some great electronics, and if you have a need for them, sure, get new ones.  Granted, some need to update regularly due to work reasons – those that have legitimate business needs and burn through cell phones due to excess charging cycles, software changes, etc.  But it’s the people that only use these things for Skyping and web browsing and Candy Crush that I’m talking about here.  Do you REALLY need to update these things like fanatics every year???  These types of people just seem to thrive on spending a week of their life lining-up for the new-product-release, just so they can have the newest-most-bestest-and-next-great-thing in their hands to show off to people, and then be satisfied…but only for 51 weeks until the next one comes out.

And these new 6’s just are batty to me.  Huge!  The 6+ could barely fit in my cargo pockets on my shorts, and that’s without a case.  LOL.  Dude, I remember when cell phones weren’t cell phones.  They were “car phones”, ’cause they had a giant base-unit-in-a-bag connected to them, and a cord that you plugged into the cigarette-lighter in a car, and a giant honking handset with a cord!  Then…phones got smaller – everyone remember the Motorola StarTac?  Little fold up cell phones.  Then, the smart rage kicked in, and we were good for a while, until this “phat-tablet” thing started.  It seems like all cell phone makers are in a race to create bigger and more feature-packed phones now.  Pretty soon, my iPhone 17 is gonna be cutting the damn lawn, a la iRobot- / Roomba-style!

The concept of upgrading every year with something like this just turns me for a loop.  Especially when you consider that alot of these passionate / fanatical Apple customers are the same types who rant on other people’s spending and polluting habits.  Couldn’t you just see these types freaking out at other people if they were to trade-in and upgrade their cars every goddamn year??  Or buy a whole wardrobe’s worth of all-new, non-natural, synthetic-fibre clothes at the end of every season??  To me, not much of a difference here.

Use something until it’s broken and unfixable / irreplacable, obselete, or otherwise in need for an upgrade – sure, completely understood.  But to “have to” upgrade every 12 months for the same damn thing with only an extra bell or whistle, and I gotta say, what’s the point????  Chumps of the Week, in my opinion.

Cheers all.

Champ and Chump of the Week…

There’s a sports-news-talk radio station out of Detroit that I really like to listen to when I’m home – 97.1 “The Ticket”.  Well, one of the daytime-shows on there do a bit called “Champ and Chump”, where every Monday they have listeners call in with their nominations for a sports figure Champ and Chump for the week previous (ending Sunday).  I’ve always loved this.  It’s amazing how some people’s nominations can go, too, depending on where their team allegiances lie – quite frequently, they have people calling in to nominate the same sports figure, but one person will be a vote for Champ, another for Chump.  Just yet another example (cigars, politics, religion, cars, food, etc., etc.) of how beauty is truly in the eye of the beholder – a differing viewpoint can make all the difference sometimes.

Anywho…I love this idea, but have always thought it applied to so much more than sports.  Since I started listening to this radio station years ago, I’ve always had this “Champ and Chump” thing in the back of my mind when reading and hearing about various world news.  Who, in various world events, would we generally like to see put into a Hall of Fame, or Wall of Shame?  So, I’m gonna pirate the idea a bit and tweak it to make it my own.  I’m gonna try to make it a regular Monday thing here – my “Champ and Chump of the Week” when it comes to various world news stories that have impressed or depressed me over the course of the week previous.

Enjoy.

CHAMP:  Pope Francis

What a pendulum swing the Roman Catholic church has been on over these recent years.  As a born and raised one myself, I’ve been anything but “Catholic” since adolescence – adulthood definitely threw back the veil from my eyes, especially after some missionary trips to the Dominican Republic in the mid-90’s.  While I generally feel and respect that there’s “some great deity up there”, I also generally disdain the “big business”-like attitudes, corporate greed, and inner-sanctum-secrecy that the Church has been exposed for lately.  For me, it’s similar to that line from the movie “Stigmata”, where the Church tried to hide a gospel of Christ Himself, stating “…the Kingdom of Heaven is inside you and all around you, not in buildings of brick and stone…”, etc. – self-serviant pricks.

But, not to turn this into a diatribe about organized religion itself (as there’s definitely some good ones [religions and persons within each] out there)…

Case in point – Pope Francis.  The Church as a whole is definitely seeming, in recent years, like it’s wanting to correct actions and attitudes in the past that have been hard for them to move past, but still with lots of the higher clergy acting like ostriches with their heads in the sand, refusing to make right a wrong of the past.

Pope Francis seems like he wants to lead that charge of change.  How?  By marrying a bunch of adulterors living in sin, and bastard-breeders (according to how some of these crusty pricks in the Church would refer to them)…

“Pope Francis marries 20 couples — including bride with daughter from previous relationship”

“Pope Francis Marries 20 Couples at Vatican: Why It’s Important”

Good for him!  Friggen’ awesome!  After all, I remember when I was active at church as a young kid and then as an alterboy (don’t read too much into that, before your mind goes to the gutter), that when I wasn’t falling asleep and missing ringing those damn bells signalling the priest was holding up that giant stale cracker, that every now and again there was a homily with some good messages.  But mostly teachings that God and/or Jesus wanted us to love our neighbours as we do ourselves, to treat everyone like a trusted family member and friend, to love each other, to do as would be done upon us, etc.

So, its awesome then that Pope Francis is reinforcing that feeling of humanity and humility within the Church.  It’s been BADLY missing lately.

You just know though that there was likely a consortium of crusty old prick cardinals in the other room, and when word spread of what the Pope was doing, they were like, “WTF DID THAT JAGOFF JUST DO?!?!?!!?!?”

Good for the Pope, man.

But…imagine being the poor pricks who got married by him.  It’s been 14 years since a Pope married anybody.  DAMN.  Like a marriage doesn’t have enough stresses and pressures on it!  Imagine getting married by the Pope – if your marriage fails, you’ve got one HELL of a lot of people shitting down your throat afterwards!!!!  You guys out there think your mothers and mother-in-laws can give you a hard time now; imagine what it’d be like if your marriage failed after you brought the family before a Pope!!!

Anyways, Pope Francis is my Champ of the Week, for leading by example, continuing to work on striking out the hypocrisy that the Catholic Church seems to be built on, and working towards a better future for Catholics hopefully.

CHUMP:  Roger Goodell and the NFL

Seriously – like WTF?!?!?!!?

Like the NFL doesn’t have enough issues going on, that Goodell and the NFL decides to shit the bed on this whole domestic-assault-of-players’-wives-and-kids thing.  I’m not even bothering to quote any news links here – there’s more than enough you’ve likely already been bombarded with here.  Whether you like football or not, if you don’t know what’s been going on with Ray Rice, Greg Hardy, Ray McDonald, Adrian Peterson, et al, you’ve either got your ass stuck at a research station in Antartica, or you’re a Martian.

And don’t get me wrong – I’m in no way against corporal punishment with your kids (for example) when needed.  I was spanked as a kid (needed it more than others maybe!)  I was even hit with a strap and stuff like that.  But times have changed, and the laws need to be respected (along with moral norms).  Throwing left-jabs and knocking out your woman, or beating your kid with a switch/branch is way different.

The NFL has already become the “No Fun League”.  It’s ridiculous anymore – I remember (and dude, I ain’t that old) when it was uber rare to have 20 penalties in a game.  We didn’t know who the referees know because it didn’t matter – the players were allowed to play the game.  They’ve messed with things so much, shit penalties that have no more gray area for “roughing the passer” or barely touching the kicker (after you’ve been hit in mid-air, and there’s no way to change trajectories)…but then in the same breath, their drug policy is a joke, and now this comes out.

Hey, I did specialized security years back.  I knew NFL and NHL stars that had wallets full of one special card – to a special 1-800 number with the league’s special on-call lawyers, ready to protect the interest of the leagues and the teams at all costs, whatever the issue.  Protect the bottom line.  Protect the leagues.  Pay off whoever’s needed.  This or that accident never happened, etc.  Such a crock of shit.  Same then, no doubt the same now.

Unfortunately for those of us who are into things for the pureness of the sport – it’s never gonna change, ladies and gents.  The commissioners don’t even run these leagues.  The bottom-line does, and the shareholders in that are the owners, the players’ associations, the sponsors, etc.  Fans and the pureness of the respective sports get fucked over for it.  It’s happened in hockey (gawd, just LOOK at what Gary Bettman has done to fuck up the NHL lately, but under the whim of the owners), cycling (a la doping scandals), even “amateur” sports (while I love the Olympics, even that’s gone to shit), etc., etc.

So Roger Goodell’s not the first to pull the wool over society’s eyes by covering up for his players beating on their chicas.  But the nature of how he’s shit the bed on this, and how it’s spiraled so ridiculously out of control (come on – you didn’t see/get all the video tapes from that casino/hotel?!?!?!?), makes him my Chump of the Week.  Jagoff.

Cheers all.

9-11…

I know it’s a solemn date, but it’s 9-11, and I figured it’s best to use my first blog post, on this date, to honour the souls lost 13 years ago, and to also respect the sacrifice of those lost in the fighting since that date.  No matter your politics, nationality, religious beliefs, etc., etc. – everyone’s world changed drastically that day.

This post is in reverence to them.  Rest in peace, and may we never have to live out that terrible day again…

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[Google Earth / AP photos]