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Burning Down The House: How To Light A Cigar
Like any essential, simple activity, lighting a cigar has been rendered an expensive process by modern capitalism. You might think a box of matches would do the trick, but why settle for little sticks of burning wood when you could be lighting your stogies with an S.T. Dupont Ligne 2 Versailles Collection Lighter (retail price: $1795)?
Cigar aficionados who live in windy climates - the Alps, perhaps - will want to invest in the windproof flame Exodus lighter from Xikar, at just under $60. (Or you could just, you know, get out of the wind.) Or perhaps you'd like your lighter to double as a cigar punch - after all, they say this is an age of multitasking. In that case, just $100 will suffice to purchase yourself a Colibri V2 twin V-flame lighter. Or maybe you want a lighter that says "Porsche" on it - that'll be $99 for the Electric Piezo PDI from Porsche Design, please. Even more pretentious is the classic Dunhill lighter, which goes for anything from $450-510. For that money, it should drive your car and cut your hedges too.
For those of you who just want to get the thing lit, of course, there are many more sensible, less flashy options. The dependable Zippo lighter is always a good choice, and, of course, there are always matches - though in all seriousness, it really is better to use sulphur-free matches to spare yourself from that chemical aftertaste.
If there's one thing that this profusion of fancy lighters attests to, it's the trepidation with which cigar smokers approach that moment of ignition. After all, a badly-lit cigar smokes unevenly or not at all, which will in turn necessitate a second lighting. You don't want your hard-earned tobacco going to waste. Not only that, but the way you light a cigar may affect its taste - adversely, in most cases.
The taste of a cigar is a delicate balance between many elements (filler, wrapper, binder, conditions of storage, etc) - taste can be affected by chemicals from cheap matches, or even by handling the end of the cigar with cologne-soaked hands. Especially dangerous are liquid fuel-based lighters. The lighter fluid that through the metal fuse drives the flame, in such lighters, has its own strong smell and taste - and you'd better believe that those fumes are carried into your cigar by the flame, where they remain, moving further into the cigar with each puff. (Butane lighters, on the other hand, are OK.)
Obviously, lighting a cigar calls for a certain caution. And, just as important, careful lighting can enhance the relaxed, slightly elevated, formal, ritual quality of the after-dinner smoke. Would you cut the pages of an antique, first-edition Dickens novel with a pair of K-Mark scissors? Would you marinate a premium steak in a four-dollar bottle of Ripple? Would you go to church in your bathrobe?
Torch lighters are useful when you're braving the elements (those high winds again). Otherwise, a flint lighter or sulphur-free match is fine. Cut the end of the cigar and ignite, holding the foot of the cigar just above the flame. Turn the cigar (don't move the flame, but the cigar). If possible, blow lightly on the burning end of the cigar to help more and more of the tobacco to ignite. Continue turning, and a glowing ring should slowly form. Be patient. (You may need to use more than one match - which is another argument for buying longer matches.) Another factor to consider is that torch lighters tend to be lower down on the price scale, with good ones ranging between $15-150 rather than the $100 and up required for flint lighters. (Most of the pricier lighters mentioned above were, of course, flint lighters.)
When the whole end of the cigar is aglow, insert the other end into your mouth. Take a long puff, so that any still-dry tobacco is caught up in the general incandescence. Don't start puffing too quickly, which pulls the flame up through the cigar and leads to a hotter, acidic, less tasty smoke.
Follow these hints, and your cigar experience will proceed smoothly and pleasurably from ignition to countdown to liftoff. Probably. Remember, these things are handmade. If, despite your best efforts, you find that the cigar burns unevenly, do not attempt to relight; it won't work. Smoke it the best you can and suck it up (no pun intended!). There'll be more.
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Travel Part B