Eskişehir, Turkey 7 – In search of Meerschaum pipes – 5/2014

May 11, 2016

Escaping the magical city of Istanbul where one could spend years exploring side streets, markets and mosques, we had to move on. While we have always followed the words of John Steinbeck in his book, Travels With Charlie. “Don’t take the trip. Let the trip take you.”, unfortunately we now found ourselves on somewhat of a march-route. Spring was on the way, and while we wanted to spend as much time as possible in each country that lay in our route along the Silk Road, we now had affixed the date of when we had to enter China and meet our guide. In addition, each of the several countries we would now travel through had their own visa requirements and often entry and exit dates that we had to observe or lose time in that country or the next one. Our early-morning escape through the maddening traffic of Istanbul took us across the Fatih Sultan Mehmet bridge (also called the second Bosporus bridge) and onto the continent of Asia. Wow!! Major crossing!

Turkey Blog 7 38So little time and so many places to visit in Turkey, we had to make some choices. Back in my college days I had become an avid pipe smoker. Pipes have been fashioned from an assortment of materials including briar, clay, ceramic, corncob, glass, meerschaum, metal gourd, stone, wood and various combinations thereof, most notably, the classic English calabash pipe. While I could never afford one back then, the famous Turkish meerschaum pipes were always touted as the smoothness smoke. One of the things on our Turkish wish list was to find out a little more about meerschaum.

Meerschaum, (German for foam of the sea), is a soft white clay mineral also known as sepiolite. While meerschaum is found in other countries around the world, the pure white Turkish meerschaum has been prized for centuries. The first recorded use of meerschaum for making pipes was around 1723 and quickly became known as the perfect material for providing a cool, dry, flavorful smoke. The porous nature of meerschaum draws moisture and heat into the stone.

Turkey Blog 7 35Chiefly obtained from the plain of Eskişehir, it occurs there in irregular nodular masses in alluvial deposits that are extensively worked for its extraction. It is said that in this district there are 4,000 shafts leading to horizontal galleries where the search for lumps of meerschaum is ongoing. When first extracted, meerschaum is soft. However, it hardens on exposure to solar heat or if dried in a warm room. Prepared for carving, the natural nodules are first scraped to remove the red earthy matrix, then dried, again scraped and polished with wax. The crudely shaped masses thus prepared are turned and carved, smoothed with glass-paper, treated with wax or stearine, and finally polished with bone ash. When smoked, meerschaum pipes gradually change color. An old meerschaum will turn incremental shades of yellow, orange, red, and amber from the base on up.

Turkey Blog 7 37

This miner introduced Monika to the art of extracting meerschaum.

Turkey Blog 7 36Our trail led us to the town of Eskişehir and then to the village of Gundüzler and the nearby hamlet of Beyazaltin where our search for meerschaum ended at a hole in the ground about 20 feet deep. Monika, fearless woman that she is, promptly lowered herself down a rope and descended a rickety chicken ladder into the darkness with two Turkish guys leading the way. Would I ever see her again? After considerable laughter and a couple of buckets of dirt hauled up with a hand-crank windless, she reemerged from the depths with a chunk of meerschaum in her hand.

Turkey Blog 7 33With a better understanding of the mysterious foam of the sea, we headed back to Eskişehir where we visited the local museum. There were some amazing beautiful examples of what artists had done, but I was not looking for a piece of art to display in a glass cabinet. I wanted a “smoking pipe”, and that led us to one of the several shops in town.

It was there we met Mr Besim Aktaş again, a master carver himself and an avid pipe smoker, he knew what I was looking for. (www.aktasmeerschaumpipes.com) I chose a small intricately carved pipe that had an outer layer of tiny holes, kind of a shell around the inner core, that would take all the advantages of the meerschaum’s attributes for a cool, dry smoke.

Tobacco was introduced to Europe from the Americas in the 16th century. American Indians ratified important agreements with a Peace Pipe, and we supposed the Incas and the Mayans might have had occasions for a smoke.

Turkey Blog 7 34While pipes can be used to smoke stuff other than tobacco, unlike cigarettes or cigars, one does not normally inhale the smoke, so there is no real addiction. The aromas of pipe tobaccos, there are literally hundreds of blends, are mostly not as offensive as cigarettes or cigars. You don’t just mindlessly grab a pipe and light it up. It’s a process that you do on purpose, like opening a bottle of good wine and sipping it consciously. It’s a hobby more than a habit.

Our curiosity satisfied, we headed southwest on backroads toward the coast of the Aegean Sea, but first a quick stop in the town of Aezani, an ancient city in western Anatolia where we would find the Temple of Zeus and the combined theater-stadium complex built by Hadrian in 125 AD. You may recall that for thousands of years in what we now call “Western Civilization”, Zeus was the head “God”. There were other Gods and Goddesses beneath him, (He loved to delegate.), but he had the final word and he was worshiped by learned philosophers like Aristotle and Socrates and a major part of the world before they discovered it was not flat. It never hurts to pay respects to Zeus, though we had no bulls to sacrifice.

67 Responses to “Eskişehir, Turkey 7 – In search of Meerschaum pipes – 5/2014”

  1. Meerschaum, (German for foam of the sea), is a soft white clay mineral also known as sepiolite. Pure white… https://t.co/9H7P8tNqMZ

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  5. who’s the old dude with the MeerSham pipe ?! LOL

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  38. COOL 🙂

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  49. This is Life:) as Land Rover slogan “One Life Live It” big hug.

  50. Love this photo of Gary. He looks like a gentleman winemaker. Enjoyed the info on Meerschaum pipes, we bought one for my dad when Dev and I went to Europe about 40 years ago!memories.

  51. thanks for the trot down memory lane.

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