When Simona climbed on top of the Sorrento cliffs, Italy, the warm breeze smelled like citrus and olives. She was atop the bay of Naples, and before her were the island of Capri on one side and the Amalfi coast on the other, both glowing in the pink Italian sunset. The Mediterranean was calm, and a few fishermen’s boats were coming back from a day at sea.
Everything was perfect.
But Simona’s boyfriend, Nathan, had something else on his mind: cigarettes. She grins, pointing at him. He gets on the defensive, but finally admits: “Alright, I was not my best self”.
Simona and Nathan have been together for almost five years and the trip to Sorrento, in August 2015, was their first vacation abroad. “It was that moment in the relationship when you’re still nervous around each other, and your palms are sweaty all the time,” Nathan says, his arm around Simona’s waist. They’re waiting for him to start his set at the Piano Bar in London, the jazz club where he’s the resident pianist, and they’re both sipping sodas in the club’s dressing room.
“I don’t know if you’re familiar with Sorrento,” says Simona. “But it’s hard to reach the top of the hill in summer,” she explains. It’s hot, the hill is steep and there is no shade to protect you from the scorching sun. “I wanted to do something romantic, you know?” continues Simona. “I’m Italian and Nathan had never been to Italy. So I wanted him to experience one of the most breath-taking vistas my country can offer,” she says.
As she recalls, “every few feet, he would stop and ask: 'Where can we get cigarettes? Is the cigarette shop going to close soon?'” Sweaty, sunburned and stressed, they reached the top of the climb and Nathan could only think about cigarettes.
“I smoked my way through university and then I started performing in front of large crowds and, you know, it’s stressful,” admits Nathan.
He could smoke twenty cigarettes in a single evening. “You’d jam for a while, and then you’d drink a glass of wine, you’d take a break and, before you knew it, a whole pack was gone,” he recalls.
“But we were on vacation, our first one abroad, and it felt like he couldn’t resist another minute without lighting one,” says Simona. “He couldn’t see the bay, he couldn’t see the sunset, he couldn’t see me: he could only see cigarettes,” she remembers.
And then she decided that something had to be done. “I said ‘no, that was our time together’”, Simona says. “In other words, after he nagged me for hours, I just said: ‘that’s it, you’re not going to smoke during this vacation with me. Because now it’s either me or cigarettes.’”
Nathan was intrigued. “Was it a challenge? Was it a threat?” he asks. “The only thing I remember is that it was that exact moment when I realized I was in love with her.”
By the end of that summer, Nathan had quit completely. “It wasn’t easy, it never is,” he says. “You kind of have to readjust your life a bit, work around your routines and keep yourself busy.” And he found that going to the gym is a good way to trick his mind when he has a craving. “We joined the local gym in an effort to lead a healthier life, and it helps,” he adds. “I’m more focused, more energetic and it feels that a good body exercise gives you a more disciplined mind.”
After their trip to Sorrento four years ago, Nathan hasn’t smoked since. “I’ve tried so many times before, but I came to realize I was never truly committed,” he says.
Now, it’s different.
“Now I have a reason, and Simona keeps an eye on me,” he smiles while holding her tight. And when he proposed six months ago, she didn’t hesitate. “He’s committed and he proved it by giving up smoking. So I said ‘yes’ without thinking twice.”
They’re ready to tie the knot in 2020, and Simona is picking a location for their honeymoon. They thought of travelling back to Italy, but Nathan is unsure. Smoker or not, that climb up the Sorrento cliffs was tough.