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Mexico City smokers enjoy a bit of nostalgia

December 10, 2008 | 10:18 am

Pc043293 For Mexico City’s smokers, who were recently deprived of the pleasure of enjoying their habit in restaurants, bars, offices and other public places, an exhibition celebrating the pleasure and history of tobacco might feel like someone’s blowing smoke in their faces.

But organizers of “Dias de Humo” (The Days of Smoking), which opened last week at the Museo Soumaya, say  the intention is to celebrate smoking’s place in history, art and culture, not to encourage the habit.

Pre-Hispanic pipes, personalized cigarette holders and snuffboxes, newspaper articles, old television ads and publicity posters tell what is more than just the history of tobacco.

Some of Mexico’s most famed artists and public figures, such as José Guadalupe Posada, Frida Kahlo and José Clemente Orozco, are included in an exhibit that is really a kind of history of Mexico, using the tobacco industry and smoking culture as the organizing thread. The tale starts with the origins of tobacco in South America and northern Mexico and winds its way through to Mexico’s smoking film stars.

12584_sin_titulo The story goes that tobacco was discovered in the Americas, and after the Spanish arrived in the region, Christopher Columbus took  seeds back to Spain and the Spanish crown established the first tobacco factory in the world in Seville in the 16th century.

Production was banned in Mexico and other parts of Latin America, although it went on in clandestine operations. After Mexico's independence, El Buen Tono, the first Mexican tobacco factory, was founded.

Although it seems hard to believe, now that smoking cigarettes has become frowned upon, people once people defined themselves through smoking. Personalized snuffboxes on display carry effigies of the owner’s favorite dog or horse. An impressive collection of pipes and other smoking paraphernalia owned by the Mexican Emperor Maximilian carry an effigy of his face.

“It’s amazing how it was something in those times that was so strong, and so much the fashion, and now how it has changed so much,” said Daniela Diaz, an 18-year-old student who visited the exhibition.

“Before, it was much more accepted by society and everyone, and now there aren’t even commercials or publicity for cigarettes.”

In fact, old Mexican television commercials for Delicado cigarettes, still widely smoked here in Mexico, are some of the highlights of the show. They feature a cast of male, mustachioed Mexicans describing the “delicious flavor” of the cigarettes which also, by implication of the ads, make the men more attractive to women.

Laura González, a spokeswoman for the show, said the show aims for nostalgia.

“It’s not about the habit, but about what we miss about [smoking] in culture and art,” she explained.

The “Dias de Humo” exhibition is running for the next four months at least.

-- Deborah Bonello in Mexico City

Photos: Top, a Pre-Hispanic pipe, part of the Dias de Humo, or Days of Smoking, exhibition in Mexico City's Museo Soumaya. Credit: Deborah Bonello / Los Angeles Times. Bottom, an image from the exhibition provided by the museum.

Click here to go to more images of the exhibition on Flickr.

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