Perhaps I should visit Vienna.
I’ve never been to Vienna.
In the wood-panelled rooms of Vienna’s traditional coffee houses, tobacco-lovers can still light up pretty much as they please. But one of the last smokers’ havens in Europe may be on course to kick the habit.
Even diehard smokers, when arriving in Austria, are in for a shock at the clouds of blue haze filling bars and restaurants, long after the rest of western and central Europe stubbed out puffing in public places.
A partial smoking ban came into force in Austria in January 2009, but the list of exceptions was long.
Small cafes and eateries under 50 square metres (500 square feet) can ignore the ban, while larger establishments need only provide a non-smoking section.
Many punters simply prop the doors open and carry on puffing regardless, prompting self-proclaimed “sheriffs” to patrol the streets and file complaints.
Because I’d love to sit in a blue-haze-filled bar, with a beer and a cigarette. I can almost imagine it, with huge barrels along one wall, and faded pictures cluttering the other dun-coloured walls. Pictures of the Emperor Franz Joseph, and Gustav Mahler, Johann Strauss, and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. And reproductions of paintings by Gustav Klimt, Oskar Kokoschka, and Egon Schiele. Maybe even one or two real ones.
There’d be a juke box in the corner, of course, playing Blue Danube-type waltzes. And traditional Tyrolean red carpets speckled with blue flowers. And a polished copper bartop, with winged Venuses holding lampshades at each end, and a bartender with a big moustache behind it, like in a Fritz Lang movie. Or maybe Sternberg. And waitresses wearing efficient blue dresses with white collars, each one with a red rose pinned to her hair.
“Noch ein Bier, bitte,” I’d reply, whenever they approached me at my table and asked me anything.
“Und eine Creme-Kuchen,” I’d add, if they proved persistent.
Cigarettes are significantly cheaper in Austria than elsewhere in western Europe at an average of 4.90 euros ($6.30) per pack, compared to seven euros in France or 11 euros in Britain.
Austrians are the fourth-heaviest smokers in Europe, according to the latest Eurobarometer poll in 2012.
Thirty-three percent of people in the small alpine country light up on a regular basis, compared to an EU average of 28 percent and far more than the French or Italians. Only Greeks, Bulgarians and Latvians smoke more.
I’d have to play the part, naturally. I’d be smoking an Austrian cigarette, like Nil. And I’d carry a book about Erwin Schrödinger or Ludwig Boltzmann or somebody (in German, of course). Which I would pretend to read.
And I would still be poring over it in the evening, with knitted eyebrows, when a burly figure would emerge from the blue haze, sit down opposite me, place a battered chess board on the table, and proffer his hand and say:
And I’d reply, “Franz,” as I shook his hand.
And he’d populate the board with a set of baroque cast iron chess pieces, brightly lit beneath the hemispherical lampshade suspended above the table at eye level.
And I would clear a path for my arm through the large collection of books and ashtrays and cream cakes and beers that I had gradually accumulated throughout the day.
And we would begin to play a game of chess.