Monday, November 12, 2007


Constant readers will recall that I occasionally gibber about pipe-tobacco, and may also remember mention of something called 'Balkan Sobranie'.

The Balkan Sobranie mixture, which has not been made for nearly two decades, was a bright spot of monumental proportions during the last few years I lived in the Netherlands.
It was ....... wonderful. Sheerly wonderfriggingfull.

But there seemed to be hardly anybody else in Valkenswaard who thought so. My brother was by no means enamoured of the smell. My classmates regarded it as clear evidence of perversion. And the fellows at the jeugd-societeit, who almost all smoked foul-smelling dark Dutch shag tobacco, considered the smell of Balkan Sobranie to be quite objectionable. Much more so than their own sour and rotten reek. Which they defended as the natural smell of a smoker.

I bear them no ill will because of that. Their mistakes and bad leaf choices are not the reason for this post.

This weekend I compounded a tobacco mixture of my own design. A Balkan English, with carefully calculated proportions. I used some of the blending tobaccos I acquired a few weeks ago from Cornell & Diehl. Including Smyrna and Latakia. Craig Tarler, of C&D, provides a very fine Latakia, by the way.

Can I just toot my own horn here a bit?

[Now picture for yourself a small warty toad jumping up and down happily in a dense cloud of smoke.]

The mixture is as close to my nose-memory of Balkan Sobranie as I'm ever likely to find. I've been smoking it all weekend, and echoes of those last few years in Valkenswaard have been drifting in and out of my head. Details long forgotten. Even the creak of the furniture in the living room, the light of my father's desk lamp, the sense of grey sheets of rain in summer. Overcast half-dark in mid-day, leaden clouds and heavy branches, the tannic musk of wet tree bark, the perfume of grass and clay.
Thickly leaved trees on the market square - verdant, heavy, wet, wet, wet.
Green and grey, green and grey.

In retrospect I realize I was not, strictly speaking, sane during those last three years before returning to the States. One of my coping mechanisms was a state of emotional rigidity, a narrowing of responses. I don't think I dealt well with my mother's illness. But I wonder whether that was a natural result of my age and my environment at that time, or if it was a gradual and willed blocking off of certain categories of stimuli. More memory will tell.

On an aromatically related note, I particularly recollect the week that my father was in London.
Tobias (my brother) was living in Tilburg at that time, which left me in charge of the house. I ate sautéed mushrooms every day, and smoked lots of Balkan Sobranie. Strong tea at four-thirty in the quiet house, fried mushrooms a few hours later, drank more tea afterwards. The sense of solitary freedom was exhilarating. Pace yourself on the Genever, that bottle has to last.
Put down the book, and go for a stroll in quiet glistening streets.
Sooty Latakia, resinous Yenidje, and sweet pale pale Virginia.


NOTE: Readers may contact me directly:
All correspondence will be kept in confidence.


Anonymous said...

Really, dude, you should smoke Troost (it's manufactured by Van Rossem). You will have lots more friends if you do.

Troost is one of my fondest memories of Holland. Ah, the sweet, sweet smell of Dutchmen.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

A genius?

Maybe a very smelly one.

---Grant Patel

The back of the hill said...

If you go to here:
ALL BALKAN SOBRANIE POSTSIt will bring up all my gibbering about Balkan Sobranie.

Here is also an excellent site:

Good data on that second one. And an ongoing conversation.
Thanks for posting that address on a post elsewhere, sounds7 - I'll probably join up soon.

The back of the hill said...

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