31st August, Friday
Paris, hotel room, six o’clock. “Your buckle is facing the wrong way.” That’s what a stewardess said to me before take-off. Sleep had not been deep and the drive had been grey and gloomy but when I sat in, on the plane, it didn’t take us long to get going. There was a lot of empty seats. Even though I’m on a side street, it’s just off a noisy junction (Magenta/Strasbourg, 10e), I’ve just been dozing for the best part of an hour. Soon I’ll get dressed and go.
1st September, Saturday
Le Saint Jean, rue des Abbesses, 3pm. I’m in Montmartre. I just went up to the Sacré Coeur. Now I’ve eaten here and I’m working my way through a short selection of drinks. The sun is shining but this place is on the shady side of the street. When I went out yesterday, I first went to The Cork and Cavan pub on the Canal St. Martin, as planned. It had a young crowd but not of student age.
Later I had some trouble finding The Quiet Man, which was tiny. In looking for it I went a bit too deeply into the Marais, as could be seen by the growing number of gay couples that passed. Anyway, when I found it, about the only Irish thing in there was the green shirt on the barman. Beside me at the end of the short counter sat a young American couple. They were graduate students in California. She was into whales while he was studying the geochemistry of noble gases. She turned out to be related to Michael Fingleton, the notorious Irish banker. “We don’t like him,” she said. She added that Fingers had become his family nickname too. After the long walk back I found an open burger joint near the hotel and ordered two. It was late and when I confirmed “à emporter” to the black manager, who was trying to keep his staff awake, he dumped some condiments out of a bag meant for another customer and gave it to me and my burgers.
5.45pm, hotel room. The bells of the church of St. Laurent across the street are banging now. When I was walking back here, down Magenta, a green neon sign said 26° C and there was a noisy march about undocumented immigrants. It was a left-wing protest, not a right-wing one.
The bells soon stopped but knocked out another six on the hour. When descending from rue des Abbesses in Montmartre I came out at Pigalle and saw nothing scary on the quiet daytime way except a transvestite who reminded me a bit of Doctor Zaius in Planet of the Apes. Over here, some of the girls are too beautiful, for anyone with a taste for female beauty.
Will I go to Kitty O’Shea’s this evening, just to say I was there? I could take the metro but if I walk I could go straight down to the river and cross to call into Shakespeare & Co on the way. While I’m OK now, I may not feel like doing that or making much effort tomorrow.
The first time I came here on my own (1996) I was actually a bit lonely. One afternoon in Le Piano Vache in the Latin Quarter an outrageous little flirt named Estelle bent over further than a gymnast when poking in her school bag, across the bar. Elle portait la culotte bleu pâle. I was thirty-two but I’m better at chilling now, which is not the same as dossing or daydreaming.
Late on Saturday: I got back to the hotel by midnight. Having taken the metro down to Les Halles, I crossed the river via Pont Neuf. When I found Shakespeare & Co upriver, on the other side, I got a black girl to take four copies of The Cynic’s Handbook. Then I crossed back and got something to eat at a nice place called Le Père Tranquille near Les Halles.
The long walk to Kitty O’Shea’s near Place Vendôme was basically in vain. It was practically empty, there was a hole in the door window, like it had been shot at, and – another bad sign – it didn’t have any beer mats. The even longer walk back made me feel what a warm night it was/is but I want to be fit for tomorrow. I’m just hoping that the weekend will continue to go right.
2nd September, Sunday
It’s gone noon. I’m out of the shower but haven’t shaved yet. How I get enough sleep is by staying in bed long enough. To pass the afternoon I think I’ll take the metro to St. Germain des Prés.
Place St. Anne des Arts, 3pm, at a café of the same saint’s name, on a cool, breezy side street: I saw a sign earlier that said 28° but I’m erring on the side of chilly here. A girl is upset at a nearby table but the guy keeps talking like his voice is the most important thing to hear. My back seems quite cold. I try to watch my back. I think the guy is dumping her. He’s getting more agitated. He’s dumping her (“Je départ”). A bunch of teen girls with feminine intuition (“Une bagarre,” said one) are now sitting and watching from the other side of the narrow street. But here’s my food. It should warm me up.
Hotel before half eight: my work here is done. I’m after my third shower today. Madame Paris succeeded in blowing me away eventually. I must go now to eat and drink. For food, I’ll go back some of the way I came. I feel like a good night. The walk back from the ninth meant I could appreciate the beautiful evening. On my way I diverted to take a few photos of an imposing church that’s not even named in the Rough Guide. St. Vincent de Paul.
3rd September, Monday
The early hours of Monday: I went back to The Cork and Cavan and sat by the canal until I saw a few older people going in and out. I got a seat at the bar and the young Kerry barman started talking to me and eventually he confirmed that the most tanked-up person in the pub was the owner. I ended up sitting beside him and even his Japanese wife joined in and told me they had rows over disciplining their young son. It turned out to be a place that welded a smile to my face.
Monday afternoon, at the airport. It naturally took me a while to get myself together this morning but by midday I was in sufficient shape to leave. The blanches at the C&C last night didn’t do much damage, so. There’s an American man across from me wearing a rug and it reminds me of an Asian in a shop last night who looked like he had one stitched to his forehead.
The owner of the C&C said his son was actually doing more than OK in his class. His wife also gave him credit for doing sports and activities with the boy too but the punch-line concerned a key piece of info in the boy’s possession. “He knows I’m a millionaire.” The top man insisted on getting me a last drink and before that the Kerryman had given me one on the house, saying it was a French tradition, like a buy-back, I suppose. I enjoyed the pantomime there.
I got home at seven. It’s nice to have normality waiting here. First student tomorrow, back in the temple of Apollo.