Why Cigars Are Good For You

July 25, 2012

I’m being a little facetious, of course.  And I tend to think weird (i.e. lofty and true?) thoughts when I’m smoking a cigar, as I am now.

But I’m being a little serious, too.  Through my experience, I’ve come to believe that there are certain qualities to a cigar — and to a (moderate) habit to smoking one — that can help us live a better life, and a more Catholic life.

Montecristo Cigars, the favorite of one of Hollywood’s great Catholic directors, Alfred Hitchcock

How, you might ask?

Perhaps it’s the way cigars help build friendships.  Some of the most memorable and meaningful discussions for me have occurred over a cigar — from personal heart-to-hearts about life and love, struggles and fears; to joint intellectual exploration of important ideas, such as the compatibility of American democracy with Catholic hierarchy.  Times such as these are what C.S. Lewis called “the Golden Sessions.”

Perhaps it’s the way cigars help you relax and reflect on life when you’re alone…Those are the moments when you can be with yourself and with God and can say with full honesty and gratitude:  “Life is good.”

It might be in the ideas associated with a cigar.  Its celebratory connotations remind us that after struggle and work come respite and reward, while its connection to class can inspire a lad towards self-improvement and the life of the Catholic gentleman.

Maybe it’s the way cigars clear the mind and sharpen the senses, making you more aware of (and thankful for) the world’s beauty around you — whether it’s a city’s bright lights and passing cars, or nature’s shining stars and whispering wind.  (I recommend an accompanying glass of bourbon or merlot when you’re doing this.)

And maybe it’s simply the way cigars disappear.  Smoke fades, the wrapper burns away, and when it’s gone, you’re left contemplating the transient nature of  life…and the eternity to be gained beyond it.

GK Chesterton: champion smoker and a Catholic champion

Cigars, in short, help you reflect.  They loosen the tongue, they clear the mind, and they help you contemplate…and learning how to contemplate is the first step to learning how to pray, and learning how to pray is the first step to meeting God.  Above all, cigars can be an aid in making you present to the mystery of the here and now — the mystery of finding the eternal God in the ephemeral moment…or better yet, letting Him find you.

Now I’m not saying that smoking cigars is a moral imperative; there’s no real morality (or immorality) connected with it at all.  It’s a luxury, a pleasure that should be enjoyed in moderation.  Yet it is a pleasure that can be edifying — not just physically and mentally, but spiritually as well.  (Maybe that’s why liberal California tried to pass a law placing an extra tax on tobacco recently…)

What are your guys’ thoughts?  Is this too much of a stretch?  Maybe I should start being a little more coy about my favorite habits…

a helpful note:  To those interested in picking up this venerable habit but are poor college students like me who wince at cigars’ sometimes high prices, might I recommend Trader Jack’s?  Tobacco might not be top-notch, and the wrapper is often poor quality.  But for the sweet aroma and long ashes, it’s a solid bargain for beginners at $1.50 each. Read the rest of this entry »

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Dean Martin: “Cooler” than Frank Sinatra?

January 18, 2012

In my quest for sophistication, I’ve started listening to Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra of the Rat Pack a lot recently.

After hearing their music and reading some brief biographies, I’ve come to admire both of these men for their confidence and class.  Cigarette or martini in hand, these virtuosos could sing, act, and crack jokes.  Both flourished out of rocky beginnings:  Martin was an amateur boxer who fought in bare-knuckle bouts because he couldn’t afford wrapping tape, while Sinatra had to carry his own P.A. system to perform at run-down saloons.  And in their Rat Pack heyday, they were comfortable enough to crack innocuous jokes about race, religion, and gender yet ultimately principled enough to refuse to perform at clubs that excluded African-Americans and Jews.

These were cool guys.  Just listening to Martin’s “Who’s Got the Action?” and Sinatra’s “I Won’t Dance” when I wake up every morning makes me feel like a cooler person for the rest of the day, for real.  In a sense, they’ve joined the ever-growing ranks of role models in my life as I seek to become a more complete person.

So, why am I talking about Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra in a Catholic blog?  (It’s not just because both of them were born and raised Catholic.)

It has to do with the idea of role models. Especially when we are growing up, the role models we choose for ourselves are critical to who we become.  A lot of the time, these role models of ours come from popular culture; they are often recognized throughout much of society and demonstrate distinctive behavior or ideals that we want to emulate.

The reason I think that Dean Martin is “cooler” than Frank Sinatra — I use “cooler” facetiously, considering he was nicknamed the “King of Cool” — or, rather, the reason that I like Martin better as a role model, is that he seemed to have his priorities straight.

Though Martin divorced three times (once for his wife’s alcoholism, another time in the midst of a mid-life crisis), he was always if not outwardly recognized as a family man.  A father of 8, he cared immensely for his family even after his divorces, and he often left immediately after performances to spend time with his kids.  It’s said that Sinatra was actually quite irked that Martin preferred quiet time with his family to a rowdy time with the Rat Pack.  Martin was also shattered when his son Dean Paul Martin died in a plane crash and bowed out of a reunion tour with Sinatra and Sammy Davis, Jr.

Furthermore, Martin, unlike Sinatra, enjoyed solitude.  While he always was able to have fun during a night on the town , he much preferred being at home with his family, or playing golf, or eating alone at his favorite Italian restaurant in Beverly Hills.

These two characteristics — a love of family and an ability to be alone with oneself– are important to emulate, particularly for Catholics. Catholics need to keep the family strong because familial love is often a child’s first experience of God’s love.  Catholics also should learn to be alone with themselves sometimes, because in doing so, we can better discern God’s call and contemplate our lives.

As his divorces show, Martin wasn’t perfect.  He also liked to keep up a persona of hard-drinking and irreverence; it got him the admiration and adulation he needed to stay a popular performer.  But Martin didn’t really need the attention.  In his private life, he knew what really mattered.  And that is what makes him, I think, “forever cool.”


Books Catholics Should Read: The Modern Gentleman

December 9, 2011

Now here’s a smart little book for any man worthy of the name.  Dashing and delightful, sizzling and spicy, and altogether useful and inspiring, The Modern Gentleman is an essential bookshelf addition to the aspiring gent.

A miscellany of tips on manners abound, including:

  • when to clap at an opera or symphony
  • how to shop at thrift stores to fashion a distinctive style
  • where to take a lady on the first date (and how to know whether to continue to the romance, after)
  • alcohols to try before you die
  • how to work with a hangover
  • how to recover from conversational gaffes
  • how to rekindle flagging friendships (and how to know it’s time to allow bad friendships to flame out)
  • how to host a guest, and how to be one.
  • as well as “etiquette” for other odd situations, including skinny dipping and using the bathroom

The modern gentleman demonstrates restraint and respect, excellence and well-roundedness of character and intellect, and a joy and curiosity for life which he shares with others.  Rather than throwing tradition away, he educates himself in the classics so that he can become a true pilot of the new.  At all times he aims at self-improvement — at becoming the “dashing demiurge” instead of just “taking up space.”

Being a gentleman is not about following rules, or having certain skills or natural disposition.  The important lesson to take away from MG is that being a gentleman is all about attitude.  And attitude can be cultivated. Rules on manners can change, but it is the attitude — that of self-refinement — that remains constant regardless of the era or area.

I encourage you to pick up this book, and, in the concluding words of Mollod and Tesauro:

Best of luck to you, noble Cavalier of Life.  Go forward with strength, grace, mindfulness, and an occasional glass of Chartreuse.  The world will follow behind you.

in short…

Content:  Tips in topic-specific chapters written so you can start reading at any point in the book, but don’t forget to check out the introduction and conclusion!
Style:  Written with wit.  Punchy and poetic.  Memorable and delightful.  Mollod and Tesauro meticulously pen each word with pointed purpose and literary flair.  Textbook example of fine writing.
Catholic?:  While restraint is one of the cardinal virtues of a gentleman, clearly the authors buy into the aphorism that “moderation taken to an extreme is bad for you.”  Once in a rare while (or in a whole chapter…),
MG encourages indulgence in unsavory behaviors.  I’ll leave you to read and find out.  On the other hand, MG also demonstrates flashes of insights into the human condition which can be very, if inadvertently, Catholic indeed.

Overall:  3/5