Wednesday, May 24, 2017


When I was sixteen my tobacconist ran out of my favourite weed. The company that supplied it to him had long ago disappeared, and I had happily been consuming his old stock for over a year. Both of us were disturbed, for different reasons. He suggested that I try the three tins of Dunhill tobacco that he still had from ages ago in the meantime.
That being Standard Mixture, MM965, and Nightcap.
I bought another tin of Nc two days ago.
It brought back memories.

No, I have no wish to be sixteen again. It was a truly horrible time to be an American in Europe. They still hated us for what we had done in Vietnam. Which was all the more galling because I already knew perfectly well what they had been up to during their own benighted pasts.

Another reason I do not remember those times too fondly was that my mother had cancer, and would not live very much longer. She passed away a few days before her 56th. birthday the following year.

[Proper "burgerlijke" people do NOT die of cancer. But it cannot be helped, we suppose. After all, they are Yanks. Don't associate with them too much, and greet them semi-politely when you encounter them.]

Yes, she smoked. But it wasn't smoking related.
First a breast, then later the ovaries.
She kept her wit up to the end.
A remarkable woman.

When she found out I smoked a pipe she gave me a long stern lecture on the evils of tobacco, including terms like "sloping forehead", "recessed gums", "testicular weakness", and so on. She also mentioned that it stunted ones' growth, and seeing as she herself was less than five feet (four foot ten or eleven, if I remember correctly), and I already towered over her, that didn't make much impression.

Besides, she huffed three Kent Filter Kings while talking.

She started smoking later in life, while she was in the Navy.

I tried my first cigarette when I was eight or nine, and wasn't too impressed. It wasn't until I lusted after a hunk of polished wood in the window of the cigar shop next to Priem's bookstore (at thirteen years of age), where I was a regular customer, that a light went off. A couple of months after acquiring a pipe I finally purchased some tobacco.

[There used to be a type of blowsy European middle-class snob-woman, too much make-up on and clothes just a little too snooty and stylish, who would suck up to people she thought of as "quality", while cold-shouldering everyone presumed to be of lesser grade. It was often hard to tell them apart from women who just overdid the facepaint. This is mentioned because they often managed their husband's cigar shop, or worked at bars and cafes. 
The young pipesmoker of course is something of which they DO NOT approve.]

Shortly afterwards I started reading the Maigret books; that both he and his creator were pipe smokers did not strike me as in any way remarkable at all. Men, naturally, would smoke a pipe. Especially in the elsewhere mythical part of the world. You know, other places.


Pipes are in an entire aesthetic class by themselves, with multiple facets that appeal and enchant; cigars beguile somewhat also, though not nearly as much. Cigarettes, especially Turkish (usually German, Dutch, Austrian, and English) and high quality Russian (again, not necessarily from Russia), had a charm that was augmented by time and place (cafes, for instance, or grand hotels in other places). But if one is forced out on to the street or into empty alleyways, the attraction fades, while pipes grow in magic. Cigars are a halfway house; no challenge, no great character either.

Cigarettes are what prompted the anti-tobacco rules, and will always be associated in my mind with limitations and the closing of doors.

[Long lacquered bitch nails and Stuyvesant cigarettes. Not the expensive international cigarettes, because as long as you keep the package covered, no one knows you're not that good. Speak proper Dutch and sneer at the provincial accents of people who are kinfolk; you regret being related to the less than perfectly upper middle class members of your family.
Do NOT drink genever, because it's déclassé.]

Yenidje non-filters (Sobranie) in the white tin are no longer made, nor are the Imperial Russians. The company was sold to Gallaghers in the eighties, is now owned by Japan Tobacco, and whatever is still produced under that name not only isn't as good as it used to be, but is not available here in the United States in any case. Khedives (lovely Turkish ovals) aren't around anymore either, or the 555's in the yellow tin.

[Caballero Cigarettes were distinctly 'hip', and aimed at people whom we don't really like.
St. Michel ("crotch-stabbers") from Belgium are a bit lowerclass, you know, while American brands are just not done by deftige people.]

French cigarettes have been impossible to find for over a decade.
Oriental cigarettes were mostly my Berkeley phase.
One can no longer puff at the Cafe Med.
And the world has changed.

Cigars, nowadays, keep tobacconists in business, so they still have a few positive associations. But many of the people who smoke them are social deviants and politically dubious.

[Quality cigars, NOT those bolknaks the peasants smoke! Something with the name "Havana" on the label, and fancy packaging that would not look amiss next to a crystal ashtray in the salon. Stogies are something farmers puff when they're in town having a drink with their kinfolk at a local establishment.]

Pipes have simply always offered more than any other form of smoke.

[An added benefit, being that other people are automatically out of their league when considering the pipe smoker, need not stressed. That's too often countered by their demand that one should only smoke caramel and fruitloop blends, or ciggies instead.
Here, have a Peter Stuyvesant!]

The smell of good clean pipe tobacco (not the aromatics which are ninety percent of the market) has elements which clue in to the deepest centres of the brain. Memory is spurred and awakened by smells.
Especially complex and evocative smells.
The past comes alive.

My apartment mate, like most people considerably more civilized than myself, naturally has a different opinion.


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