City of smoke

Regardless of how it may have gone out of fashion elsewhere Prague remains a city of smoking and smokers. If it is the city of a hundred spires it is also a city of a thousand pubs - and in every one the bluish-brown smoke wafts close to the ceiling as you enter. Say you don't smoke? In Prague, friend, you will. Hell, this is the only city - the only city - where I have ever seen a bicycle courier lighting up. A bicycle courier.

Smoking has come a long way in Prague, baby, and Czech cigarettes have raised their profile over the years - sporting ever "cooler" graphics on their covers - of young people hanging out, dancing, I don't know maybe even playing basketball if you look close enough. Hey, is that a picture of a guy mowing his lawn, or are my eyes cheating me? A guy mowing the grass on a pack of cigarettes. Either it's too dark in here or I've had too many. I also wonder about the absurdity of a brand called 'Start'. Start - as in what? Start smoking? Start trying to quit? Or, what about, don't start anything you can't stop?

The last sounds reasonable to me.

The allure of the blue devil, the wafts of smoke clouding this ultra-cool and frozen disco - smoke spiked through here and there with flares of spinning, reverberating white light - as dancing black silhouettes freeze in the shimmering particles and inhale. Light another cigarette. Here in Prague smoking is still part of crushed-eyeliner, soft-padded, silver cool and it has caught many, mostly young people, in its grasp. Four words, Neo: the Matrix has you.

But, for anyone who thinks smoking is the coolest of accessories - they smoked them in the seventies too - just watch one of those flicks with action-cowboy-heroes wearing rhinestones suits with airplane-wing lapels. That didn't last... the cigarettes did. In Prague they're here with a vengeance.

I admit it's hard not to light up once in a while: this is the one place you can stick a cigarette in your mouth, light it, and proclaim as you exhale "Who me? I'm a non-smoker." You have to be here to know what I mean.

So you leave the pub or bar or club and wind your way home. Perhaps you're thinking about the person you chatted with at the bar, perhaps you're thinking about the phone number written on the inside of your pack of matches or the inside of your box of cigarettes. But, perhaps you're not thinking about those things at all. Perhaps your mind is hopelessly preoccupied with only one thing and one thing only: the thought that you haven't got a single cigarette left. If you're thinking about that and nothing else - then maybe, just maybe, it's time to consider quitting.