It's hard to recognize Europe anymore... without the ubiquitous cigarette hanging from the mouths of French painters doing their thing in Montmartre or Italian gardeners hawking juicy red tomatoes in Tuscany. Gone are their cigarettes.
Country by country, Western Europe has gone green and tossed out the cigarettes from restaurants and bars. They have been replaced by fishbowl rooms in airports where the politically incorrect can be seen going puff, puff, puff on their outdated coffin nails now that Europe is politically correct and so green that they make the United States look like Agent Orange.
It's shocking at first. You feel like something is missing when you visit the South of France and the coffee bars have no clouds of billowing smoke rising and floating across rooms of bored looking faces. Instead the faces look somehow more eager and less lined. Could not smoking be making a difference? If so, then vive le difference! Good health makes people happy and happy people -- well, happiness is contagious but that does sound very un-French -- might this change the French as we know them?
In England, the pubs are smoke-free but they were never the issue that you saw in the Latin countries. To stop in one of Spain's tapas bars after a bullfight and not see the passion of the bullfight being discussed over sangria without cigarettes is almost like having had no bull in the ring. What next? A mechanical bull? Would we pacifists ever like that!
And Italy! When men in elegant suits sipping Chianti never have to worry about burning a hole in the fine weave of an Armani or any suit, it's a proud day for their mothers. Bravo for the non-smoking policies of Europe. And ditto for their remarkable recycling efforts. And their non-nuclear policies. Sometimes I think we need to look to our brothers and sisters there where so many of us owe our roots and ask what we can learn from them!
Surely living smoke-free is something that some said could never be done. But they have done it in Continental Europe and done it with aplomb. Even when there is alcohol involved in bars, it is still banned at the risk of putting cigarette companies out of business. Gone are the husky voices, stained fingers and smoke-filled bars and restaurants. I say hurray. It's a new day for Western Europe. I may miss the romance of the columns of smoke but there are old movies for that!
You go Western Europe. You go!
Happy Trails. I'm Patricia Rust.