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The nargile was introduced to Turkey from either India or Persia and provided centuries of enjoyment for Turkish smokers. In Ottoman Istanbul the water pipe or hubble-bubble pipe became an objet d'art, with bottles of crystal, coloured glass or even silver, finials in the form of silver flowers or fruits, gilded pipe bowls, and amber mouthpieces. They were a decorative appurtenance of coffee houses and wealthy houses and wealthy houses alike.
Until relatively recently all coffee houses in Istanbul had a special corner reserved for nargile smokers, and if by accident you might sit among them the disgruntled glances soon obliged you to move elsewhere. Nargile smokers used to be the earliest and most coveted customers at Istanbul's coffee houses. At the first light, rubbing their eyes, they would sit upon the couch or sedir before the newly lit stove waiting for their morning nargile before setting out to work.
Like everything else from the past the nargile has been largely forgotten. However, although it is no longer the national pastime it once was, it is kept alive in a few coffee houses in such districts of Istanbul as Beyazit, Aksaray, Topkapi, Unkapani, Kasimpasa, Besiktas and Kadik?y by old and new adherents of this traditional pipe. An advanced grade nargile smoker may spend up to three hours over the ceremony.
Most such smokers have their own personal nargile at the coffee house. This is kept away from sight and used by no one else even if the smoker does not come for months. Still there are some who carry their own silver mouthpiece with them in their waistcoat pocket just in case someone else might have used it meanwhile and defiled the amber mouthpiece with their lips. The dedicated smoker brings his own piece of the finest t?mbeki tobacco for the one trusted waiter who knows exactly how much to dampen and place on the l?le, and how large a piece of live coal to set on top of it.
The most famous coffee houses have today disappeared, but their memory remains, such as Pirin?ci in Kuledibi, G?ll? Agop Kiraathanesi in Gedikpasa, Valide Kiraathanesi in Emin?n?, Ligor Kiraathanesi under the Galata Bridge and Erzurum ?ayevi. Emirgan ?inaralti still survives but the nargile ceremonial has gone, along with its peaceful bubbling sound and wavering smoke. One place where nargile smoking has not been forgotten is Erenler Nargile situated in ?orlulu Ali Pasa Medrese at ?emberlitas between the Blue Mosque and the Covered Bazaar.
Of the 150 or so regular smokers, 30 have their own nargile. At all times of day curious tourists can be seen here watching the smokers puff away at their pipes. A word of advice if you happen to be in such an establishment: Lighting your cigarette from the bowl of someone's nargile is an unforgiveable sin, and will certainly infuriate the smoker. Erenler Nargile's proprietor S?kr? Usta of Sivas, who has been in this business for 20 years, is optimistic about the future of nargile smoking. He says that many new customers try out the nargile every day, and that some become regulars. He even serves that breed of early morning smokers which I had assumed to be extinct.