Sunday, May 10, 2009

A Bear & His Bong

On Thursday I finally gave in to my bipedal attendants' constant grumbling about the poor quality of the waterpipes in Izmit's tea shops and bought one for the house. Honestly, I hadn't heard this much whining since our days in Bratislava.

Anyway, I popped by a narghile shop in town and picked out one with a lovely blue jar - of course, my female bipedal wanted a green one but this particular blue one had a beautiful golden fish design on it and that reminded me of my two friends, Ken & Gerard the Goldfish, who died 3 years ago. Apparently those niceties were quite lost on her.

Now, the important thing about buying a waterpipe is selecting one wit
h a proper "body". The body is comprised of the long hollow tube with a gasket and grommets, through which the smoke from the burning tobacco is drawn from the clay bowl on top and then back out through the hose. Uninitiated narghile puffers often mistakenly buy a cheaper body - saving money is good, no? - but then quality is sacrificed. A less expensive body is made out of some tinny alloy that you can bend with your hands (of course, as a bear, I can crush almost anything in my paws) while its pricier counterpart is made out of brass. As a former international fashion model, I know that you get what you pay for - and let's face it, you want your narghile to last more than a week, right?

I confess that I wasn't very impressed with the narghile merchant's packing abilities (see photo, above left), especially considering that the box was custom designed to hold a narghile properly. He was a little
tape-happy. Maybe he was just anxious for us to leave his shop - my female bipedal was making a lot of noise about not getting a green waterpipe.

The same way that I'm known as GB or Grey Bear, the waterpipe goes by many different names too: in India it's a hookah, in Iran it's a
ghelyoon, in Egypt it's a shisha, while here in Turkey it's a narghile. They were probably invented thousands of years ago in a much simpler form - the Iranian word ghelyonn actually means "coconut" which is probably a clue to its original material - in either India or Persia. Some people even think they were invented in America - I mean, really! America? Anyway, our first honest-to-goodness reference to the waterpipe is from the royal court of the Mughal (Muslim/Persian) Emperor Akbar the Great, almost 500 years ago in India. In fact, it's because of the later British presence in India under the Raj that most of the English-speaking world knows the pipe as the hookah. India had a huge impact on the English language: the British also introduced the Hindi words bungalow, pyjamas, jungle and shampoo into English, but that's for another blog.

In some parts of the world, the water hose is covered with silk or cloth, but the narghiles here have what looks like a bit of Turkish carpet on it. You can see from the photo (below, right) our groovy blue, yellow & white "carpet" on the hose. Turkish narghiles also differ from others because the wooden part of the hose, which supports the mouthpiece, is actually quite big. I feel like I'm conducting an orchestra when I had a puff.

Speaking of puffing, the best shisha tobacco in the world - bears don't do drugs - is Egyptian ma'sal (honey-molasses tobacco) but I've been told that it's illegal in Turkey. I was able to find Egyptian apple tobacco in Istanbul which is pretty good - not as heady as ma'sal but better than the local stuff. I'm going to keep looking though because as anyone will tell you, anything is possible in Turkey.

I probably didn't need to buy a narghile - apart from putting an end to my bipedals' griping, of course - because I don't really need anything to help me relax. I admit that, as a Freelance Goodwill Ambassador, I do find myself in the middle of a lot of stressful situations. I'm actually here in Turkey trying to talk some sense into the Turks about their decades-long occupation of Northern Cyprus - and of course, to enjoy the baklava! In any case, we bears don't get all stressed-out the way you humans do: we meditate, practice yoga, hibernate and enjoy a nice glass of sherry from time to time.

That doesn't mean that I won't enjoy our narghile. But knowing my bipedals, I'm going to have to draw up some sort of timetable and make them stick to it. I don't want to name names, but some people just don't share very well. And as everyone knows (or should know), smoking a waterpipe is supposed to be a social experience.

I hope I don't regret this ...


Anonymous said...

Poor, poor Grey Bear
You sure do a lot for your bipedal attendants don't you. Especially one in particular>
It's a good thing you do yoga and enjoy a nice glass of sherry but no honey? Or is that another bear myth?

Grey Bear said...

Oh no Anon ... bears - me included - love honey! Except I had hot honeyed mead in Bratislava and it was awful.