All Posts Filed in ‘Europe


Paris, France

At midnight on 1st January 2008 it became illegal to smoke in public spaces throughout France. Due to a concession it remained legal to smoke indoors throughout New Year’s Day.

Sitting in a bar just after midnight. The floor is clean, white tiles, and there are no ashtrays on the tables. I sit at a table with a beer, not smoking. A man who was propping up the bar steps outside for a cigarette, moving about in an attempt to keep warm. He comes back in complaining about the cold. Usually there would be a mound of cigarette butts lining the foot of the bar so you can’t see where the bar ends and the floor begins. In France prices are lower if you stand at the bar, and though ashtrays were usually provided, people seemed to prefer using the floor.

A group of men dressed in black walk in. One is desperate for the toilet. A couple of the others want to buy cigarettes. This place is not a tabac. Tabacs are the only places allowed to sell cigarettes, but late at night when the tabacs are closed many bars sell them under the counter at an inflated price – about €8,50 for a packet, whereas you would pay €5,50 in a tabac.

A man in an overcoat walks in holding a lit cigarette, apparently having forgotten the new law. No one notices, but he seems to suddenly realize, perhaps spotting the lack of ashtrays and smoke. He drops his cigarette on the floor and discretely stubs it out with his foot, then, after shaking hands with a couple of people he leaves. One of the bar-props notices the butt and points it out to the barman. The barman comes round to the front of the bar and they both stand staring at the butt for a while, neither one of them speaking, as if a turd has just appeared on the floor. The barman kicks it over to the foot of the bar, where today it would have found many friends and relatives but now it is all alone. The barman wipes away the black marks it has made with his foot.

The following night I’m sitting outside another bar, warmed by a gas heater. A number of bars and restaurants have canvas covered outside areas with such heaters blasting away. Sometimes these areas have canvas or perspex sides, making them almost interiors, but not quite, at least not as far as the law is concerned. Others just have small canopy, with the vast majority of the heat dissipating into the atmosphere. The one I’m in has one partially open side to it. Though it is a cold night it is quite warm sitting directly under a heater, though not warm enough to take my coat off. Some passers by stop in to warm themselves and smoke. This outside area of the bar has more people in it than the inside.

There are no ashtrays. The floor is littered with cigarette butts. I decided before Christmas, after a brief period of not smoking, that I would quit when France quits, but France doesn’t appear to have quit, it’s just moved outside.

My prediction for 2008: France’s carbon emissions will increase due to its outdoor heating pour les fumeurs.

BBC: Smoke ban ‘threatens environment’

Top garden centre to ban patio heaters

Energy Saving Trust


Pompidou Centre, Paris, France

I was taking photographs in the Pompidou centre when a guy in a black suit came up to me and asked me if I was filming. I said no, I’m taking photos. He ordered me to show me the photos I’d taken, which I did. He stopped at one of them and said: Delete that one. I’m in that. I couldn’t see him – if he was in it he was very small and in the background. But now standing next to me he was big and intimidating, so I deleted it and he was happy. I guess he was a secret service government agent or something.


Memes and genes in Warsaw, Poland

Memes are like genes. They are passed from one generation to the next. But memes are knowledge, conventions, things we learn, like brush your teeth twice a day, what goes up must come down, say your prayers before you go to bed. Like genes, some memes thrive and flourish, others die out.


Vienna, Austria

Looking for the entrance to the sewers that Harry Lime escapes down in the Third Man, somewhere near Karlsplatz. No sign of a cobbled square. Instead a major road junction and a number of modern buildings including a technical university. Some of the trams look like they could date back to 1949 though.


Belgrade, Serbia

Now I’m in Belgrade, in a place called Hot Spot Cafe, just uploading some pics of Macedonia, pausing briefly to read about the conviction of the lyrical terrorist.


Saw a demonstration today against (or for) a writer, with demonstrators all in combat gear. Also went to the Nicola Tesla museum – he who invented electric motors and radio (Marconi stole the idea apparently).

Getting the train to Hungary tonight, via Budapest.- which reminds me of an old Goon Show:

Grytpype: Now, Captain Seagoon
Seagoon: Yes yes yes yes yes yes yes yes yes yes yes yes yes yes yes yes yes?
Grytpype: Please don’t do that. Captain, you have been specially selected for a specially dangerous mission
Seagoon: Does this mean I’ve been specially selected for a specially dangerous mission?
Grytpype: So you guessed, eh? Seagoon, you are to make your way to Hungary via Budapest
Seagoon: Will I have to go abroad?
Grytpype: If all else fails, yes. It’s dangerous work
Seagoon: I suppose I’ll have to take risks?
Grytpype: Oh yes, and a small pot of tea
Seagoon: What does this mean?
Grytpype: It means you’ve been chosen to go abroad with a packet of Risks and a small pot of tea
Seagoon: For what reason?
Grytpype: Reason? Does there have to be a reason?
Seagoon: Ying-Tong-Iddle-I-Po
Grytpype: Very well, if that’s the way you feel about it, I’ll tell you. Pull up a chair


Ohrid, Macedonia

I’ve been staying with a family here for the past week: a man, a woman – who approached me at the bus station, or actually it was a guy with her who approached me asking if I needed somewhere to stay, which I did – and an occasional 20 year old son. They invited me into their living room this afternoon for a coffee and then some wine and some pumpkin. They live in the living room at the moment, at least whilst I’m there. The man told me the room I’m now staying in is actually his bedroom. I’m paying 45 euros for the week. The man, after a stroke 7 years ago, is paralysed down his left side and can no longer work. He gets a pension of 100 euros a month, which he says is not enough, particularly in winter when they have to have the heating on. It’s cold here. I’ve put the fur lining back in my coat. Only a couple of weeks ago in Greece I was lying on a beach and swimming in the sea. And a week ago in Athens I was walking around in a T-shirt. Athens is not that much further south than here, but Ohrid is 600m above sea level. Lake Ohrid is one of the oldest in the world, and Ohrid is one of the oldest known European settlements. Ohrid is the Jerusalem for Slavic peoples, he said.


Thessaloniki, Greece

I’ve just taken the overnight train from Athens. Sitting in the smoky station cafe waiting for the connection to Skopje, Macedonia, having just eaten a sickly sweet king-size chocolate croissant with Nutella-type chocolate oozing out of it.


Samos, Greece

Paying the bill in the hotel today the woman went through the things I’d eaten or drunk then started saying two and a half hours internet, three hours internet etc.. They had wifi access and I’d been sitting there with my laptop, assuming it was free, not realizing they were noting down how long I was sitting there and charging me for it. There were signs saying internet 3 euros per hour by the computers, but when there’s wifi that’s usually free, except when some charging thing comes up on the screen and you have to put in a credit card number. I mentioned it to them but I still paid it.


Hunting muslims in the Carpathians

Sitting on the sofa of the small common room area of the hostel in Lviv with my laptop, a two year old Mac Powerbook whose battery has pretty much died so it now needs to be constantly connected to a power supply. In the area just outside, covered by a leaking plastic roof, where building work is going on, occasionally, some men sit around a table drinking vodka and beer. One of them is the owner of the hostel. He invites me to come and join them for a drink. He speaks a little English but none of the others speak any. I’m introduced to them by immediately forget their names. The owner pours out vodka into small plastic cups, except I get a metal measuring cup.