Monday, May 16, 2011

J'ai fumé

Paris held boucoup des choses pour moi.

Bridges and architecture. A pink setting sun over the Seine. Sitting in a cafe, drinking café from a minuscule cup with a cube of sugar on the saucer. The glow of the Sacre Coeur from my flat window. Battling roving Frenchmen hands in the metro. Fresh, warm baguettes smothered in brie. A glittering Tour Eiffel seen from everywhere in the city. Hours studying Le Langue Français and hours drinking the language away in wine. Wandering winding streets and losing myself in museums. Quartier Latin for class and Le Neuvième for home. Delectable pastries and cigarette smoke.

It seemed to me smoking was as integral to French culture as hot dogs and apple pie are to Americans.

Paris for me was a young man dressed all in black, jaywalking in the middle of impossibly dense traffic, no hat or umbrella, smoking despite and to spite the heavy rain, a “fuck you” look on his face that he was born with.

It was four course meals, including a cigarette course, snaky trails enhancing bitter espresso and long conversation au Franglish, sips and drags and laughter.

It was spoken word performance, a cigarette in a poet’s hand, swirls of smokey air tinging each word with poignancy, murky air carrying the metre, hazy breaths punctuating each pause and stanza.


It was loud jazz music in the park on a warm, humid, summer night. Syncopated notes mingling with smoke and setting a delicious scene in my memory, a souvenir all its own.

It was Vogue cigarettes, endlessly long and thin in my fingers, making me feel like fucking Audrey Hepburn or Brigitte Bardot, the rose flavor sucked down with relish, the whorls emanating pure, smokey sex, no matter what the surgeon general says.

J’ai fumé. I smoked shamelessly in Paris. Perhaps it was an effort to fit in. Perhaps it was a deluded way of feeling more Française. Perhaps I was just giving myself over to the culture, letting my preconceived notions and cultural taboos go for a bit, opening my mind and experiencing something new. Savoring a different way of living that centered around truly, truly living, setting aside my endless worries and enjoying a meal and good company and conversation and the sweet buzz of a cigarette.

J’ai fumé à Paris, but I quit several months after I went home to California. I wasn’t prepared for the culture shock of going back to a place that had been home for 26 years. And smoking wasn’t as acceptable any longer. Didn’t hold the appeal. Didn’t punctuate poetry or enhance experience, didn’t ooze sex Français.

I still have the last box of Vogues, half empty, sitting in a box of French memories, nestled next to maps and postcards and metro cards. That’s how smoking will always be for me. In my box of memories of Paris. The experience its own souvenir.

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This was a post for the RemembeRED prompt: Write about the first (or second) memory that comes to mind when you see this:

18 comments mean you love me:

Liz said...Best Blogger Tips[Reply to comment]Best Blogger Templates

this is definitely the most fanciful tribute to cigarettes I've ever read! ;)

Skye said...Best Blogger Tips[Reply to comment]Best Blogger Templates

aww, this makes me miss my time in Paris!

homotoper said...Best Blogger Tips[Reply to comment]Best Blogger Templates

Wonderful. Thanks for helping me to think back on my time in Paris. I smoked back then also, and have smoked quite a bit back here (although no more), but smoking is more romantic in Paris. There's no doubt.

Nush said...Best Blogger Tips[Reply to comment]Best Blogger Templates

It was a very vivid description... can really see you sitting there with a cigarette in your hand drinking wine.

I do not smoke myself (part from some pathetic attempts to party smoke as an 18 year old) but I have always thought that there is something decadent french over the whole thing.

For some reason it is integrated with all things french. I actually do not think I know a single non-smoking Frenchman or woman. C'est la vie, I guess. :)

andygirl said...Best Blogger Tips[Reply to comment]Best Blogger Templates

@Liz right? thing is, I hate the smell of cigarettes now. France does something crazy to you, I swear.

andygirl said...Best Blogger Tips[Reply to comment]Best Blogger Templates

@Skye let's go BACK!

andygirl said...Best Blogger Tips[Reply to comment]Best Blogger Templates

@homotoper no doubt. :)

andygirl said...Best Blogger Tips[Reply to comment]Best Blogger Templates

@Nush same here. every French person I know, young and old, smokes. it's a French thing. hey, the word cigarette is French.

alonewithcats said...Best Blogger Tips[Reply to comment]Best Blogger Templates

I enthusiastically embraced smoking when I visited Spain in high school. That was perhaps one of the only times in my life that I felt cool. Damn you cancer sticks and your sexiness.

andygirl said...Best Blogger Tips[Reply to comment]Best Blogger Templates

@alonewithcats I second that!

The Reason You Come said...Best Blogger Tips[Reply to comment]Best Blogger Templates

I didn't know the French smoked too much. But that's probably because I don't know much about the French. I don't smoke anymore, but there is a certain romance and allure to the combination of cigarettes and Paris.

TKW said...Best Blogger Tips[Reply to comment]Best Blogger Templates

When I visited Paris, that was one of my lasting memories--impossible chic women and men, sitting at cafes on the Champs Elysses, smoking and drinking red wine. It seemed so romantic. I think I would have smoked in Paris, too, had I been there longer than a few days. Vivid detail! It really brought me back,

Kir said...Best Blogger Tips[Reply to comment]Best Blogger Templates

It was WONDERFUL!!!

It almost made me wistful for a cigarette and I've never been a smoker..it's reminds me of Carrie when she goes to Paris at the end of the SATC series and she says, "I'm in Paris" while taking a drag.

I am envious of this experience you had, what a wonderful thing to be able to bring those memories back.
Thanks for sharing. :)

BalancingMama (Julie) said...Best Blogger Tips[Reply to comment]Best Blogger Templates

I had to read this post b/c your title was French! I love France. Have never been to Paris, but experienced the south of France (Nice/Cannes) a couple yrs ago. I had a group of family and a 14-month old in tow, so I wasn't nearly as cool as you. But what a great post!

Galit Breen said...Best Blogger Tips[Reply to comment]Best Blogger Templates

Love this post!

Yes, travel is just...different. You appreciate things that you never might not in your "real life." You captured that beautifully here!

I love that you included the photo of you and (strangely perhaps?) I adore that you have a memory box with a box of cigarettes in it!

Elaine A. said...Best Blogger Tips[Reply to comment]Best Blogger Templates

Ah shoot! You made me want a trip to France even more than usual. It all sounds wonderful, even the cigarettes! Fabulous description of your time there...

Leigh Ann said...Best Blogger Tips[Reply to comment]Best Blogger Templates

It's funny how some cultures can still make smoking look so glamorous. But here in the states it's absolutely abhorred. I loved you taking us through your French memories!

Anastasia said...Best Blogger Tips[Reply to comment]Best Blogger Templates

I can certainly understand. I've never been to france but I've known enough french people to get it. I envy you getting to live there.

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