The man who sat next to me at the dinner party in Brazil couldn't have looked more Japanese, though in fact we were in the country of his birth. Perhaps something of the duality in his background came through in his demeanour. He wore a dark-grey, double-breasted suit and as much hair oil as a Thirties gigolo, an extraordinary habit in such a hot climate. His name was Mr Lo and he was a consultant with a multinational bank. In perfect English, he said things that you wouldn't expect, now, of the afternoon play on Radio 4: "I do assure you . . ." he would begin. But this grave and respectable demeanour gave way to uproarious, Drones Club laughter. He had brought a present for his friend Silas, who worked on a financial magazine. Silas's big thing was cooking, especially at his weekend place, "my mountain house". Silas had discovered a new recipe for foie gras. "Oh, thank you!" exclaimed Mr Lo, clapping his hands together happily. This dish was his favourite.
Brazil has the largest concentration of ethnic Japanese people outside Japan. Mr Lo belonged to the helicopter-riding classes of Sao Paulo. The top people at the banks are choppered from their moneyed and stockaded enclaves, known as "alphavilles", to the helipads on top of their downtown skyscrapers. This keeps them out of the clutches of kidnappers, and also knocks hours off the commute through the sprawling and gridlocked city, the third largest in the world. But Mr Lo himself preferred to drive. He said, "I don't like to fly. I like to be in contact with the ground."
His gift to Silas was a cigar-cutter. As well as good food, both men enjoyed a smoke. Mr Lo had also brought a couple of cigars with him. Like him, they were Brazilian. Mr Lo claimed that scions of the Monte Cristo family, of the eponymous stogy, had quit Havana to set up in business in southern Brazil, where they grew a leaf which was the equal of its more celebrated Cuban cousin. Mr Lo carried a lighter, an astonishing device which looked like a discreet - a lady's - knuckleduster. But at the depression of a lever, what appeared to be a lorgnette popped out: the lighter now suggested a Swiss Army knife for opera buffs. This butterfly feature was in fact Mr Lo's own portable cigar-cutter. He demonstrated its efficiency. He insisted that his lighter was English made, becoming most particular, almost heated, on the point. But even if the inlaid-gold effect had not already made this claim doubtful, all pretence was gone when Mr Lo finally activated the machine (not, in any event, the way to combust a cigar: a naked flame is preferable). This was not the familiar quavering, guttering spout but a death-ray of laser-like concentration and consistency. You imagined the Singapore tobacconist, or whoever had sold Mr Lo his fiendish accessory, assuring him that it fired every time, as if it were a reliable small arm, a discreet piece, instead of a smoker's friend.