Amerika

Pipe Meditation (May 31, 2019)

What is it like, to be the loneliest man in the world? Any person who approaches truth with reverence will find himself or herself alone as the herd zooms on past, seemingly getting ahead in the race of life as it pursues wealth, power, and prestige.

In fact, the parts of life that are most significant may be entirely solitary. These are not experiences done to us, but moments of realization, when we were able to combine in our minds a few different notions and see similarities.

Someone may find himself alone, perhaps washing a floor, and in that moment see a synchronicity of events which suggests an underlying pattern. Or on a cold winter night, have a glimpse of eternity. Perhaps even feel a sense of purpose in an idle daydream.

Kurt Vonnegut says that we are just on Earth to fart around, and I suspect that he has half of the truth. We are here to live, and through that living, to experience sorting. This means that we choose actions, objects, and ideas over others.

Humans, like all other actors on this planet, are agents of sorting. We draw some things toward us and push others back. We sort based on our abilities, experiences, and a pyramid of previous choices, although sometimes we revise this based on new knowledge.

Among other things we sort out our tobacco preferences. This is important because tobacco blends reflect our needs — all day smoking, high nicotine, full body, distraction, or a sweet treat to make the day pass by — more than any arbitrary preference.

They also show what we can appreciate. A new smoker may like the soda pop blends, or a nice spicy but inconclusive English where you taste every flavor at once like a sampler plate. Some like smoky tobaccos, others seasoned sweet, and some others, bready.

Today I am smoking Cornell & Diehl Sansepolcro, a blend made of compressed Virginia leaf and touches of dark fired florets from somewhere in Italy:

Summary: tastes like a dark beer, with deep fermentation flavors from the Virginias crested by a nice tangy smoky flavor.

The Virginia mixture in this blend — mostly pressed red Virginias — shines through once the initial light gives off a wave of dark-fired flavor. The vaunted Sansepolcro dark fired tastes basically like any dark fired Kentucky Burley, except maybe slightly subtler due to age. As the Virginia caramelizes, the cigar leaf makes its presence briefly known as a malt like flavor underscoring the fermented taste of the rubbed out red Virginia flake that is the basis of this blend, and the dark fired leaf melts into that with a molasses and roasted barley flavor. It feels smooth in the mouth, has a good degree of sweetness without being overpowering, and develops from complex to several simple tastes in balance. I could see smoking this all day and hope they bring it back using regular dark fired Kentucky Burley aged to take off the edge.*

Smoking provided an interesting perspective for me. At some point in life, I became annoyed with sugar; not only was it the universal ingredient, sort of like outrage in politics or human interest in news stories, but it obscured flavor.

With a little engineering, I was able to remove it further, although I was never a heavy consumer. People like me get excited by meat, vegetables, cheeses, and spicy sauces; we enjoy a good grain, but less so bread, especially since it too is in everything somewhere.

Life however offers infinite forms of sugar, from the candies on the desk at work to sweet tea or bready foods where someone has hosed down everything with high fructose corn syrup. You have to consciously identify everything before you, and flick away the ones with sugar.

When I cut out the sugar, I found that everything tasted different. I could taste more of the layers of flavor in cheese, for example, and could differentiate grains more easily. Chocolate became more of a smoky, spicy flavor than a sweet one.

This extended to tobacco as well. Although I will always love the English blend, and never have loved the soda pop aromatics, after awhile the tendency of blends to use too much sweet — Virginias and white Burley — drove me away. One taste dominates the others.

Sort of like centralized government, it then orients everything in the blend toward its call. Or even like a dramatic mother-in-law at a family gathering; everyone must tiptoe around here and consult her before taking any action.

On the opposite extreme, a truly balanced blend can become boring through chaos. You either taste a monolithic mix of random tobaccos and assign it some kind of food signifier, like oats-pineapple-Worchestshire, or you get a grab bag without structure.

If you lose the sugar in your life, you find that other flavors come out from behind its shadow. You no longer need a Latakia blend to be a third smoked leaf because you can taste as little as a twentieth. You no longer need heavy Virginias to make a flavor of molasses.

You come to appreciate brown and dark Burley, which has a flavor of its own like roasted grain and almonds, but also amplifies any flavor around it. A little bit of anything else goes a long way, and the Burley warms up and expands that taste.

When I reach that point in the day where exhaustion seems to be winning, I reach for one of my own concoctions. It is an English because they are fun to make, made of mostly Burley, moderate Orientals, mixed Virginias, and probably less than 15% Latakia.

To most smokers, this would not be smoky enough, but to me, it resembles a stone room. The sweet Virginias approach like a ghost, then the peaty Orientals fill the corners, and Burley lights them from behind so that the Latakia can seep in like an ancient knowledge of place.

When your tastes become finer, you see more of the world as it is, and you become a more powerful sorting agent. You start to assess things, as you would in a blend, by their utility in the context of the whole blend, and not merely whether you like them as themselves.

You may love white Burley; most of us do. Too much of it, however, and your blend starts to taste like tobacco-flavored waffles with whipped cream. If there is nothing else to balance it out and give it direction, the blend becomes somewhat one-dimensional.

Humans fear sorting. We have to make decisions, and we have to say what our reasoning was, instead of like most of us most of the time stumbling into something and then rationalizing it as what we wanted or what is good.

People like novelty blends because they are so chaotic that you can claim any aspect of the blend as the reason you like it, and no one can criticize because they are addressing chaos. You have blunted their criticism.

However, in the dark silent hours of late night, when the choice is only yours, sometimes you must face the loneliness of making choices, and decide what fits your needs. Through that, you find out who you are.

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