Like salmon and salami, wintery cities are best consumed smoked. I remember Prague in the 1990s. What was it the burned in the fireplaces? It smelled great, anyway. The same odor met me on the wooden allyways of Istanbul's run down Fatih quarter, a decade later. I watched an old woman chopping wood in her doorway, but this wasn't the smell of burning wood, or peat, it was the smell of a city hiding from it's own skies, sowing a down comforter of mysterious smog to shield itself from brutal February.
February isn't brutal around here, and the only smoke on the street is that of apple-sweetened tobacco. shisha smoke, nargila smoke, or hookah pipe, as you will. This is the smell of winter for me. When I first put the foreign, forbidden nozzle into my mouth it was in Bethlehem, on New years' eve of 1999. It rained so hard over the nativity square that my friends and I had to escape into a cloister. A bunch of Palestinian highschool kids were smooking their "tufah" there, beating on a tin pot and singing.
I took enough puffs to learn what I would later know too well, that nargila is hard stuff, that one head of it is equivelent to two packs of cigarettes, that after smoking one by onerself, the contour of one's lungs is clearly felt within one's ribs and that it's nonetheless a delight.
Then there was Cairo in January, the scent attacking you as soon as you stepped out of the building. Not that wintery a city, you would think, and be very wrong. A grim sky over the Nile at sunset welcomed us into a freezing dining experience on a blufftop overlooking the town. The restaurant consisted of a nothing but a terrace. Only a hot porridge called "Oum Ally" could save us, that and the blessed little charcoals, crackling over the bubbling pot.
And there was Berlin, just recently, walking up the Karl Marx Strasse in the snow for a puff of home, with Marieke and Julian and Kike from Cuba. The hooka bar was full of ageing Palestinians who may or may not have welcomed me had they known where I was from. The smoke was the same smoke, it went well with the queit of the street afterwards, with the murmur of the fresh snow pressed under our feet, with the mix of German and spanish and the odd line of a Hebrew song.
Sometimes, when I want this place to just go up in smoke, I remember that it is billowing smoke, much more so than Berlin, in the least. I then go down to Hamouda and Abed's place by the sea and inhale a few carcenogens, just a few, in the good quiet company of Ajami's card players. Today, with the streets neatly washed as to mirror double rainbows, Jaffa doesn't seem too cruel. It certainly doesn't seem helpless. The heating is scarce which lets us all show off our scarves, so rarely used. The waves, a few hundred yards away, are grey and cruel like clouds over London's chimnies. No cannons are firing, it's a good time to light the peace pipe.