I blame the French. I don’t see why not. After all, aren’t they responsible for most vices in life? I am referring to the particular vice I picked up while visiting France last October. In between my jaunts to pâtisseries, wandering the streets of Bourg-en-Bresse, and flirting with museum guides, (see Traveling and “Never Thought”) I got into the habit of smoking cigarettes. They were easy enough to come by. You can find them in most “bars,” which is to say cafes and small restaurants. At least they were readily available in the places where I hung out, but then so was hot chocolate. One bar I frequented regularly threw in a plastic cigarette lighter with the tricolor. I used it proudly. I am nothing if not grateful for General Lafayette’s aid during the American Revolution. Lafayette, je suis ici.
Thankfully, for me smoking has never really stuck, although I can’t say why. I am aware, like everybody else on the planet, that it can cause cancer, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, premature aging, and bronchitis. But those risks haven’t dissuaded me. The price of cigarettes is more effective in that regard as are the photos they now include on packaging. I’m not sure about the States, since I don’t buy cigarettes at home, preferring instead to mooch off others when sipping a martini, but elsewhere the packs often contain grotesque images from medical textbooks. It reminds me of the slices of charcoaled lung they would pass around in Saran wrap in sixth grade to scare the crap out of us. Honestly, though, I haven’t gotten addicted to cigarettes, because I get bored and move on. I simply loose interest, which turns out to be a great strategy for cigarettes; not so much for relationships, but that’s another story.
Still, I bought cigarettes in France, where they were no cheaper than in California. How could I not? Isn’t that what the French do? After half a pack I wanted to build a barricade. I liked their taste, the breathing, the slight pressure on my chest. Maybe cigarettes taste differently there than in the US. Maybe in France they provided a certain gustatory balance with all the fat I had been consuming in the form of cheese and chocolate. Isn’t that why they pair wine with cheese? Of course, it could have been the air in southeastern France. Or, maybe it was just my imagination, which I do not rule out, being a suggestive type (see Just My Imagination).
On my return home I continued the habit, smoking a Gauloise cigarette each morning with my espresso. Then I added Sambuca. I would stand at my screen door and watch the dawn creeping into my garden like the opossum that lives nearby as the houses around me slept. I found this ritual to be prayerful. Breathing cigarette smoke and drinking French roast coffee mixed with Sambuca at dawn can give you a rush that feels intensely private.
But everything comes to an end, even moments of beauty, as Goethe reminds us. (“Beautiful moment, do not pass away!” Faust I, 1808). To wit, I’ve finished the pack of Gauloise and emptied the Sambuca bottle. Now they are gone and I miss them, although I am not about to rush out to replenish the stock. I am already loosing interest. I’m not sure what that means in a wider context, but is it possible that I am psychologically disposed not to commit to anything for very long? I wouldn’t think so, though I can see how that might come in handy in certain situations. Probably better to leave that for another post.
So, does my last cigarette mean that I will no longer enjoy intensely private moments in the chilly dawn of my garden? Pas du tout, madame. It just won’t involve ashes or anise-flavored liqueur or breathing through a screen door, imagining that I am in France climbing slabs of cheese and chocolate. But, really, what can I do about that? C’est la vie.
Image credits: feature by Mahmudul Hasan Shaon on Unsplash; vertical by Uitbundig on Unsplash. For reading this holiday season, get your copy of The Gringo (2011), Laura Fedora (2014), and Nine Lives (2016) here.