the cinnamon peeler's wife
more ashtrays to empty

eau d'ashtray

Woman Holding a Cigarette

The Best Cigarette
- by Billy Collins -

There are many that I miss
having sent my last one out a car window
sparking along the road one night, years ago.

The heralded one, of course:
after sex, the two glowing tips
now the lights of a single ship;
at the end of a long dinner
with more wine to come
and a smoke ring coasting into the chandelier;
or on a white beach,
holding one with fingers still wet from a swim.

How bittersweet these punctuations
of flame and gesture;
but the best were on those mornings
when I would have a little something going
in the typewriter,
the sun bright in the windows,
maybe some Berlioz on in the background.
I would go into the kitchen for coffee
and on the way back to the page,
curled in its roller,
I would light one up and feel
its dry rush mix with the dark taste of coffee.

Then I would be my own locomotive,
trailing behind me as I returned to work
little puffs of smoke,
indicators of progress,
signs of industry and thought,
the signal that told the nineteenth century
it was moving forward.
That was the best cigarette,
when I would steam into the study
full of vaporous hope
and stand there,
the big headlamp of my face
pointed down at all the words in parallel lines.

"The Best Cigarette" by Billy Collins.  From The Best Cigarette.  Available via Collins' website, also named The Best Cigarette. This book can be dowloaded for free via this site.


One Cigarette
- by Edwin Morgan -

No smoke without you, my fire.
After you left,
your cigarette glowed on in my ashtray
and sent up a long thread of such quiet grey
I smiled to wonder who would believe its signal
of so much love. One cigarette
in the non-smoker's tray.
As the last spire
trembles up, a sudden draught
blows it winding into my face.
Is it smell, is it taste?
You are here again, and I am drunk on your tobacco lips.

Out with the light.
Let the smoke lie back in the dark.
Till I hear the very ash
sigh down among the flowers of brass
I'll breathe, and long past midnight, your last kiss.

"One Cigarette" by Edwin Morgan. From The Second Life.  Edinburgh University Press, 1968. Reprinted in Selected Poems. Manchester: Carcanet Press, 1985.  Via  See also

Monica Bellucci Smoking---

I used to love cigarettes - I smoked for a little more than 12 years and I have to admit, I genuinely enjoyed it.  But I understood that cigarette smoke stinks when you're not the one smoking the cigarette, and for that and several other reasons, I gave away my last pack (Native American Spirits) on March 10, 2003.  I do occasionally crave a cigarette and in those moments, Billy Collins' "The Best Cigarette" rolls through my mind as though it were my own thought. 

And then recently I read Edwin Morgan's "One Cigarette" and it switched on a light for me:  the craving of a smell that under any other circumstances would be horrible.  The cigarette breath of a longed-for lover, the smoke in the clothes of a family member who has recently passed away.  These are aromas that have power over us in ways we cannot control.  How many non-smokers pick up the habit because they fall in love with someone whose cigarette habit won't be stopped, and so must be joined in order to tolerate the acrid, bitter taste of smoke on the breath and in the skin?

At the same time, I've recently been researching fragrances that some describe as "nasty."  No one ingredient seems to be the culprit, but these are fragrances about which people swoon using words like "audacious," "difficult," "strange," and even "unwearable." In some cases, to some sniffers, the smell is pure ashtray.  (Just a few months ago, I had to throw a shampoo in the trash because the pine tar in it just smelled too much like a cross between wood-burning stove and dirty ashtray.  It was great for my hair but the smell made me nauseous, so I know the phenomenon well - too much pine tar in the mix and all I can think of is burnt wood and ash.)

In a quest to find out what could be responsible for these ashtray-like notes in perfumes, I did some research on reviews and discussion boards.  I counted up the times I saw a fragrance referred to as "wet ashtray" or "stale smoke" or "cigarette breath."  (A very interesting resource was this thread on Perfume of Life: Nasty Notes and the Perfume Freaks Who Love Them.) And when I finished my very unscientifically compounded master list of ashtray perfumes, I was astonished to find that the majority of these fragrances are classic masterpieces of perfumery:  Robert Piguet Bandit, Chanel Cuir de Russie, Caron Tabac Blond, Molinard Habanita, L'Artisan Vanilia all hit the top of the statistical list. 

Helg, the writer of Perfume Shrine, pointed to the chemical Isobutyl quinoline (bitter leather smell) as likely culprit.  So, with a description of the suspect, I intended to conquer my fear of leather smells (I've never liked them) in order to get to the bottom of this ashtray thing.  Imagine my astonishment when upon testing samples of Bandit, Cuir de Russie, and Habanita, (leathers with an ashtray reputation) I could find no hint of ashtray anywhere.  None!  In fact, I loved them - each of them differently, but I get no smoky bar, no cigar crushed out on a leather jacket, not even a large room with one lone pipe smoker. There's something enigmatic and androgynous in each one.  Something dark and undefined to my nose, but I can't equate that with the many full ashtrays that have lived in my home over the years.  Because other writers are much better at this (and because I'm still shocked that I even like these fragrances and don't know whether I should trust my nose) I defer to others for descriptions:

Robert Piguet Bandit reviewed by Now Smell This:

" it dries down, it is joined by an earthy-mossy accord that vaguely recalls a full ashtray...Bandit is drinking and smoking and leather jackets, and running around at all hours getting into all sorts of mischief."

Molinard Habanita reviewed by Now Smell This:

"If you can imagine dousing yourself in baby powder, donning an old leather jacket and then smoking a cigar in a closed room with a single rose in a vase 10 feet away, you'll get the general idea."

Voguecoverautumnfuchsia1957printc1Chanel Cuir de Russie reviewed by Bois de Jasmin:

"One can almost envision an elegant woman reaching into a black leather handbag, her hand rummaging through its contents: red lipstick, powder compact exuding an aroma of violets, a silver cigarette case… The owner of the fragrant handbag also seems to be fond of listening to jazz in smoky clubs since Cuir de Russie has an alluring note redolent of soft tobacco pervading its leathery smoothness...Created in 1924 by Ernest Beaux, the fragrance was intended to provoke and shock, being dedicated to the woman who is not afraid to smoke in public nor speak her mind. ..."

In doing my research, I also discovered there's quite a fetish cult dedicated to smoking celebrities. (The technical term for a sexual smoking fetish is capnolagnia, and there is a magazine called Smoke Signals dedicated to this interest.) Monica Bellucci is among the most beautiful and unapologetic of these objects of desire.  And good for her, she's living proof that at least for some people, cigarettes do not ruin beauty. So, my search for the "tobacco lips" of a perfume was unfulfilled until I reopened my sample of L'Artisan Vanilia.  Here it is, stale, slightly damp cigarette ash in wood-paneled room.  There's vanilla in here somewhere, but it's going to take me at least a pack of imaginary Camels to find it.  All hope is not lost.



"Womans Hands Holding A Cigarette." From

Monica Bellucci smoking.  From Bellucci Is Smoking.  Original source unknown.

Vogue Cover, "Autumn Fuschia 1957" by Norman Parkinson. From


"The Best Cigarette" by Billy Collins.  From The Best Cigarette.  Available via Collins' website, also named The Best Cigarette. This book can be dowloaded for free via this site. 

"One Cigarette" by Edwin Morgan. From The Second Life.  Edinburgh University Press, 1968. Reprinted in Selected Poems. Manchester: Carcanet Press, 1985.  Via  See also

Posts prior to 2015 first appeared on my previous website, memory & desire (