Bars

This bar is just over the road from La Maffiosa, on the corner of rue des Dames and rue Nollet, where we stayed last year. Its slightly down-at-heel exterior makes it look as though it’s been like this for years, but it was actually being put together by a group of people last summer. We walked past every day and watched them working on it in a touchingly amateurish fashion, wielding tools with a sort of wonder at their ability to perform the allotted task, hammering and sawing and painting in passionate, neurotic flurries before opening a bottle and sitting around one of the tables to laugh and look anxious and drink, covering scraps of paper with figures and sketchy plans of the place. Never has a drinking hole been christened with such regularity, from conception to birth.

We missed the opening night because it took place on the day we left. It seemed impossible they’d be ready – the tables and chairs were stacked at the back, the lighting was hanging from the walls, the paint on the shelves behind the bar still looked wet. But we’re assured they were, and the evening was a great success. Now it’s settled into the landscape, attracting its natural constituency, identical to the people who created it.

It’s fifty yards from another bar which caters to northern African transvestites, off-duty before heading back to Pigalle, I imagine, or Avenue du Clichy. We had a drink there one rainy afternoon last summer, somewhat against my better judgement. The middle-aged woman behind the bar, generously bosomed and squeezed into a tight black woollen dress, seemed thrilled to see us, perhaps assuming we were there to raise the tone of the place. She scurried across to our table with a dishcloth and a plate of nuts we hadn’t asked for. She was about to put the plate down when I reached for my umbrella and knocked the nuts all over the just-wiped table. With a nonchalance I still admire, she gathered them up in her hand and put them back on the plate. Merci, madame.

I didn’t have to eat them, I know. I could have left them on the plate, as Giuseppe did. It was my fault and no one else’s that I spent the next two days poised between bed and bathroom, my only significant activity projectile vomiting.

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