Le Musée du Fumeur: My new story in The Smart Set


Earlier this month I had an essay appear in The Smart Set, a new online arts and culture magazine out of Drexel University in Philadelphia. My story, Le Musée du Fumeur, explores Paris’s “Museum of Smoking” on the eve of a law that will ban indoor smoking in the city. I write:

Wander through the 11th arrondissement of Paris toward the dead celebrities of Pere Lachaise Cemetery, and there’s a decent chance you’ll stumble across a small gallery called “Le Musée du Fumeur.” Unlike the hallowed halls of the Louvre or the Musée d’Orsay, there is no tyranny of expectation in this tiny, smoking-themed museum. No smiling Mona Lisa or reclining Olympia dictates where the random tourist should focus his attention. Thus left to meander, the drop-in visitor may well overlook the more earnest exhibits here — such as Egyptian sheeshas or Chinese opium pipes — and note the small, red-circle-and-slash signs reminding guests that, in no uncertain terms, smoking is strictly forbidden in the Museum of Smoking.

…Not too long ago, public smoking bans were regarded as a uniquely American phenomenon — a puritanical gesture, held in ridicule by any self-respecting, Gauloise-puffing Frenchman. Over time, however, the public health burden of smoking-related illnesses has spurred a number of industrialized nations to follow the American example. When the initial steps of a public smoking ban took effect in Paris this February, French opinion polls reported that 70 percent of Parisians were in favor of the prohibition.

Apart from my own essay, the debut issue of The Smart Set features some great writing from the likes of Susan Orlean, Tony Perrottet, Michael Gorra, and Alain de Botton. Standout essays include a story by Alden Jones about the Semester at Sea program, Jesse Smith’s report from a Kentucky Creationism Museum, Orlean’s “A Lonely Heart in Bhutan,” and Jason Wilson’s dispatch from Sardinia.

Wilson, who edits The Smart Set (and whose name you might recognize as the series editor for The Best American Travel Writing) describes the new magazine as a competitor to the likes of Harper’s, the Atlantic Monthly, The American Scholar, The Believer, and Virginia Quarterly Review — with an online readership similar to that of Slate.com and Salon.com. Subject matter includes culture and ideas, arts and sciences, business and global affairs — everything from literature to shopping, medicine to food, philosophy to sports. If the first issue is any indication, it will definitely have a strong travel emphasis — and even its non-travel essays appear to be written by well-traveled writers. In addition to personal and critical essays, the online magazine will also publish original reporting, memoir, short stories, photo essays, and occasionally video.

If The Smart Set sounds like a somewhat familiar name, that’s no accident — the online magazine is a revival of a magazine edited by H.L. Mencken over 80 years ago. As the pseudonymous “ombudsman” Owen Hatteras writes in the first issue,

The Smart Set: “The Magazine of Cleverness…The Aristocrat Among Magazines…The Only Magazine with an European Air,” [was] edited from 1914 to 1923 by George Jean Nathan and H.L. Mencken. It was a fine magazine, publishing the early work of such talents as F. Scott Fitzgerald, Dorothy Parker, and Theodore Dreiser. Even though crotchety old Mencken in later years would call the magazine “the most dreadful piece of printing in New York.”

But that was Mencken. As everyone knows, he was always a real bastard.

Posted by | Comments Off on Le Musée du Fumeur: My new story in The Smart Set  | August 31, 2007
Category: Rolf's News and Updates

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