I haven’t smoked for…at least 20 years.
Although I could never be called a “serious smoker”: at peak of affliction, some time in my twenties, it was 3-4 cigarettes, not packs, a day. I was always what they call a “social smoker”: I needed a company to share a quiet moment and a friendly chat, and what better pretext than an aromatic tobacco smoke.
Polacks have a saying “kava demands a cig” (not “coffee”, although it’s a direct translation. “Kava” is closer to a Portuguese “bica”: a tiny portion of particularly potent espresso or a Turkish-style libation, lasting as long as one cigarette). Lost in translation another, difficult to define meaning, stemming more from way of life than from physicality. You lit a cig to accompany a cup of coffee, and you sip your cup in a cafe somewhere on a shady side of narrow Belle Epoque street, parking at a shaky table or a park bench to chat with a friend or a coworker (love the Polish word “koleżanką, a female colleague. Although it might also mean a girl- fellow student in college). Couple of minutes, in-n-out breath of freedom, forget obligations, forget your yoke – and just bubble, adjust your sense of ‘self”, reflect from the other, gain momentary perspective. The meaning hints at something else, still murkier: there are chains of events, one pleasure hooks to another, the end link might not be as innocent as the first that started it.
That was then…lasted my time in 1st college, climaxed during years in Lwiv, then suddenly I lost the urge. Coincided with being pregnant with my son (yes, so much in us is just play of hormones). I simply didn’t enjoy it anymore, it was never a conscious effort or decision.
In the years since, among especially pleasant talk with a smoker-friend, I might succumb to immediate urge and ask for one to share – but never again I could “swim in the same river”, the taste of cigarettes became bitter and repulsive. Still, when passing time at Heathrow 5 years ago, I bought a carton of English Silk Cuts – they resemble real thing only in image, contain almost no nicotine – out of sheer nostalgia. The idea was to have a light substitute that would not repel me if/when I would once again happen to share a smoking moment with a friend. Alas! Nobody really smokes anymore, especially in NY, and these moments, these breaks, became so rare – I still have 8.5 out of 10 packs of that carton.
Why am I telling you all this? Yesterday, Friday the 13th, when I finally got down in the street from an insanely busy and exhilarating week at my new office, among half-drizzle/half-fog of NY summer I suddenly got a whiff of passerby’s cigarette (he was a handsome new-Korean man – you know those ethnic Asians who happen to be born and raised on American bacon and cereal – tall, handsome, athletic and cosmopolitan), and all of a sudden the yearning for a thin long cigarette, an aromatic kava and a like-minded acquaintance hit me. If I was 20 yrs younger I’d call it “returned taste for life”.