Grandmother's Devil & Other Tempting Tales

Grand-mère Le Cigare

A cigar rolling Cuban virgin becomes the matriarch of a Napa Valley dynasty, having seduced a French brandy maker seeking his fortune in America. She shepherds her grandson from humiliating failure to a fairy-tale marriage to his childhood sweetheart.

Grand-mère Geneviève fills her mouth with thick, rich smoke and releases a fragrant blossom into the still air of the barrel room. Scents of chocolate, nutmeg and toasted pecans mingle with complex aromas of vanilla, fruit and leather from the maturing spirits below.

The cigar was made especially for her by old friends in Cuba, stealthily smuggled into California by friends of her cellar master Pedro de Alvarado. It draws smoothly, as might be expected from a
totalmente a mano, tripa larga born in the Vuelta Abajo of western Cuba.

ère Geneviève has rolled many such cigars herself, in another time at another place. The pungent smoke evokes memories of a Christmastide half a century ago, memories of life on a Cuban tobacco plantation after La Revolución.

And of course, memories of the young and handsome Julien Babineaux. He had looked ludicrously self-important that day she first saw him, decked out in a dazzling white linen suit, a toquilla-palm Montecristi panama and lustrous cordovans.

Julien was being squired around the
Vuelta Abajo by a certain Javier Rivas, a minor functionary of the revolutionary government, who was trying to interest him in an expropriated sugar cane plantation. The Revolución had been a success. The corrupt regime of the American-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista had fallen. Now, Fidel Castro's fledgling government needed cash.

But Julien wasn't interested in making rum. He wanted to make brandy. Perhaps a tobacco plantation might be more to his liking, the government man suggested. What could be better than making a fine brandy and fine cigars in the same sun-drenched spot, one of the loveliest in all Cuba.

Julien wasn't sold on the idea of a tobacco plantation either, but he agreed to take a look. He wasn't impressed with the land, but he was mesmerized by the
torcedoras, cigar rollers, working at a beaten up trestle table in the shade of a tumble-down tobacco barn. There were five of them, all young women, perhaps sixteen or seventeen, rolling Havanas while a weathered watchman, sitting nearby in a rusty metal lawn chair, dozed off under a straw hat pulled down over his face.

But Julien only had eyes for
Geneviève. Genoveva as she was called in those days.

She was fair, for a Cuban girl, with auburn tresses spilling down her bare back, a fading, off-the shoulders red peasant dress slipping half way down one arm. Her honey-colored thighs, bared by the dress gathered in her lap, looked enticing beneath the tabletop.

"The finest cigars in the world are rolled by the most beautiful virgins in Cuba,"
Sr. Rivas boasted. "Do you know that torcedoras must be virgins?"

Julien did not know whether to believe him of not.

"It's true," he said. Watch closely and you will see why."

Genoveva saw Julien staring at her. She stared back, transfixing him with eyes the color of molten volcanic glass. She dallied with the six-inch
corona she was finishing, running her circled thumb and forefinger up and down its wrapper before slipping the cigar beneath the table onto her exposed thigh. She rolled it languidly up and down, the cigar disappearing beneath her dress and then reappearing to make another pass before she returned it to the tabletop in front of her.

"Ah the virgin's touch; her sweetness and purity perfume the cigar,"
Sr. Rivas said.

Satisfied with the cigar's length and girth, Genoveva ran her tongue slowly along the shaft and guided the tip to her open mouth. She twirled the cigar between her lips, moving it ever so slightly in and out, never letting go of Julien's eyes.

Julien turned redder than Genoveva's dress, his galloping heart unable to persuade his feet to move. V
irgin my ass, he thought.

The girl on Genoveva's left punched her arm playfully and the table erupted in a symphony of giggles, waking up the foreman.

"¡Basta! he growled. "Stop fucking around and get back to work!"

ère Julien was smitten by la fille aux cigares. He could think of nothing else on the drive back to Pinar del Rio.