smoke gets in your eyes

Yesterday, when I commented that at this time of year the air is full of a mixture of mist, cloud and bonfire smoke, I forgot two other factors that fog the village skies.

First of all, many of the older houses in the area rely on log fires for heating and their chimneys are belching smoke before the sun is up.

Then there’s the smoke from cigarettes and cigars. When I moved to Spain, the smell of cigarette smoke shocked me; I’ve just found this in an article I wrote about Madrid nearly ten years ago:

[cigarette smoke] drapes itself around you like an over-friendly drunk in bars; it shares your table uninvited in restaurants

Presumably the Spanish took to smoking when tobacco was brought back from the New World. Now, tobacco prices are higher than they’ve ever been, and smoking is banned in bars and restaurants, but that hasn’t stopped the smokers. In a village with a population of around 6,000, where scores of bars sell cigarettes, we still manage to keep three tobacconists in business.

smokers' tent chimney
Of course, the bars want to keep their clients, which is why they sell tobacco and, wherever possible, they also provide seating areas outside for smokers. In the summer, it’s no problem, but even in Spain it rains occasionally, and in winter the temperatures drop.

So some of the local bar owners have refurbished their terrazas with semi-permanent marquees.

The problem, of course, is heating these outdoor areas. I’m not sure whether those gas patio heaters are still legal or not, but our local bar is clearly taking no chances. The chimney shown in the photo on the right is from a traditional cast-iron, log-burning stove set up in a smokers’ tent.

In the picture below, the barman is getting the fire lit ready for lunchtime customers. Once it’s lit and the canvas walls are let down, the smokers and their families can sit snug as bugs in the fug while the smoke from the stove pours out over the heads of passers-by.

smokers' tent with log stove

This seems a good time to post a poem from a few years back, before smoking was banned indoors, when each bar owner chose whether theirs was to be a smoke-free zone. The first stanza is an almost literal translation of a typical sign on display at the time.

The Management Informs:

You may smoke
in this Establishment. Smoking
is prejudicial to your health and to the health
of those around you.

You may drink
in this Establishment. The consumption
of alcoholic beverages may cause damage
to your liver, and has been known to have
knock-on effects on other people’s lives.
For those who choose to avoid alcohol, we offer
various soft drinks, sweetened with sugar
which will rot your teeth and make you fat, or
with artificial compounds, the side effects of which
have not been fully researched (nor will they be
until too late, when addiction, allergy
or cancer has already taken hold).

You may eat
in this Establishment: fat-saturated hamburgers
and oily chips with blood-pressure raising salt
– which, incidentally, will make you drink more.
Food may not be consumed here
which has been prepared
and brought in from elsewhere.

You may not sing
in this Establishment. Cards,
on the other hand, are quite acceptable,
although we would request that if you lose
your shirt, your house, or fortune, that you do so
quietly. The Management
will not be held responsible.

The Management of this Establishment bids you
Welcome and says, Thank you
for your visit; please call again.

Author: don't confuse the narrator

Exploring the boundary between writer and narrator through first person poetry, prose and opinion

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