Thursday, March 20, 2008

Sanitised France

So there I was in a deserted Bar Tabac in St Remy de Provence. It was the type of place that used to typify France - a carpet of cigarettes, a fog of smoke as thick as a 6am pea-souper on the M25, a line of clients at the bar the stub of their Gitanes playing a game of dare with their finger nails, and a happy bubble of voices.

Only this image was from the past. Today there was no-one, not a soul, just a floor smelling of bleach, a rack full of cigarettes for smoking outside - the mistral was blowing so strongly smokers needed to carry a personal beach wind break to light up - and the owner with his head in his hands contemplating how the new non smoking law had slashed his business. 30% down in just a couple of months…he could see no alternative, he was going to have to open a sandwich bar….and no he didn’t want to advertise in my new magazine. Still there was no-one to talk to, so he offered me a free beer and looked genuinely sad when I declined explaining that I couldn’t risk the police drink driving road blocks.

I know its wrong, but I couldn’t help feel a little nostalgic when I left. This used to be France, a country where real men drank litres of pastis and then cornered their Peugeot round hairpins while simultaneously urinating out of the window, fag in their other free hand rather than on the wheel. Ah the glory days…I guess even the over funded French health service can’t afford it anymore. So life has become rather sanitised. I had a coffee with the barman but it wasn’t as much fun.