During one of his frequent walks in the mountains, Rolando Negoita came across a piece of family and world history in the form of a photograph from World War I (his grandfather had also fought in it) which immortalized a moving moment of rare serenity and fraternization between soldiers at the Front, aided by the exchange of cigarettes, pipes and tobacco. We have taken this as a starting point to meditate on a few types of universal language that humans have always shared, and a good smoke certainly takes pride of place among them.
We all have two histories: one is our own personal history from childhood onwards, and the other is the history of humankind. Both have preceded us and both point the way to the future; they intertwine and are easily understood by those who wish to heed them. It can occur when nature claims its scrap of eternity, far from culture’s bastions. The same thing may have happened to you, when the need to go back in time when everything was simpler and more direct becomes almost a physical one. When instinct overrode reason, when the heart and mind were equal and one look, sigh or gesture was enough to make yourself understood. Signs, sounds, and rites gathered people together long before the advent of language, just as they are still the domain of children.
A good example of this is playing games. Games are the realm of “what if”, where imagination supplants knowledge and a new reality emerges. No explanations are needed and you let yourself be guided by the desire to communicate through other means. Actions replace words, actions where each person’s free expression adapts itself to the group, resulting in a harmony that knows no barriers of geography, religion or language. It is something that seems to have been written in the world’s DNA long before everything started, and the moment in which you see yourself reflected in the other is when magic happens. It is above all in these moments that you feel the thrill of belonging to a common project, which is life.
For Christmas, a well-know British store has decided to celebrate the festivities by launching an extremely poignant and at the same time unexpected Christmas advertisement, which again draws on the universal languages that everyone shares, wherever they live and whatever their story. The main characters are soldiers and a ball. (Video). The time for playing is a time that exists beyond human reason and there is a cathartic reversal of roles in the sphere that is kicked to evade fate, for this time it is humans that may decide, halting just for an instant the inevitable progress of the spheres across the heavens under which we move.
A more physical, albeit similarly symbolic matter is that of another universal language, namely music. We are infused with vibrations, primarily our heartbeats and we are surrounded by sound and rhythm. Even the world has its own background noise, an echo created by the Big Bang which can be detected through special equipment. Music flows inside and around us and it is in this non-verbal space that we completely accept the other. Science has demonstrated that music speaks to us, making no distinction between gender, age or culture, and our brain processes it and provides a universal emotional response to two aspects: a major or minor tone and its tempo, whether fast or slow. Take for example the soundtracks to some famous films that are able to create an emotion even without the accompanying scenes. Jaws is such a case in point, (Video) or Psycho in the shower scene (Video), which can only engender anxiety and fear. Similarly, it is almost impossible to remain seated while listening to Wagner and the Ride of the Valkyries (Video), and you want to go and do something great. And what happens to you when you listen to Beethoven’s 5th Symphony? (Video)
Music is therapeutic and through it we reach out to the divine. It makes us happy or sad, strong or vulnerable. The music we listen to in a lifetime is ultimately a snapshot of our soul, of what was and what will be in the future. This is why we speak of being “in tune” with someone else, a set of chords that bring sensitive souls together, a correspondence and feeling that is harmony.
At this point it could seem to stretch things slightly by providing similar examples with smoking a pipe, but we don’t think so and the photograph that Rolando Negoita kindly showed us is a perfect example. Indeed, the ritual of silently smoking in company dates back to ancient times, sharing the same tobacco to be imbued with the spirit of the world that knows all languages. Something quite intimate, but also public, introspective but at the same time convivial. Pipes were smoked to tend towards the gods, to make peace, to offer thoughts to the wind carrying them up to the stars, or just to relax. Nowadays pipes are smoked in company for all these reasons and more besides. To feel less lonely, share scraps of existence that change shape with each puff, to confide in someone without having to say anything, to listen with your heart, not your ears. Pipes are smoked to share a common pleasure, because smoking pipes together harks back to a time of authentic social relations, when monitors and keyboards were yet to come.
NOTES FROM THE DOLOMITES (by Rolando Negoita)
My grand father, from my mother's side, lived in Transylvania.
At that time in history Transylvania was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. When 1st world war began, my grandfather was enrolled in the army. Being an avid mountaineer and skier he joined Kaiserjager troops. Ending up on the picks of the mighty Dolomites.
He always carried the photo camera with him taking lots of pictures from the tranches during his patrolling missions. The pictures survived and were made into a photo album. A shrapnel piece put a sharp end to his war adventures. He survived but he was sent back home.
My grandfather's photo album, his stories, the beauty of the mountains seen in the pictures left a deep impression on my childhood. I always wanted to go there and hike the steep slopes and exposed edges, walk through the dark tunnels solders carved into the mountain.
And there I was walking in my grandfather's footsteps, wearing high tech clothing and modern equipment, imagining how the soldiers used to haul ammunition and cannons up the steep walls of rock.
Many stories came to my mind about the human relationship between solders on both sides, who used to be climbing partners before the war. It was this summer in July while I was climbing at Cinque Tori near Cortina when I ran into a complex labyrinth of tranches partially restored. There were a few pictures hanged on the wall containing post card notes and photographs of soldiers.
This picture in particular had touched another soft spot of mine, for obvious reasons. "The joy of smoking a pipe" ! This photo triggered my inspiration to develop this group of pipes. The Austro-Hungarian pipes, and Ulmer pipe shapes are a perfect match with the Conducta series. I felt I came full circle.