Monthly Archives: August 2013

…I should explain how a health-care professional can think it´s ok to smoke.

In my line of work, smoking is by right considered one of the most vile habits a person could acquire. All through medical school you learn about the health hazards connected to the use of tobacco. While practicing medicine you see time and again how this is not empty propaganda, but translates into real life suffering and death. So, why would someone with this knowledge and experience ever want to come near a tobacco product? Well, the truth is that it´s not that simple.

There is no doubt whatsoever that tobacco can be very bad for you, but there are differences in what you use and how you do it. Most people who smoke cigarettes will inhale the smoke, exposing their lungs and bodies to a large number of potentially hazardous chemicals, many of which are strongly carcinogenic. The tobacco used in cigarettes is processed differently from that put into cigars. Cigarette smoke is acidic while cigar smoke is alkaline. This gives cigars and cigarettes different properties which in turn affects how they are smoked. Cigarette smoke needs to be inhaled to enable absorption of nicotine into the blood stream, which is not the case with cigars. The alkaline properties of cigar smoke actually makes it pretty uncomfortable to inhale, at least for persons who are not previous pipe- or cigarette smokers.

When you look at the studies that have been made on the health effects of cigar smoking, you quickly see that the study population is usually divided into different groups with different risk of developing smoke-related disease. The highest risk of adverse health effects is seen in those who has the highest consumption of tobacco, and also inhales the smoke. This is more common in persons who smoke both cigarettes and cigars, or has shifted from the former to the latter. The lowest risk is in the group who only smoke cigars and doesn´t inhale. This last group still has a higher risk for health problems than non-smokers, at least if they consume five or more cigars a day. If you don´t inhale the smoke at all, the risk for some tobacco-related diseases like lung cancer goes down significantly, but the risk for cancer of the mouth and larynx is still there. However, very little is known about health hazards for people who are occasional smokers, meaning less than one cigar a day. It seems reasonable to assume a connection between the risk of many of these diseases and the level of exposure, i e more smoking higher risk, less smoking lower risk. So, if you´re consuming 1 – 2 cigars a week, will that translate into a risk that needs to be taken into account? Nobody knows. Is such a risk greater than what you get from for example eating a lot of smoked food? Nobody really knows that either. So, my interpretation of the existing data is that we don´t know if there in fact is an increase in the risk of smoke-related disease for a person smoking less than one cigar a day (without inhaling). If there indeed is such an increased risk, I find it reasonable to believe that it is not very big.

It could be argued that it´s still stupid doing something like this if there is even a remote chance that it could be dangerous for you. Well, the same argument could be used against driving a car, eating a number of common foodstuffs or taking part in many a popular leisure activity. Sometimes we choose to do something that we like, in spite of it potentially not being 100% safe. This is just a part of being alive.

For my part, coming into contact with cigar smoking and actually finding it pleasant was rather surprising and not something I would have ever expected. To me it´s very similar to other areas of tasting – wine, whisky, fine food and so on – something that I´ve been enjoying for many years. Cigars are just another facet of this type of activity. As in other sorts of tastings, the nerd factor can´t entirely be disregarded. There is something appealing (at least to the male mind) in discovering an esoteric small batch bourbon and enjoying it´s finer points, and the same goes for the world of cigars.

So, if ever asked by friends or colleagues if I really think it´s ok to be smoking I would answer by paraphrasing former US President Bill Clinton. “Yes I´m smoking cigars, but I don´t inhale”. I´m 100% sure that one day something is going to kill me, but I don´t think it will be this.

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…Ian McEwans latest is not one of his best.

Finished reading ”Sweet Tooth” by Ian McEwan now. Although not one of his best, still a reasonably enjoyable read. Definitely well-written, as is usually the case with McEwan. This is a writer who knows his craft and whose prose flows pretty effortlessly through the pages.

Against a backdrop of the social change of the 1970´s, the oil crisis and the IRA´s terror campaign in mainland UK, we get to know Serena Frome – lowly MI5 clerk suddenly finding herself part of a programme devised to influence current culture by financing writers believed to hold the appropriate views. Of course, it all goes pear shaped when Serena and her protégé promptly falls in love, while at the same time trying to keep secrets secret. I think we should leave the stroryline at that, not to give away any spoilers which the first chapter hasn´t already served up.

This book gives you the same feeling about the intelligence community as the ”Tinker, tailor, soldier, spy” movie. Sort of trying to walk through a mental quagmire. Nothing solid seems to exist, and all that you think you´ve accomplished might eventually turn out to be pointless. It´s very much about projecting an illusion of control that is really an exercise in self-deception, something to camouflage the relentless complexity and chaotic aspects of actual reality. The best laid plans of mice and men, as the saying goes.

Serena, the female protagonist, is relating to the world and all the male characters in terms of romantic or sexual attraction, preferably the latter. The feeling of getting to know a determined personality is not that strong, and the characterization of Serena is effectively done by mirroring her through the eyes of the men in her life, be they actual lovers or prospective ones. I´m not a woman, and can´t really tell if this is a realistic stance or not. How it fits into contemporary feminist discourse is something you could probably discuss at length if you´re that way inclined. I´m not, so I´m going to let it suffice to say that it´s mildly irritating.

Being an at least entertaining read, the ending is a bit of a let down. McEwan uses a pretty cheap and not very imaginative trick to turn the story around. You see it coming from a mile off already at the beginning of the last chapter. I can understand how it might have seemed a good idea at the time, but really it isn´t. Without revealing too much, you might argue that the reversal of perspective could explain some of the flaws of characterization that was mentioned above. Regardless of that, I still didn´t like it that much, and the otherwise entirely open ending didn´t feel satisfactory.

Upon reading through the above, I realize that it sounds pretty negative and could be interpreted as a reason for not reading the book. That was not my intention. If you´ve liked his earlier works you should read this one too. It definitely has it´s moments, and is worth the relatively short time it takes to read it.

…the new humidor looks really nice.

So, now it has arrived, the new Humidor ordered from these guys http://www.cigarrlagret.nu . I´ve spent the evening unpacking it and starting the priming with distilled water. As I´ve said before I´m quite a novice at this, so it´s good to have all of the great sites on the net where you can learn just about everything you need to know about cigars and cigar-smoking. This one, for example, has a lot of useful stuff http://www.cigaraficionado.com

Coiba Presidente

This one is supposed to fit about 300 cigars, which of course is much more than I currently own. Some extra space for future acquisitions is never out of the way, though. It looks kind of nice, and has a reasonable wife-approval factor (meaning no serious complaints so far). Along with the humidor I also bought two boxes of limited edition Cubans – the Romeo y Julieta Escudos Edicion Limitada 2007 and Hoyo de Monterrey Le Hoyo du Roi 1999. A notch up from what I´ve tried before, obviously. The boxes are in a cool place waiting for the humidor to be primed and ready.

Romeo y Julieta Edicion Limitada 2007

Of course I couldn´t stop myself from trying one of the Romeo y Julietas, sitting in front of the house in the cool late evening, smoking it while drinking a cup of Brasilian coffee. This particular one felt a little spongy to the touch, quite unlike the A Turrent triple play I smoked the other day which was very firm and fully packed. Before lighting, the R y J had a pleasant earthy aroma with hints of leather. Beautiful wrapper with some fine veins, a bit darker than the other R y J´s I´ve tried but much lighter in colour than the A Turrent. It had an easy draw but burned a little irregularly, which might of course have been my fault. About midway I neglected it a little and had to top it up twice. For someone with my limited experience the taste was fairly full – strong coffee, dark chocolate and black pepper. The first third had some cedar notes which was overwhelmed by the stronger flavors as I got into the second and final third. All in all an enjoyable smoke leaving a long and rather complex after-taste. This one has of course already been stored for some time, but I´m still going to let the rest of the box sit in the humidor for later tasting.

…Tex-Mex BBQ is enough to make a man happy.

It´s the middle of August and you can feel the coming autumn in the chill of late nights and early mornings. This is our first summer in the new house and having a back patio makes barbecue an option that wasn´t available while living in a condo. My Weber Summit has been in extensive use all through summer, and tonight Texas wet ribs is on the menu.

Here we have nice back ribs from the local butcher with a home-made rub, on the grill.

Wet ribs 01

Cooked with indirect grilling and a lot of mesquite smoke.

Wet ribs 02

Tried a new recipe for guacamole, this one was supposed to be really smooth and needed the use of a blender. Usually I make it a lot more chunky.

Wet ribs 03

Tasted ok, but the wife prefers the chunky one. Probably not going to do this one again.

Along with the ribs you have the barbecue sauce, and all the ingredients are prepared.

Wet ribs 04

After letting it simmer for about an hour you´re left with a sticky sauce that will coat the ribs nicely

Wet ribs 05

Just a brief searing on the grill and the ribs are ready, served with elotes, guacamole and tortilla chips.

Wet ribs 06

No beer today, only water. Still, it doesn´t get much better than this.

…The Veils probably have the following they deserve

It has often been said about excellent band The Veils that it´s surprising they haven´t hit the big time and gained mainstream success. I don´t know about that. If mega-stardom is what they desire, I wish with all my heart they will get it. But then again, I don´t know about that either.
Fronted by Finn Andrews, the son of Barry Andrews of XTC and Shriekback fame (not that this matters the least, but now it has been said and we can move on), the band has existed in different forms since 2001. Andrews grew up dividing his time between his father in London and his mother in New Zealand, moving to London as a mere 16-year old to pursue a career in music.

I discovered this truly great band with the release of their first album “The Runaway Found” in 2004.
Veils Runaway Found
The songs are in many ways fairly traditional guitar-based rock, but performed by a singer with a tone and style definitely his own. Well-crafted and varied songs, with a very intense and passionate delivery. Even though the years have passed, I still like this album very much, with it´s span from the guitar-fuelled intensity of “More heat than light” to the melodic beauty of “The valleys of New Orleans”. Fast or slow, calm or chaotic – either way still driven by the both intense and sensitive voice of Finn Andrews. His singing being somewhat idiosyncratic it´s in many ways an acquired taste and definitely not for everybody.

After releasing their debut album, the band pretty much disintegrated and a new one formed around the nucleus of Andrews. The second album “Nux Vomica” released in 2006 is harder, but still with a very melodic edge.
Veils Nux Vomica
Andrews experiments more with his singing, most obvious in songs like “Jesus for the jugular”. Despite this, wonderful moments of beauty like “Under the folding branches” coexists with the more rowdy material. A very energetic album that I remember as one of my favourites that year. Dark and menacing at times, but not without time for some release in the form of a catchy pop melody.

After intense touring new material was recorded in London, and released as “Sun Gangs” 2009.
Veils Sun Gangs
Although generally met with favourable reviews, personally I remember this as their weakest album. It might be that I haven´t played it enough, and future listens might make me change my mind. I´m one of those people who often listens through an artists whole production as part of evaluating their latest album, so we´ll see.

I must confess that I was less than impressed after the first listen to their latest offering, “Time stays, we go”, relaeased in April 2013 (good title, by the way).
Veils Time Stays We Go
The immediate feeling was of something more polished than earlier works, and as such a little boring. I was missing the melodical intensity of the debut and the drama and experimentation of “Nux Vomica”. However, after listening again with a little bit more concentration things began to fall in place. This is a really, really good album and will probably be amongst the top ten this year. Here we have everything that the Veils are about. Both singing and song-writing better than ever. It might be argued that Andrews is a little bit more restrained than we are used to, but the tension is still there and can erupt when you least expect it to. Listen to “Dancing with the tornado” and you will know what I mean. The instrumentation is lush and precise, the delivery filled with melodrama and the ever present intensity. Enough complexity in arrangements to keep your interest up, but never coming in the way of the songs. And what songs they are. Without a doubt this is their most consistently great collection of songs. The sound is in many ways cleaner than on previous albums, but still unlike anything else you might hear. Those who don´t already know this great band should give them a try. If you enjoy your spaghetti al dente this might actually be something for you. That said – set for world domination? I don´t know about that.

…that nostalgia is a lazy sleep and art comes from being awake and on your toes.

Two pretty hard days at work. Things doesn´t always go the way you want them to, and valuable energy is spent keeping your equilibrium. Met with my friend G. for dinner at a downtown restaurant, the conversation as usual more memorable than the food. The car is at the shop, so I walked home through the still warm summer evening. Then sitting outside at the little table in front of the house, enjoying the cool air and smoking another cigar. This time it´s a Cuban, Romeo y Julieta, a classic brand beginning it´s life in Cuba 1875, moving to the Dominican Republic after the revolution and now existing in both places. This is definitely a more powerful cigar than the Navarre I wrote about earlier. Legendary British PM Winston Churchill was one of it´s foremost devotees and gave name to their most famous vitola (meaning style/size of cigar). Smoking this could really make your head spin, but this summer has allowed me to develop a healthy tolerance.

Romeo y Julieta

During all this, Spotify allowed me the luxury of listening to one of the surprises of 2013, “The Next Day” by David Bowie. Not many would object to counting him out after the events of the past few years. Lacklustre albums, heart attacks and so on. You had to be a die-hard fan with a well developed streak of self deception to believe that he would ever do anything relevant again. But then again, after that career why would he need to? Who could really compete with someone starting to create music in the mid-sixties and staying at the top of their game and leading the development of pop music for the next 40 years or so?

David_Bowie_-_The_Next_Day

In a climate where nostalgia and the regurgitation of old glories is the norm, this album is truly remarkable. Songs like “The Stars (Are Out Tonight)” would be career-makers for lesser bands. The relatively long period of silence had primed us for nothing at all, or at best a stab at the past. When the video of “Where are we now” suddenly appeared most of us heard a feeble artist looking back at his prime. The voice was weak and the lyrics backwards looking. Who could really blame him? Why would this guy need to prove himself again?
Then the album came and everyone was in awe. If a new group or artist would have created these songs they would immediately have been a sensation. Even for Bowie this was great. So many substantial songs. So much energy. So much creativity. I´m amazed that something as good as this can be brought into life by someone so old. A true game changer. Thank you, and thank you again.

…a book and a cigar can be a nice way of spending an evening.

Still very warm summer weather. After dinner I sat down on the patio behind the house starting a new book. I´ve recently finished the Neil Young autobiography (if that´s really what it should be called) “Waging Heavy Peace”. As a biography it´s quite unusual, no real structure and absolutely no chronology, but still a very entertaining and strangely enlightening read. It consists of a number of chapters of more or less flow of consiousness writings, that when put together in the reader´s mind will still give you an endearing and close-up view of the man. The style is very disarming and often close to naive. It´s a real treat, those who haven´t already read it should give it a go.

Waging heavy peace

The new book I´ve started is the latest offering from British novelist Ian McEwan. Well known for a series of novels with themes ranging from the rather macabre in the beginning of his career, to fairly popular and movie adapted ones like “Atonement”. His masterpiece in my view is “Saturday”, which chronicles an unfortunate series of events involving a London neurosurgeon and a small-time criminal. However, under the surface there are many layers to this intriguing story.

Sweet Tooth

The new one is called “Sweet Tooth” and tells the story of a young Cambridge student in the 70´s being groomed for the MI5. I´ve only read a few chapters and so far it´s a pretty easy read. No real feeling for where this one is heading. My friend G. didn´t like it that much, too lightweight, neither did the wife. His last one before this, “Solar”, was also sort of colourless, come to think of it. Well, I guess we´ll see.

During reading I índulged in my latest vice, cigar-smoking. We´ll deal with the rationale of a medical professional like myself taking up such a habit at the age of 50 some other time. For now, let´s just say that it was a highly enjoyable combination. The cigar in question was an Aramits Grand Robusto from Navarre, the only cigar-maker using exclusively French tobacco. Those interested can read more about it here http://cigare-navarre.com/en/.
It´s only the third time that I try one of these, and I must confess I really like them. Fairly light in colour and with a smooth and fine-veined wrapper (more about the anatomy of a cigar some other time). Burns well and has an easy draw, with light and elegant taste. It has a mild earthy tone with an almost perfume-like sweetness to it. As you reach the final half, light coffee-notes start to appear. A really good introduction for a novice like me, and one that I believe even the wife could enjoy. As a disclaimer, I must state that I´m absolutely not encouraging anybody to smoke. However, if you choose to and remember not to inhale you should do just fine.

Navarre cigar