Wednesday, August 3, 2011
Despite Paris' supposed crackdown on smoking in public places, everywhere I turn, people seem to be lighting up in open defiance of the city ordinance - and no one else seems to give a damn, either.
It makes me wish I were still a huffing, puffing, smoking machine.
I remember the last time I was here - well well before the 2007 smoking ban - I only brought two reams of Marlboros. I say "only" because you must remember, I was an inveterate chain-smoker who was just on the second leg of a month-long European tour.
Now, I, like my Parisian smoking brethren, would light up anytime and anywhere in the city, breathing in the free air of smoking liberte sans frontieres. Strolling down the boulevards with a stick in my mouth, I soon found myself making so many "friends." It was as easy as offering a stranger a cigarette, or being asked for one. Of course, as I would discover later, mes amis didn't like me so much for my dashing good looks and charming personality as much as they did my cigarettes. The math, as I would find out later on in Venice when I finally exhausted my two reams, came out to P300.00 per pack. At P300.00 a ream back home in the Third World, that was a helluva mark-up. And no, the shops weren't selling by the stick, either.
No wonder I had so many "friends."
At any rate, the Eiffel Tower keychain from which my car and house keys have dangled for the past seven years has a rather sentimental - and smoking-related - story behind it. I had just abandoned the guided tour bus - and the rest of the scheduled itinerary - at the Trocadero station and was making a gleeful run for the Eiffel Tower, beckoning from a distance. Catching my breath at a souvenir kiosk halfway to the monument, I naturally lit a cigarette. The Moroccan proprietor of the souvenir stand I just happened to pause at smiled at me and gestured at my pack of Marlboro Reds.
Fluent in the international language of "bumming," I naturally not only gave him a stick, but lit it up for him as well. It was his gesture of appreciation that took me by surprise. Fishing out a small Eiffel Tower keychain from his wares, he offered it to me. I shook my head, not intending to buy any sidewalk souvenirs, but in broken, French-accented English, he said "Non, non. A gift. For you."
I grinned and accepted the little offering - upon which he held my face in his hands and planted two kisses on both my cheeks.
In broad daylight.
In front of hundreds of tourists and locals.
Mon Dieu! Scandale!
No one even batted an eyelash.
My first lesson in French nonchalance.