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Why do people smoke? (gasp – part 2 of 2)

January 26, 2018 4:02 pm Published by


Ya Udah Bistro welcomes smokers, unlike the great majority of eateries in Jogjakarta and Jakarta; our fresh-air environment (well, considering how fresh the city air is…) is perfect for smoking, before, during or after a fine meal of sausage, steak, smoked fish and fries, big Euro-salads washed down with fine European-style beer or sturdy Balinese table wines.

Our food is famed: check us out in Lonely Planet or any other reliable traveller’s guide. See the rave reviews on the web, talking about our value for money. We have no floor show; there are no bored musicians blasting stale rock through the place, smothering conversation. No dancing girls (or dancing boys) to distract you from our raison d’être: it’s the food, dude. That’s why we are here and that’s why you are here, happily eating, drinking and smoking.

Or happily non-smoking. We ‘welcome’ non-smokers! Sit there scowling, staring disapprovingly at the vicious smokers, muttering ‘I don’t intend to die of lung cancer, emphysema or anything else’ with a superior sneer on your face and non-smoke to your heart’s content. Just keep eating and drinking to keep the waitresses from falling asleep on their feet.

Seriously: smoking is forever. Even a totalitarian theocracy like Iran, where they tried to declare smoking non-Islamic and a sin – they had to give up before the smokers did.

will never eliminate tobacco from the battlefield. In the First World War, the last alas with a vestige of humanity (afterwards it became machines fighting machines, today the abstraction elevated to killer aerial robots seeking out radar feelers and other killer machines, any hapless humans in the neighbourhood becoming corollary damage) soldiers were said to have tossed packets of ciggies from front-line trenches to the other side at Christmas, in a gesture of simple good will. No exploding cigars please. 

From the earliest days the haters of pleasure and champions of fear were alarmed by and lined up against tobacco: royalty, the church, the elders. Tobacco smoked in coffee houses was thought to engender disrespect for lawful and divinely delegated authority, and to incite revolutionary discussions at worst. When Christopher Columbus returned from his first trip (his detractors already smelling a scam… had the greedy Italian pirate just sailed in circles, or hid out along the African coast?) he reported that while sea dragons and other monsters of the deep were in short supply, and the edge of the earth which you were supposed to fall off of (and presumably into Christian Hell, and how they kept the fires going with that roaring cascade of sea water coming down poses another theological riddle) he saw amazing events, including a man with his head on fire!

Queen Isabella, whom CC was alleged to have been porking on the sly (got to keep the old dame freshened up, right Frank?), and her hubby King Ferdy came to their feet angrily and said “Chris for Christ’s sake, what you been smokin’ you self boah?”
Columbus, outraged at such disbelief (after all those perilous weeks at sea in leaky little wooden sailboats, without even a cute cabin boy to keep him company) stalked out and went right back to India, er, excuse me, to what he thought was India (thus the so-called “Indians”, who to this day shake their heads at the white man’s foolishness when it comes to directions).

His second trip to Hispaniola he peremptorily sequestered and kidnapped a local yokel and hauled him back to Spain. “Hey, I been Shanghaied!” the guy squalled, but of course no one had been to Shanghai yet so he didn’t really know what he was saying.
 Columbus bounces from the ball of one foot to the other as Their Majesties stared at this half-naked citizen standing there sullenly in the Court of Seville, demanding to see his lawyer. Well not really, but he could think those things anyway.
“Go ahead, show Mr. and Mrs. Big Shot King & Queen what you do!” commanded Columbus victoriously.

The Caribbean native blinks. “What are you talking about, you bloody pirate kidnapper?”

Columbus gets in a hissy fit, spitting and sputtering, as Their Majesties start to look annoyed, like he’s trying to put one over on them.

“Dag-nab it, that thing you do with the leaves, you know, set them on fire asshole!”

The guy brightens up. “Hey CC, this is your lucky day, asshole. Boy you’d have been up Shit Creek without the Pinta, the Nina and the Santa Maria if I hadn’t thought to bring along some terbakky.”

And then, ladies and gentlemen and lady-boys of the world, he proceeds to extract some brown vegetable matter from inside his jock-strap and roll a fat one and fire it up, smoke smoothly ejecting from his nostrils (and not ejaculating from his ears like the stories Columbus had told – the fool was always exaggerating to such an extent that even the people who wanted to believe him harboured doubts, all the doubts crowded together down in the Seville harbour).

Screams, shouts, imprecations and sighs.

The Court guards, half-asleep until now, practically fall on each other’s spears at the uproar among the nobles.

“Great Scott! The savage’s burning!”

“Put that mo-fo OUT, NOW!”

“I say, old bean, this, well, this odour is not really quite the correct thing…”

“I’m going to swoon” and an old Duke swoons and faints into his fat wife’s arms…

“That stink! It’s coming from his head! He’s on fire!” the King shouts.

“Oooh, how disgusting a stench!” Queen I. waves her little fan briskly.

“Hmm, it actually smells… not so bad…” a Count (a notorious fornicator and rakehell anyway) muses. “It has a kind of pleasing scent, at least for something burning…”

And thus it began, the war of the leaves, as tobacco cultivation raced around the planet and tobacco smoking caught on like wildfire throughout Europe.

From the earliest days there were the HATERS. It’s the Devil’s weed, it’s the ruin of mankind, “a fire on one end and a fool on the other”. And so on.

Tobacco lovers bonded together the way tobacco is tamped into a pipe or wrapped into a cigar; they might not have shared any other beliefs or inclinations but when they smoked together calm, fellowship, brotherhood and good humour reigned.

Flash-forward to Century 21, when it’s even against the law in many places to smoke in bars! Places where men and women become raging drunks, giving rise to all sorts of sin and crime and fun and other bad stuff. (The ones who passed those laws to suppress smoking were the bastard offspring of the religious fanatics who outlawed alcohol in the USA between 1919 and 1934, and you know how well that worked out).

Poor obedient Japan. This writer was there when the puritanical forces of bureaucracy clamped down and outlawed smoking in public places like train stations and offices and restaurants… and everybody immediately obeyed. 

For one whose body is soulfully dedicated to nicotine such sudden withdrawal must be a classic case of hell-on-earth; you see how the Muslims dig for a cigarette at Magrib, during Ramadan. Before they drink a sip or eat a bite they got to have that nicotine-fix.
It’s truly a world war as the Health Nazis crack down on various fronts. “Protect the Children!” they whine, a miserable refrain we’ve heard echoing down the ages since the time Socrates was forced to drink the hemlock for child abuse. 

Well, well, well. Turn on your TV and check out the Formula I race in Shanghai. Watch the Chinese MotoGP races. But you’ll note that the cameras do their damnedest to avoid shooting the grandstands… the empty grandstands.

Chinese people love to have fun. Go to the racecourse and you’ll see them crawling over one another, in the thousands. But of course you can gamble there. Motor racing is an alien affectation of practically zero interest to folks in China.
Then why blow all those millions, carrying containers of motorcycles and racing cars and mechanics and drivers through the skies, 747s hauling them in and then hauling them out a week later?

This is a question I used to ask my students when I was an instructor at London School. 
A look of puzzlement. Not one of the 43 students jammed into the tiny classroom could come up with an answer.

I pleaded with them. What’s more, I pled with them! “Give me one word! JUST A SINGLE WORD!”

But they didn’t get it, even though subliminally every last one must have realized that every racing motorcycle and car was plastered with tobacco logos for one brand or another. Even non-smokers, even ANTI-smokers like Vale Rossi, are decked out like circus clowns in brand names for ciggies.

Hell, there are six hundred million smokers in China, forty percent of them female, and that statistic certainly has not escaped the major narcotraficante manufacturers in the west and Japan. While firing up a cigar in polite company is today equivalent to sticking a needle in your arm, at least in Germany, Canada, the USA and Australia, the Chinese continue to enjoy their dangerous friendly hobby. 

Go ahead, governments. Plaster cigarette packages with rotten, cancerous lung closeup photos, show emphysema patients wheezing and cursing the tobacco giants with their dying breath.

You are but farting in the wind. Tobacco is here to stay, will always be with us. What a curious history it has had, since Columbus kidnapped that innocent gentleman from the Indies, the one who just happened to be a fond aficionado of the mellow leaf.

And I won’t even START to get into the intense relationship of tobacco and sex. That’s a whole other blog altogether…

First Stooge: “Do you ever smoke after sex?”

Second Stooge: “I don’t know – I never looked.”
(Old wheezes are the best wheezes)

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