Smoldering Yens  Blog

My paycheck was auto-deposited today as it is every fortnight (that I’m employed at my current position, that is). I then spent $28.74 of my hard-earned wage on a single little tin of Erinmore Flake.

Yes, that’s $28.74 ($24.99 + $3.75 HST) on a little 50g tin that I can get for $8.49 at 4noggins or $7.38 at PipesandCigars. Given that the Canadian dollar is pretty much at parity with the US dollar (for now — it won’t be much longer before the Canadian dollar is permanently stronger) I just spent 3.89 times the amount I could have spent if I had just waited a few weeks to get it in upstate New York on one of my occassional trips to the states. Plus, I spent it on a blend I have never tried, which means I could have just thrown my money down the toilet like I’ve done with some blends that turned out to be one-star. (Can you say Peterson DeLuxe?)

Why would I do something so ostensibly foolish? Good question (to myself, that is). I will now create all sorts of justifications and rationales for this irrational expenditure.

I suppose first and foremost, this is the cost of instant gratification. I had finished a tin of Grousemoor last night, and I don’t want to open any of my cellared tins just yet. I’ve wanted to try Erinmore Flake for a long time and figured it might be a good substitute in the interim. So I didn’t want to wait. So if I can’t wait to try something, then I should expect to pay through the nose to try it. Consider it a consequence of consumerist self-indulgence, if not a penalty. (Overnight delivery costs more than standard, right?)

And unlike most people, I honestly don’t mind paying taxes. No, I’m not insane. And no, I’m not happy about it. But unlike some places I’ve lived, I see my tax dollars in action here improving our quality of life. To me there are far more important things in life than to harbor resentments for having to pony up additional monies to indulge my desire for luxuries. And few things are more of a luxury than pipe smoking, no matter how much I consider it one of the great pleasures in my life. There’s no way I could conceivably claim it was a necessity and mean it. Where I live necessities (ie: basic groceries and food products, children’s clothes, drugs, medical services) are not taxed. That strikes me as fair: no tax for what you need; tax for what you don’t need.

Which leads me to another reason as to why I’m not apoplectic with rage about having to pay such seemingly exorbitant taxes. Where I live I see my taxes being used (in general) for the public good. Toronto is a beautifully maintained city with great public transit and lots of amenities like terrific libraries, great schools, and many lovely parks; and many events are subsidized with my tax dollars that bring in tourists and conventioneers from all over the world.

But most of all, my taxes are contributing to the health and wellbeing of my fellow citizens. I, for one, greatly appreciate socialized medicine; and if I have to pay a premium in tobacco taxes to satisfy my need for instant gratification in a pasttime with admittedly deleterious health consequences, and that money goes towards funding the healthcare of my fellow citizens, then I’m okay with it.

Of course I’d rather not pay almost four times the amount for a product than I need to, but I’m not going to rail against a policy that I grudgingly understand. I also easily acknowledge that Canada seems okay with my spending my money in the states to circumvent such draconian taxes, 200 grams at a time (which is the duty free limit).

But every once in a while when I can’t wait to satisfy my need for a specific blend fix, I’m not going to whine about paying through the nose for it. It’s my choice, and it would be foolish to hand over my money with a grudge when I don’t have to.

The Latest in Smoldering Yen Attire     November 10th, 2010

I have a confession to make. I’ve long been madly in love with someone not my spouse. But she knows about it, and is ok with it. Her name is Curly.

I had long sought a way to display my love for her. When after a long search I finally found her in her quintessential pose available on a T-Shirt, I was elated and instantly acquired her. Here she is in all her whimsical glory:

Curly Says Go! t-shirt

She looked so great, the quality of the t-shirt was so top-notch, and she was available in so many color variations that I bought three more. Eventually I plan on having one for each day of the week. (You can see Curly in her native environment in the greatest racing game of alltime, Wipeout. Unfortunately she’s only in Wipeout3.)

Primitive State makes the T-Shirts. They’re a great bunch of guys and are always looking for new ideas. I suggested a few, and I just learned from them that they’ve come through. And they look great.

Here they are:

Pipe T-Shirt from Primitive State

I Love Pipe T-Shirt from Primitive State

Vitamin N T-Shirt from Primitive State

I sent them the smoking pipe design, and they did a great job with it, wouldn’t you agree? And I’m particularly glad that they took up my suggestion to do the Vitamin N T-Shirt.

I plan on getting a bunch of them to display my love of this hobby for all the world to see, and also to support a wonderful company.

Wouldn’t it be great to see these t-shirts everywhere? Just click on the t-shirt and get one for yourself! (If you want to… I wouldn’t presume to tell anyone what to do.)

PS I don’t receive any kickbacks from this. I do it in the spirit of fun and paying it forward.

A Glut of Masterpieces     July 21st, 2010

Yesterday I posted my review of McClelland’s re-release of Samovar, but I decided to omit some thoughts that weren’t salient to the review. A blog is a much more appropriate venue for the thoughts that follow, since it permits more breathing room to explore them. At the conclusion of my review I say

I am sated. I don’t feel a need anymore (for now) to keep looking for the Holy Grail of blends. With the discovery of Samovar my Desert Island Blend Collection (DIBC) feels complete: between this and my other four (and a few three) star blends I am content.

What I omitted was that I feel glutted by all the superlative blends coming out by so many blenders… that I’m overwhelmed by all these masterpieces. I’ve blown a fuse — it’s just too much.

I’m feeling ambivalent about McClelland right now — and, to a lesser extent, GLP and C&D. They’re churning out so many new blends, and they’re all getting great reviews. I’ve tried a few of them, and some of them are real masterpieces, like Chelsea Morning and Samovar. That’s why it feels uncharitable to harbor such ambivalent feelings towards these companies — especially McClellands, which has just released (or re-released), what, another two dozen or so blends? The Collector Series (6 tins); the Ashton Re-issue (6 tins); the Club Blends (18 tins!!); not to mention Three Oaks (Syrian & Original), Wilderness, Legends, & Ringlow Syrian Reserve, etc…

It’s too much! I can’t do it, I just can’t do it. I’ve reached my saturation point. I am glutted with a selection of blends of such quality that I feel I must declare a moratorium on trying any new blends for an indefinite period — I can’t juggle all these extraordinary new blends coming out.

With so many wonderful blends pouring forth from these top-notch blenders I can’t help but be miffed by the quantity of quality blends they produce. Truthfully, I am overwhelmed by the embarrassment of riches of all these blends. I don’t know how many more masterpieces I can take from these blenders, especially McClelland, but also other blenders like GLP & C&D. I want time to enjoy the awesome blend I just discovered, to get to know it more intimately. I don’t want to hurry to the next masterpiece, then the next, in a decadent orgy of tobacco consumption.

Of course it’s better to have a bigger than a smaller selection. Or isit? If there were only a handful of masterpieces in a crowd of dung they would shine out like beacons. But, still, I think it’s better to have more of a better selection than fewer. Nevertheless, one of my goals in exploring the vast range of blends I’ve tried over the past couple of years was to find the ones I couldn’t live without, so that I wouldn’t have to keep searching. And now I’ve found them. And that’s the root of my ambivalence: it feels unfair to tempt me with yet another blend, then yet more blends, just over the horizon, all promising to be The One.

But I’ve found The One. In fact I’ve found several The Ones. At some point I think it’s appropriate — nay, necessary!, for me at least — to say Enough!, and then settle down with my favorites. It’s understandable how people become obsessed with the notion that there’s got to be something better out there, the one that’s perfect. Hence websites like Ashley Madison come along, promising guilt-free affairs (not that that’s a bad idea per se), playing on people’s susceptibility to keep searching for the next one, the different one, the better one…

Enjoying the train ride rather than the destination is the point of life, but an unhealthy pursuit of The One unbalances one’s equanimity by forestalling the simple enjoyment of what one has. Now that my DIBC is complete, I don’t feel a need to keep searching. I don’t want to be tempted by all these new, wonderful, incredible masterpieces. I don’t need to look anymore, at least for an indefinite period of time. I look forward to getting to know each one of the blends in my DIBC much more intimately. I’ve found my DIBC, and I am content.

(At least for now…)

Addendum: My Desert Island Blend Collection (DIBC)
(in order, but not limited to 10)

1:   McClelland: Samovar
2:   McClelland: Royal Cajun Dark
3:   McClelland: Scottish Woods
4:   McClelland: Three Oaks Original
5:   A C Petersen: Escudo Navy Deluxe
6:   McClelland: Three Oaks Syrian
7:   Esoterica: Tilbury
8:   GLP: Abingdon
9:   McClelland: Dark Star
10: C&D: Opening Night
11: McClelland: Mellow Mack
12: SG: Perfection
13: GLP: Chelsea Morning
14: McClelland: British Woods
15: Hermit: Captain Earle’s Ten Russians
16: SG: 1792
17: Esoterica: Pembroke
18: SG: Commonwealth
19: Esoterica: Margate
20: SG: Black XX Rope

Desert Island Blends for Feb, ‘10     February 24th, 2010

This has been an unusual month for me in many ways, not least of which was the oddly jejune experience of my piping. Perhaps it was symptomatic of my frame of mind, but it felt like a relationship that had entered a doldrums for no apparent reason. It just hasn’t been there for me lately.

So this month’s top 10 is mostly comprised of old standbys. Yeah, none of my smokes lately have been all that rewarding, none stand out. It’s like I’ve been going through the motions, like in a relationship that’s chilled and may have entered a phase of comfortable sameness without any stimulation. I was hard pressed to even think of a blend I wanted to smoke, instead settling for something that I usually like hoping to rekindle the passion that didn’t arrive. I think the only bowl that stood out was a single bowl of McClelland’s Three Oaks Original after smoking nothing but VaPers last month.

Here, then, are my desert island blends for the month, based more on memory and hopes for future satisfaction than recent experience.

10) McClelland: Frog Morton on the Bayou
   9) McClelland: Mellow Mack
   8) Esoterica: Margate
   7) Samuel Gawith: 1792
   6) G L Pease: Chelsea Morning
   5) McClelland: Royal Cajun Dark
   4) McClelland: Dark Star
   3) A. C. Petersen: Escudo
   2) McClelland: Three Oaks Syrian
   1) McClelland: Three Oaks Original

I don’t know what’s going on, but I hope I will get back in the groove. I miss it.

Impugn My Tastebuds, Will You?     February 6th, 2010

So I’d been smoking nothing but VaPers for the past three weeks until last night, when I broke my latakia fast with an incredible bowl of Three Oaks Original.

I see I’m already off-topic. This is about VaPers, isn’t it?

Actually, no. This is about tastebuds, mine specifically. Though there are indicators that these observations obtain for others of us as well.

As I say in my first post over at our forum discussion about VaPers, I wanted to know what I was missing. I’ve long had the impression that VaPer lovers considered themselves a special club within our fraternity, almost a different, even exclusive breed of piper. Well, I refuse to admit that I couldn’t belong to such a club, so I was determined to see what was so special about this VaPer thing.

My initial forays into the genre were dispiriting. When I started up the pipe again fifteen months ago I was indiscriminate in my sampling. I had fallen in love with two sublime McClelland’s blends, Dark Star & British Woods, both belonging to their Personal Reserve Series, so I figured I’d try another in the series, St. James Woods, a VaPer. I didn’t care for it. Not that it wasn’t quality, it just didn’t seem to have much flavor to me. Bland. I was already wondering what the big deal was with VaPers if this was at all representative.

A few months later I traded a tin of the dreaded 965 for a tin of Butera’s Kingfisher, a VaPer hybrid with burley. (I will admit to not understanding what anybody sees in burley, but that’s a different matter.) I didn’t taste anything here, either. Nada.

It was around this time that I began to delve deeper into latakia experiences. I couldn’t get enough of McCelland’s Three Oaks blends (Original & Syrian). But this wasn’t enough. I was on a bender. I wanted to find a blend that crossed the line for a latakia lover like myself. The quest eventually led me to Hermit’s Captain Earle’s Ten Russians, an orgy of latakia that’s like triple chocolate decadence to a chocoholic — too much yet still not enough.

Then I got a bug up my ass to finally see what the deal was with VaPers. I suppose I’d read one review too many where I bristled at the smug, supercilious attitude of these VaPers lovers. Oh, so I’m not good enough to appreciate it, am I? Is that what you’re saying? Think you’re better than I am, do you? You’re not going to prevent me from joining your club — not before I have the opportunity to reject it first.

Enough was enough. I was determined to show them that I could be one of their number too. The gloves were off.

So I started a forum topic about VaPers, challenging them to tell lowly latakia-loving scum like me what the hell was so special about their beloved blends. Bob responded with:

I have heard from a lot of different pipers that smoke heavy Latakia blends, that they don’t get much from VA/Per blends. I think that is because that continuous smoking of heavy Latakia blends deadens the taste buds some so that you can’t detect a lot of the nuances of a VA/Per.

Oh, so my tastebuds are dead, are they? I can’t appreciate the subtlety and nuance of your precious VaPers, eh? Impugn my tastebuds, will you?

So now the challenge was put back on me. No one’s going to tell me that I can’t detect nuance! I’ll show ‘em all how much subtlety I could appreciate!

This all started when I read a review of Solani’s 633 by a reviewer I respect whose taste accords with mine. If he likes a blend, odds are I’d probably like it too. So I got a tin and lit it up.

I didn’t taste anything all that special. It was certainly a quality leaf, and it was okay, a little grassy with the vaguest hints of something spicy, but nothing that rang my bells. I had another couple bowls over the next couple of days and it got a little more interesting, but still nothing special.

So I did a test. It’d been a long time since I’d had a bowl of the sublime Dark Star. But I didn’t taste anything special in it. Why did I think this was such a great blend?

Oh Holy Zeus! Oh Dreaded Crap! No — it couldn’t be! Bob was right! Something had happened to my tastebuds!

I was not happy about this, not happy at all. I don’t mind being proven wrong, even by smug VaPer lovers, but I didn’t like the fact that I couldn’t taste one of my favorite blends. I felt loss, and fear, worried that I’d never again experience Dark Star, and other past favorites, as I once had. This was not a good prospect.

I decided I was going to smoke nothing but 633. It was time to cleanse my palate. So for the next two weeks I smoked nothing but 633, with an occasional guest appearance of some other pure Virginia. No aros; nothing with even a hint of latakia.

Then, after a week I started noticing things in the 633 I didn’t notice at first, a subtle play of spices and sweetness amidst the bright hay and grass. I was growing to like it. It appeared my tastebuds were coming back.

I decided it was time to try Dark Star again. With trepidation I lit up. It came back! My beloved Dark Star returned to me! My tastebuds were resurrected, Hallelujah!

It was time to try another VaPer, since I understood that VaPers have their own broad flavor spectrum within the single genre. Was it time for that King of VaPers, A & C Peterson’s Escudo Navy Deluxe? Yes it was.

Upon opening the tin and unfolding the paper doily I saw those famous coins. Already there was something special about this blend. I took two, rubbed them out, packed my volcano (which turned out to be great for VaPers), and lit up. Wow. As I say in my review, the moment that first sip of nectar hit my tastebuds I understood why Escudo has such a stellar reputation. This is an extraordinary tobacco. A unique, ever unfolding taste sensation. Was I finally experiencing what was so great about VaPers? Yes, I believe I was.

So I think it’s fair to say that I can join the club of VaPer lovers (though I promise never to scoff at avowed latakia enthusiasts). I look forward to trying many of them in the future. I am now on a VaPer quest. I may find others that equal Escudo, but I shall be very surprised if any surpass it.

But I am concerned about something. My experience confirms that an overabundance of latakia can deaden the tastebuds to the nuance and subtlety of pure virginias. This was not a happy discovery. Does this mean that I must choose between the two? Does it mean that I must commit to one genre then cleanse my palate to appreciate the other? In responses to a previous post of mine both Kevin and dunendain admit to having had similar experiences. But now that I know I can’t trust my tastebuds as I had once assumed I could, how do I know whether or not my experience of a blend is fair and accurate? How do professional blenders account for this? Do they? Must they cleanse their palates when moving between genres?

But even though I now have this niggling concern, I’m nonetheless very grateful for the experience of the past few weeks, since a whole new genre has opened itself up to me, promising new playgrounds of pleasure.

And returning to my beloved latakia blends has made them come alive again for me as if for the first time.

I suppose the lesson for me here is that, if I must go on benders when I’m smitten by something — even VaPers — be patient when I return to the larger fold: don’t panic, cleanse the palate, and it’ll be like the first time all over again. And that’s not so bad.

I think now I’m going to have Captain Earle deliver me to those Ten Russians… I think I’m ready for another visit.

Ahh     January 26th, 2010


Chacom Volcano



Oh, that was nice…

Whew!     January 26th, 2010

So I had my appointment this morning with the oral surgeon. Honestly, I wasn’t in the least nervous, ’cause I didn’t think there was any problem. I examined myself several times over the weekend and didn’t see anything to be concerned about.

When the doctor checked me out I could tell she wasn’t finding it. She had me hold a mirror, and asked me to point to the area my dentist was concerned about, ’cause she wasn’t seeing anything.

It’s pretty much as I suspected: the hygienist, upon learning that I smoked a pipe, was put on hyper-alert mode, and felt obligated — nay, duty-bound, I expect — to discover something, anything, amiss. (After all, as NLP proves, you find what you’re looking for.) This vigilance was carried over to the dentist. I don’t have much first-hand experience with -isms (racism, sexism, etc.), thank the gods, but I felt a bit of pipism going on here.

Yes, they had found a little white patch that morning, but it was gone by that evening. The oral surgeon did find a few tiny little white spots here and there, but she expressed no concern other than wanting to check them again in three months, just to monitor. I’ve had these things all my life (I bite my cheek in my sleep sometimes), so, like I said, I really wasn’t concerned — especially after what the dentist saw was completely gone a day later.

Of course she said the best course of action is not to smoke at all. But the pipe has become a real passion in my life. I said any rational pipe smoker is aware of the risks, and, like anything else in life, one makes a choice, hopefully with one’s eyes open. In the final analysis, the immense pleasure I derive from the pipe contributes greatly to my enjoyment of this one life I have, and, in the balance of things, is worth the risk. (Actually, if it were a clearcut question (which it is not), which is preferable? A shorter life with pipe smoking, or a longer life without? Not such an easy question to answer…)

In researching this condition the past few days I came across this excellent article that offers some suggestions for how pipe smokers can try to minimize the inherent dangers in the pursuit of our passion. As in most things, moderation and common-sense are key.

I cannot wait to light up that bowl of Escudo when I get home…

Damn! Damn Damn Damn!     January 24th, 2010

Friday morning I had a medical double-header: dentist, followed immediately by doctor.

The hygienist, during her scraping ministrations to my crooked ivories, saw something that made her want to call over the dentist for his appraisal, something about white areas on my cheeks & tongue that she said were probably no big deal, though her attempt at masking her concern were overdone, which only made it worse. I figured she was being silly and hysterical — I’ve had such things off and on all my life, so I wasn’t too worried.

Then the dentist appeared, fairly quickly after being summoned too, which was unusual. He grabbed the tip of my tongue with some gauze and moved it this way and that as he examined my mouth through microsopes attached to his glasses. After a minute of this he told me I have these smooth white patches that he suspects are hyperkeratosis, a hardening of the skin that’s usually benign, but could indicate something more serious. He arranged an appointment with an oral surgeon for next tuesday to have a look at them. Then the hygienist returned. Maybe it’s me, but she seemed way more friendly and chipper than before, which led me to believe she assumed I was heading for the last roundup and wanted to make my remaining days as pleasant as possible. I asked to look at it myself, and in the mirror I saw a few white streaks on the sides of my tongue. It occurs to me how it’s funny they found these things after they discovered that I was a pipe smoker. They both made a big deal of it, making me feel (or trying to make me feel) like a teenager asking the pharmacist for condoms.

So from there I went right to my doctor, where we chatted amiably about stuff. I consider myself lucky to have such an excellent doctor, to be honest. I told her what the dentist found. She took a look and said it wasn’t hyperkeratosis, but probably leukoplakia. Of course her initial reaction was that I had to quit smoking my pipe. Well, that’s easier said than done, not because I’m addicted, I told her, but because it’s a hobby that I’ve developed quite a passion for. She did a quick internet search and found this article on leukoplakia which she printed for me, but not without first making sure that I didn’t neglect to notice a quick image search that I expect was supposed to shock me into quitting my pipe, like the way Red Asphalt is supposed to shock driving students to become safe drivers. (Like I said, she’s a great doctor.)

I’ve been through cancer — non-hodgkins lymphoma, in fact. Had it for eight years, and went through two years of intensive chemo & radiation. I’ve endured days of mucositis at a time (a painful ulceration of mucus membranes in response to chemo), and it is not pleasant. So I do not take the prospect of mouth or tongue cancer lightly, especially because I know they are not at all pleasant — I expect both its symptoms & cures are extremely unpleasant, right up there with bone marrow biopsies, but far, far more unsightly.

You know, I had intended this weekend to compose a post about my feelings when I discovered that latakia affected my tastebuds, how smoking nothing but a single VaPer cleansed my palate, and the magnificent masterpiece that is Escudo. Instead I find myself writing this thing. My apologies to everybody for that. But I can’t help share my displeasure and disappointment about all this. I picked the pipe up again just over a year ago and it’s become a real passion for me, and the prospect of giving it up now strikes me as just plain unfair.

But, like I’ve said, I’ve had these patches come and go over the course of my life, even before smoking. I’ll find out tuesday what the story is. I’m encouraged that when I looked in the mirror friday night I didn’t see them anymore. I haven’t smoked all weekend, and I’ve been taking beta-carotene, which is, according to the literature, supposed to help. Today is sunday, and I still don’t see them. I can’t help but think these medical professionals are using the occasion to scare me into abandoning this passion of mine — Toronto is, after all, filled with anti-smoking zealots (my wonderful doctor included).

I feel bad posting this downer on this wonderful, generally upbeat site. I almost feel like discussing it at all is kind of taboo here. But this is my blog, and a blog dedicated to pipe smoking is a perfect venue to discuss this. And I am heartened that that other pipe forum had two discussions about it: here and here. I’m also heartened by the fact that whatever the dentist saw in my mouth on friday already appears gone, and that leukoplakia, though potentially serious, is, statistically, not necessarily indicative of anything more serious.

I have no intention of quitting my pipe at this point: I’m pretty good at telling the difference between propaganda and facts. When you come right down to it, everything in life is dangerous, including taking a shower, driving a car, taking a plane, eating french fries, having sex, living on a faultline or even staying out in the sun too long. I might cut down my usage, but the only way I’ll quit now is if it’s clear — and I mean absolutely crystal clear — that I must. And that is not clear to me at present, not by a long shot. Pipe smoking has become a major passion in my life, one of my greatest pleasures, and I’m not going to give it up lightly.

Desert Island Blends for Jan ‘10     January 22nd, 2010

Has it been a month already? Holy crap!

A very interesting and unusual month it has been in every way, including pipe smoking to no small degree.

Ordinarily I like to mix it up a bit in various genres, though for the past few months it’s been dominated by latakia blends. But I decided I wanted to get to know what the big deal was about with VaPers. So, as a result of a forum discussion we’ve been having about VaPers, wherein it was discussed how smokers who focus on latakia blends may lose their sensitivity to the subtleties of virginias, I’ve been smoking Virginias exclusively for about two weeks now. And you know what? My experience has confirmed this observation, much to my chagrin. (I’ll discuss this in an upcoming post.)

So the past two weeks have been dominated by a single blend, Solani’s 633, a VaPer that I’ve grown fond of, but can’t say I love. However, last night I tried Escudo for the first time, and I’ll just say for now that I understand why it’s such a big deal, and it has instantly entered this month’s desert island blends.

I’ve also revisited a few other Virginias I haven’t had in a few months, or that have always left me cold, and it’s been an interesting experience with them too, especially Dark Star. Dark Star has long been one of my favorites since that first bowl — it was my first experience of just how fine an art tobacco could be, a revelation, really. That first bowl of Dark Star was one of my life’s most memorable sensual and aesthetic experiences, an experience that practically bordered the realm of something religious. But I haven’t had it for several months due to an increasingly intense and unseemly latakia binge. So my first smoke of this eminent blend was astonishingly disappointing after so long an absence, and I feared never having the same relationship with it. But, after smoking nothing but 633 for a couple of weeks, my palate must have been cleansed, for when I tried it again the other night, Dark Star’s subtle dark sweet complex sublimity all came back to me, thank Zeus.

Plus, now I think I have somewhat of an appreciation for VaPers that I intend to pursue and deepen. Last night’s experience with Escudo was very exciting. (But what will become of my latakias?!)

So there will be a couple of unusual features for me this month as I re-evaluate my tastebuds. However, I cannot not list my sacred latakia blends…

10) A & C Petersen: Escudo Navy Deluxe
  9) McClelland: Mellow Mack
  8) McClelland: Frog Morton on the Bayou
  7) Samuel Gawith: 1792
  6) Erinmore: Balkan Blend
  5) G L Pease: Chelsea Morning
  4) McClelland: Royal Cajun Dark
  3) McClelland: Three Oaks Original
  2) McClelland: Dark Star
  1) McClelland: Three Oaks Syrian

I’ve been procrastinating terribly when it comes to writing about the pipe rack my wife commissioned as a gift for my fiftieth birthday. I wanted to write a glowing encomium about it, something I’m generally quite good at. But I’ve been putting it off too long, and what I had begun composing, more than once, quickly sounded overblown and pretentious. And I don’t want to do that.

Honestly, I’m at a loss for words. Just look at this pipe rack. It’s a thing of beauty. (Note: my pictures do not do it justice. At all.)

(front view)

I had long lusted for a Two Cousins pipe rack. They are, after all, makers of the most awesome pipe racks on the planet. My wife had already contacted Tim, one of the two cousins, about commissioning a rack for my birthday. After some initial identity confusion (which must have convinced Tim that his new clients were released a bit too early from the nuthouse), he wanted to know from me how I wanted it customized. I sent him a color scheme and some notes about the front-panel painting. They got to work on it right away — indeed they were generous enough to fit me into their busy holiday schedule, and they worked hard to get it done and shipped in time for my birthday.

(side view)

When I saw Tim’s initial painting of the front panel it was quite nice, but not what I wanted. I mean, it was a fine enough landscape, but after seeing his paintings, I knew that I had found the perfect painter for what I wanted. I mean, he’s a professional artist! He makes a living from his paintings! When I saw his work I was extremely impressed. I have an advanced degree in art (not that that means anything, but I do know something about art), and I really liked what I saw. Who knew? I initially thought he and his cousin just made beautiful pipe racks. But no, I had serendipitously stumbled upon a genuine artist whose talent and subject matter I appreciate tremendously!

So there was no way I was going to settle for a standard, pedestrian, non-descript landscape, no matter how lovely it was. I had to have a genuine Tim Crowder painting on that panel.

He was reluctant to do it for me, since, as he says, this wasn’t intended to be an original work of art but a decoration. But this was for a major milestone birthday of an art lover, and if there was any artist who could paint for me a work that captured my moniker Sinister Topiary in a way that I’d appreciate, it was Tim. I mean, look at his work, look at his sense of humor, look at his execution. This guy is a genuine American folk artist, one who has his own folksy surrealistic Magritte thing going on in a rural American idiom, with an easy sense of humor that’s impeccably dry, ironic and subtly dark — just my kind of humor!; plus, I appreciate a folk artist who’s not afraid to occasionally play with the context of the medium itself (eg: the way he scratches contextually jarring outlines on the surface of the painting). I felt that our sensibilities shared a similar wavelength.

No, I had to have him make this panel an original work of art, not just some decorative landscape. So I wasn’t just commissioning a pipe rack, now I was commissioning an original painting from a talented, professional painter, one I respect and admire. Such a request would increase the cost of the commission fourfold. Well, so be it! I collect art (when I have the money), and having an original painting done in this fashion would be a unique treasure, and a genuine heirloom.

When I finally opened the huge package two weeks after having received it (I had to first cross the border with it; then, since it was so close to xmas, I figured I’d wait a few more days), I was immensely pleased. It was exactly what I wanted. And that’s no small thing, since I had very high expectations!

There was only one flaw, but it was not in any way due to the two cousins. The piperack was wrapped extremely well, and shipped with a great deal of care. However, it must have been dropped, since the base was slightly cracked and some torsion twisted the base a bit so the bottom panel wouldn’t close properly. This was most unfortunate, but I wasn’t going to let this have any effect on my enjoyment and appreciation of this wonderful gift. My wife and I gingerly twisted and tweaked the unit until we fixed the torsion enough to be able to close the panel, and now it closes fine. However, the cracks are still there, but you have to look for them to see them. When we find a cabinet maker who can fix it we’ll do it then, but I’m in no hurry.

(panels opened)

And the painting! I couldn’t be happier! You can see it’s title in the upper left: Happy Day in a Sinister World. See the three sinister topiaries, and the little house, and the threatening sky? Perfect, just perfect. I knew Tim would paint something that captures just the mood and theme I wanted, and he did it. Wow.

(Happy Day in a Sinister World)

I give my heartfelt thanks and appreciation to my wife for commissioning this wonderful treasure, and to the Two Cousins for their exceptional craftsmanship, artistry, professionalism, and customer service. I especially want to thank Tim Crowder for his generosity and willingness to create just the work of art I wanted from him. They really went all out to make this the best fiftieth birthday present I could have hoped for. And it is.

(in its place of honor)

(Here’s the piperack in its context in my study, in its place of honor beneath my favorite fiction.)