THE JOYS OF A SMOKE-FREE JUNGLE
December 2nd marked the 2-month anniversary of the BsAs government's non-smoking ban in public places smaller than 100 square meters. Those locales with more than 100 square meters are allowed to dedicate 30 percent of their space to smokers, provided that this dedicated space is enclosed and has its own ventilation system.
Now, when this new law was being debated, tango goddess thought, "There's no way in hell this law is going to be put into effect." She has witnessed people running red lights as police hang back and watch, dogs doing their business in the middle of the sidewalk without their owners' cleaning up, cartoneros digging through people's garbage for things to recycle (always very cool) and leaving garbage strewn all over the sidewalks and streets (so not very cool), kitchen personnel licking plates in the back after customers' have finished eating (eeewwww), and friends being taken on the more expensive scenic route to their destination by taxi drivers. Granted, I am certain that such things happen in the U.S., although I am sure I would be hard-pressed to find restaurant personnel licking customers' plates. However, it seems that people can get away with murder here, or, at least, it appears that there is, as one Argentine observed, no sense of civic duty.
The night before the start of the ban, I told my Argentine boyfriend that this law would be loosely applied, certainly in the milongas, given how many of the milongueros and milongueras smoke. I was prepared to continue carrying my asthma medication with me everywhere I went, and to continue stripping off smoke-perfumed clothing after every milonga. He swore up and down that non-smokers like him would rise up, take to the streets, and fight for their right to breathe! I wanted to believe him.
On October 2nd, I walked into my favorite neighborhood cafe to have my cafe con leche descafeinado, and, lo and behold, they had declared the place smoke-free. To my pleasant surprise, many cafes taped hand-written "libre de humo" signs on their doors and windows. Still, would hard-core milongueros and milongueras obey this law? I was certain they wouldn't. After all, the milonga is a business, and business means getting as many people packed into one's milonga, and many of these people are used to sitting their in their cloud of Marlboro humo.
As I walked into El Beso, I found, again, to my pleasant surprise, that it, too, had been declared a smoke-free environment. Not only that, they had a copy of the law posted at the entrance. My jaw dropped. "Yo te dije, y no me creiste," he said with a grin, but I know, somewhere in that pesto-marinated Italian heart of his, that he, too, doubted that the law would take effect as well as it did.
The smokers of the milonga scene, who come armed with mints for their oral fixation, and who must now step out of the milonga for their breath of fresh nicotine, declare this law to be "a verguenza". If I had any balls and confidence in my Spanish skills, I'd retort, "You know what the verguenza was? Having to sit next to smokers and giving up my right to breath." My boyfriend, who has balls and Spanish skills, tells them to look at this as an opportunity for them to stop smoking. Many people, according to recent statistics, have begun to shake the habit, and more power to them.
Thanks to the the BsAs government, the tango goddess now roams freely in the tango jungle, smelling sweetly once again.