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This is not a blog which expresses instant opinions on current events. It rather uses incidents, books (old and new), links and papers as jumping-off points for some reflections about our social endeavours.
So old posts are as good as new! And lots of useful links!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Kruchma and chibouk

I have to confess to a taste for cigars – indulged in private. About one a day. Even worse, I admire the remnants of the tobacco culture one finds here in Bulgaria – the brazenness with which the owners of the tiny shops which line the narrow streets of Sofia city centre squat on their doorsteps and smoke the weed and drink their coffee. I have become an avid collector of the aquarelles of Grigor Naidenov who celebrated the café culture here of the inter-war and post-war years.

Balkan smoke – tobacco and the making of modern Bulgaria paints a fascinating picture of the role of tobacco in the social, economic and political life of modern Bulgaria. It's by Mary Neuburger
It was not until the nineteenth century that Bulgarians began to enter the Muslim coffeehouse, where they conducted commerce and local administration, read newspapers, and engaged in debate. It was then that they learned to smoke, as they came of age politically and culturally, and as their national movement gained momentum. Indeed, over the course of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, smoking, like the tobacco industry itself, drove social change, accompanying and even propelling a certain “coming of age” for social groups who joined the ranks of passionate smokers.
As Bulgarians entered the coffeehouse at home, they also began to frequent European cafes and discover themselves as “Bulgarians” abroad, amidst the intellectual ferment of Paris, Vienna, and St. Petersburg. Soon Bulgarians began to establish coffeehouses at home that took on increasingly European characteristics, mainly aesthetically. For example, the traditional hookah was replaced by the newly minted cigarette. Coffeehouses became places of intellectual and cultural activity, and tobacco became a muse for generations of the Bulgarian elite. In the interwar period, in particular, the coffeehouse was at the heart of intellectual life, though other kinds of smoke-filled venues mushroomed in the Bulgarian capital and elsewhere in Bulgaria.
Smoking became the quintessential modern habit, a necessary accoutrement for the modern man and eventually woman, in both the sober coffeehouse and the drunken tavern.  Women and youth slowly entered this world of public smoking in the course of twentieth century, a fact that impelled anti-smoking impulses (however meagre).
In some respects this is a familiar story, with obvious global parallels, yet the Bulgarian context continually reveals it own particular nuances. In pre-1945 Bulgaria, for example, anti-smoking impulses flowed from two rather disparate sources, American (and Bulgarian convert) Protestants and the communist left. Both had a radical vision for “moral uplift” and social reform and utopian visions of the future. But both were also, in a sense, foreign, and so faced local and official hostility in the period before 1945. Most Bulgarians simply did not want to give up their new found pleasures, and the state was an important beneficiary of tobacco industry revenues and consumption taxes.
In the post World War II period, the dramatic change to a communist form of government brought an entirely new set of practical and theoretical quandaries. The Bulgarian tobacco industry took off, producing ever greater numbers of increasingly luxurious cigarettes for the enormous “captive” Soviet and Bloc market.
 There was also a veritable explosion of state built and run restaurants, cafes, hotels and sea-side resorts in the later decades of period, as the state sought legitimacy by providing the “good life” to its workers. By the 1960s and 1970s, however, communist state-directed abstinence efforts emerged, along with heightened concerns over the growing numbers of smoking women and youth. The Bulgarian communists continually connected smoking to “western” moral profligacy and “remnants” of a capitalist past, as well as “Oriental” degeneracy—or Bulgaria’s backwards, Ottoman past. Yet the state continued to provide cheap cigarettes and places to smoke them as never before. Bulgarian smoking rates skyrocketed under communism and the period generated a society of smokers for whom the voice of abstinence was just another form of state propaganda.
A reference in the text to the famous Bulgarian writer Ivan Vazov’s Under the Yoke has encouraged me to read this classic novel about life under the Ottomans in the late 19th century.

NB Kruchma was a village tavern where long pipes (Chibouks) were smoked before being replaced by cigarettes. The same bakal (shop) in villages would be a kafene during the day and kruchma in the evening – with rakia replacing the coffee and cigarettes the chibouks of an earlier age.

A year ago today I had an interesting post about "the disease of managerialism
And a nice post about an Austrian painter who was once the toast of Vienna

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