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.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.
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?