Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Smoke Got In Their Eyes


Some readers reacted supportively to my post on the new ban on smoking in French public places. I expected reproaches for defending an unhealthy habit, and some medical advice, etc...but I think everyone got the point - that a way of life that was so much a part of European culture is ending, on orders from the Good Doctor Government.

One reader sent a webpage of photos of famous Frenchmen smoking. I recognized Jean-Paul Sartre, Yves Montand, Jean Gabin, Jean-Paul Belmondo, Alain Delon, Albert Camus, Charles Boyer and (I think) Jacques Tati. Camus is pictured above. I wasn't able to fit the whole page into the blog, so click here for the gallery of "rogues". I'm surprised to see a package of Gauloises in a metal container - when did they have that?

Another reader sent a wonderful poem by Stéphane Mallarmé called "Hommage"


Toute l'âme résumée
Quand lente nous l'expirons
Dans plusieurs ronds de fumée
Abolis en autres ronds

Atteste quelque cigare
Brûlant savamment pour peu
Que la cendre se sépare
De son clair baiser de feu

Ainsi le choeur des romances
À la lèvre vole-t-il
Exclus-en si tu commences
Le réel parce que vil

Les sens trop précis rature
Ta vague littérature.

Mallarmé is difficult to translate, so I won't even try. Suffice it to say it's about the soul being completely contained within the rings of swirling smoke, attesting that a cigar is burning away wisely, since it sheds its ash when the fire is spent. If choirs of romance thus rise to your lips, exclude reality from them, for feelings that are too precise eradicate art.

That may not be clear, but then, smoke is not clear. And Mallarmé is rarely clear - he disdains clarity.

Finally another reader wonders if the French government will ban water pipes in the cafés. Good question. My answer: probably not.

In case anyone doesn't know, a water pipe is also called a hookah, from the Arabic "huqqa", a pipe whose stem is immersed in water.

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