James Leavey's Corner
Staging A Smoke

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The Third Man or Notes on the Underground

by James Leavey, editor, The FOREST Guide to Smoking in London
and The FOREST Guide to Smoking in Scotland

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James Leavey

When I was lastin Vienna, I was actively encouraged to ignite and smoke a Montecristo No.2in the sewers, during Dr Brigitte Timmerman’s excellent ‘Return to the ThirdMan’ tour.  What brought on this apparently suicidal act, was the fact thatwe had entered the main sewer where the river Wien flows down from theVienna Woods, under the city, and into the Danube.  Hidden away behindconcrete walls on either side of the underground river are major sewerageflows, which converge with the Wien about two kilometres further in.

It all startedwhen my tour guide opened the rusty door of a round advertising column -four of which offer the most comfortable access to the 7,000 kilometres ofVienna’s underground waterways.  She was about to lead me down 42 grimysteps in the wake of Orson Welles, whose famous cinematic character, HarryLime, had been shot somewhere below us by Joseph Cotten, in Carol Reed’sclassic British movie, way back in 1948.

There beinginsufficient electric torches to go round Dr Timmermann’s tour party of ten,we were each presented with a long, thin, sickly orange candle.  Then ourguide realized she had forgotten the matches.  And that’s when my trusty S JDupont double-flame cigar lighter came to the rescue.

Meanwhile, itoccurred to me that if I could fire up a few torches, there should benothing stopping me from using the aroma of a fine Havana to mask the faintbut dreadful smell pouring out of the open doorway.  The rest of my party,about half of whom were non-smokers, suddenly, after one whiff of what wasto come during their trip below ground, decided it would be a great idea forme to lead them through the sewers, behind our guide, and encouraged me toexhale as much Havana smoke as possible, which they breathed in like a balm.

After 30 minutesof trudging into the darkness, while carefully avoiding stepping on theslimy flotsam and jetsam that had been washed up on our side of the RiverWien, which included countless cigarette butts, and an obscene magazineportraying a naked female cigar smoker, we arrived at the very spot whereWelles/Lime stood, holding a cigar, before he went on the run.  We were thenrequested to extinguish all naked flames, in case we accidentally ignitedthe methane gas emanating from the open sewer a few yards up a tunnel on ourright, and blew up Austria’s capital.

Later, over a cupof strong coffee and a slice of Sachertorte in the Hotel Sacher, DrTimmermann explained that the Austrians had recently reintroduced theirspecial squad of sewer police (who’d originally been established in 1934, todeal with the crime that then flourished via the city's countlessinterlocked tunnels and cellars, and disbanded in 1955), mainly to act ascounter-terrorists on behalf of a city that is one of the world’s topinternational conference centres.

So, if you everend up in Vienna’s sewers with Dr Timmermann and an armed Austrian policemanpulls you up for terrorizing his city with a lit cigar, please put it outpromptly.  There are still plenty of smoker-friendly places on the groundlevel of Vienna, where you will be welcomed to reignite your cigar and smokeit to your heart’s content.


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