We’re all familiar with the stereotypes surrounding pipes, and those of us who enjoy them. If we have beards, they’re expected to be grey, or at least well-grizzled; we’re to be old-fashioned, steady, inclined to ponder (even to the point of becoming ponderous), restful, quiet, staid, so on and so forth.
While I can’t speak knowledgeably as to whether or not Stuttgart artist and graphic designer Hanns Lohrer himself may have borne or resembled any of these archetypal aspects, I can say that his life’s most famous work certainly didn’t. And that’s because it looked like this:
I’m not a “Porsche guy” – four out of the five vehicles that I’ve owned have been in excess of 18 feet in length, and all have moved out of their own way courtesy of cast-iron V8 engines displacing a minimum of 300 cubic inches. Yet I can’t deny that from the first time I was exposed to Lohrer’s advertising work for Porsche, I was taken. His creations were vibrant and confident, without forced affectation; the stuff a good life is made of. They spoke to that boyish spark in a man’s soul, the one which remembers most fondly those times when with a wink or smile Father or a favorite uncle might have said, “Alright kid, just don’t tell your mother.”
Hanns Lohrer’s artwork is remembered today for his ability to speak to such a spirit. He was good at it, and he had to be good at it – uniquely good at it. That is because attention-grabbing advertising materials were a full one-eighty from Porsche’s own planned approach to building recognition. Word of mouth and face-to-face customer exposure with the automobiles themselves were what Ferry Porsche was comfortable with, trusting that reputation would spread within the sports automobile driver community. Yet Hanns Lohrer’s work wowed and wooed, with brilliant, clean, quite often deceptively simple images, depicting not only Porsche as a car, but Porsche as a chosen mode of transportation in a world made much larger and more exciting. In many of the most famous Lohrer materials, the automobile itself appears only in small scale,
…or only in part,
…or even not at all.
Unlike Ferry Porsche’s far quieter, more old-fashioned approach, Hanns’s work captured the attention not only of those already within the small, exclusive community of sports-car drivers, but those who might have aspired to be a part of it as well. No doubt his work also inspired quite a few lads, and ladies alike, as yet still too young to even get behind a wheel.
Even in his old company headshot Hanns appears to have been playing with the themes seen in his work; the curious forward posture, that satisfaction in his smile, the line and angle of the pipe he holds, and the roundness of the chosen briar’s bowl and the streamlined shape of its stem remembering the lines and contours of the performance automobiles he helped make icons.
Crazy Eddie? I can live with or without home electronics, insane deals or not. Last summer’s biggest blockbuster? Odds are I still haven’t even heard of it. But Hanns’ work, like the restless ad-copy prose of Edward S. Jordan before him, was the stuff of life – that was its theme, and that was its essence. That’s what makes it enjoyable simply as art. And that’s the kind of thing we shouldn’t do without; art, and life, for art and life’s own sake. Can’t say I was surprised to find out he was also pipe man, stereotypes be damned.
Jared Coles (J&J Pipes) and Adam Davidson discuss the best way to clean the knuckles of bamboo, while Steve Liskey talks about different ways to drill and fit bamboo with Nathan Armentrout. Meanwhile Jeff Gracik (J. Alan Pipes), who is hosting this get-together at his home and workshop in San Diego, bounces about, playing the consummate host, making sure everyone has what they need, whether it's a certain drill bit or some of Jeff's famous (at least in the pipe world) coffee.
Jeff Gracik sketches on a rough shaped stummel as Adam Davidson and Steve Liskey look on.
Adam Davidson and I are attending the first of what will perhaps become an annual event for pipe makers that Jeff Gracik, of J. Alan pipe fame, painstakingly organized over the past few months: the West Coast Pipe Maker's Pow Wow. The feel was sort of like a very small, very relaxed pipe maker version of a professional conference. The two day event has been broken into a series of technical demonstrations, short seminars and roundtable discussions. It's a small, select group of fourteen, of which eleven are pipe makers. It is very possibly the first of its kind, anywhere in the world. Sure, American pipe makers have a history of getting together to share ideas and processes, but never with this much structure, nor on this scale.
As, I write, sitting in a folding camping chair on Jeff's driveway, Jeff stands at a lathe demonstrating how to properly execute a military style mount for a stem as ten other pipe makers look on. The other pipe makers are a pretty select group. These are mostly guys that have been making pipes for at least a few years, here to learn new techniques. Jeff is one of the top pipe makers in the country--perhaps the top pipe maker in the country--and while these guys are already professional pipe makers, there's still much that they can learn from Jeff. But it isn't limited to Jeff. All of these guys have areas of expertise that they can share with the group.
Jared Coles drills on Jeff's lathe.
Earlier, Steve Liskey led a seminar on bamboo, detailing methods ranging from digging it out of the ground to using it as a shank on a pipe. Yesterday, I led a discussion on some of the business aspects of the pipe world. Later today, pipe maker and longtime Smokingpipes.com Estate Manager and Pipe Specialist Adam Davidson will discuss quality control and the pitfalls pipe makers can avoid if they want to make the best pipes possible.
What's truly remarkable, to the point that it would utterly baffle an outside observer from most any other industry, is that this actually happens in the pipe world. Jeff is completely open with how he does things, unconcerned that he's teaching his competition. Perhaps it’s the security he feels regarding his place in the pipe world that makes this so natural for him. Or perhaps it's simply the master's desire to share his knowledge. There have been a handful of pipe makers over the decades who have been happy to disseminate the skills that they've mastered. It's part of the craft and part of being a great pipe maker.
Sixten Ivarsson, to take the most famous example, was great because he thought about pipes in a new way, and because he taught others how he thought about pipes. If he'd done the former without the latter, Sixten's historical role as the progenitor of the modern artisanal pipe would simply not be. He would have been a brilliant, but relatively insignificant, dead end in the history of pipe making. At the end of the day, Sixten is important because he passed on what he'd learned and what he'd developed.
That willingness to share, exemplified by others--Tom Eltang also comes to mind as a particularly open and willing teacher--is important not only for those who take the opportunity to learn. Indeed, nothing further refines skills as well as teaching them. It forces the teacher to refine amorphous thoughts into coherent structures, furthering his mastery of the material. Jeff Gracik, along with Adam Davidson and Steve Liskey, are confident teachers this weekend.
The goal for the weekend was to help good pipe makers get better. Some of the subjects covered were fairly straightforward: drilling techniques, for example. Others were more sophisticated, such as working with oddly shaped pieces of bamboo. Some of the focus had little to do with how to make a better pipe, but rather addressed individual development as a pipe maker. Adam didn't hold forth before the group about how to make pipes (though he did give a lot of one-on-one advice throughout the weekend), instead he talked about common quality control pitfalls, the small (but crucial) things that pipe makers can watch out for, in order to help them catch errors before they leave the workshop. As long time quality control guy at Smokingpipes.com, Adam's in a unique position to talk about common pipe maker errors. My presentation was about how to navigate the business end of being a pipe maker, how to manage brands, how to avoid potentially bad, short-term focused decisions in favor of better, longer-term decisions, and the like. Indeed, of all of them, my talk was the only that didn't really have much to do with the pipes they make, but hopefully it gave them some insight into how to think about managing the business and marketing side of what they do.
Adam Davidson sketches a mortise, while Nathan Armentrout holds the board for him.
Adam and Ernie discuss a rough shaped pipe made by Ernie (E. Markle Pipes) on Jeff's driveway.
While the centerpieces of the weekend were the formal demonstrations by Jeff and the seminars led by Steve Liskey, Adam and me, much of what made the event exceptionally special was the ad hoc discussion about pipe making that took place during the weekend. At one point I was looking at some pipes Ernie Markle was working on (seriously nice stuff, I might add), when Adam wandered over and started offering his thoughts. One of the pipes Ernie had at hand was a partially finished long-shanked acorn. The shape, while impressive, wasn't quite what he was looking for. He and Adam ended up sitting on Jeff's driveway with a sketchpad, working out the problems of the shape. I'm not sure what will come of the particular stummel that Ernie had been working on, but it was clear that this was a valuable, collaborative learning experience for both Ernie and Adam.
It was an enlightening experience for me as well. Obviously, I'm not a carver. The finer points of how to make an army mount were interesting, but didn't mean much to me. What I did take away from it, however, was how hard it is to be a top-tier pipe maker. Of course, at some level, I knew this; I've probably been in more different pipe maker workshops than anyone else in the world. I know how hard these men (and women) work. But usually I'm in the workshops of established pipe makers. Seeing Jeff instruct less experienced pipe makers helped to crystalize, on a personal level, how hard it is to transition from being a good pipe maker (of which there are many out there right now) to a great pipe maker (of which there are few). The difference is mostly in the mastery of thousands of little technical details. This past weekend Jeff demonstrated a bunch of those details, but pipe making can't be learned in a weekend. It can take a lifetime of continuous effort. Even in cases of exceptional natural talent (like Jeff Gracik, who now has over a decade's worth of experience, and whose work enjoys immense demand), you'll still find artisans very eager to listen, and eager to reciprocate by teaching and passing on what they've learned. It's this that makes "greats" from the "good".
Attendees use the sanding disks while Adam Davidson watches.
Most images kindly provided by John Klose of J&J Artisan Pipes.
Long ago, when dinosaurs roamed the Earth (way back in the 1980s), I spent a few years in the Meerschaum Capital of the World. I was in the Air Force, stationed at Incirlik Air Base in the Republic of Turkey. In addition to experiencing the beautiful Turkish culture and lifestyle I had only read about in books, I saw some examples of the most amazing artistry and craftsmanship one could imagine.
The village located just outside the Base had an area known as “The Alley”. To tell the truth, it was nothing more than a short access road leading towards the highway, but that quarter-mile strip of roadway was jam-packed with stores and shops. Everything the local shopkeepers had to offer was there, from brass and copper pots and pans, to gold jewelry, furniture, carpets, a restaurant (aptly named for the BP Gas Station) and of course, Meerschaum pipes. Lots of Meerschaums. I remember one shop that had a dozen glass cabinets filled with pipes. They were displayed like a museum exhibition on the glass shelves, row upon row of pipes. From the small, simply carved smooth bowls to the most elaborate portraits, animal busts and geometric patterns; they had them all.
As if that wasn’t amazing enough, I still remember the clerk telling me I could have one custom carved. I could have my own face on a pipe, or one made in the image of my favorite pet. And this personalized souvenir would have been mine for the paltry sum of $20. Looking back, I’m still glad I chose one already carved. The thought of having this face carved into a piece of sepiolite, forever memorialized, still scares me...and my wife.
The one I chose smoked okay, though I admit that after only a few times, I put it back into it’s case. There it sat, undisturbed for the next 28 years. It wasn’t until I answered a job ad for a Shipping Manager that it would see the sunlight, be taken up and smoked again.
Funny, isn’t it? Sometimes things that you found so beautiful and intriguing will come back and rekindle your interest, no matter how much time has passed. They can also bring back fond memories of friends and family, even when those memories were half a world, and what seems like whole a lifetime, away.
In 2001, my wife and I went on a Scuba trip to Belize. It was a fantastic trip; being an avid underwater photographer, we elected to stay on a live-aboard called 'The Wave Dancer,' a 120’ vessel that went all over the Belizean coral reef and allowed me to dive and shoot up to six times a day (breathing oxygen enriched EANx Nitrox II). Given that it was in 2001 and in Belize, a country that to this very day has yet to impose any smoking restrictions, smoking abounded on the Wave Dancer. While Cuban cigars were essentially omnipresent, it appeared that I was the lone pipe smoker... or at least I thought I was. One of the hands on the ship was a native Belizean, John, a man of about 55 years who was, without question, the finest natural born diver that I have ever met. When he wasn't tending to the guests, he would strap on a tank (no buoyancy control vest or gauges... just mask, tank and fins), and, if asked, he would enigmatically answer that he needed to "visit his friends."
One time, around an hour from nautical twilight, I was at about 150 feet, getting ready to ascend, and down (way, way down) below me I spotted John. When we got to the surface I asked the Captain "What the hell is John doing down at that depth?!” The Skipper shrugged and replied, "He’s a friend of the sharks, that's where they hang out, and so that's where he hangs out." He also related to me that John had never been bent (that is, stricken with the "bends" or decompression sickness). Being a fairly proficient technical diver, with a solid ability to do on-the-fly gas law/physic calculations, and knowing the rough depth/bottom time involved, as well as having personally observed that John filled his single tank with the same stuff we all were breathing, what "Captain Ron" had just nonchalantly imparted was flat impossible. And yet (yet), I had just observed it.
"Belize Wave Dancer" image courtesy of Bear Graves
On our fourth night, following a dive/shoot of the infamous Blue Hole, and after everyone had gone to their cabins, I was feeling restless. Not wanting to disturb my slumbering mate, I quietly exited our cabin and headed up to the observation deck. All the lights on the ship, but save a couple of small navigation beacons, were out, and the stars burned with a ferocity that I had rarely encountered. I pulled out my old tobacco pouch and pipe, thumb-packed, and fired. A voice came out of the dark (damned near ruined my pants) "Mm - Mm... Smells good, Mon... ya got some extra?" It was John. I gave him my pouch, and he loaded some of my aged bright leaf into a very old, small meerschaum and fired up as well. In reciprocity, John cracked a bottle of Cubano "Gold Label" rum. For about two hours we made small talk. He pointed out the Southern Cross, which, of course, I had seen many times… but never nearly so clear and bright as on that night. We talked about navigation without modern instruments, diving, how to find his "friends." Just two guys with nothing in common but a love of the ocean, diving, Cuban rum, and smoke. In John's words, "Dat' US Virginia is da tits, Mon, I dream of seeing your country someday."
After we were about three-quarters into the bottle, I worked up the nerve to ask about his (literally) supraphysical abilities to shrug off ‘gas laws’. John paused a moment... “It’s a family thing. By the late 40s, both my grandfather and me pop were loaned tanks by ‘de rich folk to survey spots where profitable underwater salvage were likely. Some jobs pushed ‘dem limits right proper, but ‘dey never got ‘de aches. Turns out the same with all the men of my family.” He punctuated this with only a so-it-is shrug. Both of us weaving a bit, we parted with the best salutes we could manage in our states, and I headed back to my berth.
A scant few weeks later, Hurricane Iris (Category 4) made landfall at Monkey Town/Big Creek, Belize, precisely where the Wave Dancer was moored. The 15' storm surge, driven by 230 km/h winds, compressed into a 40' high wall of death as it moved upriver. The Dancer was hit so hard by the channeled wave that it actually flipped end over end. 20 experienced divers from the Richmond Dive Club drowned in 18 feet of water in the wee, small hours of that morning. I'm told that John was one of them.
Pipes, and chance encounters with strangers whom are no longer strangers upon parting, are blessings and can stay with you for a lifetime. If you guys get down south, when ya look at the Southern Cross, smoke or drink one for John (he also loved Belikan beer, by-the-by). I know he would appreciate it.
It’s hard to believe that 2013 is almost behind us. We find ourselves at the end of a remarkable year for the pipe and pipe tobacco community, and for Smokingpipes.com especially. For a pastime, passion, and industry that has only just begun to emerge from a half-century of slow, steady decline in popularity, we pipe people have been unaccustomed to good news. Nonetheless good news abounds for our little world filled with pipes and pipe tobacco, a trend we began to see hints and suggestions of in 2010 and 2011, but one that really showed itself, and undeniably accelerated, in 2013.
Artisan pipe making is experiencing an unprecedented explosion. It is most pronounced here in the United States, but it’s also happening in Europe and elsewhere in the world. Fifteen years ago, artisan pipe making at this level was seen only in Denmark and, on a much smaller scale, in a handful of other countries. Today, great pipes are being made across Europe, with Russia, Ukraine and other countries in Eastern Europe burgeoning with pipe making talent. Here in the United States, we’ve seen more new talented artisans come onto the scene in the past three years than we had in the previous two decades.
But pipe successes of small one-man/woman operations are but a fraction of the story. The great pipe factories of the world are busier than they’ve been in years. Instead of fearing the decline of future business, the factories--Peterson, Savinelli, Chacom, and others--are more worried about securing enough briar and training enough new employees to meet demand. These are good problems! There’s a vibrancy and optimism from the factories that simply wasn’t there just a few years ago.
The good news doesn’t end there. On the tobacco front, smaller boutique manufacturers like McClelland and Cornell & Diehl are experiencing tremendous growth and success, while the bigger manufacturers have been exploring new products and bringing old products--such as the huge new releases of Capstan and Three Nuns--to markets that haven’t seen them for decades.
It isn’t all about quantity, though. It’s not just about more pipes and more pipe tobacco. More importantly, it’s about quality. A few decades ago, mass-market pipe tobacco was, with few exceptions, all there was that was readily available. Today, thousands of pipe tobacco options are on offer from a variety of large and small manufacturers alike. Talking with blenders, there’s a renewed interest in developing fresh, interesting, sophisticated mixtures, catering to a new, larger group of dedicated pipe tobacco enthusiasts. Similarly, while artisan and small workshops have always emphasized quality, there have been steady improvements in the quality of pipes we’re seeing from the larger pipe factories.
So far, this little missive has emphasized renewed optimism within the industry, but none of this would be possible without new enthusiasm from pipe smokers and collectors. To reiterate, our hobby is growing. We suspected as much a couple of years ago, and that trend is now abundantly clear. More importantly, the pipe smokers that have become interested in pipes and pipe tobacco in the last couple of years are enthusiasts in a way that was much more uncommon a few years ago. They aren’t just picking one or two pipes and one or two blends, and sticking to being content with just that. They’re excited about interesting pipes and pipe tobaccos, whether new or old. Pipe smokers today are more and more like wine or coffee enthusiasts, less like regular consumers of inexpensive wines or ubiquitous grocery store coffees. Of course, the trend towards connoisseurship is hardly limited to pipes and pipe tobacco--coffee enthusiasts barely existed in the US twenty years ago either--but it has been particularly marked in the pipe world. Instead of simply smoking Prince Albert, people are enthused by the delectable creations of Greg Pease or the specialized boutique blends coming from Mac Baren, such as Old Dark Fired.
What all this comes down to is that it has been your interest in the work of talented pipe makers and tobacco blenders that has driven this renaissance of the pipe world. This past year has seen a widespread sense of optimism among makers, industry people and hobbyists that is special and new. You are driving this; your love for pipes and pipe tobacco make all of this possible.
Being the perpetually sanguine person that I am, I’ve been optimistic about the pipe world for as long as I’ve been involved in pipes and tobaccos. Yet only now am I finding that kind of enthusiasm and optimism permeating the whole of our little world. And for that, we all have you to thank.
Happy New Year!
So here we go, the last update of 2013. It was a year, as mentioned, that’s seen a lot of new faces (both in pipemaking and around our office), new blends, and newly revitalized interest in marques and smoking mixtures of old – quite a bit of it coming from those new to pipes.
Speaking of “new” and “pipes”, we’ve got a whole lot of them. Four fresh Smio Satou creations lead things off, with a sturdy yet sleek Volcano, and elegant bamboo-stemmed bent Brandy, and two lovely sandblasts, the bent Dublin in particular showing off some serious ring grain. American artisan Ernie Markle comes in right on Smio’s heels, with a trio that includes a shapely-bowled “Dirigible”, a finely composed, Danish-inspired canted Egg, and one very smart and trim take on the classic Cutty.
Following up, we find the colorful lines and forms of the Rinaldos, the numerous decades’ worth of artisanal experience of the Radices, and the time-honored traditions of Castello give the Italian school sound representation. Speaking of which, it wouldn’t be a proper update without Savinelli too, of course, and so we’ve rounded up three-dozen of them – and three-dozen Petersons as well, for just the same reason. Rounding things out, you’ll further find Tsuges, Butz-Choquins, Chacoms, Vauens, Stanwells and Nordings – not to mention a batch of Sebastien Beos that includes several new and impressive shapes from this great little marque, as usual expressing a strong classical-French flavor.
As for estates? Italian English, and Danish are on the menu, with such names as Peter Heeschen, Jorgen Nielsen, Kurt Balleby, Tonino Jacono, Ardor, Mastro de Paja, Dunhill, Ferndown, Ashton, and Sasieni - and more.
Those of you who are cigar aficionados haven’t been left out either, as we offer up Drew Estate’s deep-flavored Nica Rustica, plus three different vitolas of the Kentucky Fire Cured.
Good evening folks, may I join you in a smoke? As I have alluded in the past, my duties at Smokingpipes.com have changed a bit (OK, make that considerably since I have returned). Prior to my departure, I was perfectly happy being a write-rat that was kept in a padded cell, received food, meds and a daily tobacco allotment through Hannibal Lecter-style sliding tray, and (if I behaved) was allowed bi-weekly excursions (with manacles, an orange jump-suit and an attending guard, of course). While the previously mentioned conditions of employment remain in place, in addition to the odd writing task, I am now a ‘Media & Content Specialist’. Yeah…. not exactly sure what that is either, but (apparently) 'Media' means that coding is involved. I’ll grant you that HTML is ‘the T-Ball of code languages’ but aside from knowing how to emphasize a point or create a new paragraph, I entered quite clueless.
Kat (I think she lost the toss) was appointed to teach me how to scroll a few hundred lines of code, immediately see where an issue was, and correct it (insert maniacal cackle here). Viewing the newsletter for the first time in pure HTML was a revelation but, sadly, not the Neo/Matrix variety. Rather than perceiving the true nature of the universe, learning how to bend a spoon with my mind, or even managing to light/tamp my pipe through sheer will alone, I coughed up a fur ball; an event which Kat still hasn’t fully recovered from. I was in over my head, but instead of being an adult and just admitting it, I started inventing excuses and creating diversions; “Adam ate my glasses” didn’t fly, neither did demonstrating that I could (indeed) squirt a combination of coffee and pipe smoke out of my tear ducts. I think the breaking point for Kat was when I said, “It’s a well-documented fact that I have severe spatial relationship issues” “Bear, your screen is two-dimensional” (“Curses! Hoisted by my own petard!”).
The first day I created the newsletter on my own basically consisted of ‘borrowing’ Ted’s pipes, liberating tobacco from Eric’s desk and whining (loudly,from across the room), “Johnnnn… I think I broke it again….” . The oddest thing; after making a dog’s breakfast of three publications, I was taken off of newsletter/social media input.
One of the first things that was imparted to me when I joined the Army was; “Screw something up with enough consistency and they’ll quit asking you do it.” There’s a lot of wisdom in the old Army maxims.
"Do what thy manhood bids thee do, from none, but self, expect applause."
Consider, for a moment, the staunchly held notions of what constituted ‘proper conduct’ for those who held a commission in Queen Victoria’s ground forces. Now consider an officer whose regard for his superiors ranged from mild amusement to undisguised contempt. A man who, rather than ‘standing with his own’, ‘went native’ at every possible opportunity, spending his time with indigenous people, becoming so immersed in their language and culture that he was often conferred honors which previously would never be considered for a Westerner, much less a member of the occupational force. It was even said that the scoundrel had converted to Islam (as if being half-Irish wasn’t enough of a barrier to his acceptance). How could such a seemingly contemptible renegade eventually become a Knight Commander of (the) Most Distinguished Order of Saint Michael and Saint George? The answer is, he couldn’t, unless he was Captain Sir Richard Francis Burton.
Referred by contemporary scholars as both ‘The 007 of the 19th century’ as well as ‘…a James Bond’s James Bond’, Burton’s Wiki-listed occupations include “geographer, explorer, translator, writer, soldier, orientalist, cartographer, ethnologist, spy, linguist, poet, fencer and diplomat”. The inventory of his lifetime accomplishments would be a bit much for this type of blog (we have to have room for the pipes, eh what?), but some of the highlights include: saber fencing champion, mastery of at least 23 separate languages + eight different dialects of Arabic, and was the first non-indigenous person to be honored with the Janeu (Brahmanical thread). Not only was Burton the first European permitted to enter the (then) ‘forbidden’ City of Harar, he was asked to do the honors of reciting the bow to prayer, as well as read the 18th chapter of the Koran to the faithful. Disguised as a Dervish, Burton made a hajj (pilgrimage) to Mecca and, along with his partner John Speke, was one of the first Euros to set eyes upon Lake Tanganyika.
The above accomplishments were in his rear-view mirror by the age of 36… and he had 33 more years of achievements ahead of him.
Referred to by his peers as ‘Ruffian Dick”, due to his “demonic ferocity as a fighter and because he had fought in single combat more enemies than perhaps any other man of his time.”, Burton’s world perspective of being an outsider looking in, and not particularly caring for the view (nor the opinions of those within it), was well established by the age of nineteen. He was nearly expelled in his first year at Trinity College for challenging another student to a duel because the latter mocked his mustache. He then completely kicked his collegiate career into a top hat by not only attending a student-banned event, but later telling the Oxford authorities that he had attended, and (further) challenged their stance on attendance. Rather than being penalized with the same temporary suspension that some of the other offenders (most of whom were scions of the upper-crust) received, Burton was expelled. True to his nature, as a final gesture of defiance towards an institute and mindset that he had come to despise, Burton took his horse and carriage on a long and circuitous route out of Oxford… trampling a myriad of flower beds on the way.
Analyzing his situation as being "fit for nothing but to be shot at for six pence a day", RFB joined the East India Company, was posted to the 18th Bombay Native Infantry and found himself serving under General Napier; a circumstance that would prove to be pivotal in transforming something of a loose cannon into a nearly unclasped cannon, but one with purpose.
Working in India, Burton was in his true element; his near supernatural affinity for language led to his becoming proficient in Sindhi, Gujarati, Persian (Farsi), Hindustani, Marathi and Arabic, and his immersion in/understanding of the local culture was so profound that he was honored with the previously mentioned Brahmanical thread. He soon thereafter joined the Sindh survey and started to learn the equipment and sciences that would become crucial to his future success and an explorer and cartographer. While his initial mission was to map and level some of the canals in the Indus Valley, his ability to speak the local dialect without accent combined with his newfound penchant for wearing disguises (masquerading under the name of ‘Mirza Abdullah’, he often tricked the locals and even fellow officers into not recognizing him), caught the attention of General Napier who, in turn, felt Burton’s talents were better suited to other tasks. Finally sanctioned to conduct the most sweeping, comprehensive investigation of the region yet attempted, Burton’s intelligence on matters that ranged from geography/topography, to the smallest items used in religious rituals, made their way up to the Bombay government, which subsequently published two intelligence reports based on his notes.
Burton took sick leave in 1849, and returned for a couple of years to Europe. It was during this period that he wrote his first book, a guide to the Goa region, continued to hone his fencing skills in Boulogne, and met his future wife; a young woman from a highly respected Catholic family named Isabel Arundell. Well before he left India, however, Captain Burton was already toying with the unthinkable; making a hajj to Mecca. An adherent of Islam or not, the discovery of his true origins would result in death, and not likely a quick or painless one. By 1852 the idea had grown from a notion to a full blown obsession.
On a covert expedition, such as Burton was planning, the phrase “leave nothing to chance” was as ludicrous as it was impossible. The best RFB could work toward was minimizing the chance of maximum regret. Being discovered as an Englishman was far from his only worry; while all of Islam might worship the one Abrahamic god, that commonality vaporized when one rival sect or clan decided to dry-gulch another. To this end, he constantly practiced on-the-fly switches of dialects and accents, studied the minutest details of a daunting number of sub-sects, and created a core set of clothing with enough subtly differing elements that he could transform his appearance to match a new character. Perhaps one of the best examples of Burton’s fervor in preparation would be his submitting to circumcision (khitan).
From the start, RBF was a diarist for whom no detail was too small to be noted, and these diaries would eventually serve as the basis for 40 publications. Burton’s works are compelling and fascinating reads. The three volumes of “Personal Narrative of a Pilgrimage to Al Madinah and Meccah” is one of this author’s personal favorites. Within this work, a reader can find perhaps the best description of the Arabic “”Kaif” ever penned:
“In the East, man requires but rest and shade: upon the banks of a bubbling stream, or under the cool shelter of a perfumed tree, he is perfectly happy, smoking a pipe, or sipping a cup of coffee, or drinking a glass of sherbet, but, above all things, deranging body and mind as little as possible. The trouble of conversations, the displeasures of memory, and the vanity of thought being the most unpleasant interruptions to his Kaif"
As a pipe enthusiast, treats like the following passages abound in “Personal Narrative”:
“There are four types of tobacco smoked in Egypt. The first and best is the well known Latakia, also called "Jabali". Either from a small seaport town, about 3 hours south of Latakia or, more probably, because grown on the hills near the ancient Ladocia. Pure, it is known by its blackish colour, fine shredding, absence of stalk, and an indescribable odour, to me resembling that of creosote; the leaf too is small, so that when made into cigars, it must be covered over with a slip of the yellow Turkish tobacco, called "Bafra"...
...Except in the highest houses, unadulterated Latakia is not to be found in Cairo. Yet, mixed as it is, no other leaf exceeds it in flavour and fragrance. The best Jabali in Cairo costs about seven piastres the pound; after which a small sum must be paid to the Farram, or chopper who prepares it for me"
Shortly after his (relatively) unscarred return from Mecca and Al Medina, and now the proud recipient of the green turban that only the men who have made the hajj were permitted to wear, Captain Burton met Lt. John Hanning Speke; the man who would accompany Burton on the greatest and most dangerous adventure of either man’s career.
It's been a few weeks since Sykes and Dennis went to the Inter-tabac International Trade Fair for Tobacco Products in Dortmund, but it sometimes takes a while for the results of such trips to reach the website; whether it be pipes for you to purchase, or photos for you to view in a blog post. Well, most of the pipes have made it on the site already, but the photos have yet to be seen until now. Most of us may not have been able to go to Germany with them, but we're lucky enough that Dennis took many nice pictures of some of the places and people they saw while they were there. Since another crew has already been sent to the Richmond Pipe Show, there's been no time to annotate them, but as usual, the photos speak for themselves. Enjoy!
Not too long ago Sykes visited our friends at Cornell & Diehl in Morganton, NC. Today, he is in Asakusa for the Tokyo pipe show. As should go without saying, he hasn't had much time in between the two trips for writing about his experience. He did, however, take a moment to send me these photos of his tour. He noted that the flake you can see being made is the G.L. Pease tobacco, "Quiet Nights," a blend of rich, ripe red virginias, fine orientals, smokey Cyprus Latakia, and a pinch of Acadian perique. In addition, we can learn from these photos that it is pressed and cut rather wet so that it has the right consistency for those processes, but then it needs to air-dry for a few hours before tinning. But let's just allow the pictures to illustrate this for themselves. As always, it's great to see how much this tobacco goes through to make it to our humble briars.
Good evening folks, may I join you in a smoke? Perchance would any of you have a pipe that I could borrow? Perhaps a bit of tobacco? Oh, a match, tamper and a punch in the solar plexus to get me started, would also be greatly appreciated. I am swimming in briars and their accouterments, understand; it's simply a matter of finding them within the four-dozen-plus 55 gallon bags and over 70 boxes that have followed me from Columbia to Little River.
Mathematicians maintain that most everything in life boils down to simple numbers, and trying to stuff the contents of an overly crowded 1200sq home, complete with a stuffed-to-the-rafters garage, into an 1150sq condo with no covered parking... well that's one dog that just won't hunt. But, with a keen eye for the necessary/superfluous (as well as a reluctant acknowledgment that you'll never fit into those 30''-waist jeans again), a satisfactory move can become all but a given. A great pre-load/load basically boils down to a process of triage, packing and gently arranging in the truck to maximize allotted space.
Triage: Triage is a simple evaluation of future utility of a given item and, if it passes as useful, just asking: How much of it travels with you? As an example of the latter, when my roommate went to the store she could never remember if we needed soap. Therefore every shopping trip resulted in a growing soap collection. At the time I left, we had over 120 bars of Lever 2000. Given my upcoming space constraints, how many bars would I elect to move? Yeah, all of them (after all, cleanliness is next to godliness). My Alienware computer, three monitors, my sixty inch flat screen, my beloved espresso machine and my pipes/tobacco were a given; but my crystal sorbet service for 12? What if I become the entertaining 'King of my condos'? Chicks dig sorbet, and without that service I'd be screwed! (Hey, it could happen.) Can't leave my baseball card collection (too much sentimental value), ditto with my fuzzy, pink handcuffs. When all was said and done, The only things that stayed in Columbia were a piece of barware that said 'My friend visited an island communist dictatorship, and all he brought me was this stupid mojito jug', and an 800lb, six-grill barbeque (hey, I wasn't going to lift the damned thing).
Packing: Is it something that couldn't possibly become damaged, even with the estimated 17 times that I would accidentally curb the truck over the next 150 miles? Use 55 gallon yard bags. Is there a slight-to-medium possibility of breakage under the above mentioned conditions? Throw it into a 55 gallon bag anyway. Waterford crystal, or that flimsy container of Plutonium-239 that I bought on a lark when I was in Uzbekistan? Throw gently into a 55 gallon bag.
Loading: I had myself and a two-man crew whom I prepaid for three hours, thus nine man-hours. Talk about shooting sedated ferrets in a burlap bag, right? For the first two hours, damned skippy. Beginning at about t-minus forty-five minutes, however, the gap between that which was loaded and that which had yet to be loaded became apparent even to my (er, let’s say, “ambition-impaired”) helpers, and what had before appeared as controllable chaos quickly accelerated to a panic befitting refugees fleeing the forces of a hostile warlord (picture me grabbing a Lalique vase and yelling 'Go long!!').
Unloading: Unloading and putting things in their proper place, especially without the added stress of having a crew on the clock, can be a halcyon, even meditative activity... unless you made a dog's breakfast of the pack. To borrow a quote from Hamlet's soliloquy "Aye, there's the rub!" Unloading a poor pack is akin to playing with a 100" tall matryoshka (Russian nesting doll) from Satan; every gigantic bundle or box that one peeks into reveals a slightly smaller, equally disorganized and nondescript doppelganger, and so on. I had carefully packed all of my pipes and tampers in a container, swaddled the same with sheets and beach towels, and then placed my precious cargo in a final container inscribed with "Pipes and Tampers!"
So far, roughly 39 of my 50-odd metaphorical matryoshkas have been removed and I have yet to find my pipes. Hindsight being 20/20, using a Sharpie on a black 55 gallon bag probably wasn't such a hot idea...
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