The Thoughts of a Frumpy Professor

............................................ ............................................ A blog devoted to the ramblings of a small town, middle aged college professor as he experiences life and all its strange variances.

Friday, May 05, 2023



I mentioned a while ago that I had been thinking about a trip I took to Austin, TX.  In looking back on it, it was a trip from what was actually 25 years ago (it did not seem that long ago).  This particular trip was a research related trip where I was presenting some of my data, and it occurred in the middle of the Summer.  

Austin, Texas is a very interesting town.  Of course, there is the University (UT Austin) where I spent much of my time at, since the meeting was hosted there.  But, Austin, for those in the know.... is a town that is very atypical for Texas.  It is a quite liberal, more forward thinking sort of town than are many of the stereotypes for Texas that many have.  

It was also a very "typical" sort of college town in many ways as well.  It was quite fun and enjoyable to meander around through town and around the outskirts of campus visiting all sorts of fun places.  

On one of the evenings at the conference, I and a few acquaintance-level friends (none of my closest friends ended up going to this meeting that year) went out to eat in the late afternoon.  We ended up finding a relatively small Turkish Restaurant (cannot unfortunately recall the name of the place).  I am not sure if all the foods they had were fully Turkish cuisine, or were a blend of traditional Turkish dishes and also other Mediterranean type dishes..... but, the food was excellent.  I especially remember how delicious a bulgar wheat salad I had there was.  I also ate a very delicious doner sandwhich.  Doner sandwhiches are something like in some ways.... a Greek gyro.  The Doner I ordered had spicy lamb on it and a whole array of vegetables.  The bread was a bit more rough-textured and rather "pita" like as opposed to the typically softer gyro style I am more familiar with for that sort of sandwhich.... but it was wonderful!

After we finished our meal, the other folks with me were interested in perusing a bit of "college bar hopping".  While I am not opposed to doing that on occasion, I was far more intrigued by the fact that this restaurant also offered nargile..... sometimes called a hookah as well.  I had never had the opportunity to experience that.  There were a number of gentlemen in a few different areas both inside the resturaunt and outside on their patio, who were smoking a shared nargaile at their table while they drank coffee, sometimes ate, and were often playing some sort of game like checkers, chess, or dominos.  

So, I told the folks I was with that I was going to stay a bit more, and that I would try to find them later.  They told me the general direction they were planning on progressing.  After we paid for our meals, the friends left, and I asked the fellow who was serving us dinner, if I could order/try a nargile.  As I am not Turkish, he raised his eyebrow a bit at me when I made my request, but he said sure. All of the fellows at the nargile tables appeared to be Turkish. He took me over to one of the tables where there was a nargile not being used, it was along a wall and the chairs were softer cushions,  almost akin to beanbag chairs.  He then showed me a list of the available types of sheesha (I gleaned quickly that this was the different types of Turkish tobaccos for the nargile they carried).  Since I had no knowledge of different types, I asked him to bring me what was most popular.  

After a bit, he came out with a clay bowl that he affixed atop of the nargile that had the Turkish tobacco in it.  The bowl was covered by foil upon which he then placed hot coals upon.  This was the traditional way that men from that region indulged in the nargile.  It was extremely flavorful.  And as a pipe smoker, I did not find it difficult to navigate at all.  It produced a different "texture" of smoke than I was familiar with from my pipe, but it was wholly pleasant. It was pleasantly relaxing too.  And, I was enjoying it greatly.  

Perhaps 15-20 minutes or so later, as I was still relaxing with the nargile, a thin, older gentleman came out from the kitchen area.  He did not speak any English, and unfortunately I do not know Turkish.  I am not certain, but I think he may have been the father of the owner of the restaurant.  He came over and nodded at me.  I smiled and nodded back.  Then he went over to another table, and brought a box of chess pieces and a nozzle with him and nodded at me again.  I had not realized it at first, but he was asking to join me at my table for a game of chess.  I nodded again. 

I was a bit nervous at first.  I am NOT a great chess player by any means.  In fact, I am probably more of a chess "stumbler" as I know well the MOVES of the pieces, but I never really envision a strategy to attack and defeat my opponent.  I usually just meander around the board much of the time.   The rather meager number of times I have won at chess makes a win seem almost happenstance. 

The older gentleman sat down, uncapped an unused side-arm on the nargile and attached his nozzle to it.  And then he opened the box of chess pieces, placing them on the checkerboard that was imbued in the tabletop.  The box also contained a small clock.  I had seen timed chess before, but had never participated in timed chess.  

As the first game progressed, I found I LIKED timed chess.... partially because I could not really spend time "overthinking" moves, and partially because the time limit made any stupid move I made.... not QUITE as stupid feeling, because I could tell myself I only had a little time to decide. :)  

Near the end of the first game, the older fellow hollered something in his native tongue back towards the kitchen, and the same server came out, this time with a pot of deep, dark Turkish coffee...  and he also  exchanged the bowl on our nargile, giving us a NEW bowlful of Turkish tobacco.  This one had a different (somewhat deeper) flavor than the first.  It too was very good.  Perhaps a bit stronger, and it had a hint of anise flavoring to it.  Very enjoyable and again quite pleasantly relaxing.  

We ended up playing a total of three games of timed chess.  I lost all three, but in one game I think I did reasonably well.  It was a wonderful way to spend time after dinner.  Even though we could not communicate with words, we enjoyed each other's company and enjoyed our games.  I was getting up to get ready to leave and I took out my wallet and motioned at the nargile in a way that suggested I wanted to pay the bill.  He waved his hand at me and shook his head, smiled and and then bowed forward just a bit.   

I thanked him.  And I slowly walked back towards campus to my room.



Blogger Margaret said...

What a wonderful memory! You chose well to not bar hop; your experience was so much more relaxing and cultural. I too have been to Austin. My friend and I accidentally reserved our time there during South by Southwest which was crazy. We were the only non-hipsters in town and old enough to be their mothers or even grandmothers!

Friday, 05 May, 2023  
Blogger peppylady (Dora) said...

Game I also like is crib.
Coffee is on, and stay safe.

Saturday, 06 May, 2023  
Blogger Anvilcloud said...

I can, or at least could, play chess. But if my students wanted to beat me, they would challenge me to speed chess. They could beat me then. I mean some could always beat me from time to time, but many could beat me most of the time at speed chess.

Austin is home of quite an atheist community. They have a Sunday evening call-in show (podcast? tv?) called the Atheist Experience. Truly a city for thinkers.

Saturday, 06 May, 2023  

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