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The Northeastern US is gearing up for a massive blizzard, so to any snow-ridden readers out there who happened upon this blog, I send you good thoughts and snow-shovel prowess (I grew up in Canada, hence my shovelling skills rule). If you’re living in New York City and don’t have a driveway, your shovelling concerns have likely been replaced with the innate need to “cuddle.” This is no joke, as all the buzz on Craigslist right now relates to offers citing the following: cuddling, drinking hot cider, and possibly making out if you’re hot; let’s make this a snow day to remember. No, I’m not kidding, see here.
I’m too far from “blizzard central” to contend with any similar offers, nor would I, not because I’m afraid of the weird Craigslist dude who would answer the ad and show up at my door, but mostly because I’M the weird one, and my “Kathy Bates in Misery” like tendencies dare not be tested. Watch your back.
What I can do though on this wintry Monday night, is offer up a section from one of the chapters in “Vicarious Paris,” my candid guide through the city of lights. When I initially thought about sharing this passage, I wondered: is it a dick move to reflect on warm summer nights in Paris, when millions of people are trapped inside because of a blizzard? But then I remembered: hey, it’s not exactly warm in Toronto either; we’re in these dog days of winter together. Besides, if the demand for illegal narcotics has taught me anything, it’s that escapism is important to the human condition. So enjoy some escapism now, without the long-term effects of heroin or crack.
(For context, the passage below is taken from Chapter Twelve in “Vicarious Paris,” the chapter where the reader vicariously joins me on a night of bar-hopping in my “tied for first place” favourite neighbourhood in Paris, Canal Saint-Martin. And the bar this passage relates to? Well it’s ONLY one of my favourite “chill out” hangouts in Paris, no big deal; enjoy!]
This next bar is going to win some kind of award, for being unassuming yet leaving a lasting impression. This is Chez Prune (36 Rue Beaurepaire, M5 Jacques Bonsergent), a simple café by day, and a packed, lively bar with an amazing soundtrack by night. This café is right along the canal, and at night it draws you in with the buzzing crowd. Tara and I walked in at nearly eleven, and given that it was Saturday, there was no chance of getting a table. You know what though? That’s okay, because interesting things tend to happen when you’re sitting at the bar.
I’ll start with a fun fact: the proprietor of the bar looks like Colin Farrell, if Colin Farrell had a full-on beard and a newsboy cap. Did my mention of a newsboy cap deflate your image of a manly Colin Farrell doppelganger? Fear not, for your faith will soon be restored.
We assumed “Colin” was the proprietor, due to the way the fresh-faced servers looked to him for guidance (on billing quandaries and the like). Colin doesn’t smile. He smirks. As in…he will take your drink order, smirk when he hears your non-French accent, and smirk when he gives you your drink. This is not bad service, this is a game; he is challenging you to tear down his walls, and bitch, challenge accepted.
We will get back to Colin in a minute, but first let me say that on a pricing note, most types of wine at Café Prune are four euros a glass; not generic red or white, but different varieties. This is cool. On a musical note, the soundtrack at Café Prune on a Saturday night is amazing (we went twice on Saturday nights, but the other nights might be great as well). We are assuming it was Colin’s iPhone connected to the speaker that night, and in that case, we salute you, Colin. Colin played Blind Melon. And Foo Fighters. And Smashing Pumpkins. It’s like he’d gone to school with us or something, and I was now more sure than ever that I wanted to make him my friend.
Tara and I each had three glasses of wine at Café Prune. I’m not sure how this was physically possible, given all the wine at the canal, the dangerous sips of “house punch,” the drink at La Patache…how is it possible that we felt totally fine? I am thinking there’s something special in the Parisian air, something that regulates your bloodstream and makes it all okay. That is definitely the rationalization I’m going with; that and the carbs from eating an entire pizza. Don’t judge me, it was thin-crust.
Whenever Tara and I sit at the bar during one of our outings, our scintillating conversation (in our arrogant opinion) on everything from films to funny things we saw that day, is sure to lead to bartender eavesdropping, i.e. the gateway to conversation. Not so with Colin. On our first night there Colin was “in the zone,” working fast and furious at the bar (and smirking at us, the two of only three English-speakers at the bar). You know what made his “in the zone” feat more commendable? The eleven shots of Jack Daniels he consumed while we were there. Actually now that I’m thinking back on it…it must’ve been some other brown liquid in the upside-down bottle called “Jack Daniels,” like maybe an energizing corn syrup, because how in the hell can someone manage such exact, choreographed movements at the bar after eleven shots of Jack Daniels? Yes, I will now confirm it was an energizing corn syrup mix in that old Jack Daniels bottle. Look at this guy…caring about the environment by reusing old glass bottles; well done, Colin.
The incidence of energy shots makes me even more certain that Colin was the proprietor, as the other three servers were only allowed two shots of corn syrup each.
Back to our scintillating conversation; Colin may not have piped in, but this random dude sitting next to Tara did. I glanced around this packed bar of people in their twenties and thirties (and forties), and realized why this fifty-something man in the blazer and jeans may have felt out of place. He spoke French pretty well, but switched to English once he and Tara had developed a rapport. Tara is very friendly; Tara will ask you where you’re from and what you like about Paris. She’ll also smile with consistent enthusiasm, whether it’s the first picture of your ten-year-old daughter you’re showing her, or the tenth. As this man did. I’m the one, if you recall, whose boredom/disdain spills out of her eyes with involuntary eye-expressions. It’s a good thing Tara was next to the man instead of me.
As the night went on, as the patrons got rowdier, and as Colin finished his corn syrup mix, something amazing happened. On the speakers, via Colin’s playlist…came the song that shaped an entire generation. I’m of course referring to “Barbie Girl” by Aqua. If you are a child/teen of the nineties, this song is an important fixture from your youth. Our delight in what we were hearing wasn’t the amazing thing. It was the other two bartenders singing along to the song, and Colin joining in (sort of). He wasn’t exactly singing along to the words, but he quasi-shook his hips, twice. After that, it’s like he suddenly remembered he wasn’t in the privacy of his bedroom, bringing him back to his usual smirk. He may have thought no one noticed, but oh, we noticed. We were seeing the cracks in Colin.
When Tara and I finally decided to bring our epic “fourteen-hour hang out” to a close, Colin stood across from us staring as we scrounged up our money. This was a new development, versus the up-until-now barrage of smirks; Colin also stares.
We left the bar feeling energized; we may not have lassoed the smirking Moby Dick just yet, but good things come to those who wait, and Chez Prune is definitely worthy of a repeat visit.
Since we’ve already discussed the nature of this bar as it relates to your inevitable visit (you should go!), I will briefly lay out the conclusion of our quest to break down Colin. We returned two Saturdays later, and the atmosphere was just as lively. The music for the night was “tunes from the eighties,” which cemented our conclusion of good Saturday soundtracks at Chez Prune. When we walked into the bar, there was a flicker of recognition within Colin; I might even call it one eighth of a smile to go along with his usual smirk. On this particular night, Colin wasn’t dipping into the “corn syrup” shots, and I wondered how this might affect our plan to break him down. The plan, by the way, was simple; Tara would be leaving Paris soon, and with so many things still left on our agenda, we only had time for one drink at Chez Prune. Cue operation: leave him hanging.
As planned, we asked for the bill after just one drink, and Colin, for the first time, spoke (outside of the usual things bartenders say). He said, in French: “You’re leaving already?”
Holy crap, Colin needs us.
We explained that our jam-packed night needed to keep on moving, so with a quick good night, we wandered outside to take in the canal’s mellow ambience. Five seconds later something crazy happened: Colin followed us outside. He didn’t say anything; he just stared. My god the staring! Faced with a suffocating silence, I, with my liquid courage, told him I really liked his bar, and wished we weren’t leaving Paris so soon (I’d be leaving two weeks after Tara). Colin’s eyes went wide (he has involuntary eye-expressions too?!), and he said: “C’est dommage.” Then…then…he pouted.
I made Colin pout!
Tara and I laughed our way home, and maybe also skipped our way home; it was such a victorious blur. You’re probably wondering where the rest of the story is; like what about the part when Colin and I have a torrid love affair? The thing is, Colin was wearing a wedding ring, and the other thing is, it was never even really about that. The only thing that mattered was my need to weaken a person with my magnetizing charm, and force him/her to become my friend.
If it wasn’t clear in previous chapters, you can now see there are times when I will talk about a place for two paragraphs, and other times when I’ll go on about a place for three pages. That’s a key thing about Paris, the way that various experiences will stick in your mind and inspire you in different ways; nothing about this city can be confined to a table or chart.
Next we’re going to hop and skip through all my favourite parks, and talk about the ways to make the most of them…
[I’m not actually going to continue with the jaunt through the parks in this post—though it’s an interesting chapter with fun facts, like finding out which fountain Natalie Portman waded around in—but if you’d like to read about the parks, and 80,000 words of everything else (photos included), you can buy “Vicarious Paris” at Amazon, Kobo, Google Play and Barnes and Noble!]
PS: I’ve finally updated my blog’s “About Me” page, which details other projects and what’s up next (and a photo of me in Paris, which I should’ve had all along; d’oh!—>and keeping in line with my photo tradition, I look creepy as per usual, ala Kathy Bates in Misery; you’re welcome.)