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Smoking...


During my last trip I bought very little, which is not really usual behavior for me, normally I go crazy shopping whenever I travel (or when I am at home, for that matter...). A lighter is one of the few things which I brought back with me. Because of the contradiction that it represents. I found it at the airport in San Francisco as I was leaving for New York. I am not sure if they still have this thing where you can not take lighters with you on board planes in the US, but obviously the person who left it there thought that they did and got rid of it before he went through security. (Which I did too with mine btw - couldn't face the potential aggro).

I already wrote about New York earlier this week, and also that the reason why the scales finally fell from my eyes while I was there was connected to the newest smoking ban, which basically decrees that you can only smoke outdoors if you are standing up. You can no longer enter parks with cigarettes at all, and sidewalk cafes and benches are also out of bounds. And much the same in San Francisco. I mean, it does change one's perceptions if you are relegated to leper status in a situation where you are actually doing something which is completely legal... In the United States it is legal to smoke...

And this is the first point: If smoking is such an evil, such an unspeakably degenerate act, one which you are only allowed to do whilst standing up, away from all others like the class dunce - then why not outlaw tobacco altogether? They are after all one of the largest manufacturers of the stuff in the world and 2 of the 4 big international tobacco cartels are American. Which is exactly why they will never make it illegal of course. The cost of that is way too big... Far more efficient to play a cat and mouse game through harassing the few remaining smokers at home, whilst merrily exporting cigarettes to the rest of the world!

Second point: If a nation does not sign the Kyoto protocol, and then gets all sanctimonious about environmental pollution and health and whatever, and furthermore allows its cities to impose sanctions that humiliate people who dare to light up under a clear blue sky - sorry, but I think some very serious self-evaluation of motives is in order over there! Such as wondering about whether there may not be a deliberate strategy of diverting public awareness from the real evil of total environmental melt-down by focusing them on something related but relatively very minor? By creating a context in which people can feel good about themselves by venting their righteous indignation at others, who in their estimation are the ones who pollute their world? While they themselves remain squeaky clean?

Whereas in the face of the impending calamity it really doesn't matter in the slightest whether some poor sucker enjoys a smoke and a coffee, sitting down somewhere in the open air, even if it happens to be in your immediate vicinity, and even if the smell may come drifting over to where you are from time to time? With exhaust fumes from millions of vehicles billowing all over the place? Given that in all likelihood you will be going belly up with the rest of humanity in a few more decades anyway? (Not to even mention all the flora and fauna which between us we - smokers and non-smokers together - have managed to decimate en route...)

Smoking is bad for you. But of course it is! I really do not need a nanny state to lecture me about it - trust me, I know! I also know that if said nanny state is really watching out for my best interests (and for the interests of those around me, as they proclaim) - why, then they can outlaw the stuff altogether, can't they? But so long as they don't... As the old Catholic joke goes - most things that give pleasure are either unhealthy or morally suspect. Like food, for example. Obesity, they say, is the biggest health threat in the US. Far bigger than smoking it seems. The argument there may be that nicotine is addictive whereas food isn't. Oh really? Are you so sure about that?

Don't get me wrong: I do not advocate smoking in closed public spaces. In fact (and funnily enough like most other smokers that I know), I am very much in favor of no smoking indoors in restaurants, bars and so forth. Cigarettes, lovely little critters that they are, do stink terribly and the fug is extremely bothersome even if you are contributing to it yourself. So, we have the indoors smoking ban here as well. When it was first brought into effect I thought that there might be a public uprising, given what a nation of dedicated smokers Turks are. Nothing like that - people stopped lighting up indoors immediately. Know why? It makes sense, that's why. It is something that one can immediately understand! It is highly reasonable.

But making it into a heinous act to smoke outdoors? Apparently the reasoning behind it, Dina told me, is the litter that it causes. Please... Don't make me laugh! I was in Singapore a few years ago. Cleanest place I have ever seen in my life. Even the trees look like as if they are given a daily polish - which I am sure they are btw ;-). Not the tiniest bit of litter in evidence, and Singaporeans smoke quite a bit, I noticed. Lots and lots and lots of trash cans (always one within easy walking distance more or less) and also they have a special litter police. Problem solved! And even around here: This is a very crowded city. There is one area in particular which gets about one million people every night which only spread themselves over a couple of square kilometers at the most. Weekends it goes up to about 3 million people over there in Taksim. Most of them smoke. So, you would expect mountains of butts to pile up, right? Wrong. Again, plenty of trash cans - without even a need for a litter police, I might add - end of story.

So, this little thing that they have going across the pond - sorry people, I will now call a spade a spade: It is a social hysteria. And in view of the Kyoto thing it is also hypocrisy with a capital H. It is a "better than thou" mindset carried to ridiculous extremes. It is ridiculous - period.

However, for me it is also very sad on a personal level: I really used to love the States. And unfortunately I no longer do as much... And having had to smoke standing up while I was there this last time is what did it, I'm afraid. Of course, lots of truly great people over there whom I love - but... Somehow, just this tiny little thing (or so any non-smoker may think) has made me feel rather unwelcome, if not indeed downright shunned and unwanted. And really, all this for no good reason that I can identify. That I can see sense in and accept.

(And please do not ask me why I do not just quit. The answer is because I absolutely love it! And after all, I do not hold others to task over their particular vices either, you know?)
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Bidding farewell to an old sweetheart...



I was away for two weeks, went to San Francisco and New York.

I lived in New York for seven years during the 1980s. I had initially gone as a Fulbright scholar, so after going through many legal hoops to obtain permanent residency I was finally told that I had to fulfill my J1 visa obligations; in other words return to my country of origin for 2 years, after which point I could then come back. Thus, I returned to Turkey in late 1986, completely brokenhearted since I was leaving behind a life and a city, both of which I had come to care for very deeply. As things went, life took unexpected turns and when the 2 years were up I no longer wanted to return since at that point I was much engrossed in my new life here. But New York remained my sweetheart.

It was an amazing place. I recently told someone that I did not see some of the attire one would regularly see on New York streets back then even in Second Life - which is quite a statement, I know, but true nonetheless. Such as Rollerena, for example. That persona is of course a unique landmark in history, however the point is that Rollerena was not the only one, the city was altogether wild enough to house such levels of eccentricity as par for the course. Par for the course being the operative words here. Not "performance art" or whatever - but "par for the course". Very important distinction that.

Of course older folk would tell us that what we were seeing in the 80s was but a pale shadow of what the city had been like during the 50s and 60s, its true heyday. For me however, what was around me was more than enough for me to fall in love with. And also I had wonderful friends, one funnier and more intelligent than the other. We had converged from all across the globe to be in the haven of crazies. Or so we thought anyway...

I have not been back very often. Before this last visit, the last time was in 2006. Every time I returned I felt more estranged, the city was no longer what it was, which is probably why I was never terribly anxious to go back. But, nonetheless, it is hard to bid an old love goodbye inside your mind, so although I knew that New York was no longer 'my' New York, I hung on to my feelings for the place. This time, also exacerbated by the most recent version of the smoking ban (basically you can only smoke outdoors if you are standing up - you can no longer sit down and smoke anywhere), the loss hit me full bast.

How can a place change so much? What happened here for God's sakes? Where is everyone? Where did the humor go? The tongue-in-cheekness? The off-the-wallness? The flamboyance? The in-your-face outrageousness? Why do all the young people look like little business persons? Where are all the crazy colored mohawks? The roller blades? God - where is the DANGER even? The danger that was the price for the pulse of the city? Gone... Hordes of clean-cut people. Two basic clothing types as far as I could make out: Business attire or urban outdoors casual. And then a small sprinkling of neo-conservative, highly toned down, quasi-artsy outfits, which are basically just a slightly trendier version of either the business clothes or the urban outdoors casual stuff. All very tasteful, I should hasten to add. Not a hair out of place. Smart phones clutched to ears, hands on i-pads... An army of 20something year olds (as well as their seniors and bosses of all ages obviously) decked out as entrepreneurs of various callings, including the 'business of art'...

And what is really sad about it all? It is this myth that rests entirely on the past laurels of the city, and which is nonetheless desperately propagated by its present denizens, that this is still "the coolest place on earth to be". With Banana Republic, Uni-clo, and American Apparel having replaced the likes of the Unique Clothing Warehouse on lower Broadway? "Cool" by schedule and appointment is very much what it appears to be to me. Sorry...

And then where did all the salsa music go that used to blast away on the streets? All those ghetto-blasters for that matter? Back then we didn't ever plan to 'go out'. We were 'out' all the time anyway, given that the place was cheap enough and accommodating enough for us to be constantly on the move hopping from place to place, even on our non-existent incomes. So, where did all the Greek Diners go? They used to be our mainstay... Which brings me to how expensive the city has become. Not that I am terribly well known for saving money, so normally I don't even notice what I pay; however the change in prices in New York I did notice since they inevitably lead me to the conclusion that the city is simply catering to a new clientele that vastly prefers designer coffee joints to pastrami on rye places.

And then another strange thing: Listening around me on the subway I no longer seem to have heard much of the good old Brooklynese accent. What is that all about, I wonder? Are the natives leaving in droves then, or are they all taking elocution lessons in a final frenzied attempt to fit into their own city?

So, the love affair is over. It seems unlikely now that I will ever go back. Not that some of what I have been describing is not in evidence on this side of the pond either, I have to admit. Nonetheless, I cannot help but think that there is still a discernible difference in degree between here and there. And then the really important difference is that no other city ever flew quite so high as New York, and consequently no other city has come crashing down as hard after the high either.

So, given the long flight hours, the ensuing swollen extremities, the horrible jet-lag - why would I put myself through the torture of visiting a lost old lover at all that cost? To lament on all that has been lost?

Well, there is one reason to go back and I will end this post on that positive note: My friend Dina. She is my oldest living friend, and I totally adore the woman, and so I would go just to hang out with her... Sitting at her old wood table, puffing away on our smokes like two disgruntled old Indian chiefs! That is totally great! But then, Dina really likes Istanbul - so...