There was a little gathering a few nights ago at Ted's new place. His wife made some delicious short bread and lemon bars to share with everyone, which were over-the-top good. My wife and I arrived a little after eight o'clock to join the fun. Which is to say, the girls squealed and laughed in their own conversations while some guys from the Smokingpipes crew filled the room with smoke. I sat in one chair smoking a clay tavern pipe with some aged McClelland 22, Eric puffed on a Sebastien Beo briar, Tom Marsh filled his pipe with some broken Penzance, and John Sutherland enjoyed his most recent pipe purchase - an Ascorti Hawkbill - filled with Luxury Twist Flake.
Us fellas sat around watching a colorized (but really good version) of "It's a Wonderful Life". I don't smoke in my apartment, but Ted's wife mentioned how much she enjoyed the smell of a pipe. And, surprisingly, cigars. She is the first woman I've met that enjoys both aromas, so what could all of us do but to make the hostess happy? Enjoying some nice stogies from Ted's humidor while laughing, talking, and observing all kinds of interesting details in the movie that are totally washed away in black-and-white, made for an eventful evening. Jimmy Stuart puffed on a sandblasted Lovat in one scene, while his uncle had a pipe stem that was chewed nearly through. Old Mr. Potter smoked cigars while a bust of Napolean stared down everyone in his office. We even noticed a neat little lighter and brass skull on his desk. The set decorators didn't pass up any little detail, it seems. I thoroughly enjoy old movies. The women were elegant, the men smoked cigars and pipes in style, and there weren't any interruptions with cell phones. If they made "It's a Wonderful Life" today, there would be hundreds of changes. Yes, part of the old charm from the silver screen is transportation into a different time. Still, it sure was a pleasant evening of guys sitting around with pipe, cigars, and cocktails. Just as it should be.
Tonight you can peruse some pipes from Rad Davis, Tsuge, Luciano, Johs, Brigham, Savinelli, Peterson, and Vauen. There are twenty-four estates that might strike your fancy as well. If you're in the cigar kind of mood, Macanudo has some new offerings. As far as pipe accessories go, we have some newly-arrived tampers from Nolan Wiley.
Between cakes, pies, and brownies... and candy canes, chocolate bars, chocolate caramels, chocolate truffles, chocolate covered pretzel sticks, white chocolate chip cookies, fruit cakes, lemon bars, shortbread, and more chocolate, I think I’ve had my fill of the holiday. I'll admit I like sweets quite a bit, but I feel like I’m being bombed from all sides with all manner of assorted confections, more than I could ever conceive to eat. Within the Smokingpipes.com office kitchen there currently reside stacks - literally stacks, of chocolates. My wife has already been gifted a total of seven pounds of chocolate. That’s simply too much. We’re probably going to have to give away a bunch of it. We may even have to throw some out, which is really terribly sad.
We wouldn’t have this problem, year after year, if we all just gave each other pipe tobacco during the holiday season instead of sugary sweets. Pipe tobacco, when stored correctly, of course, can last decades, and many blends will improve with age, as I’m sure you know. Plus, most of us wouldn’t have to share with our wife or kids. A tin of tobacco likely fits pretty well in a stocking too. It’s just an idea. I’m simply brainstorming, you guys. But I think I might be onto something here.
So if you’re still considering sending us something delicious for Christmas, let me recommend an 8oz. tin of G. L. Pease’s ‘Meridian’. It’s the latest addition to the Pease lineup of half-pound tins, which are absolutely perfect for cellaring. And this way I can keep the treat all to myself. Again, I’m just thinking on my feet here, trying to keep the ideas rolling. Granted, some of the female staff here might have certain reservations concerning my rather, if I may say so, innovative notion.
While I let you stew on that idea for a bit, let’s present tonight’s assortment of fresh pipes. This evening we’re featuring new work from the likes of Tonni Nielsen, Kent Rasmussen, and Rolando Negoita, as well as Ardor, Ser Jacopo, Il Duca, Brebbia, Savinelli, IMP, Neerup, Nording, Stanwell, and Peterson. Last, but not least, we’re also offering 60 assorted estate pipes.
Now about that tobacco I'm getting for Christmas...
The past several days have been quite eventful, in the sense that they've been quite full of events; Thursday evening saw me driving to the southern end of the Grand Strand to catch the "Night of a Thousand Candles" at Brookgreen Gardens, the absolutely sprawling sculpture gardens founded by Archer Huntington and his wife (and sculptress in her own right), Anna Hyatt Huntington. The following night, it was the Smokingpipes/Low Country company Christmas party. Then, the night following that, it was time for a trip north, driving up to Wilmington to catch the PeepShow Cabaret (Wilmington's local burlesque troupe) in their big holiday show. Come Sunday I was, suffice to say a very happy man, but likewise also one badly in need of some sleep.
Brookgreen Garden is, quite simply, fantastic, and never more so than when they give art lovers a chance to stroll around the place after dark, the whole place lit softly by the light of the (probably well over a thousand, actually) candles placed throughout the grounds by very generous volunteers. Suffice to say that as I meandered about my favorite acres in all of South Carolina, pipe dangling from my lips, I found opportunity for many, manyphotographs.
The company party was, by far, the biggest yet, with all of us, along with various spouses and the like, all crowded into the shop downstairs to enjoy a few drinks, pipes, cigars, bad jokes, and a rather Machiavellian present-swapping game, along with a stellar bit of catering. By the time it all finally wound down, Adam, Ted, Bill, and I found ourselves sitting around in a cluster, enjoying the Padron 1926s Sykes had very generously gifted to all who wished to partake.
As for the cabaret, well, I'd embed a link or two to videos of some of the acts Wilmington's most shameless sons and daughters well and thoroughly entertained us all with, but it would probably result in my having to sit in a very lengthy meeting on the topic of "Why Eric should at least pretend to know the bounds of professional behavior". Instead I will simply say this: Firstly, I can now go to my grave knowing I've witnessed a frustrated elf roughly disrobe a remarkably... gifted, shall we say, Mrs. Claus to the tune of Margaret Whiting and Johnny Mercer's holiday classic, "Baby, It's Cold Outside". Secondly, if you yourself ever get a chance to catch the PeepShow troupe in action, do it, whatever explaining you may have to do to your wife afterwards be damned.
That all having been said, it's time to finally get on with the day's update - and what an impressive one it is: fresh briars from Peterson, Savinelli, Vauen, and Chacom; English and Italian classics by Radice, Dunhill, and Castello; artisan pieces by Paolo Becker and Scott Klein; loads of estates; new cigars from Alec Bradley and la Aroma de Cuba; a variety of new accessories by Brigham; lastly, but by no means least, the second edition of Gary Schrier's comprehensive history of the Calabash pipe.
This is a special time of year for us, what with office parties, plus employees and customers sending in snacks full of sugar and spice. While Sykes has been over in Japan, having fun visiting pipe makers, he's missed out on some really great treats and shenanigans (all of which are quite customary). Leila surprised everyone with a tray of home-made goodies on Monday. Not only is she great at sales, but her expertise at baking rich concoctions of sugar and butter is beyond question. Bill was giving her particular praise for her caramel-swirled, chocolate-covered pretzel sticks, and when I took my first bite of one of her home-made English toffee candies my eyes rolled back in my head with delight. It was a real strain not to lick every single piece on the tray and send out a mass email notifying what I had done, just to secure these candies from everyone else in the office. Then, yesterday, a very generous customer treated us all to pizza for lunch (which was greatly appreciated!).
Doing my own part, this morning there was a small chocolate-covered cherry on Lisa's desk. The addition of a little bit of vodka in the center balances the sweetness, I feel, though as it turns out, also makes faces nearly as cherry-warm as the sensation on the tongue. Ted didn't seem nearly as surprised by this addition, but then he came over to my home last weekend and sampled a piece of my fruitcake. A good recipe including half a bottle of Ron Zacapa rum (for flavor and embalming) makes for a weak-in-the-knees dessert that people actually like, I find. Between the vodka chocolates and fruit cake, I feel I've gotten employees pretty well inspired today in the office. Even Eric is getting in the spirit of the season. The man in black, as always, went into the kitchen with the intent to whip up a batch of eggnog for everyone. Like most men that would rather figure it out for themselves instead of taking directions, he looked up the definition of "nog" online and read: "any beverage made with beaten eggs, usually with alcoholic liquor". A horrible concoction of refrigerator ingredients such as beer, red wine, and mustard (to make it yellow) were shortly whipped up with eggs and fresh hot coffee. Experiences like this are probably why Eric usually sticks to cooking red meat in a cast iron skillet.
For once, we did a pretty good job of leaving Sykes' office alone. Aside from white packing peanuts crumbled and strewn all about floor, a busted Rudolph piñata full of glitter, and a punctured aerosol can of pine cleaner left on his desk, everything is pretty much the way he left it.
Tonight you can check out some pipes from Maigurs Knets, Tom Eltang, and Former. Don't forget to peek through new pieces from IMP, Ashton, L'Anatra, Randy Wiley, Winslow, Cavicchi, Nording, Savinelli, Peterson, and Stanwell. Rounding our the section are sixty fresh estates!
Sykes is, once again, out of the country on business this week. As you all know, this invariably spells inter-office hijinks and general on-the-job Tom Foolery until his imminent return. As far as I understand it, this is a tradition, apparently inspired by ancient myths relating to the Norse mischief-god Loki (or so participants have told me), that germinated long before I joined the Smokingpipes.com family. That’s why I don’t ask too many questions when Eric and Adam take turns completing timed laps around the facility in our newly souped-up golf-cart. I just go with the flow, even if it means our work day is to begin approximately two hours later than usual and will wind down after a company-wide luncheon fiesta, generously sponsored by Smokingpipes.com. Ditto, when Tom and Bill stop cleaning pipes to convert our restoration center into an ink studio so that everyone here can get tattooed with matching Smokingpipes.com logos. I smile, I nod, and I go back into my office, where I tell myself I'll be safe until Sykes returns ("ushering in a catastrophic period of symbolic theomachy", according to Eric). It’s just not my place to shut down all the (metaphorical?) mayhem. This week is going to be messed up.
Lucky for you, most of what went into getting this evening’s update put together was accomplished last week, when Sykes was still around. And it’s a heck of an update, let me tell you. We’ve got new pipes from Benni Jorgensen, and Chris Askwith, as well as Johs, Tsuge, Caminetto, Luciano, Savinelli, Brigham, Dunhill, Peterson, and Vauen, on top of three dozen fresh estate pipes. All that in addition to new cigars from Flor de Gonzalez, Punch, Vega Fina, and Illusione. Goodness gracious, that’s a lot of stuff.
To paraphrase Roy Scheider, from his famous role as the much-put upon protagonist of Jaws, I think we're going to need a bigger shelf. Each year with the arrival of the holiday season the size of our updates grow considerably, and as of today the counter-top which runs the length of one end of the pipe library is completely packed with a sprawling range of stacked pipe trays; a display of leviathan vastness. Or to put it another way, in a space where we normally keep two weeks' worth of update materials, there is now packed (and precariously stacked) the pipe selection for only today and next Monday's updates. There are up-sides to this state of affairs, of course, like that we tend to get to see a lot of stuff which is either on the rarer side, or entirely new, around this time of year. And then, there are also the downsides; we have a ton more work to do, crammed into the same regular deadlines, for one, and for another, Adam and I are in constant danger of our young lives being implacably snuffed out by a sudden and inescapable briarlanche.
You, our loyal customers, however, need not worry about any of that -fortunate devils that you are, this time of year means only an even bigger, broader selection of briars available for your perusal and consideration. So it is that today we present, in their multitudes: classics from Stanwell, Peterson, Savinelli, Neerup, and Brebbia; affordable Freehands by Nording, and fine meerschaums by IMP; Italian artisanal beauties by Ardor and Giancarlo Guidi's Ser Jacopo; the exceptional works of Rad Davis, Peter Heding, and Michael Lindner; last but not least, a full sixty estate pipes of Danish, Irish, English, Italian, American, German, French, and other assorted national origins.
Last weekend was a magical one, and something I enjoyed far more than I had expected: I went to Disney World. My wife met one of her friends from Russia in New York City over a week ago to shop, dine, and see the city, and our trip to the Magic Kingdom was an extension of this reunion. The girls flew down to Florida in the afternoon on Thursday to the Ft. Lauderdale airport (where I waited nine hours for them) following which we all flew to Orlando in the evening. The two had dreamed of Disney World since they were little (Russian) girls, and that dream finally came true. To be perfectly honest, I was less excited than they were, but made all the arrangements for them nonetheless. Or should I say, I made arrangements for Lisa to make the arrangements. She loves Disney more than anything and found great pleasure in being handed my credit card and permission put our whole trip together. She even printed out a detailed itinerary so we could maximize our time; she was our patron Saint.
Our first day was spent at Downtown Disney. I didn't know what to expect, but man was it great! After buying mouse ears (I had a pirate one), we ate lunch at an Irish pub. Walking around the grounds with pints of Guinness and being allowed to carry them into every shop and store seemed unusual, but we took full advantage. After so many people telling me there was no smoking allowed, I stumbled (literally) into two cigar stores. Man, I wished I'd taken my pipe! Never did I believe one could walk around with beer and smoke freely. I had pleasant flashbacks of being in Russia, of all comparisons. After a few hours of this, we got on a bus to visit several beautiful resorts before boarding the monorail to head to the Magic Kingdom for Mickey's Christmas party. Walking into the gates and through Main Street USA in its entire Victorian Christmas splendor, the girls began to cry tears of joy upon seeing the iconic castle. This, I must admit, made me really happy. When we caught parts of the parade and they saw Mickey and Minnie mouse dancing to music, they cried again. Witnessing my wife, and her childhood friend, cry tears of joy, alone made all the expense and travel-time worth it. Rides, shops, fireworks and fantastic visual effects were everywhere. I was impressed!
On Saturday, we headed to Epcot. As promised, I bombarded Lisa's cell phone with dozens of pictures throughout the parks. She said I would enjoy Epcot the most; she was right. Lunch in Japan was followed by my wife in a massive Hello Kitty shop, and that followed in turn by eating fantastic pastries and quiche in France, various beers in Germany; it all made me one happy fellow. Again, I wish I took my pipe. We spent the entire day eating, drinking, riding rides, and snapping photos. The attention to detail and amounts of money involved in huge displays of fireworks and scenery (and extremely good food) really left an impression on all of us. I did notice, however, after staying up until 3:45 a.m. to catch a (magical) bus to the airport, that the man in the mirror looked very much like the same one in Las Vegas at 3:45 a.m. Disney World kicked my butt, took names, and left its mark. I woke up later with a Mickey Mouse drawing on my arm that I don't remember getting.
What happens in Disney stays in Disney.
Back in the office today preparing for our Monday update, we are happy to share thirty-six estate pipes and new offerings from Peter Heeschen, Lasse Skovgaard, Chacom, Radice, Castello, Dunhill, Vauen, Savinelli, Peterson, and Sebastien Beo. After a weekend in Disney World, I'm happy to be back at work sharing stories and working overtime to pay for those memories!
Things have been a bit hectic around here of late - just as I returned this past Tuesday from a week spent up North, Adam has now just left to meet his wife in New York; which is just where I happened to be last Saturday. Of course, while Adam likes to engage himself in such frivolities as "planning ahead", I tend to take a much more off-the-cuff approach... which is why my best friend and I ended up spending hours trying in vain to locate Otto's Shrunken Head, a hole-in-the-wall tiki bar where his brother's band had recently played, before finally giving up and settling down in a pub near Madison Square Garden where he himself had performed last year.
Only later would we learn that, in wandering lost for forty blocks, we missed the real action of the night, when, in a now much-publicized incident, somewhere on 6th Avenue a man decided to dispose of the overwhelming majority of his clothing, pick a fight with a doorman, run into traffic, climb atop a taxi, then disable himself by doing a double knee-drop off of its roof and straight onto the asphalt. Ah, New York - if you can't make a fool of yourself there, you can't make a fool of yourself anywhere.
Of course, there is a silver lining or two to spending most of your visit to NYC wandering the streets; they're about as good a place as any to meet girls, though admittedly on that night most of those we did encounter were asking us for directions (apparently there was quite a soiree occurring on a warehouse rooftop somewhere in the now-gentrified meatpacking district), to which I freely admitted that my friend and I were completely, blissfully without bearings ourselves. And of course, the street is also just about the one last place in the city where you can still enjoy a smoke - naked maniacs notwithstanding. If you're going to be lost in one of the world's largest, most ridiculous metropolises, you might as well enjoy yourself.
And on that note, one might be excused for feeling enjoyably lost in today's update - a wide and copious selection of briars ranging from the briars of Stanwell, Savinelli, Peterson, and Ascorti, to the pale meerschaums of IMP, to artisanal works by Italian maestro Claudio Cavicchi, the Denmark's Poul Winslow, and American pipemaker Randy Wiley - not to forget, of course, an exceptional array from the likes of Tonni Nielsen, Michael Parks, J. Alan, and Former.
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