On the Pleasures of Smoking...
It is official: I have started smoking a pipe! Is there any way to fully describe the pleasure of sitting and thinking, with soft music playing in the background and curls of sweet-smelling smoke rising in twisting grey towers and floating out the window? When I first put a pipe to my lips (a month ago now), it took a short time before the smoke tasted smooth and aromatic. At first, as with cigarettes, the smoke was acrid and burnt my tongue. The subtleties of its texture were lost on my untrained palette. With time, I learned to appreciate the smoke and to pack my pipe properly so as not to overheat it with every drag.
The chief difference between pipes and cigarettes lies in the quality of tobacco smoked. Cigarette tobacco is, in a word, foul. I do not fear offending smokers for I was a cigarette smoker once and throughout all the years that I drew habitually upon each cigarette it never once tasted pleasant. Nobody has ever, in the protracted history of cigarette smoking, enjoyed the 'taste' of a cigarette. The tobacco is generally poor quality, dried to point of being brittle and chalk-like, and nasty in its odour. The cigarette smoker sucks desperately at the filter, eager to achieve the hit for which they thrive. This burst of nicotine is the sole reason that a cigarette smoker smokes.
Not so with pipe tobacco! Fresh, moist and springy, it conveys a pleasing smell while even in the packet. When burning, its odour is sweet and delightful, it's taste smooth and pleasant. Any seasoned pipe smoker can immediately tell the difference between poor- and high-quality tobacco, long before they have even begun the process of packing their pipes. Even a novice such as myself is not blind to the inherent qualities that pipe tobacco possesses over its dried-out cigarette cousin. But which tobacco does one choose?
I have only, as yet, savoured two different brands - both produced by the good folks at Sol Levy: Tobacconist Extraordinaire (George St, Sydney). The first, Levy's #4, was of a mild pistachio nut flavour and the second, Light and Dark, is of vanilla "with a hint of chocolate". A man who calls himself The Professor has a detailed (and, I suppose, reasonably exhaustive) review of each of the major pipe tobacco brands and flavours. As well as providing links to various sites aimed at facilitating the learning process for a beginning smoker, his site also offers enjoyable descriptions of the pleasures of pipes.
The pipe that I chose for myself, similar in appearance to the one pictured above, was also purchased at Sol Levy, and was chosen for its provocative style - reminiscent of depictions of Sherlock Holmes, lost in thought. That, for me, sums up the major appeal of pipe smoking. It is not just the taste nor the smell of the smoke that arouses my curiosity, but the pensive lifestyle promoted by the activity. Smoking is not a means of passing the time before making an appointment; it can not be done (comfortably) while driving a car or dancing at a club. Smoking a pipe is an activity to be performed while sitting. What is more, the gentle noise of crackling embers in the polished briar, along with the lilting strains of orchestral music, should be the only noises to invade the smoker's mind.