Thursday, May 8, 2008
CLOSE BUT NO CIGAR
Cuba's cigar-rolling king, Jose Castelar, looks likely to fail in his bid to reclaim his world-record for rolling the longest cigar in the world. The 64-year-old former world-record holder has teamed up with five assistants, using nearly 93lb of top-quality tobacco to assemble a 98-foot-long cigar. Castelar set Guinness Records for the world's longest cigars in 2001, 2003 and April 2005, when he completed a cigar measuring 20.41 meters, just shy of 67 feet. On Tuesday, he said he is shooting for a fourth title. But Castelar, who learned the art of cigar-making from an uncle at age 5, is likely to fall short this time: Guinness says Puerto Rican cigar-maker Patricio Pena crafted a whopping 41.2-meter (135-foot) stogie last year. Competition from cigar rollers in the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico is stiff but friendly, driving Castelar to keep rolling. 'I'm working to take it to the maximum,' he said. 'We'll be back in two years with a longer one.' Still, in a colonial fortress across the bay from Havana's main drag, his team is now crafting a cigar so long and so thick - more than 2 inches across - it can never actually be smoked. Rolled for display at government-run cigar shops, it will be stored under glass, like others Castelar has made in previous years. It will take five, eight-hour days of work before the cigar is ready for unveiling on Friday at an international tourism fair, Castelar said. Ironically Castelar actually prefers to smoke cigarettes. Made with three, progressively darker shades of bright brown tobacco and wrapped in newspaper for its own protection, their cigar stretched across 14 long tables lined up end-to-end. Markers indicated that in 2001, six such tables were needed to accommodate Castelar's super cigar, while his 2003 edition took up eight. By 2005, the cigar needed 11. The stogie is so long that, as Castelar calls out orders, Gonzalez must repeat them to four other men stationed at different points along the cigar, relaying commands down the chain as if the men were aboard a submarine. 'Move forward!' Gonzalez barked, when it was time to roll one way, and then, 'Let's go back!' But if rolling the giant cigar sounds hard, imagine smoking it. 'The tobacco is smokable,' Castelar joked, 'but we're missing someone with the lungs for it.'