Where there’s smoke, there’s zen.

Sven asked, “Would you like a cigarillo?”

With the day’s events behind us, the evening was now coming to a close. The fading light signaled it should be time to head back to Whittier. So when Sven Kirsten invited me to sit with him on his front porch to end the evening with a few sips of rum and a smoke, I was honored. It provided a few more moments with Tiki’s sensei.

It had already been a wonderful and full day. Due to Sven’s kind introduction, I was fortunate to have an afternoon visit with Alan and Michael at the marvelous HaleKahiki. After the visit, I enjoyed drinks and dinner with Sven, his wife Naomi, and his good friend Pete at the Red Lion Tavern just down the hill from his house. It was Tiki Tuesday night at the local German restaurant, and cocktail aficionados crowded in to enjoy Syd Thomas’ creations. I had become enamored with “Sleepless in Sea Battle,” a tasty cocktail garnished with a Kraken tentacle and a beautifully-crafted lemon wedge sailing ship with lemon peel sails and a toothpick mast. Within a short time, the schnitzel and sailing libations had swept me more towards sleepy than sleepless.

Earlier that afternoon, Sven and I spent an hour talking Tiki at his kitchen table. When we took a break to prepare for dinner, Sven put me to work hauling some furniture down the steep driveway to the curb. The furniture had been hanging out too long around the house, and my visit was fortuitous timing. The truth is, I was glad he asked. Doing something helpful made me feel more at home. I wanted to offer something in return for the encouragement and advice.

As we finished the haul, Sven stated, “I hope you don’t mind me giving you all this advice.”

It was quite the opposite. Not only did I not mind; I wanted to learn more. Sven Kirsten has spent much of his life researching, documenting, learning, writing, and sharing his knowledge of classic Tiki culture. He is Tiki’s urban archeologist, the expert who has essentially developed what we consider to be the canon of Tiki. His first publication on the subject is called “The Book of Tiki” for a reason. If I were to tell the stories of the people who love Tiki, I would be wise to listen.

I lit the cigarillo, took the earthy, sweet smoke into my nostrils, followed quickly with a sip of aged rum, and reveled in how delicious it is when smoke and rum interact. Sven and I sat in silent reverence of this fact as the sounds of Los Angeles faded with the dusk. Here it was, my moment of zen with Sven.

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