I ride the tram across Poznan, and many scenes flash into my eyes. Buildings lurking behind others, steep tile roofs and eighteen-century-English chimneys scattered all around. I see cement, granite, brick and mortar; I see wood, bunches of wild trees, steel and glass walls. But none of it catches my attention; it has a rather soporific effect on me. I understand the world an its incongruities; I get industrialism and corporations in the wilderness of Poland. I praise the marriage of classic and modern architecture. But there’s a scene that shocks me into wakefulness. In a tram stop, basking under the rare Polish sun, there’s a fair young lady. Everything is fair in her: eyes, hair and complexion. If only it was possible, I would’ve gotten off and recommended her to shelter her fairness under the tram stop, and that her delicate skin didn’t need any more vitamin D. But she was absorbed in her thoughts, puffing on her cigarette, taking care of her daily intake of nicotine.
A fair young lady is consuming nicotine and vitamin D in a tram stop, and I stop wondering about worldly socio-economic issues to focus on the essentials in any Polish girl’s diet. An energetic combination, I thought, as both subtances wake you up, which led my thougths to the lethargy of the long Polish winters. Do bears also have a smoke when they come back from hibernation? I perforce continue my journey accross the city, passing by kebab stalls, blouses, skirts and high heels. Sometimes some jeans, T-shirts and tennis shoes remind me that there are some idlers other than me around. Till I get off in my stop. I drink too much milk, which both takes care of my vitam D and whatever craving I might have for a cigarette. A friend of mine once told me that milk takes away the desire for a smoke. It makes you feel nauseated if you even think of a cigarette. That’s not my case, because I don’t have any feeling or taste associated to cigarettes. For me it’s just a social token, something that helps people meet, like a dog, a common friend or a nice song in a dance party.
And I may be stretching logic right now, but this girl reminds me of the Holocaust. Because I always wondered how can people walk quietly to their death, what can of delusion they feed on? And it’s of real bad taste to compare the Holocaust to smoking but I can’t help it. For me, the similarity is evident, they’re both actions based on strong delusions: The Holocaust was possible only because of the delusion of authority and smoking is only coherent in the delusion of social-correctness. Because the most sensible thing to do when a stupid person holds you at gunpoint is to try to escape as soon as you get a chance. And people aren’t cattle to be round up so easily. As soon as the Jewish knew they were being decimated, they should’ve revolted. My question always was whether the Germans were too efficient or the Jews too cowards. But a third alternative is possible: The soldiers were the authority and the Jews just complied, trusting the country they lived in. Now a girl smoking in a public place may have different impacts on different people. Some people will consider it wrong, other people may be used to seeing the smoke of a burning tube of paper being sucked in by someone. And the Jews may have thought that if they weren’t killed by then, it meant that the Germans didn’t intend to kill them at all, so they complied with their orders. Frankly, I would’ve thought the same: Why to bother to build concentration camps if they just want to get rid of us? wouldn’t it be easier to just kill us coldblooded in the streets, to hunt us down and to let the rest of us flee the country of our own accord? The German’s strategy didn’t make any sense if their purpose was to expel Jews from their country, which is a feeling that still falls in the category of the humane: If you think that a certain ethnic group is being detrimental to your country and you’re very nationalist, you may arrive to that conclusion. But what no one could’ve predicted, not even the smart Jews, is that the German’s purpose was not social order but inhuman, perverse, sadistic extermination. The Holocaust was a Roman circus, a bullfight, pure sadistic pleasure.
Now comes my far-fetched conclusion: A girl who smokes in public is bowing down to social conventions that say: “You can inhale poison in the streets and no one will deter you, but you can’t walk naked or even be too friendly to strange people because you will arouse suspicion. No one cares if you kill yourself as long as you do it quietly, but don’t go out on a manifestation alone because people will think you’re crazy. If you want to be taken seriously, gather at least some tens of people before you start shouting in the street. To sum up: follow rules and social conventions, even if they lead you to death.”
From: Life’s predicaments