Like it or not, the holidays start earlier every year. Now that I’ve officially entered my Grumpy Old Man period, this serves as an opportunity for me to interject, "Bah, humbug!" immediately after Halloween, perhaps even on the same night. Don’t even get me started on the holiday music. On the bright side, it also means retailers offer substantial incentives to kickstart the seasonal spending spree, so in the interest of pragmatism, this holiday wish list is offered in a timely fashion.
Here in the Northeast, autumn has most definitely arrived: leaves are rustling underfoot, there’s a chill in the air, and sweaters and scarves are the order of the day. There’s no staving off the season, so one may as well give oneself over to it and enjoy. I’m drinking my tea hot now, rather than iced, and my taste in tobaccos is veering toward the spicier blends, be they Lat bombs or Perique powerhouses. With the changing of the leaves, let’s take a look at some fall leisure activities that are perfect for maximizing your own piping pleasure.
We pipe enthusiasts are an odd lot; at once an anachronistic bunch who cling to rituals and relics of the past, while simultaneously reinvigorating the hobby via the power of the Internet—we are, right now in fact, engaging in our collective pastime on the web’s #1 Source for Pipes and Pipe Tobacco Information. Enjoyment of fine tobacco is a hobby that spans generations, and across these generations, the new technological paradigm has been enthusiastically embraced. It will make interesting study for future historians to explore the ways that technology shapes communication in this century. The marvels that have allowed us to hold conversations across the world at the speed of light have also saddled us with the chaff of pop culture—"reality" television comes to mind.
As should be expected of someone who taste-tests tobacco for a living, I’m
intolerably outrageously somewhat opinionated about my choice of drinks, both "on-duty" and "off-duty", so to speak. It’s only natural that in addition to spending a good amount of time thinking critically about tobacco, I apply some small rigor to my selection of beverages. Considering the average human requires a couple of liters of liquid added to their engine every day, I see this as an opportunity to have no shortage of variety on the menu. Drinking some kind of beverage while enjoying a pipe is essential for having the best experience. The continual cleansing of the palate can help you discern tastes better, and it’s beneficial to you by both mechanically cooling the mouth off after an influx of hot smoke, and counteracting the mildly dehydrating effects of smoking. As an added bonus, a beverage with a slightly acidic pH will have the effect of counterbalancing the slightly alkaline pH of pipe smoke, smoothing out any rough edges.
So, from the lowbrow to the high life, here’s a selection of what I’ve been tippling this summer.
Those of us who have been around for 6 plus decades remember well when smoking in all forms had a level of acceptability, and pipes specifically had an air of respectability. Pipe smokers were generally looked upon as contemplative, calm, thoughtful, careful to make the correct decisions. Pipe smokers were also ones who cared how they looked and in general considered respectable Gentlemen.
We may be out having a quite smoke and have people come up and tell us that the smell reminds them of a grandfather or some favorite uncle.
It’s not surprising that companies catered to that image with products and advertising that promoted those descriptions.
Now where are we going with this?
If you are near the same vintage as I, you probably remember the decorative bottles of shaving lotion produced by Avon. Bottles in every shape, size and description. The most popular and most remembered were the bottles in the shapes of automobiles. From the 1908 Oldsmobile to the "modern" American sports cars of the day. There were hundreds of different shapes.
My spouse and I like to frequent estate sales; often I would see and pick full or unusual Avon bottles that struck my fancy. I was not a collector, I just happened to like the scents within. Plus being a bit on the frugal side, who can turn down a bottle of shaving lotion for the princely sum of 25 cents.
At one sale, I noticed several bottles, one of which was in the shape of a smoking pipe. So I just had to grab that one, which tweaked my curiosity and later spurred my quest.
A few decades ago when the Marlboro Man sat high in the saddle, a personal care products company was actually making products that praised the pipe smoker.
Pipe smoking and expressive talents go hand in hand. Our ranks are full of artists of every media—painters, poets, writers and musicians especially. This month, thanks to Missouri Meerschaum, we’ll take a look at my very personal top ten list of music made by pipe smokers, for the enjoyment of pipe smokers.
1 – Easily at the top of the list is John Coltrane’s seminal masterpiece, A Love Supreme. While free jazz can be difficult for some to get into, on this record Coltrane combines the melodic sensibilities of his early bop days with all the wild exuberance of his technical mastery in what is widely recognized as one of the greatest jazz albums of all time. A simple four-note theme is catapulted into the sonic stratosphere, backed by the incredible lineup of Jimmy Garrison, Elvin Jones and McCoy Tyner. Coltrane was seeking to express a hymn to The Almighty; kick back with a capacious pipe and be swept away on this spiritual journey. Recommended tobacco: Presbyterian Mixture.
Of all the modern art movements, Cubism is often considered the most difficult to wrap one’s head around. Placed properly in the scholarly context, Cubism extended out of the French avant-garde from roughly 1907 through the 1920s, and has been noted as the most influential shift in art of the 20th century. In brief, it grew from the logical progression of Cézanne’s experiments with reducing objects to form and color, and incorporated the changing attitudes of early twentieth century thought. Cubism was born to a world experiencing a period of rapid progress in science and technology—in the space of a generation, the fruits of the Industrial Revolution had yielded photography, automobiles, radio and sound recording, and airplanes. Freud began looking at the workings of the mind while Einstein explored the concepts governing the fabric of reality. Artists began to depart from the concepts of perspective and representation that had guided art since the Renaissance, embracing this brave new world.
We pipemen and women tend to take our hobby for granted, and at face value. Sure, we on the forums may be the 1%, the die-hard enthusiasts of the hobby, and view ourselves as the real pros when it comes to all things pipe and tobacco; but it is just this sort of thinking that blinds us to the world of possibilities that lies just beyond the doorstep of what we know to be true. So let’s take a little ride on the "What If?" machine, and ponder the myriad ways your pipe may be employed for means other than merely enjoying premium tobacco.
Pipe filters tend to get a bum rap, at least more so here in the States than abroad, particularly Europe. Countless times, I’ve seen threads on the forums in which a beginner asks about the filter that came with a brand new or estate pipe, only to be told that they are categorically without merit, and should be tossed in the nearest wastebasket. But how can this be? If they were so useless, why would major producers—companies like Missouri Meerschaum, Dunhill, Savinelli, Brigham, to name a few—continue to make pipes chambered for a variety of filters? Sure, we Americans are the rough and tumble sort, quick to eschew gimmicks and gadgetry in favor of pure performance, but surely there must be some segment of the populace that demands these devices, or the simple fact is that the market would no longer bear their production.
When pipe smokers watch someone smoking a pipe in a movie or on television, we instantly relate to that person, especially now that we have been lumped together with cigarette smokers and it is so rare these days to see anyone smoking a pipe.
As pipe smokers and pipe collectors, we know that what we do is very different from what cigarette smokers do. We do not smoke a pipe to get a "fix" of nicotine. We use our pipes as sources of contemplation and meditation. They help us relax, and, in my case, they help lower my blood pressure.
So when I was asked to give a talk at this year’s Chicago Pipe Show, I decided to pick out some scenes that I had remembered over the years from movies and TV shows that featured pipe smokers.