Monday, January 18

Column: The weight of smoke


Simmersed in the Mists and snows, the world these days seems like a blank notebook. When writing the first few lines of the year, we conjugate the verbs in the future perfect of the promises and expectations. Among all the possible beginnings, the European tradition chose January 1, but in other latitudes that date is one more in the row of days. The ancient Romans, still attached to the cycles of nature, began their calendar on March 15, linking the celebration with the exuberant rebirth of spring. On that date, they appointed their two consuls, the most powerful magistrates in the Republic. That original order resonates today in our months of September, October, November and December, alluding to the seventh, eighth, ninth and tenth place they occupied in the annual journey. Everything changed in the middle of the second century BC. C., when Rome launched a military campaign against Seed, located next to the current Zaragoza town of Mara, an attack that would lead to the famous siege of Numancia. As the wars were fought at the end of winter, they decided to advance the consular election, so that the legions had enough weeks to travel to distant Liberia and not waste even a sunny day of good weather without giving themselves to the fierce slaughter. As a result of that war in Hispania, January inaugurates the year.

This transit is only a convention, one night among others, but it has a deep symbolism in our imagination. It is time for balances: memories, regrets and good intentions emerge on the annual hinge. With renewed hope, we yearn for a better life, a rebirth that buries everything sad and gloomy in the past. We promise to exercise, start diets, abandon bad habits, learn languages. We almost always faint early; we like to dream about changes more than to make them come true. The writer Italo Svevo humorously described this spiral of plans and postponements in his novel Zeno’s consciousness. A doctor forbids Zeno to smoke, suffering from severe bronchitis. The protagonist decides to obey, but, in anguish, he indulges in a final cigarette, which he consumes with the solemnity of promises and goodbyes. Thus, he discovers that the most intense cigarette is always the last one, because with it he savors a morning of improvement, strength and health. Throughout his life, at every beginning of the year, at every designated date, he sets out to quit tobacco, without ever succeeding or stopping trying. After decades of last puffs, you will realize that you are more addicted to hope than nicotine.

A strand of smoke weaves the stories of the film Smoke, written by Paul Auster. At Auggie Wren’s tobacconist, a crossroads of friendships and conversations, a novelist confesses himself unable to write after the sudden death of his wife. The New York Times He has commissioned him a Christmas story, but his mind is empty. To distract him from his grief, Auggie reveals his secret project to him. Every day at eight in the morning, he photographs the same corner of Brooklyn. In the back room, thick albums store thousands of snapshots: the chronicle of his corner. The writer glances distractedly at that altar of repetition. You won’t understand, says Auggie, if you don’t slow down: “They’re all the same, but each one is different. There is summer and autumn light, working and festive mornings, sometimes the same people and sometimes different people, strangers become habitual and then disappear. The Earth revolves around the Sun, which illuminates it every day from a different angle ”. By pausing at each image, he discovers random portraits of the neighbors in the neighborhood, their gestures, their fatigue, their joy, even a moving photo of his long-awaited wife. Through the camera, Auggie portrays the nuances, the small everyday variations. He has learned to look at others, to listen to them, to pay time and attention to them. He knows that the possibility of a new life awaits us in any corner, without noise. In the end, every moment is a beginning; and what is important, what changes us, weighs less than smoke.

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