I had gone to Huéscar for market day, thinking I might as well look for my favorite Spanish newspaper, El Pais. It would find it at the tobacco shop, I was told.
As I entered the store, just around the corner from the cathedral of Santa María la Mayor, the old owner, in a plaid shirt with a few buttons too many unbuttoned, didn’t bother to look up from his own newspaper. But the cigar which he held between his lips, early in the morning, gave me another idea.
“Sir,” I announced my presence, “you wouldn’t happen to have any Toscano cigars?”
He raised his head slowly and squinted at me, as if trying to ascertain if I had spoken in earnest or in jest. “What?”, he asked.
“Toscano cigars. The ones from Italy.”
“From Italy?”, he repeated, his expression unchanged, as if we were playing a game of high-stakes poker. “Well, what do they look like, son?”
“They are about 10 cm long and you break them into two parts.”
While this may sound strange to anyone not familiar with cigars, it spurred the old man into slow motion. “Wait here,” he commanded with a pointed finger, stepping down the stairs below his shop. Something was creaking terribly, and I couldn’t make out if it was the wooden planks or his bones.
After what seemed like eternity, he came back up with an old cardboard box. I could see that he had just removed the dust of decades, for cobwebs clung to his right sleeve.
“When you spoke about breaking them into two parts, I remembered something,” he said, clinging to the closed treasure chest. “We used to have one customer, just that one, who ordered large quantities of these cigars. He came up once a month and bought whatever stock we had.”
The gentleman was still puffing on his cigar, throwing the ash on the ground, as he continued: “He was a tall, handsome fellow, like you. I was only a boy back then, working with my father, so it must have been in the 60s.”
“So, do you still have some?”, I inquired.
When he opened the box, there were six packages of the finest Toscano cigars, untouched. “He didn’t pick up the last order and I never saw him again. Got no idea who the fellow was and what became of him.”
Sensing the opportunity of a bargain, I proposed to buy the whole lot.
After the transaction was completed and I was just one step away from entering in to the fresh air, which I could now pollute with pleasure, the owner called after me: “You know, I seem to remember that the fellow had a hat just like yours.”
“What a coincidence,” I said nonchalantly, but with a mischievous smile. I almost knew for certain whose cigars I had bought. In 1964, 1965 and 1966, the movies A Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More and The Good, The Bad and the Ugly were filmed in Andalusia.
As I got home to Venta Micena, I stepped out of the house (we house-sitters never smoke inside) to enjoy one of the cigars, and I felt like I was traveling back in time. Or maybe the cigars had somehow gotten stronger while stowed away for half a century.