Some years ago I did an interview with stone-cutter extraordinaire Martin Romijn, who makes pipe-accessories out of stone. Throughout the years we kept in touch and saw each other at meetings. It was at the end of 2016, beginning of 2017 that I learned that he also was making pipes. This piqued my interest because I know that Martin has a feeling and eye for lines and shapes. Something one can not learn. With his first pipes I had to laugh a bit, he treated the wood like stone but his style was undeniably unique. A bit further along the way his talent really began to show and his pipes became more refined. Always trying to show off the beautiful patterns of the briar just like he did with the fossils in the stone. Now I consider him one of the best if not the best pipe-maker in The Netherlands.
So last month I paid him a visit. Martin still lives in the city of Leerdam and behind his house he has a shed where the magic happens. I have been at the work places of several pipe makers and where some are pure unadulterated chaos Martin absolutely has one of the tidiest. Everything is neatly and orderly arranged and the machinery looks reasonably clean. Talking about equipment, Martin has a wood turning lathe in stead of a metal turning one. It was a gift from his parents when they saw his pipe-making talent. Besides that he thinks he has more freedom shaping pipes on it. Also he has a sanding disc and a slack belt sander, which he took over from another pipe-maker (Vandaahl) who had stopped. Further you can find in his workplace a bandsaw, dremel, some hand work tools (files etc.) and a polishing machine. Last but not least on one of the shelves stands a laptop that powers a loudspeaker which blurts out non-stop music of the great Johnny Cash, one of Martin’s heroes.
Egg shaped pipe
When I asked how and where he did learn to carve and shape briar wood he answered that he is mainly a self taught pipe-maker. In previous years he refurbished quite a lot of estate pipes. Also because of his stonecutting day-job (and all the tampers, ash-trays, stands etc. he made) Martin has 25 years experience of shaping and modelling. At one point he started experimenting with some briar blocks and when it turned out he did pretty well it became more serious. Nowadays Martin uses briar from Italy and in the future he wants to try his hand at olive wood. His mouthpieces are made from ebonite and acryl and some have the craziest colours and patterns. But Martin makes sure that visually the stem goes together with the bowl.
Martin has a pretty unique way of making pipes. Other pipe-makers decide what shape they want to make and begin. If a sandpit surfaces, well too bad, next one! But not Martin, this is what he has to say about his method: “I start with watching, studying, “reading” the briar. Every block has its own story. How does the grain go, what can you expect when you cut it in a certain angle etc. It can be that I have had the briar piece in my hands dozens of times before I know which pipe it hides. And even then, sometimes the wood has its own plan. When I come across a sandpit or another irregularity I have to adjust my plan to fit the briar. In such a case I always say that the briar speaks to me and that I should listen. This way you often get the most surprising and beautiful results.” I have to agree with Martin. All his pipes are showcases for the stunning grains they possess. Because of this he does not make shapes on request. It would be a waste of a piece of briar to make a pipe out of it which does not agree with the grain. When asked what is the most favourite pipe he ever made Martin hesitates. “That is a tricky one.. They are all my favourite. The process of making a pipe takes up lots of hours of hard labour. When you work that long on a piece you get attached to it. It is your design, your creation, born from your creative thoughts and moulded by your hands into something tangible. But if I really have to pick one it would be the Twisted Pickaxe. Recently made, beautiful organic shapes, stunning grain, a pickaxe but with a twist. My twist.”
Martin, when did you start smoking pipes? “30 years ago I began smoking pipes. My first one was a Tattoo pipe, made by Dutch pipe maker Gubbels/Big Ben. I saw it at someone and decided to also give it a try. I liked it and soon I bought a regular pipe to go with it, and another one, and another.. Well, you know how it goes.. Of course then also began the search for the finest tobaccos. A journey which never ends but which I enjoy to the max.” Ok, so what is your favourite tobacco? “Ehrrr… Can I name two? Esoterica Stonehaven and GL Pease Embarcadero. Oh! And Samuel Gawith Squadron Leader and hmmm.. Damn, there are so many delicious blends, hard to pick out one.”
What are your favourite pipes and why? “My collection is rather large, about 75 pipes. They all have something special, that can be their smoking qualities but also some have their own story that makes them special. I especially like to smoke Winslow pipes. Good smokers, nicely shaped, good open draw and handmade by a pipe-maker I admire very much. In 2018 I got to meet Poul Winslow himself at his home and saw how he worked in his workplace. Very special and informative! What an experience, I watched with growing admiration how he creates a stunning pipe with breakneck speed. Since then I like these wonderful pipes even more.”
Do you have any famous last words for the readers? “I hope to make pipes for many, many years. I hope my creations will find their way to the people who love them. That they will find owners who will experience delightful moments of relaxation and pleasure thanks to good tobacco and a pipe I worked on with love and dedication.” With that our conversation was over for the time being. Martin began working on one of his new creations while I sat back sipping a good whisky, smoking a pipe, listening to the soul-wrenching voice of Mr. Cash and watching the magic hands do their job on the immortal briar.
Click here for part 1 which describes the history of Seville and how it became the tobacco capital of the world.
For me visiting the Real Fábrica de Tabacos (Royal Tobacco Factory) was a highlight of my journey to Seville. Today a part of the renowned Seville University is located there. Unfortunately the interior has been renovated and “no smoking” signs are everywhere. But until 1959 this magnificent building was Spain’s, no, Europe’s powerhouse for the manufacturing of tobacco. It is also the inspiration and setting for Seville’s most renowned fictional heroine, the free-spirited gypsy girl who embodies the Spanish ideal of the sensual femme fatale: Carmen.
Front of the Real Fábrica de Tabacos
The Real Fábrica de Tabacos was built between 1728 and 1770 and was designed and supervised by several military engineers from the North of Spain and The Netherlands. The works were abandoned for a long period (1735 – 1750) due to financial troubles (the initial budget was clearly not enough) and because the engineers and architects in charge were not fully committed. Its huge size (rectangular area of 27,195 square meter or 292,725 square feet) is just smaller than the mighty El Escorial located near Madrid. With a mixture of architectonic styles the building is divided into 2 areas. One devoted to the tobacco process and a smaller one that included the entrance, offices, depots and apartments for the superintendent and the director.
Painted tiles on the outside wall
The factory was officially inaugurated in 1757 even though the building was not yet completed. Unfortunately, the factory was already out of date by then. It had been designed for the making of snuff, but during those 30 years the export demand for cigars increased and demand was equally high in the domestic market. The shift away from snuff production made a bigger labour force necessary. Cigars could not be ground out by the hundredweight but had to be assembled and rolled individually.
Before 1800 all the Fábrica’s workers had been men because making snuff was heavy work. But these proved to be too clumsy and slow for cigar-making. In 1813 the Fábrica came with a solution by employing single women, whose fingers were nimbler and who would accept a lower wage than men with families to support. The Fábrica recruited its new workforce from the young women of the Triana district. Seville is a hellish furnace in summer and the Triana girls, many of whom were gypsies, were reduced by the heat to working in their underwear. Even hotter became the well-bred European men who visited the factory in search of sexual thrills: This immense harem of four thousand eight hundred women is as free in speech as in words. They showed no reserve in profiting by the tolerance which permits them undress as much as they like in the insupportable atmosphere they live in from June to September. Almost all worked stark naked to the waist with a simple linen petticoat unfastened round it and sometimes turned up as far as the middle of the thighs. And they presented an extraordinary mixture. There was everything in this naked crowd, virgins excepted, probably.
The so called “cigarreras” prepared and rolled the tobacco leaf into cigars, chopped, rolled and ground it for pipe tobacco or snuff and made cigarettes rolled in paper. Cigarettes were initially considered a humble by-product, improvised by the factory girls to enable them to smoke discarded scraps from cigar production. The leaves were dried in special ovens that demanded a constant temperature and humidity apparently was secured by a system of subterranean waterways. The workforce was organized in a sophisticated hierarchy. Ranging from apprentices who started work at the early age of 13, peeling the stalks from the leaves, until (under the watchful eye of a veteran) they perfected the art of “making the baby”, rolling a cigar with the delicacy and precision of a midwife wrapping a new-born child. The aristocrat of this noble profession was the purera or maker of puros (cigars), who received top wages. But by far the majority of the women workers were employed in the humbler, poorer-paid, tasks of making cigarettes and pipe tobacco.
The right to bring babies into the factory was one of the important early victories of the cigarreras labour struggles. These feisty women were pioneers of European trade union rights. The factory even provided high-sided, wooden cradles that the mothers could rock with their foot without having to interrupt their work. Other victories achieved were the 8-hour workday, retirement pensions, working clothes and the custom of respecting the preferences of workers nearing retirement. The only inflexible rule was the absolute prohibition on stealing tobacco. This prompted the much remarked-upon personal searches that each cigarrera had to undergo. However, some were creative and hid the tobacco in a place his Catholic Majesty would have never dreamed of.
But by 1918, it was all over. The United States seized control of the world’s tobacco trade and both the economic reality and mythic reputation of Seville’s tobacco factory entered into decline. New machines improved the process and the cigarreras were replaced. In 1950 it was decided to move the tobacco operations to the Los Remedios neighbourhood and to use the historic building as the headquarters of the University of Seville. The replacement factory built in the 1950’s remained part of Spain’s national tobacco monopoly Tabacalera until that was merged into Altadis in 1999. In 2004, Altadis announced plans to shut the plant in 2007, bringing to an end Seville’s long tradition of making tobacco products. The last day of operation of the factory was 31 December 2007.
In Spain tobacco is sold in shops called “expendeduría de tabaco y timbre” or “estanco”. You can find them anywhere, small and big, and are recognizable by a big banner with “Tabacos” on it. Compared to many European countries tobacco here is still cheap. Still, yes, because prices are rising rapidly because of the taxes. Despite that you pay for example for a tin of Samuel Gawith Squadron Leader €8, in Germany the current price is €12,85. But the assortment of pipe-tobacco differs greatly from estanco to estanco. So I decided to get some local help. After a bit of Googling I stumbled upon the Andalucía Pipa Club and mailed them about my upcoming journey to Seville and if they knew some good tobacconists in the city. I got a reply from the very friendly and helpful Alfonso who lives in Seville and immediately provided me with lots of information.
Estanco at the Calle O’Donnell
The best places to buy pipe-tobacco in Seville are:
– The estanco at the Calle O’Donnell 30B. Google Maps is not accurate, just look for a big sun screen with “Tabacos” on it. This shop has the best assortment of pipe-tobacco in Seville. Basically everything from this list (Scroll to “picadura de pipa”). Just one thing, I had to point out the tins I wanted to the young employee to the amusement of the other customers.. Samuel Gawith? Qué?
– The estanco at the Calle Lineros 11B (Palacio del fumador). More focused at cigars but a lot of pipes and a decent assortment of pipe-tobacco.
– The estanco at Expendeduria 113. Not in the city centre, not so many brands as the first one, but more focused at specialities.
BEWARE: Spanish airport customs are very strict. My bag got searched and they counted the weight from all my tobacco tins, the ones I bought and the ones I brought with me from home. If you live within Europe you may take 1 kilo of tobacco with you and if you come from outside Europe even less.. Also be sure to keep your receipt if you buy tobacco in Spain. When you can’t show it if the customs officer asks for it all tobacco will be confiscated. Luckily all my tins could come with me.
I also got some very useful tips where to eat and drink from Alfonso and asked him if there were places where I could smoke inside. He had to laugh: No problems for smoking your pipe because almost every bar/restaurant/café in Seville has a terrace. That’s the way of life in Seville: if we are living in a sunny city… Why we should stay inside a building? Good point.. We kept on mailing and he told me a story that he on a trip to Amsterdam got conned by a Dutch tobacconist. He paid €25 for 1 tin of Samuel Gawith Perfection! I mean, tobacco is expensive here but that amount was outrageous and nowhere near correct.
Samuel Gawith Squadron Leader Special Edition
We also decided that we had to see each other when I was in Seville. So after a couple of text messages Ellen, Alfonso and I arranged to meet at the splendid Puerta del Pérdon near where we were staying. I put a corncob pipe in my mouth so Alfonso could recognize me but that was not necessary. I saw him first, puffing away under the great gate. We met like we were lost brothers, it really felt that way for me. We opted to go to the terrace of a nearby restaurant Alfonso knew. A bit tourist but Alfonso swore to me the drinks and food were excellent. We sat down and I said I had a present for him. I pulled out an aged tin of Samuel Gawith Perfection to compensate for the Dutch con. Alfonso laughed and thanked me, but he also had a surprise for me. The Andalucía Pipa Club had a blend made by Samuel Gawith: a limited, special edition of Squadron Leader containing perique. And precisely that was what he gave me, wonderful!
Me and Alfonso
Time flies by when you are having fun, we chatted away and were even joined by Alfonso’s charming wife Macarena. They let us try local drinks and foods like shrimps in garlic, Jamón ibérico and deliciously sweet desserts. At the end of the magical evening I wanted to call the funny waiter (he had to serve the terrace alone and was so busy he forgot us several times which resulted in apologies in rapid Spanish and some free drinks) to get the bill but discovered Alfonso and Macarena already paid it. They gently refused my money and just said with big smiles: Welcome to Seville! Once again I thank them both for this unforgettable experience! Gracias!
To round off this blogpost, here are some tips from my own (short) experience about Seville:
View from our terrace
– Hotels can be pretty expensive, especially near the old city centre. But thanks to AirBnB I found a small but delightful penthouse apartment, literally a stone-throw away from the cathedral, with an excellent price-quality ratio.
View from the Giralda
– Visit the large Seville Cathedral where the remains of Christopher Columbus are buried and climb the ancient Giralda tower for a stunning view of the city.
Part of the Alcázar garden
– Visit the Royal Alcázar of Seville which is one of most beautiful palaces in Spain and the oldest one still in use in Europe. A part of season 5 of Game of Thrones was shot there. Also marvel at the heavenly, lush gardens which are a blend of Moorish, Renaissance, and English traditions.
– Stroll along the Guadalquivir River and pay a visit to the old Torre del Oro.
– Visit the neighbourhood of Triana. It played an important role in the history of the city and is a folk, monumental and cultural center. If you want to see flamenco, go here.
– Wander through and get lost in the small streets of Santa Cruz where around every corner is a new wonder.
– Make a day-trip with the AVE high-speed train to Córdoba and visit one of the most awesome sights Spain has to offer: The Mezquita, the more than a millennium old mosque-cathedral, crowning glory of Muslim architecture in the West. In its heyday, a pilgrimage to the great Mezquita by a Muslim was said to have equalled a journey to Mecca. When you are done drooling in the mosque-cathedral you can re-fill your body-fluids at the enchanting Salón de Té.
La Hostería del Laurel
– Eat tapas! These little wonders of gastronomy are cheap and oh so yummie! Just order them randomly and find out what you like. Good places (but there are many, many more) are La Hostería del Laurel, one of the locations in Don Juan and Bodega Santa Cruz, better known as Las Columnas. I especially grew very fond of the latter, cheap and basic tapas but very delicious. Especially in combination with a tinto de verano or a local Cruzcampo beer. And a tip from Alfonso: If you find a bar/restaurant with too much tourism and no locals, or they are offering “real Paella”… It’s a trap!
After a long journey home (no thanks to the Dutch railways) Ellen and I came to the conclusion that Seville certainly had not forsaken us. Olé!!!