MICHELE NORRIS, Host:
The rhythms and spirit of the West Indian Carnival would not sound foreign to residents of New Orleans. As an unabashed lover of that city, our commentator Andrei Codrescu keeps close track of its ambiance. And he was recently struck by a change, one that's taking place in cities around the world.
ANDREI CODRESCU: I waited at the bar at Coop's for the fettuccini alfredo with parmesan chicken and an order of red beans and rice. The food came pretty fast in 10-15 minutes and I took it home, feeling vaguely that something was out of place. For one thing, I could breathe. Then it hit me, no smoke.
In the old days, 10 minutes at Coops would start me coughing like an old engine. A few years ago, not many, I have laughed at the idea of a smoke-free bar in New Orleans. I'd scoffed when they made San Francisco smoke free, but that was to be expected.
I never thought they'd get away with it in New York, the city of nervous people who use to communicate smoke signals and used cigarettes and coffee to calm down. And then it happened, New York's public rooms went smoke-free overnight. And there were no riots.
True, the streets started stinking like the bars used to. People huddled in below- ero temps to suck on a butt. The ban held. The end of the smoking inside bars and clubs also signaled the end of dives. Every dark, smoke blackened hell hole in New York started going upscale. The price of drinks doubled. Avocado sandwiches made their appearance. A more affluent brand of people showed up, a younger crowd. The crusty old men disappeared. Maybe they died, maybe they ran off to Jersey. Nobody knows.
The next bastion of die-hards to go down was Dublin. If somebody'd asked me, what the last place was where smokers would rather face a firing squad than surrender, I'd have said Dublin. The Irish are big talkers and big whiskey drinkers. Those things I would thought inconceivable without cigarettes. The history of modern Ireland, with all its literature and terrorists, would have disappeared without cigarettes. Without cigarettes, Ireland would have been Holland. But down they went. The Dubliners followed health into the 21st century by the ironic and wistful gaze of Mr. Joyce.
What could possibly be next, thought I, Paris? Sure enough, Paris fell next to the cheers of health freaks. The Galois stiff Parisians with the skin texture of a lizard belly squirmed out of a century of philosophy with the smoke missing. The French cafÃ©, once the motherly womb for an adolescent who was received with a cigarette into the world of adult, became sad like the gas station.
After Paris fell, I was certain that New Orleans was going to remain untouched by the winds of sanitary change. New Orleans rested on a bedrock of smoke-bred bar life, like a timeless barge born in Mississippi mud. Here in New Orleans, Mark Twain's pipe smoke met the pirate's rum-soaked stogie. Here the(unintelligible) cigar mingled indelicately with the curlicues at the end of the floozy's cigarette holder. Here, the puffing old world met the smoke ringed bravado of the American riverboat gambler.
But why go on? We all know it would happen. Personally, I'm relieved. Culturally, not thrilled.
NORRIS: Andrei Codrescu lives and breathes in New Orleans.
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