by Erwin Van Hove
If by any chance you feel the need to show off your wealth and your standing, here’s
some advice for you. Purchase an ostentatious villa or a design loft with a panoramic
view. Parade your trophy wife. Wear a Rolex. Order a Petrus or an Yquem in a three star
Michelin restaurant. Drive a Beamer. Do not, I repeat, do not smoke a Bo Nordh. Without
a doubt, doing so, even with consummate studied casualness, would prove a crushing
disappointment. Who, I ask you, would suspect that the trivial object that prevents you
from exhibiting your perfect teeth, actually represents three months worth of salary of your
luscious personal assistant ? To flash your success, maybe, just maybe a Dunhill topped
with a fancy gold umbrella might do the trick. But a master carver’s pipe ? Forget it. It will
impress the gallery just as little as a pedestrian Stannie.
And that’s exactly why I never understood and probably will never understand the self-
righteous Jacobins who seem to thrive in the pipe related forums and newsgroups and who
feel it is their moral duty to point an accusing finger at members whose taste in pipes they
judge unacceptably aristocratic. And these self-appointed prosecutors just love a good ol’
trial of intent : high grade smokers are pipe snobs and show-offs who wallow in pedantry, in
elitism, in a superiority complex.
So what is it about high grade pipe smokers that bothers so much ? Is it the mere fact that
they buy pipes most smokers cannot or will not afford ? Or is it rather the fact they have the
temerity to unashamedly present in forums and blogs their discoveries and purchases ?
Or, worse, that they have the insufferable gall to claim that, in general, pipes crafted by
passionate and perfectionist artisans are better made than those turned, drilled, fitted and
finished in record time in some factory, and that, obviously, quality has its price ?
Ah, prices ! It is my firm belief that in the forums we talk way too much about money. I
cannot help but think that a lot of members seem more fascinated by the prices of pipes
than passionate about the briar object that should unite us. Consequently, it is the different
amounts of money that the respective members are willing to invest in a pipe, that tend to
become apples of discord. It is the prices that are causing the most heated debates. And,
inevitably, during these discussions that turn into disputes, against all logic, egalitarian
dreams are mistaken for reality. Is it foolish to assert that one travels more comfortably in
a Lexus than in a simple Toyota ? Is it really inconceivable that a pair of hand made Berluti
shoes are easier on the feet than a pair made in China for Walmart ? Can it be ruled out that
scallops prepared by Alain Ducasse or Joël Robuchon taste slightly better than the rubbery
ones in your TV dinner ? So, why then, I ask you, does the simple assertion that in the pipe
world similar differences in quality do exist, systematically lead to outcries of protest ?
Besides, more than once I have the impression that the champions of simple pleasures and
the defenders of the democratic pipe pull the wool over our eyes. At times, their hard-line
principles can get amazingly relative. If they happen to stumble upon a $9.99 Dunhill at a
garage sale, suddenly their allergy to the snobbish white-spotted pipes melts like snow in the
sun. And when former French star carver Alain Albuisson gave up pipe making and sold out
his stock at a whopping discount, I witnessed how several anti-high grade crusaders were
the first to pounce like vultures on the unexpected opportunity. A surprising attitude, to say
the least, for people who systematically and categorically oppose the idea that not all pipes
are born equal. This kind of hypocrisy makes me uneasy.
Sometimes I wonder about the motives of the anti-high grade mob. I have my idea, but
I’d rather keep it to myself. I’ll only confide to you that none of my reflections have led me
to believe that what triggers their bitter belches, is good faith, intellectual honesty or any
kind of noble feelings. What is certain is that they are completely blinded by their bias. It
even prevents them from seeing that a so-called pipe snob will never ever make in public
a derogatory remark about the pipes smoked by forum members with simpler tastes, with
different priorities or with a less bulky bank account.
Each time some hot-headed inquisitor aggresses me in a forum for the sole reason that in
his mind I embody the wealthy elitist he can’t stand, I think of a friend of mine. For fifteen
years we were colleagues, before I became his boss. In the morning he takes the bus to
come to work and in the evening I drive him back home. He himself hardly ever drives his 18
years old Audi 80. He’s a typical Sunday driver. And yet I don’t know anyone who feels more
passionate about cars. He buys all the car magazines. On TV he watches every car show in
four different languages. He talks cars. He dreams cars. As we work in the Antwerp diamond
district, each and every day we pass stunning luxury and sports cars. And every evening
my friend admires, enthuses, raves in blissful enjoyment. Naturally. Passionately. Sincerely.
Without any hint of jealousy, resentment or frustration.
I think it’s a beautiful parable. And in our little pipe universe a very useful one.