Ashtray Heart

Now laughing friends deride Tears I can not hide Oh, so I smile and say When a lovely flame dies Smoke gets in your eyes

On a lazy Saturday afternoon (yesterday) I began to think (it was a random thought) on how many photographs I had of people smoking. Since at one time smoking was considered to be a sexy endeavour I have many sexy women smoking. I find it very difficult that I would now photograph anybody indulging in the habit.

Michael Turner at the Marble Arch

The first Westerner to notice the use of tobacco was Columbus. Some reports had the Carib Indians (they were not Indians but then Columbus had many things wrong) smoking tobacco through their noses. You might wonder why it is that the etymology of tobacco is Arabic according to my wonderful (an extremely accurate) on line dictionary of the Spanish Language, RAE (Real Academia Española). The RAE states: Del ár. clás. ṭub[b]āq).

Rakesh Saxean under house arrest

The explanation for this is a roundabout one. The tobacco plant is in botanical nomenclature Nicotiana tabacum. It is a member of the Solanaceae family which includes petunias, tomatoes, potatoes, belladonna, and all the chilies and pepper (but not pepper which is something Columbus got wrong when he call chilies and bell “peppers” peppers). This family is rich in alkaloids and humans in general cannot cope with its toxicity.

This is where the Arabs come in. They called all medicinal plants that tended to make people dizzy tabbaq. When Columbus watched the Caribs he noted this (particularly if you are smoking the stuff through your nose!) and tabbaq was the name used.

R.J. Clarke & a Montecristo Claro

My RAE states that cigarro (in Spanish it can denote a cigarillo, or cigarette or if you qualify it with puro as in a cigarro puro it becomes a cigar. On the other hand even cigars not made in Cuba are sometimes called habanos):

(Del maya siyar).
1. m. Rollo de hojas de tabaco, que se enciende por un extremo y se chupa o fuma por el opuesto.

Defined as a roll of tobacco leaves that are lit on one end and sucked or smoked on the other. The Mayan verb siyar means to smoke rolled tobacco leaves.

Somewhere the Spanish word cigarro (which some say did not come from the Mayan but from the long cylindrical shape which is similar to a cigarra or Spanish for cicada) became Frenchified to cigarette and by the time I was 9 when I read my Classics Illustrated I was perplexed that the cute heroine was called Cigarette. When I saw the film I found it satisfying to note that Claudette Colbert was Cigarette and she was cute but, even then, not cute as a cigarette to me. I find it curious that there are two very melodramtic films with Ronald Colman that make a memorable pair , one Under Two Flags and the other A Tale of Two Cities.

Under Two Flags was written by Ouida (how many authors are known by one name, only?) Ouida, is a pseudonym of Maria Louise Ramé, last name also spelled de la Ramée (born Jan. 1, 1839, Bury St. Edmunds, Suffolk, Eng. — died Jan. 25, 1908, Viareggio, Italy), She was an English novelist, known for her extravagant melodramatic romances of fashionable life. Ouida’s father was a teacher of French, and the pseudonym “Ouida” derived from a childhood version of “Louisa.” So that might explain the little heroine called Cigarette.

My earliest memory, around 1948 when I was 6 or 7, of the cigarette is in the form of my father’s and my mother’s voice. Half a block from our Melián Street home in Buenos Aires there was a corner store. I had to carefully cross a street, Nahuel Huapí which was wider than Melián and had tram tracks as the Number 35 passed on them. My mother smoked an Argentine blend called Arizonas. So I was dispatched to get her a pack when her supply ran out. My father had a frequent visitor, Argentine writer Julio Cortázar who also smoked Arizonas. Cortázar did not like my father’s Players Navy Cut cigarettes (they came in a round tin) so I would have to go to the store to buy him his brand.

At the Marble Arch

People smoking cigarettes did not affect me in any way except for the lingering memory that I have of being embraced by my father who was a combination of the smells of tweed, tobacco, whisky and some bracing after shave. My mother pretty well smoked until she died but I do not recall any scent except her Chanel Number 5 or Joy.

Robbie Robertson & his H. Upmann

I had no curiousity to smoke. While in boarding school in Austin I was given a Winston by my friends. I gingerly attempted to draw in smoke and to my horror it exploded. My friends laughed and handed me another. I had passed the test. But my friends had other ideas as the second cigarette exploded, too. I lost whatever interest I may have had to smoke.

In my memory is riding the Coyoacán bus on Avenida Insurgentes on my way to home over Daniel Guridi Árregui’s gun store where I lived with my mother and grandmother around 1960–61. I always looked out of the window when the bus passed the corner with Avenida Chapultepec. There was an ancient and very large movie house (by then playing second tier quality films) and next to it a huge Raleigh Cigarette billboard that had a woman with a large mouth. A mechanical moving arm, holding a cigarette would swing to her lips. From her open mouth (very round in order to produce the resulting special effects) I would be amazed by the perfect smoke rings that were pushed out as her hand moved away.

The Cine Insurgentes is on the right. The Raleigh ad was behind it and not seen in this picture.

It was sometime around 1963 that I decided to spruce up my nerdish image by making myself more of a man. I bought a pipe and a tin of Edgworth pipe tobacco. I amazed my mother and grandmother and they did not object. I began an experiment of trying every possible blend of pipe tobacco I could find in Mexico City. There was Middleton’s Cherry Blend, a terribly sweet Sugar Barrel, something called Mixture 70 and many kinds of Dutch tobacco. I tried English blends and Swedish ones, Borkum Riff but I always returned to the Egeworth blue tin. I occasionally would smoke thin and long cheroots from the state of Veracruz, a brand called Flor de La Costa. But cigars had a problem, no matter how many times you brushed your teeth the taste of them would persist in my mouth.

Author Michael Dibdin

It may have been around 20 years ago that one evening while printing in my darkroom (I smoked a pipe there in what was and still is a poorly ventilated room) I suddenly became very dizzy. I went up, looked at my pipe and thought, “This is stupid.” I quit cold turkey.

Suddenly I understood all those mint rolls and chewing gum packages that Rosemary would place on my bed side table. Suddenly every time my oldest daughter Ale would come in through the door I would be repelled by the smell of cigarettes. I would tell her, and I tell her every once in a while but to no avail. She is the only member of my family that smokes.

But my sudden repulsion to cigarettes did not prevent me from stopping in taking pictures of women, mostly undressed, while smoking cigarettes.

But I must also assert here that I would not do that anymore as the idea of the image as a sexy one is not that anymore in the same way that tan marks on a nude body (that I used to think were sexy) are not to my liking either. Ditto for a woman or man that is sun-tanned. The image of a red haired woman with pristine, never-saw-a-ray-of-sunlight pallor is now my idea of the supreme turn on.

Then there is that unromantic story of the British social worker who visits Portland. While there with his American escort he spots a group of people outside a tall office building. The social worker asks, “Are they homeless people?” His companion answers, “No they are smokers.”

Salem smokes an H. Upmann in my studio
Samuel Z. Arkoff
The Sophisticated Lady at the Classical Joint
Michael Guild at the Classical Joint
Viirginia McKendry
Madeleine Morris
Smoking Marlboros at the Santa Fe Ranch, Texas
Boonie in my studio
Kate Davitt in my studio
Art Bergmann
Clive Barker smokes a Cohiba
Portia at the Number 5 Orange
Dennis Hopper and his Kools
Gents at the Niagara Hotel
Patrice at the Niagara
Jim Cummins & Lulu

You forgot one of the great cigarette smokers: Zappa. Les Wiseman

Frank Zappa & music critic Les Wiseman at Bud’s Good Eats

Link to: Don Van Vliet, Harris Tweed & The Magic Band

Link to: Ashtray Heart