dimanche, février 19, 2006

Smokey Folks

I could write a long entry on all the smoking anecdotes we've been party to, but I'd rather summarize: smoking kills.

Smokers have freedom here to light up whenever and where ever they like. The common complaint on “the Paris Street” has it that the anti-smoking lobby is a rampaging beast, well-nigh unstoppable, and already everywhere truncating their liberty. I don’t see it quite that way. Yes, the small Chinese traiteurs hang one or two “defense de fumeur” notices on the wall, but these are comically amateur, small-scale computer print outs, not even a full-sized page, (and run off in that wonderfully primitive, lo-res, florid script that would be the first choice for a “fancy” print out by an eight-year-old); and what’s more, there’s no enforcement. Many times have I sat in one of these places and witnessed smokers blithely igniting and inhaling right below the signs. I don’t wish to blame the immigrants running these places, they’re in a desperate situation half the time, and it seems unimaginable that they would confront a customer, esp. a native Frenchman, over smoking--I say this, and then I remember the brutal Korean floor boss at JAPORAMA, and I amend my statement to say, they just don’t think smoking is worth the battle.


1. So few people who smoke really seem like hard-core smokers. They smoke in a restaurant or café in the same way people who don’t smoke will take a cigarette and smoke at a night club: they smoke as an affectation. We sat outside at a pizza place with a couple behind us and the girl lit and extinguished I kid you not 5 cigarettes in a row. The boy joined her on half. The pleasure seems to come from lighting up, blowing out the intial humid, tangy cloud, and then holding the thing as it moulders down, and finally, killing it with a flourish--or maybe just chucking it. Cigarettes are lit by a boy and a girl at a small table in a brasserie; these cigarettes are held in all sorts of interesting postures, they are used to emphasize gestures, they dramatize a hand reaching across the table to touch some paper they are both reading, and coyly lift it for better viewing, ashes are tapped off in satisfying flicks, and an increasingly dense cloud forms above them, and they make a very continental picture. But it’s bloody obvious hardly anyone is inhaling. Nothing new in saying “people smoke because they believe it looks good.” But funny to see the streets of Paris scleromatic with poseurs. What did I expect, right?

2. Diverse types (but never pretty girls) feel free to approach you and ask for a cigarette. Not a light. A cigarette.

3. The engineering of the non-smoking sections in most restaurants is cockeyed: more often than not, the non fumeur section is just a random group of tables that are well within sniffing distance of the vast swathes of smokers. And there’s the difficulty in producing effective smoke-free havens--it’s the non-smokers who are ghettoized over here.

4. The guys like to roll their own. Is that so it’s less filtered? These smell legal, but particularly bad.

5. Amusing and perhaps ultimately humbling sight (humbling to see how human all of us are, whatever our pretenses, postures and protestations of superiority) to see so many of the young, and beyond the young, the self-consciously political, (political in the way everyone is political, as a public posture of superiority), so readily pouring money into the pockets of some of the most clearly villainous corporations on the planet, (uh, that’d be “tobacco companies”), most of ‘em American (tho’ Brit cigs seem popular--isn’t Lucky Strike British?). There is a popular photo here, which is sold as a poster or postcard at many of the book stalls along the Seine, and it depicts 3 intellectuals, none of ‘em recognizable to me: the era seems to be 1968, probably during the student uprisings (I have a suspicion one is “Danny the Red”), and the three are seated around a dingy table (strewn with papers I want to say--and ashtrays) with a microphone or two in front of them (I could be wrong); the vibe is “marathon session,” and they all three look unwashed, but not fatigued, more like possessed with a weary look of shabby exultancy in their power, a power that has kept them up for a long time; they are all in self-consciously casual dress, one in a sort of Che Guvara military jacket (I could be confused, as this image is invariably displayed next to an image of Che), one in a thick turtle neck; they could be three intellectuals being interviewed on the conclusions reached after an all-night Marxist slumber party, or they could be three radicals making demands of the State. All three strike their self-mythologizing poses holding cigarettes.

(The image is interesting because you get the sense this photo was snapped at the absolute apex of these three guys’ lives; it’s so clear that they are so fully involved in the moment, so conscious that this is as good as it's going to get, their moment in the sun, etc.--and you rarely get an actual shot of that moment--it seldom comes on the victory podium, when the medal is placed around your neck; and if that moment does truly represent a person's apex, then we are left with very poor evidence of any transcendance--we can only feel sad when such a moment is spent in reflexive tears [as if running from self-knowledge], or leering triumphalism, both of which seem empty and pre-conceived and more than a little vapid, and worst of all, are completely unaware of the moment in the way these three guys with their self-importance and manufactured stance could find that bright doorway to...illumination.)(This train of thought makes the poster much more palatable, as opposed to the read, "What the hell are those three gas bags pontificating about? Tell them to get a shave and get a job!")

6. However bad Paris may seem, it is much better than Rome, where the people are truly smokers, and the air can be oppressively foul with body and breath exhaust.

7. Paris does acknowledge that not everyone smokes, and that everyone should not have to put up with smoke, so there are strictly enforced non-smoking zones, like the Louvre and the Metro.

BUT here is the worst thing I’ve yet encountered: now, I may be sounding like some anti-smoking crusader here, a very routine American phillistine, and I agree that is disagreeable. You are not wasting good electricity to read predictable rants. Let me contextualize the preceeding by saying I am really allergic to smoke fumes, and therefore a little sensitive to the whole thing, but I recognize that I am in a foreign country, and I do not seek to impose my values on these people; however, I do see inconsistencies in the fashion of smoking, and I comment on these. But I can take the smoking, and do, everyday, however silly it is (I guess I’m resentful because I’d love to see somebody step up and define a new way of living, a new way of being, a rearticulation in today’s terms of all the things we should believe in, a sort of force to counter, and in some way to fight the nihlism and short-sighted anti-moral vacuum we’re all living in--but I guess the French are a little too busy worrying about how they look)(that’s OK, so am I).
--The worst thing I’ve encountered is at the gym. The gym is very small, and all the machines are very close together, especially the cardio machines; there’s hardly room enough between two stationary bikes to dismount without upsetting the rider beside you. So I find it incredibly disturbing--unbearable, in fact--when I am into my workout, and here comes somebody who plants themselves ten inches away from me just REEKING of smoke--not just a smoker mind you, someone who is practically trailing visible clouds of nicotine burn. AND THEY’RE IN THE GYM?

Only in Europe, man.