Post 565: plumes of smoke

I watched a 1955 romantic farce this morning, “To Paris with Love”. What a movie! Paris in the mid-century, with the streets full of vintage European automobiles (now, if not then), and plumes of smoke.

Yes, automobiles and people in that day pumped out the smoke, and the air was acrid, rough on the lungs, eyes, and skin. But everything and everyone did it. In the movie, a waiter brought the woman and man their appetizer, a shrimp cocktail. The moment the waiter left but before one shrimp left the cup, the man, yes, lighted a cigarette! How blinking romantic! The guy looked “Fifties Cool”! (A jerk by our standards for ruining the meal…!)

The young man on the Vespa scooter drives off with the cute girlfriend hanging on behind him. Yes, that little two-stroke engine left a smoke screen worthy of an army trying to conceal it’s movements. Of course, when Sir Alec Guinness drove off in his Rolls Royce convertible, a strangely puke green-colored machine, his eight cylinders left a fine plume of smoke, too, only richer. I don’t recall, but he probably was smoking a cigarette because he smoked through several packs in the movie.

Air Visibility Index photo in which good and bad air visibility day photos are justaposed. [Colorado State Government]

Denver Air Visibility Index photo in which good and bad air visibility day photos are juxtaposed. [Colorado State Government]

I recall vividly a trip to Denver in 1969 for my US Army physical and aptitude testing. After they poked and prodded me, turned me out onto the streets of Denver, I decided to walk to the State Capitol. People on the street walked by me, smoking. The cars pumped out their own plumes of smoke Unfortunately, the air was so polluted, I ended up getting out of the “fresh” air for my safety and comfort! That was my first contact with genuine air pollution, not counting the stench one experiences driving by the sugar beet processing factory in the next town over or any of the feed lots along the road.

For all the whining about air quality standards and restrictions on smoking in public places, the change in breathable air since then is easily illustrated by this little story:

My Paris friend Ralph and his friend Helen visited one summer. Ralph’s father’d purchased a new Chrysler New Yorker that year, which I think was 1992, or not, just that it was after strict pollution control standards on automobiles became the norm on all American market cars. Ralph’s father’s car was running in the driveway, and we were standing next to the tail end of the car, admiring it. Helen bent over and sniffed the exhaust.

tailend of a 1992 Chrysler New Yorker...

tail end of a 1992 Chrysler New Yorker…


What!?  It was totally random, unexpected. “It does smell clean,” she calmly announced. No plume of smoke from that Chrysler! Any car sending smoke signals in America then was in need of repairs, was antique, or both. Whatever the year it was, European air quality standards still allowed plumes of smoke from people and automobiles, though the EU countries were working on changing that.

Now the cars there are very clean, too, and very few, if any, public places allow plumes of smoke from people, either. Does anyone miss them on either side of the Atlantic?


8 thoughts on “Post 565: plumes of smoke

  1. Mom says they probably did start polluting the air back then but heck they didn’t know any better. Mom smoked back then and also added to the pollution. She didn’t know it was bad for her until she was totally hooked and then it was very difficult to quit.

    Your review of the movie was priceless….mom laughed so hard….its a wonder she didn’t tinkle.

    Have a great day friend,


  2. I certainly do not miss the smoke. I grew up in a RR and steel mill town and the pollution was enormous. There was an orange smog when all the mills were running leaving a residue everywhere and the noise pollution was outrageous. Of course, pollution was far down on the list of importance when the surrounding towns made their living from the mills and railroad. The Ohio river had rusty orange colored sludge in it and citizens were warned not to eat fish from the river, which still holds today. The air and water pollution eventually cleared when the mills shut down but then so too did the towns. Its a shame that a balance could not have been found.

    • I remember a killer fog (smog, actually) that hit London in the 1950s. It was regular fog, I think, polluted with coal fire pollutants from people’s stoves. Thousands of people died. A quick look on Google shows it happened in 1952, and is the worst instance of this sort of poisoning by pollution on record. Of course, China seems headed toward a new record when people running in a marathon there recently wore gas masks!

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