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According to history, French soldiers picked up the cigarette habit in Spain and France began manufacturing cigarettes in 1842, often giving brands such Spanish-derived names as Les Espagnoles, Les Hidalgos and Les Madrilènes.The Gitane was born in 1910 and by 1927 the package had a flamenco hint, featuring a fan and tambourine.


In the 1940s a laughing gypsy's face was introduced and in 1947 the poster designer Max Ponty won a competition with the familiar flat blue box, or paquet à tiroir, on which his black silhouette of a gypsy archly fandangoed against a cloud of smoke.


(Mary Blume writing in The New York Times)




Nothing stops her dancing, her wild Gypsy dancing, whose tight circles of passionate desire are resumed in the rings rising from her cigarette.


Gitanes, which were considered the first ‘modern’ cigarette because they came in a box accompanied by emblems of a hot woman. On the dark blue box, the cartoon depicted a motif of a fan, tambourine, and Seville oranges, all elements in Merimee’s original Carmen. The cigarette, like Carmen, is an object of graphic legend and a scource of fabulation, whose wispy undulations in space write words of imaginative reveries before the smoker’s vapid gaze. Carmen is the fiery heart of the burning ember, in which every brilliant dream is perpetually turned into delicious smoke and bitter ash.


The familiar Spanish Gypsy, drawn on the box, was first done by Giot on posters for Gitanes, and in 1927 she became the official emblem. Her image has acquired mythical dimensions, a cipher designating the absolute power of seduction. The Gypsy dancer on the box, striking the pose of Ole! – the long, curved body with an arm upraised like a wisp of white smoke silhouetted against the night blue. Like the cigarettes inside, her image on the box is the promise of a Gypsy wedding.


A woman can be beautiful; a Gypsy woman is sublime. For Nietzsche, the Gitane, whose apotheosis is Bizet’s Carmen, is the fatal embodiment of Mediterranean passions, superior to the frigid spirits of Richard Wagner’s northern mists. Marriage to Carmen, like that of a smoker to his cigarette, is eventually fatal.


The two most popular brands of cigarettes in France, Gauloises and Gitanes; emblems of risk and beauty exerting ‘powerful charms’ are embodied on those packs in the figures of the Soldier and the Gypsy. …………when Georges Bizet’s Gypsy heroine encounters her soldier lover Don Jose, she is one of the cigarieres who work rolling cigarettes in a tobacco factory in Seville, a city famous for its immense factory where thousands of women, many young and barely dressed, languoriously rolled cigars and manufactured cigarettes in dense heat and the poisoined air of tobacco smells and human sweat, intoxicated by the thick effluvia arising from leaves and bodies and by their own continuous smoking.


Gypsy women in Spain dance in public for money. They do dances ‘that have been banned in our street balls at carnival…. Carmen, who is infinitely prettier than all the women of her nation, is also the most bold, free and tragically, the most loyal Gitana in Spain. If one were to attribute her qualities to the cigarettes she smokes, one might lend them something of her illicit charm, her transgressive beauty, and the same fatal compulsion with which she marries those who dare to light her up.


A woman smoking in public offends those who think that women are supposed to be veiled. Carmen, like the cigarette she smokes, is black as ash and red as an ember; swirling arabesques in her eye evoke intimations of mortality, the gay wisdom of a cruel finitude, enlightened in every glance.


text excerpted from ‘Cigarettes are Sublime’ by Richard Klein (picador)


I think that I have found the Dancer............

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Taken on May 28, 2009