Windswept Clouds

21st August, 2009: Posted by glpease in Pipes

There is playfulness and joy in so many of the Le Nuvole pipes of Maurizio Tombari, and it simply has to be that way. He and his wife, Stefania, who designs many of the shapes, are such delightful and lovely people, that something of them simply must come through in the pipes. The piece shown, a sort of windswept pot/billiard, reminiscent in some ways of the Castello 55 shape, is a beautiful example of this. Its form is elegant yet dynamic, strong, yet delicate and graceful, all while exhibiting that little bit of joyful whimsy that characterizes so much of Maurizio’s work. It’s what a 55 would choose to be if it were allowed to take flight on its own wings and soar amongst the clouds.

I’ve long been an admirer of Maurizio’s approach to pipe shapes. Though I won’t say that I love everything he creates, and this is certainly true of almost all of the makers I enjoy, I can appreciate each one for its heart, its adherence to his ideas, and his personality. His pipes are fun.

As good as the older examples in my collection are, I’m thrilled to say that his newer pieces, made over the last few years, are even better, and this one is definite proof of that pudding. He’s opened up the draught just a little, and has refined his mouthpieces to be even more comfortable and more graceful. The wood, aged for several years in his shop, is light, dry and beautifully grained, showing both the hair of angels, and the rings of its years. It would have made an exceptional blast, too, but in this case, I’m really happy he left it smooth. It feels great in the hand, that little lip nestling over my index finger as I hold it gently, feeling its warmth and smoothness whilst smoking it. Between the teeth, too, it almost seems to disappear, to become part of me.

The aging of his briar deserves some, just a little, discussion. Maurizio feels, and I am inclined to agree, that how and where the briar is seasoned is more important than where it grew up. Providing that the burl was good to start with, and that it was cut and boiled carefully by the mill, this is the only thing that can explain why the pipes of some makers have a characteristic taste, despite the origins of the wood from which they are crafted. He explains that the climate, the evenness of the temperature and humidity of  his shop in Pesaro is perfect for the wood. If this is true, and I believe it is, I hope he never moves.

I had agreed to photograph this pipe for use on the new Le Nuvole website. He and Stefi like my pictures, and it was an honor for me to have this opportunity. But, I told him I wouldn’t do it until I’d smoked the pipe a few times. I didn’t want to picture a new pipe, but one that had been enjoyed. After several bowls, I was ready to make some pictures.

It is a challenging shape to capture. A mug shot wouldn’t do. Neither would something too abstract. I wanted to depict its form, of course, but also it’s movement, which is never easy. I spent a couple hours with it in the studio, and made some disappointing images. They were fine as product shots. well composed, well lighted, and carefully focused, but they didn’t reflect the spirit of the pipe. Still, I sent the shots to Maurizio, knowing they were not what any of us was after. He was gracious, as always, if not enthusiastic, but, I wasn’t happy. It wouldn’t do. So, several days later, I took another look,  and went back into the studio with a new approach. The photo here is the final shot; I think it gets into the heart of the pipe with more truth, as a portrait should do.

How does it smoke? In a word, it’s fantastic. I broke it in with Union Square and aged Escudo, and from the first bowl, it delivered everything that I expect from these tobaccos, and then some. While some Italian made pipes sometimes tend to be bright tasting, with an enhanced sweetness, this pipe brings out the deeper and middle notes in more detail, providing a greater impression of balance and smoothness. The first few bowls offered some woody tastes, expected in uncoated bowls, but nothing harsh or acrid; just that lovely taste of well cured briar.

The draught is easy, and the smoking dynamics are excellent. After a dozen bowls or so, I filled it with Key Largo, just to see how it would fare with something a little more challenging, and was blown away by the experience. The nutty character was amplified just slightly, and the bittersweet chocolate flavours that the blend sometimes hints at were delivered clearly. It’s all I’ve smoked in it since. With a bowl diameter of 20mm and a 33mm depth, it would ideal for fuller blends, as well, but I ain’t messin’ with success. At least for the time being, meaning until the winter months are here, and my tastes migrate towards heavier Latakia mixtures, this little lovely is dedicated to one blend, and one blend alone.

It’s been a while since I got a new Le Nuvole. I won’t wait so long for the next one. To Maurizio and Stefi, grazie mille, i miei amici, per il vostro lavoro e la tua arte. Questa pipa è fantastico! (I know they’ll forgive my pidgin Italian.)