Ah, the joys of spring. April showers bringing May flowers, trees budding, birds flitting in fits of joy, and hope springing eternal. As our friend e.e. cummings said, “always it’s spring and everyone’s in love”. Ah, love, yes, above all love.
Have you ever fallen in love? With a pipe, that is. Yes, dear brothers of the briar, a pipe so fetching you are mesmerized by its glimmering beauty.
Let’s go back some years. The Pundit was in an Alabama brick and mortar pipes and tobacco shop (memory says it was The Briary in Homewood) when naturally, the subject of pipes and tobacco took center stage in the conversation. The genteel chap behind the counter asked me if I had ever thought of owning a Claudio Cavicchi pipe?
Well, no. For back in those youthful days I’d never even heard of a Cavicchi pipe, let alone a Claudio Cavicchi.
“Oh,” said the gentleman behind the counter, “we have only a couple here. One is a gorgeous Canadian.”
The Canadian was a blond beauty. I was moonstruck with thunderbolt love and pulled out my thin wallet. I threw in a pouch of Virginia tobacco to break in my new beauty.
“You won’t be disappointed,” he called out after me.
That Cavicchi hit me like a dancing string of lightning. It was a shimmering slim magnificence, purity of line and spirit.
I became fascinated and wanted to know everything I could about the actual Mister Claudio Cavicchi.
Lo, he was but a humble Italian farmer. But upon studying nature in his daily life, and experiencing renewal and growth from the Earth, Claudio one day decided he could craft pipes as well as crops.
He became an artisanal pipe maker, a craftsman of world-renown, a master of design. Dear reader, there is a world of science and physics involved in his pipe creations and immaculate stains that just make the pipe’s grain glow.
His meticulousness gave rise to his unique grading system ranging from a single “C” to a quintuple of “Cs.” More “Cs” translates to higher grades of briar.
Claudio also creates his seldom seen Perla as well as the extremely rare “Diamante,” both absolute zeniths of the Cavicchi line.
But as youth are often unpredictable and sometimes dismay us elders with unique logic (strengths, my dear lads, for you usher in the new and keep us elders on our toes and we thank you for doing so!) so was I in those years so long ago.
And for reasons I still cannot fathom, I let a pal talk me into trading my lovely Cavicchi Canadian for some sort of English pipe.
Looking back in time from this wizened vantage, I must ask myself: what in the world was I thinking?
“Nothing, apparently” is the only reply the universe has so far provided.
That trade bothered me many years.
Until this spring, that is dear reader.
For reasons I cannot fathom, luck favored me again with the recent discovery of another beautiful blond Cavicchi Canadian.
Yes, the price had gone up a bit, but that didn’t matter. I had to have the Canadian’s return to my precious herd. It was ordered along with another pouch of Virginia, just like the first iteration of so long ago.
The new blond beauty smoked wonderfully well, just as did the original I let get away. Only this Canadian was a slightly better Cavicchi grade. Rest assured, it now holds down a permanent place in the Pundit rotation.
I can see the wrinkles on your faces: But it’s just another Canadian, and why the Virginia tobacco to christen a new pipe?
Well, my friends, if you have not yet tried a Cavicchi, it’s like the briar and leaf Meister behind that pipe and tobacco counter in Alabama said so long ago, “You won’t be disappointed.”
For Claudio has that most sacred and, anymore at least, rare power: an agrarian connection to the land. A farmer who, to know success, attunes himself to nature’s rhythms and mysteries, beguilements, and cycles. As Pearl S. Buck said in The Good Earth, “and roots, if they are to bear fruits, must be kept well in the soil of the land.”
For after all, what is briar but a root ball transformed by wood sculptors?
If you need more encouragement, check out two wonderful pieces on Claudio:
- In The Workshop With Claudio Cavicchi June 22, 2016, by Shane Ireland in Makers and Artists
- …and Chuck Stanion’s A Closer Look At Claudio Cavicchi Dec. 17, 2018, in Makers and Artists at SmokingPipes.com
I love these lines from Chuck’s insight into Cavicchi’s artistry: “This is a craftsman who knows pipes from many perspectives. He knows what makes a pipe smoke well and what makes a pipe look beautiful. He knows how to charm the briar to his bidding.”
Now, concerning tobacco, if you wonder at Pundit’s preference for pure Virginia, please refer to the late and lamented McClelland No. 5100 Red Cake.
I learned the Virginia break-in trick from a veteran pipe smoker, a medical doctor in fact, who taught me to always break in a new pipe with Virginia because of its ability to rid a new bowl of any lingering baddies and thereby prepare it for just about any sort of future tobacco blend you throw at it.
His choice was McClelland’s 5100 Red Cake.
That’s because Virginia tobaccos (along with burleys, perique, and Cavendish) play such a significant role in today’s blends. In olden times, pipe smokers pulled out a pouch of pure burley, loaded up, and smoked through the day. Today’s blenders are magicians, true chefs of tobacco blends.
Now the Pundit is no tobacco blender, but I’m at least smart enough to abide the advice of veterans.
If you’ll allow me to linger on the topic of blends, I’ll share with you by way of the Chicagoland Pipe Show that Virginia slices are a good choice when breaking in tobacco blends as well.
And dear reader, if you haven’t yet tried Iwan Reis’s Virginia Slices, you must sample this delicacy at your earliest occasion.
Virginia Slices leave a fond farewell on the tongue while at the same moment caking your pipe’s bowl with a delicious memory for future blends to join.
I try to keep some on hand just for those times when I muse on what has been and what is to come.
Now, skip to another trip from past to present if you please.
Back in his formative years in college as an English Literature major, Pundit took a year of Shakespeare.
It was, to say the least, a difficult year. Under the eye of a true Shakespearean scholar, Professor’s expectation was English majors would excel. A’s were acceptable. B’s were undignified.
He had no great concern for other classes one might be taking. Physics with the esteemed professor who helped manufacture the atomic bomb? Earth-shattering to be sure, but ultimately a practical subject matter concerning the heroic warrior. But the Bard of Avon? His was the domain of artists, thinkers, writers, and poets who somehow wring tangible words from wispy thoughts and imaginings to give us glimpses of our stoic pasts, our enduring presents, and our impossible futures. No plebian matters here no matter how earth-shattering. Shakespearean literature under Professor was the concern of the dignified.
I was infatuated with The Bard but trying to get the Olde English language collective embedded into a deep Georgia (Jawja) drawl was like translating an alien tongue.
But I made it through, somehow.
And despite the difficulties of maintaining a high grade, this was my favorite course.
Now, the reason you are getting this teary return to the past (“Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more”), is easily explained.
Peterson of Dublin just released its “Bard of Avon” pipe in conjunction with Shakespeare’s birthday, 458 years ago this April 23. Yes, dear friends, Pundit purchased the newly released Bard pipe from Peterson of Dublin.
Naturally, your Pundit sprang into action, unable to miss a historic return to youthful classrooms and to hear once again Professor quote the greatest writer in the English language:
“This above all: to thine own self be true,
“And it must follow, as the night the day,
“Thou canst not then be false to any man.”― William Shakespeare, Hamlet
And as the promo says at SPC on the day of the release of the Peterson Bard pipe, “Whether accompanying a rereading of Hamlet or taken for a stroll around the park, the Bard is sure to appeal to pipe enthusiasts longing for a singular pipe design with authentic vintage appeal.”
Once more, dear lads, once more.