To the Cigarette that I am Holding

“…its beauty after a good meal, its companionship in troubled times, during long sleepless nights, the clarity of thought and the cloud in which it embraces persons, relationships and things… its erotic sensation on the burning lips… It has given me so much over the years, so much that I will always remember and that now that I’ve given up smoking for a little while, I discreetly go close to those who still smoke and secretly smell their smoke, just like an immigrant does in big train stations, approaching fellow countrymen in order to catch the smell of his country.”

This paragraph about a “love affair” with a cigarette was written by the writer Giannis Peridas. But as can be revealed from popular music, for the Greek the cigarette is much more than just a love affair. It is life in its entirety. The cigarette is a simile to the erotic flame which leads to life, presents at death and all that is in between.

“Light my cigarette, give me your light, I have a great pain in my heart,” sung Marinella at the Olympic Ceremony, and the last cigarette resembles an end to love: “this cigarette that burns, is the last, close your eyes, I don’t want you to see me crying.” (Mitropanos)

And as for death, the cigarette is its challenger, as it symbolizes the lack of fear in the face of it, courage.  “Those who became friends to Death pass away with a cigarette between their lips,” sung Dimitris Miropanos on the Cypriot protestor Solomos Solomou, who was shot to death by the Turks smoking a cigarette; “Teli Teli Teli” is a song on the false, untrue world where the poet declares: “Give me a heavy cigarette so that I will smoke and give a sip at the angel of death.”

And as long as you are unafraid of death, you can enjoy the small simple pleasures of life: “flowers to the angel of death, bouzouki and guitar, and an open kiosk to get cigarettes” (Mitropanos)… Even if smoking is a bad habit, as Miltos Pashalidis sings:

“My whole life is full of complicity, and how I like afternoons with coffee and a cigarette.” I think that the most striking presence of cigarettes in the song relates to the distresses of life, to sadness, to loneliness, putting them on the table through the tempo of Zebekiko – heavy Zebekiko, danced by a solitary dancer, sometimes while smoking. Stelios Kazandzidis, in one of his most popular songs sings (in a kamilieriko tempo which is approximate to Zebekiko): “my entire life is a cigarette which I don’t like, yet I smoke it; and as it becomes a butt it is an offering to death.”*

Charis Alexiou sings about a woman that decides once and for all to burn all bridges and never to look back, in the wake of a false love: “[I will] trap myself in the cigarette smoke and be afraid of nothing.” While another woman finds her beloved one smoking: “What did I do to you that you smoke, cigarette after cigarette” (Poly Panou). Another man faces loneliness: “heavy drinks, heavy cigarettes in the bar of loneliness, drop after drop.” (Dimitris Zervoudakis)

The Greeks are the heaviest smokers in Europe. A serious problem needs tobacco, as the idiom goes. Surprisingly enough, Greece was the first to cast a ban on smoking, as far back as 1856, a time when cigarette production was negligent. The ban was meant to prevent fires, and not for health reasons.

But the 2010 ban on smoking in public places indeed was for public health, as part of the European Alliance. This law raised some concerns by writers and bloggers. One of them wonders if the image of a man dancing Zebekiko on the club’s dancing floor obliviously “letting out his stress” with a cigarette in his mouth, is doomed to vanish. Another asks if “a time will come that this habit will be described as part of a bizarre ethnography?”

No chance. It seems that the ban saw some changes of behavior in workplaces, shops, terminals etc., but it is different as it comes to the very root of the Greek’s soul, that is, chatting and drinking is in coffeeshops, dancing and singing in bouzoukias and taverns; in all of these smoking is integral part.” Greek coffee without smoking… it’s absurd…” says our friend Nata.

It is a matter of society, of culture, a way of existence, a way to heal the soul (and that’s why the Greeks don’t use much therapy). In the other venue of the soul’s expression – art of every kind – smoking by top artists is an integral part of the creation process and its great intensity and lyricism. Indeed, the ban on these public places had actually been postponed after a protest by their owners. The government seems to not hesitate to impose further burdens on the people these hard times.

The four smoking songs here are beautiful, I think, and they could have been created only in Greece, but I think that they appeal to everyone.


The Cigarette Case (η ταμπακιέρα)

Sofia Vembo was the “national voice” of Greece during the Second World War as she sung patriotic songs and performed in front of Greek and allied troops. In 1950 she acquired a theatre in Athens and called it “Vembo Theatre”.  It was a musical theatre and the song “The cigarette case” was included in the first show. One of the lyricists was Mimis Traiforos, her long-time lover and then her husband. The other was Giorgos Giannakopoulos and the composer was Iosif Ritsiardis. The lover’s gift of a cigarette case, a gift that should express true erotic loyalty and devotion, here means that “the daily habit (of smoking) scrapes most erotic wounds.”

Here is an audio file of  Sofia Vembo

And here is Pegy Zina, a singer of the younger modern generation. Besides her, the late Dimitris Mitropanos

(Use the red bottom in Youtube for English subtitles in all videos)



Morning Cigarette (Πρωινό τσιγάρο)

Manos Loizos was one of the most important and admired composers in Greek history. He wrote many beloved songs that are millstones in Greek music. When he died from an illness in 1982, at only 45, all of Greece mourned him.

“Morning cigarette” is a song to his memory that was written in 1984 by Notis Mavroudis (music) and the poet Alkis Alkaios (lyrics). Both also share his politically leftist views. In 1985 the song was performed by Giorgos Dalaras and Haris Alexiou in front of 80000 people in a memorial concert for him at the Olympic Stadium.

I think that as we saw in other Alkaios’ poems, the erotic love and admiration to a person go here hand in hand: “and I am longing for you, like a morning cigarette” – I need you like most smokers need the first cigarette of the day, after the night’s break, but I get it with a bitter coffee. It can be a simile of a duality in the feelings for the beloved person, but also a painful need for the man, Manos Loizos, when you already know that he is missing. Here is the Dalaras-Alexiou historic performance:


Endless Cigarette (Τσιγάρο ατέλειωτο)

“Endless cigarette”  is one of the best songs by Sokratis Malamas with his contemporary personal style. A song which, among others, is often sung and loved by the public. Here is the loneliness that is compared with a heavy cigarette that seems to be endless. This is a “song about frustration and soul-searching”.

It was released in 1993 in the album “Circle” which positioned Malamas as a top popular singer. The lyrics are by Giurgos Athanasopoulos and the music by Malamas.



The Cigarette (Το τσιγάρο)

Many would say that this is one of the most beautiful songs. It was released in 1997, sung by Giannis Kotsiras, who tells: “there isn’t a personal story behind the song. Its only secret is that when initially Evanthia Reboutsika wrote the music it was a waltz. Its initial title was ‘Promise’ or  ‘Oath’…then we turned it to Hasapiko tempo… When we presented the trial (demo) of the CD to Tasos Falireas, then co-producer of the album… he was left speechless… his eyes filled up with tears…”  The lyrics are by Eleni Zioga.


As an “encore”, let’s hear “I zoi mou oli”- my whole life, a great song on the meaningless and uselessly of life.  It is a “laika” (folk, popular) song in the tempo of Kamilieriko which is close to faster Zebekiko. The singer is the late and the most admired Stelios Kazantzidis and the writer is Akis Panou (who was himself a heavy smoker who died from Cancer).

The songs mentioned:
Mitropanos (last cigarette)
Mitropanos panda gelastoi
Charis Alexiou Teli teli teli
Mitropanos Mia Ekdromi
Pashalidis Miltos
Apopse thelo na pio Charis Alexiou
 Poly Panou
 Thanks very much to Nata for translation and research, to Katherina Siapantha for fruitful help, to Shahaf  Ifhar and Danny Matz for editing 

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One Response to “To the Cigarette that I am Holding”

  1. repulsewarrior Says:


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