This is Raf sitting on the 4th floor solarium of our hotel in Barcelona, having a pre-dinner cigar.
What's unusual about this picture is you can see his teeth. And he's smiling. Laughing, even. Most people rarely see this side of Raf, but in Spain he's been all aglow and a-twitter -- it seems that you can buy Cubans (the cigars, silly, not the people) from any gosh-darn Tabac on any corner. That's right: the same cigars he covets for a truly high price in the US, he can just walk on up and buy for a fraction of what he usually pays. It's so cheap, in fact, that right after I took this picture, we noticed that it was time to go downstairs for our reservation and Raf snuffed out the half-smoked cigar without regret. No worries, he said, I can just buy another one tomorrow.
We saw an incredible humidor room in the tobacco department of the venerable department store Il Cortes Ingles, but the best experience Raf had in buying cigars was with a little old man in San Sebastian, Spain. We had asked the Tourist Information clerk if there was a cigar shop and he pointed us down the street, to a small tobacco shop in the Old Town. It's probably closed, he told us, pointing out that it was already 7 pm. But we had nothing much that we had to do so we decided to direct our evening stroll in that direction.
I'm having trouble finding the pictures I took of the proprietor of the shop -- I must have taken the video and pictures on Raf's iPhone -- but he was a short, older Spaniard, white hair, distinguished beard. Raf asked him about Cuban cigars and purchased a few "run-of-the-mill, but better than I can get at home" cigars, as well as a few spectacular smokes that he's never tried because the cost is prohibitive (and you can't just buy Cuban cigars in the US). For each selection, the man carefully pulled down a cigar box and gently uncovered the outer and inner wrappings, gingerly lifting each cigar from its nest, then ceremoniously showing Raf for his approval before carefully placing them into a plastic bag. Sadly, after Raf had made his choices and was about to pay, the man's fingers slipped and one bag (filled with two cigars) fell to the floor. The man made a pained face, like someone was stabbing him in the heart, but didn't say the expletive that surely he was thinking. Instead, he slowly returned to the humidor and retraced the formal steps he'd already taken to help Raf get the cigars he wanted.
It's ironic that generally it costs Raf so much more for cigars (well, when you factor out the cost of our entire trip, I suppose), and yet the ceremony involved in buying these less-expensive cigars was priceless.