Tuesday, May 17, 2011


Sometimes a cigar is more than a cigar.
by Riccardo Berra (c) 2011 Love on the Edge, all rights reserved
Ricc Berra. My pleasure.  Glad to meet you too.

What do I do? For lack of a better term, I guess you could call me a lifestyle photojournalist. I work for that famous cigar mag you see on the newsstands and know by its thick glossy cover stock and glam shots of celebrities sucking on fat stogies. You do? Always great to meet a fellow enthusiast. Yup, that's it—last month's issue. There's little LiLo going down on a Cohiba. Yessir, I did. That's my cover and I can tell you stuff about her and that photo shoot that even the tabloids don't know. Exactly, what's the point? Poor little girl has enough crap on her plate without me piling it on.

Anyway, you're probably thinking, stop, you lucky bastard, you're killing me, you're, what did you say, a divisional shipping manager? You also write in your spare time? Two kids in Michigan State. Okay, yeah, shit, I know it costs a bundle. Mine starts Cornell this year. So you save like Scrooge, maybe you score four or five premium smokes a year. I won't deny I get the best, pretty much all the time, perks of the job.

I didn't always have it so good; so yes, I agree I am a bit jaded. Most of the time with factory seconds you're lucky to get a good five in a bundle. Champagne tastes and beer budget? Yeah, I feel you.

Point is the last thing I want to do is sit here and run my mouth to some guy I just met, so we can talk about anything you want except politics. Sure. Let me see your pictures. Handsome, your boys. You must be proud. Here's mine. You kidding? I don't mind.

Oh you like those shots. That's a celebrity golf outing. Yeah, that is Jack Nicholson, the Jackster.  To say I'm a lucky bastard because of all this isn't even the half of it.  Look, since you were decent enough to buy me this second drink and we're both got too much time to kill while they de-ice the wings, I'm going to tell you a piece of the other half.

I'm just back from northeastern Brazil, a charming, ancient colonial town in the Bay of Bahia called Cachoeira. One of Brazil's largest cigar makers set up shop in Cachoeira the late 1800's when its Portuguese founder left Lisbon find fame and fortune in the New World's tobacco fields. The company, Luz da Luna, was named after Dona Maria Luz de Luna, infamous widow consort to the deposed Brazilian Emperor Dom Pedro II.

Brazilian leaf is enjoying an uptick of popularity due to some risqué ads that feature shots of a former Miss Brazil provocatively non-attired in the title role. You've seen them? You are a dedicated reader. Save that issue, it could be a collector's item. The ads were pulled next issue. Anyway, Brazilian Mata Fina leaf is a sort of Rodney Dangerfield of the tobaccos. But I've always found it rich, sweet and spicy—very much like the country and its people.

The publisher of the mag knows I like it. I gave a Luz da Luna cigar a great review so the president of the company asked for me. Now, I admit, other than enjoying a good smoke and having a way with words, I have no special credentials to do this job; I don't even speak Portuguese. So when I got down there, the first thing the company's press liaison did was to set me up with an interpreter, a whip-smart, funny little character named Joacy Campos-Leão, who spent most of his time regaling me with tales of his latest trip to "Novo York-ae." The parts he left out, I'll save for later.

Anyway, I do my thing with the president of the company, we tour the fields, we spend time in the curing sheds. That was day one. Then the next morning, we go their horticulture labs. It is, it's a very sophisticated operation.

So I'm just taking notes, you know, doing my thing and it's lunchtime, but the president is called away to a board meeting and his sons treat me to a nice long traditional Bahian lunch with many bottles of decent Portuguese Caves Velhas red, followed by some truly excellent smokes and it's mid-afternoon and I've basically gotten everything I need for my piece. So I bid the brothers bom dia and  I page Joacy to take me back to the hotel.

I thought I'd crank the AC and maybe get a little shuteye. Though we're icebound up here, down there in March it's blistering hot and I'm sweating like a pig. Joacy turns to me in the car and says you have two choices Señor Berra. We can go on the site seeing tour (to which I mop my brow and grimace at the prospect) or … we can go for a swim. Swim it is he says and he says he knows a spot on the Rio Paraguaçu, less than a mile from my hotel. We drop the camera gear at the hotel and I change out of my seersucker suit and put on swim trunks, a Panama hat and my loudest Hawaiian shirt. Business traveler's tip, though executives do tend to dress conservatively, there's no such thing as a "too-loud" Hawaiian shirt in Bahia.

... This post continues!