If the boulangerie is the Côte d’Azur’s beating heart, its lung is the tabac. I mean, you’ve got to give it to them, they’ve tried. Bans. Warnings. State-sponsored ads. Cancerous throats. Kaddish For An Unborn Child in photographic form right on the fucking packet. Whatever it is benzene and polonium-210 are getting up to, they can take a hike. This lot aren’t budging. Granted, nor are their cilia, but I don’t see anyone giving a shit. In the US, you wake up, brush your teeth and pour yourself a tall glass of milk. In France, you wake up- either already in some effortlessly chic shift dress or, conversely, fully nude; both will do here for what I’m going for- achingly French, and you reach for the cigarettes.
Aha! So we’ll drive them outside! But where? Onto south-facing terraces with optional parasols and iced Perrier on tap? FINE BY US!
Driving smokers outdoors in London vaguely works. It’s become very… Soviet. We stand in bunches. Huddle. Always end up facing the rain. There are many hardships. Lighters that just won’t take in this wind. Raincoats that seemed dry but the sleeves are still damp from earlier because whoever designed this piece of shit umbrella didn’t factor in that in this godforsaken land, it rains sideways.
It costs so much but feels so cheap.
Inhaling poison becomes a pleasure; the emergency escape exit from a broken record of cyclical soul-squalor that should’ve died out years ago from inertia but somehow ploughs mechanically on to the sound of Depeche Mode on a loop. The hamster wheel of compartmental destitution. It operates in cogs, each 3.5cm apart from the next. It has no beginning and no end; a shuttle bus to nowhere filled by a hop-on-never-hop-off populace of humanoid rodents in lacklustre suits from Next and cheap cologne. You don’t get to pick your start point. Since this cycle must commence somewhere, we’ll go for the fixed rate mortgage cog. 3.5cm from the dead-end job cog. That one’s a real fucker. It arrives boutique-packaged like a box of artisan chocolates; all shiny desks and swivel chairs wrapped in ribbon but no scissors. Just a line manager called Dave who wears bad ties and honours you with regular progress reports because life’s ultimate aptitude test begins and ends with how good a team player you were this week.
It’s dark. You’re not going to the gym tonight. Or ever.
You will sit on your Argos sofa with rubbish rosé from Tesco and watch Masterchef because I guarantee you, nothing will ever leave you quite as failed as stabbing holes in the cellophane of a microwave carbonara while some nineteen year-old skyrockets to culinary fame by boiling a quail’s egg, sticking it on a plate, adorning it with a sprig of parsley and a squirt of balsamic vinegar and calling it “cuisine”.
Of course, there’s a way out. All you have to do is look. It comes right before the next cog.
That brief window of air. The cigarette.