I have to put a date on some of these images for otherwise the cigarette police would be down at Bar La Tasca and co in a flash. I am so happy that I captured it and many other similar scenes for this is a “way of life” that no one will ever see again since the introduction of the draconian anti-smoking regulations in Spain at the start of 2011. Smoking is such a vile habit but oh so photogenic. The romantic image of it has created so many addicts, and probably will continue to do so for decades to come. Now, however, they have to puff unromantically in doorways and open spaces, in sad looking huddles. I wonder; will it eventually disappear along with the Victorian snuffbox?
It is said that memory cannot evoke smell, whereas smell can evoke memory. When I look at this picture I smell the cloying stink of the Spanish bars that used to steep my hair and clothes with their stench, even at 8am in the morning. I remember the early morning brandies, red wine and beers for the local men, the unemployed, the retired, and the labourers on their way to work. The men.
I remember hanging up my clothes to air in the wind on the iron peg outside my cabin door, the one that Miguel made for me. But then again, when I took this photo, I did not have a cabin, and I stayed in the hostel across the road. I carried the smoke smell around with me, it bothered me little for I associated it with happy times, and all the way back to England this smell went, on Ryanair and Easyjet, to my home in Liverpool, where everything was stuck straight in the washing machine. Those were the days.
Or so I thought. Because it has now been nine months since the implementation of the ban. Protests have widely been reported across Spain, and in February a million protest signatures were sent to Madrid at the beginning of March. It is bad for business, the bar owners claim. Some have cited as much as a 40% loss in earnings. But in the meantime, the ban is being forced religiously and gargantuan fines levied, in the case of Asador Guadalmina in San Pedro de Alcántara 145,000€ (later reduced to 90,000€)!
But I have to say that unlike England where they do huddle in the drizzling rain outside pubs and bars looking desperate and sad, here in Castellon, and I dare say the rest of Spain, the bar owners have vied with each other to create increasingly attractive and functional spaces outside their premises. In Atzeneta it started with red plastic tables that are being gradually exchanged for chrome and glass, and umbrellas! Now when I walk down the streets, the presence of people outdoors has created the impression of “life”, and welcome life at that. Everything looks so much welcoming, ashtrays, smokers and all.
Generally I sit outside with the puffers, despite the heat, just happy to get away from the often bleak bar interiors with their low energy consuming fluorescent light strips stretching glaringly across the ceilings. I think that maybe it is easier here because the Ajuntamiento has not required a license to set tables in the open, and of course the weather is much better. It will be interesting to see how the winter months change the scenario.
In the meantime, if every place is equally forced to uphold the ban, surely the reduction in business, along with the days of smoke filled spaces, will become ancient history? The smoking Spanish (mostly) men will never resort to sitting at home puffing away in front of their wives. This would not suit either party.
Besides, bar life is all the life there is in many villages and a place to meet, greet, and more importantly do business. I myself have met many a tradesman in Casa Ramon for who would find my finca up a dirt track in the mountains? I cannot see the bars going the way of so many demised pubs in the UK where the prices are held high by the breweries and cannot compete with the loss leader deals at the supermarkets. And the good news is that there has already been a 10% reduction in heart attacks and breathing problems directly attributed to the smoking ban in closed spaces and that can only be a positive thing. Apparently if the papers and statistics can be believed, an estimated 400,000 Spanish will be giving up smoking this year. Now what would happen if the same happened with alcohol?