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Narghile around the world

    Turkey    Greece    Egypt




Turkey, to which people always look at, is not any more that country where Pierre Loti, a great amateur of narghiles, could, at the beginning of the nineteenth century, count the latter "in myriads". Today, those places fitted out to devote to this art (sometimes called "nargile bars") can be listed on one's fingers, often under the questioning and amused glance of tourists or the interested eye of some journalist about to write a light article on them. Most of the famous cafs where the peculiar narghile atmosphere prevailed actually disappeared: Pirinci (in Kuledibi); Gll Agop Kiraathanesi (in Gedikpasa); Valide Kiraathanesi (in Eminön); Ligor Kiraathanesi under the Galata bridge; and Erzurum Çayevi. The districts where the "survivors" are to be found are those of Beyazid, Aksaray, Topkapi, Unkapani, Kasimpasa, Besiktas and Kadiköy. In the first one, the Erenler coffee-house calls on foreign guests to try what a signboard presents as the "mystic water pipe". Notwithstanding, this country is now experiencing a revival of narghile, even if the State makes every effort to lighten the Turkish society of its heavy cultural and social Ottoman past.





Gail Holst


At the beginning of the last century, the only and last identified social use of narghile is that performed, between the twenties and forties, by Greek "immigrants" in Turkey. These were at the origin of Rembetiko, a culture in conflict, in spite of itself, with the values of the global society of that time. Here is, below described, their daily living environment in the Piraeus harbour: "In one of the small shops, you could have drunk a thick, sweet cup of Turkish coffee and ordered a water pipe or narghile, which the proprietor would lift off a shelf and light with a few coals from the charcoal brazier.

[] they might take you to hear Batis playing the tiny baglama [kind of lute] to his friends in a tek [tavern]. There, the manges would be sitting on the floor around a charcoal brazier while a boy filled the narghile with Turkish hashish and passed it around" (Gail Holst)







Smoking would have appeared in this country at the beginning of the seventeenth century. Today, in this country more than in any other, the narghile makes an exhibition of itself almost everywhere and in every place. An interesting question is to know if the powerful film production of this country, massively broadcast on the regional scale, has been in a position to influence smoking behaviours in other countries. In the latter, such behaviours would have been at the origin of a revival of narghile as in Tunisia, Syria, Lebanon or Jordan. Narghile in Egypt, under its two forms, shsha and gza, is indeed well known through television programmes. In this country, its use is for tobacco what kushary, a dish based on rice, pastas and lentils, is for local cooking: popular, of frequent and daily consumption. The "'El-Fishwy" coffee-house, in the "Hn 'el-Hally" district of Cairo, is famous for the hundreds of daily bowls, filled with mu'essel, it prepares for its patrons twenty four hours a day. Its existence is bound to the national literature with such writers as the holder of a world price: Najb Mahfz. This establishment would have known its highlight at the end of the twenties and at the beginning of the thirties. However, the combined effects of tourism on local populations, on one hand, and the fact that it distinguishes itself by a set of services organised around narghile, on the other hand, still seem to promise it numerous years of activity



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