The Fine Art of Hookahs

With the Orientalism movement of the late 19th century, European artists introduced the world to the hookah. The Orientalist painters, fascinated with the mystery and romance associated with Egypt and the Middle East, began to travel to places like Cairo and Tangiers in search of subjects for their art. What resulted was not only some fabulous fine art but also the spread of knowledge of the hookah. Many of the images in Orientalist paintings include a hookah, such as Arab Girl with Water Pipe by Gerome. The piece depicts a young woman seated on a ledge in a Cairo alley. The doorway behind her is called a "bab" or gate, and Islamic Cairo (the part of Cairo where the famous bazaar, Khan el-Khalili, is located) has several of them. Soldiers closed and guarded these gates at night to offer protection from invading forces. Several centuries later, parts of the city are still identified by the names of the gates closest to them. Ali comes from one of these gated areas of Islamic Cairo, and it just so happens that this particular part of the city is best known for -- you guessed it -- HOOKAHS! Is it any wonder that Ali's family has been a part of the hookah industry for generations, then? Back to the painting. . .notice how the hookah is made of metal rather than glass. Glass, because of its fragility, was more expensive than metal and was therefore the hookah of choice for those who had enough money to replace them should they break.

In Cafe House in Cairo, the artist gives us a bird's eye view of the precursor to the contemporary hookah lounge! Coffee shops in Cairo don't look like this anymore, even the very old ones. Now they are filled with tables and chairs where people, mostly men, sit to discuss politics, tell jokes (Egyptians LOVE jokes and tell some great ones!), play backgammon or chess, drink tea or Turkish coffee, and smoke shisha (the name for hookah in Egypt). They are centers of social activity day and night, and it is not often that you will find a coffee shop without a few patrons. The oldest coffee shop in Islamic Cairo, which is located across the street from the Al-Hussein Mosque, belongs to a distant relative of Ali's mother. The place is always packed with locals and tourists wandering through the old part of the city. Again, the hookah is made of metal rather than glass, but that is about to change. . .

In Eugene Delacroix's Algiers, we finally get to see a hookah with a glass base! Notice that it is a household hookah used by women? Because it is not likely that the hookah would see the same kind of hard use from women as it would from men, the glass base is a safe investment. Furthermore, the delicacy of the glass serves as a metaphor for the male belief in the fragile nature of the female. Notice, too, how it is considerably smaller or shorter than the metal hookahs that the men use. Another interesting thing to note about the hookah is its shape. Rather than the traditional bell shaped glass commonly associated with the hookah, this one has a bulb shape (also called ola after a clay water vessel). In terms of symbolism, this bulb shape is representative of the female form, especially the pregnant female form. This hookah is definitely a woman's pipe!

I hope that you have enjoyed a brief introduction to the hookah in fine art! There are many more examples available for your viewing pleasure. To find them, do a web search using Orientalism and Fine Art as your search terms. The links below will take you to our eBay store where you will find some authentic Egyptian hookahs like the ones in the paintings. Enjoy!

Karma Chameleon

The past few days have been interesting, indeed, as far as hookahs are concerned. There must have been a cosmic force at work on the imposter Chinese hookahs because I answered no fewer than half a dozen phone calls from upset people who, without knowing any better, bought a Chinese hookah insead of an authentic Egyptian one. Why they call us, I haven't quite figured out yet; we don't sell Chinese hookahs! I finally came to the conclusion that they call us because we make ourselves available to our customers where other eBay sellers don't.

Anyway, back to these nasty little imposter hookahs. . . Two people who owned them discovered that the paint on the glass peels off quite easily after the glass has been washed a couple of time. One man was concerned about the metal from which the shaft is made because it is, as he said, "very light weight." Yet another had purchased a hookah with a screw-in shaft only to discover that the threads stip easily. Had these poor souls done their homework before buying a hookah, they would have been able to tell the difference between the Chinese and Egyptian hookahs. Not sure what those differences are yourself? Check out our Hookah Comparison Chart!

We are still unpacking boxes and shelving the treasures they hold. Ali did a great job of choosing such a diverse group of bases and, oh, the colors are outstanding! Because we really do listen to our customers, we can now boast that we have red roting hookahs! I will be sure to get some photos this weekend and will post one here. Meanwhile, you can look at the other rotating hookahs that we have for sale in our eBay store:

Do your homework, and you will soon discover that we have unbeatable prices!

Back to School

Geez, but the summer has just flown by! With Ali (he's the "pop" of our good old-fashioned mom & pop business) gone from April until June (he was in Egypt preparing our latest shipment) and then both of us waiting for the container to arrive, it seems as though summer completely skipped us! Well, all except for the miserably hot and humid weather that has become the "norm" in Southern California for the past few weeks. I will not miss that when summer fades into fall.

All of the local colleges have started their fall semesters, so we are looking forward to the incoming freshmen discovering our local hookah shop. Our warehouse is conveniently located between a very large university and a decent sized junior college, and most of our customers find us by word of mouth from their classmates. Hookahs and college students are almost synonymous these days.

Our website is just about ready to launch! We've got our fingers crossed for everything to be finished and working by the end of next week. It has been a monumental project but definitely one worth tackling. For the time being, our site is redirected to our eBay store.

It has been a long day with lots of shipping to finish up before we can close up shop and go home, so I will save the rest of my hookah news for another day.

Shisha Mixes

We've been comparing our favorite shisha mixes with our customers' and have discovered some really interesting ones that we haven't yet tried. Our favorite is orange and mint (fill the bowl with orange and sprinkle a little bit of mint on top for a wonderful citrus flavor with an aftertaste of mint), but we are always open to try new ones. Here are some of the mixes that our customers have suggested to us:

  • coconut, pineapple, and mango
  • apple and cherry
  • strawberry, banana, and orange
  • lemon, jasmine, and mint
  • cola, vanilla, and cherry
  • raspberry, peach, and lemon

Looks like we've got a lot of hookah smoking to do! I'm not a big fan of the flower flavors (jasmine and rose), but lemon, jasmine, and mint sounds wonderful to me for some reason. If you've got some interesting and tasty mixes that you like, please share them with us!

Take a look at the new hookahs that we have listed for sale on eBay:

Uncovering the Treasures

We are finally making some serious headway with the unpacking! Yesterday was spent rifling through boxes, inspecting, counting, and shelving the newfound treasures along the way. Although we finished only a very small section of the boxes that line the walls and shelves of the warehouse, our updated inventory shows no less than 34 new glass styles and colors! Unbelievable!

The rest of the boxes will be unpacked in a similar methodical fashion, mostly because doing so makes it so much easier to keep a tight control over the inventory. Of course, it also helps us to speed up the shipping process when we know exactly where a certain glass style is located on the shelves and to that end, we are mapping the warehouse shelves as part of the process. It's a lot of work, but it's so much better to do it all now so that we can reap the benefits of it for the remainder of the year -- or until the next container arrives, LOL!

A couple of regular customers came in while we were shelving glasses and helped us out. We have the best customers in the world! It was hard to tell who was more excited about all the new glasses -- us or the customers. As I assembled a few hookahs to take pictures so that I could get them listed on eBay, the guys pointed out their favorites:

One liked the clean, classic colors in the White Aswan with black and silver hoses.

The other one took to the Green Pyramid with black and silver hoses. I'm kind of partial to a King Tut glass but will post a photo of it later. It's time to get back to unpacking!

Your Tax Dollars at Work

Thanks to government intervention, it will soon be next to impossible to buy shisha (ma'assel) online. States such as New York and California that have imposed ridiculously high taxes on tobacco products as part of their rigid anti-smoking laws have complained that online cigarette sales are depriving them of a much needed source of tax revenue. Uncle Sam took notice of those complaints and agreed that consumers who purchase tobacco products online are in violation of tax law and must be stopped. Mastercard has jumped on the bandwagon and has alerted all of its merchants that they will no longer accept credit card payments for online tobacco purchases. At least three of our wholesale accounts have, without realizing it, run afoul of the law with the result being that their bank and merchant accounts have been frozen. None of these companies sell cigarettes online and since the primary target of the grumbling, whining, and complaining has been about online cigarette sales, one would think that a hookah merchant would be safe. Unfortunately, shisha (ma'assel) is guilty by association. How this will all play out in the end is anyone's guess. As it is currently, however, those hookah merchants who continue to offer shisha for sale on their websites will sooner or later find themselves up in smoke.

Cultural Device vs. Drug Paraphernalia

The funniest thing happened at our warehouse today! A very nice young man who bought a hookah from us on Friday came in looking rather flustered. Since Ali was busy preparing a huge order for a wholesaler, I went to the showroom to greet the poor fellow. It turns out that he needed a replacement glass because his was already broken. When I asked him what happened, especially because he hadn't had the hookah very long, the guy tells me that he and group of friends spent the weekend at another friend's beach house. He took his brand new hookah with him to share with his buds. The guys had a great time on Saturday night mixing different shisha flavors with each bowl and judging who had come up with the best mix. All was great until early Sunday morning when our customer was awakened to the sound of shattering glass. Thinking that a robbery was underway, the guys all jumped out of bed and went running in various directions through the house. Imagine our customer's surprise when he dashed into the kitchen and found his friend's mother with a hammer in her hand and his hookah smashed to smithereens! Turns out the mom thought that her son and his buddies were using drugs in that thar hookah and wanted to let them all know that she wasn't going to tolerate it, especially in her home. Feeling rather embarrassed when the guys explained all about the hookah, the mom gave our cusstomer money to replace the one she destroyed.

All's well that ends well, I suppose. . .

But still, I am left wondering how many people still have that 60's mentality about the hookah? I'm not so silly as to think that there aren't people who use the hookah for substances other than what it was intended for, but surely those folks aren't dumb enough to drag a 32" pipe with them from house to house while they party, right? And hello, from what I remember of my younger days, pot and shisha have vastly different aromas! Since when was the last time you smelled pina colada flavored marijuana, LOL?!