This will come as a shock to regular readers of this column, but I have done some ill-advised things in my time. I have bathed in plaster, shaved Charlie Brownâ€™s zig-zag shirt pattern into my hair, and let two crack dealers namedâ€”I am not making this up, Pimplenose and Troubleâ€”make a series of calls from my cell phone one long night in Birmingham.
I have eaten more than one insect on purpose, and worn more than one pair of pleather pants. I played rhythm guitar in a band called â€œThe Alarm Cock.â€ I have also purchased, and it pains me to write these words, no fewer than three ICP albums. Purchased, not pirated.
Among my biggest blockheaded boners was participating in a little ritual we dreamed up in college called the Trifecta. The Trifecta was designed to get you as far from sobriety in as little time as possible, using only–get this–tobacco. In retrospect, I don’t know why we didn’t just huff gasoline or something, because the Trifecta was viiiiile. To do this properly, one needs to pack a â€œdouble horseshoeâ€ of chewing tobacco, stuffing the upper and lower lips with about a handful of Peach-Flavored Skoal for each cavity. As the juices begin to flow and you feel like youâ€™re about to pass out, the discerning Trifecta-er will take a massive drag of an unfiltered mentholated cigarette and hold it. The final component is a hefty line of snuffâ€”powdered tobacco. After releasing the smoke, the trifecta has been acheived, and the resulting buzz is more or less guaranteed to make you vomit, or at the very least tilt lazily from verticality and start frowning at the earth, which will have suddenly betrayed you by roiling violently.
Snuff. Like Steve McQueen said, it seemed to be a good idea at the time. My snuff came in a blue plastic box covered with German writing that probably said something to the effect of, â€œDo not do snuff. It is terrible and will make your snot brown. The inside of your head will burn and taste like cigarettes. Seriously, cocaine is better for you. Throw this away and go smoke varnish or something.”
I bring this up because the Met has a small gallery in the European wing consisting mostly of snuffboxes from pre-revolution France (thatâ€™s called a segue, kids). The gallery itself is as far as I can tell nameless, and itâ€™s really nothing more than an eight-foot wide alcove filled with precious boxes. Needless to say, I thought it was awesome. Only a museum with a collection like the Metâ€™s can take what would otherwise have been an overlooked span of wall facing the bathrooms, and turn that into a delightful little revelation.
The snuffboxes are no more than a few inches on a side, usually gilt, and often covered with porcelain or inlaid mother of pearl. The vitrine also has other kinds of objets de luxe, including Ã©tuis, which the wall text defines as â€œany small portable container, case, or box that conforms to the shape of its contentsâ€ which could include â€œear spoonsâ€ and â€œtongue scrapers.â€ Um.
Thereâ€™s something appealing about a box that conforms to the shape of whatâ€™s in it, rather than just idly sitting box-shaped, regardless of what someone wants to put in there. One-use boxes made of precious metals. Ah, France. And you wondered why a mob of malnourished malcontents stormed the Bastille!
Also, another discovery: â€œsouvenirâ€ denotes not only a chintzy replica of the Empire State Building, but also a tiny notepad in an ornamented case (souvenir=to remember; writing=an act of memory; me= a linguist). They were usually decorated with portraits or little allegorical scenes and contained little baby pencils. Adorable.
The Snuffbox Gallery
Highlights: Blinged-out boxes for ear spoons (seriously, what are ear spoons? A prize to the SD reader who can answer).
Memorable Quote: â€œIn France, snuff was praised for its power to bring on a healthy and hearty sneeze, but it was not until the last quarter of the seventeenth century that it became socially fashionableâ€”despite King Louis XIVâ€™s disdain for the habit.â€ From the wall text, Definition of Terms.
Next Week: We travel to South America and see a skull-shaped jug.