Pipe Dreams

23 02 2009


At age 4, I had a nasty accident with a candy cigarette when the sharp red end poked me in the eye. It was not only sufficient for me to give up the filthy habit forever, but the trauma also ensured that in my teen years when under daunting peer pressure I was never so much as tempted to try a genuine cigarette, a fine Havana cigar or even a smoldering Meerschaum pipe. But my aversion to inhaled substances didn’t last forever and in Turkey I proved that I can indeed resist everything except temptation.


I had always been fascinated by photographs of men savouring a shisha pipe. There was something so singularly exotic about such an image that even if the photos were taken that morning and the men were sporting Hugo Boss suits or a Jay-Z t-shirt, it still resonated with thoughts of mysterious lands, crowded casbahs, dates and camels and certainly had more romantic allure than a pack of Marlboros and a Bic lighter.


The shisha is a water pipe used to smoke tobacco, fruit… or other substances of a less corner-store variety. You often see men smoking the shisha in small bars or narrow bustling sidewalk cafes. Some sit alone and stare vacantly with glossy eyes (usually a sign that they don’t have strawberries in their pipe) or while chatting with friends or reading the newspaper. Sometimes each person has their own pipe, other times they share one, passing around the hose.


I had seen them everywhere in Egypt but never tried one, but when an opportunity arose in Istanbul, I thought I’d give it a whirl…or a suck, as the case may be. A group of friends were sitting on cushions on the floor surrounding a hookah pipe, as they’re known in Turkey. The water bubbled and the hose was passed around the group. They laughed and chatted convivially and motioned me to an empty cushion.


At the base of the pipe were clean disposable mouthpieces. The hose was passed to me and I clipped one on. Unlike Bill Clinton, I inhaled. I heard the water bubble into life and felt a nice fresh apple flavour circulate around my mouth. I exhaled through my nostrils and took another drag. Fortunately, this pipe had been prepared with amateurs in mind and was appropriately mild otherwise my virginal lungs would likely have had me sprawled on the floor coughing and spluttering. Despite that, I found the experience quite intoxicating and took another deep drag. Common courtesy made me reluctantly pass the hose onto the person on my left, but I longed for its return.


Soon enough, the hose was back and I sucked on it like a pro, visions of opium dens dancing in my head. With eyes closed I pictured myself as the decadent colonial sporting a flowing cotton gown, sprawled luxuriantly across a sea of fluffy silk cushions, propped on one elegant elbow. A fan wallah tirelessly worked to keep the beading perspiration from my tanned brow. I could see shafts of sunlight streaming through the latticework shutters and illuminating the blue smoke that drifted towards the wooden-beamed ceiling. The hustle and bustle of the street outside barely penetrated the sanctum as I drifted in and out of consciousness. The hunched and fawning proprietor made his way towards me: “Sir…Sir…” he called….


“Hey dude,” the guy on my left said while kicking out at my foot. “Can I please have the pipe back now?”


Post and photo (of shisha…or possibly just a small Egyptian perfume bottle, hair band, sticky tape and tin foil!) by: Simon Vaughan




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