FOUR ELEMENTS IN A PUFF

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Smoking is against your health. And I will try to keep my narration as less tantalizing as possible. 

Istanbul is an ever-surprising city.  A Parisien Café, an Italian Restaurant, an Irish Pub or Mexican Food can be just round the corner.  Not rarely a church will share its garden with a mosque, or will salute the synagogue on the opposite corner. 

While people still go to the 500 years old Grand Bazaar for various reasons, haggle on the prices and extend their ‘negotiation techniques’, 5 minutes drive will be big shopping malls in ultra modern buildings and with genuine world brands. 

To be extraordinary or not to be, is not a question in Istanbul.  Because as you familiarize yourself with this center of the old world for 17 hundred years, and become an Istanbuller, you will find at least five surprising reasons in one day, though may also learn how not to surprise. 

In the 80s, Turkey was introduced to globalization, and in the 90s, powerfully struck by global trends so that Mc Donalds managed to open 100 shops nationwide in about one year.  However, the new millennium reversed the game. Mc started to shut down (34 stores in 2001).  Fast food is still very in, but in an ever Turkish way. 

A typical Buffet at the Taksim Square sells a rich ‘buffet’ of ‘Turkish’ fast food; despite standardized burgers of ‘from the fridge’ American food, a Buffet offers fresh and daily tastes; beef, chicken, (also liver, kidney or tongue), with salad, cheese and last but not the least fresh fruit juice.  Pomegranates, apples, banana, carrots, orange, tangerine, honey or a mixture.  And when served with pide-bread, yummy. 

Cutting short the Turkish fast-food alternatives, let me talk about slow-food choices.  A particular one; smoking nargile.   

It was one of my fist visits to Tophane, the street of Nargile Cafes (pronounced Nargeeleah; Water Pipe; Hubble Bubble), when I met Selahattin.  My first impression was of a nice guy around his 50s, with bright eyes and shining baldhead.  My friends told me that he was one of the oldest remaining nargile masters in Istanbul.  As I was expecting a standard conversation about the things, up and down so far, Selahattin brought one of my deepest surprises.  And here I am, (my diligence for writing strikes again) to tell you his philosophy on nargile, as I promised him long time ago.  He calls this philosophy Four Elements in a Puff

It was 3 years ago and we were sitting opposite to a statue of Emperor Nero (original copy from Istanbul archaeology museum), placed in a cubic glass container and smoking the nargile.  While I was trying to perceive the art piece, suddenly, I noticed the crawling snake in the cube, dancing with the pipe, oh my heart jumped up into my brain; drums, drums. 

It was a design by my sculpture friend Cemil, sitting next to me, and they both felt my excitement.  Between two well experienced nargile smokers, though only a very light social smoker myself, I reluctantly sucked the pipe under the increasing thickness of a surprisingly sweet fume. 

“I sentenced Nero,” Cemil said, “He burned Rome, he cannot burn New Rome”, “And in a transparent cube, because art must be transparent, unblocking new horizons, while the snake accompanies him towards infinity, through his endless journey of fame, which is a poisonous honey!”

“But why nargile?” I dared asking. 

“Because that is four elements in a puff! Fire, earth, water and air.  Burning coal on the tobacco, tobacco itself in a terracotta cup, water bubbling down in the glass reservoir, and air comes when your breath.” Selahattin joined our conversation. 

“When you smoke nargile, you incorporate four basic elements into your body, which is already built on those four.  Thus, you refresh your self-being.” Selahattin added. 

Weird though, I recalled my fathers suggestion, “Nargile will fit you better son, and also to your style, but remember, breathing nargile cleans up the accumulation of cigarette fume, and to clean nargile fume, you have to wait for your last breath!”

“Oh no, that is tonbeki (tonbeakhee), a full experience, we roll tobacco leaves around our terracotta cup – using a very special traditional method – and you directly smoke the real thing”

“So?” I wondered.

“Yours is a mixture of very few tobacco and mostly dried fruit peelings and aroma; apricot, melon, cherry, apple or banana!” explained Selahattin. 

“And no opium?”

“Surely not. Never, maybe in secret locations – we definitely know not – this is a public place, and such drugs are forbidden in Turkey.”

“Yeah, sure, but I still feel high”

“That is the density of smoke, and please give yourself a break and breath some fresh air, you are sucking like a baby!” 

He was right.  It was like my toy, and I was really enjoying the apple taste. 

Selahattin continued “There are four principals of nargile joy. Nese (neshea) = Fun, Mese (meshea) = oak – the coal, Kose (koshea) = a calm corner, and Ayse (ayshea) = the coal boy – old usage, young boy in a Turkish Café serving coffee, cleaning tables, etc.”

“It is totally different than cigarette, no way to compare.  Here, you have to sit, look at someone else’s face, share some time, some fun together,” he replied my father-sponsored cigarette goal. 

And Cemil concluded our evening muhabbet “Let the Old Rome inside you burn down, give and share a common breath through the air, and rebuilt yourself!” 

For a moment, I thought of starting a philosophical dialogue about well-developed individuals imprisoned in their “ego cubes”, on their own will. And other professional cubes that the social life implies.  Then perhaps I felt some cubes around, thin though and still melting.  And I decided to go with my partner, the time, while it builds up and undermines my life. 

Let’s melt together, into the air.  

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