Nigel Ends Ten Years' of No Show

photo: nigel in local bar

My café's barman didn't get Nigel's Ozzie joke.

Brings Back Damp Colonial Memories

Paris:- Saturday, 23. October 1999:- As soon as you move to Paris your number of friends suddenly increases and they lose no time coming to visit, to make up for long versions of 'long time no see.' This is not social criticism, but a oft-proven scientific fact.

Nigel White has visited Europe many more times than I've seen him here. When the 'wall' was still up and running, he used to drop in while either going to or coming from countries behind the curtain that had particularly good values for people travelling with US dollars - but that is a long time ago now.

About as long ago as the last time I saw Nigel. The first time I met him was on a damp and rainy November night in a far off colonial town. He was lodging with a young lady I knew, who worked as the door 'filter' of a jazz club. Nigel passed her test and even got a room out of it.

I didn't know this when I dropped in that night. At the door, the young lady said I should meet her lodger, which was a big surprise because I had no idea she was in the lodging business.

After Nigel arrived and we cautiously shook hands, she said Billy was coming too - and he was another guy I'd heard of before but not seen or met.

Being a bit ill-at-ease we passed the time looking out of a high window at the rain-glazed road below the street lamp. Not many people were out in the dark in that steady November rain.

A lady went the other way towards the street with the bus and there was an old man hobbling upstream against the near downpour. Then there was nothing but the rain and the weak reflections.

The doorbell buzzed in the apartment and she came rushing out her dressing room to open the door, to let in an ancientphoto: passage jouffrey old man with a stoop. The flat was warm and this geezer unwrapped himself from several layers of disguise to reveal himself as Billy.

While this transformation was fascinating to see, I felt sunk because it now appeared that the young lady not only had a lodger, but a neighborhood boyfriend as well. I knew she had about 17 other boyfriends too, so being number 18 wasn't too promising.

We were in the Passage Jouffrey on Wednesday looking for do-it-yourself goblins.

That night the young lady was working as a 'filter' as usual, so we three colonial dudes went off to a beer palace to try and figure out our personal rankings in the boyfriend 'top twenty' list.

For readers who may be aged somewhat less than a half-century, the year in question was 1962. The CIA had bungled its invasion of Cuba, the 'missile crises' had rattled us all and the 'domino theory' was just being run up the flagpole. And it was November and raining.

Nigel had committed a 'faux-pas' so extreme in his colonial homeland, that getting a visa to the US of A - his goal - was a dead duck as a possibility. The colonial country we were in was a distant second-best choice - but physically close to his target.

He got a job driving a cab nights, which showed him a lot more of another side of the colonial town, which was a bit livelier after dark. The job also moved his number lower in the boyfriends ranking; but this hardly mattered because Billy had quickly risen to near the top.

On another rainy winter night in a beer palace when we were both odd-men-out, the influence of alcoholic beverages caused us to hatch a plan to go to good old Europe. It was all very plausible.

I gave up my 'job-for-life' at the city hall, but as departure time drew near it was increasingly obvious Nigel was not going to have the necessary coin assembled. In yet another beer palace conference, we constructed a 'plan-B.'

This involved me killing time in Acapulco while Nigel drove the hack double shifts. However, the immigration service of the large country between the former colony and Mexico, did not believe my intentions and refused to grant transit privileges.

Enquiries turned up one work-around but it was dubious. After a depressing visit to a bonding company, a travel agent solved the problem by sending me to Torremolinos instead. The day Iphoto: nigel leaving boulangerie arrived after debarking from the Cristoforo Colombo, winter started there and it rained for a month.

And Nigel never showed up. Instead, he got a position with the embassy of yet another colonial country, and stayed in DC for 25 years - except for tours in strange countries in Eastern Europe combined with flash visits to wherever I happened to be living.

Nigel checks bread to make sure it is a ficelle and not a baguette.

He has just told me his last visit to see me was 10 years ago. He was shifted to Oz by his employer, extended his temporary posting, survived restructuring and a takeover - all with skills acquired in the bureaucratic jungle of DC - it is good for something! - but it is a lot further away from Europe than DC was.

As everybody knows, I live in Paris now; and Billy moved to central France a couple of years ago to open up an artsy B & B. With all of us momentarily on the same continent, we are almost handy for Nigel to visit. Well, he throws in DC too, so it is sort of a package deal for him.

My pocket calculator says this business has been going on for 37 years; yet when Nigel rang my doorbell last Tuesday, we picked up from where we left off in the beer palace, or the gaststatten, or the kneipe, or the café or bar. No backslaps, just shake hands - European style: clasp, one shake and that's it! - and on with the story.

Even semi-jetlagged on Tuesday, the first thing Nigel did was go out to a nearby boulangerie and buy a 'ficelle.' This is a midget baguette that is mostly crust. Residents who take 'French breakfast' slather them with butter and dunk them in soup bowls full of weak café.

Being an experienced traveller, the second thing was to go to the Gare Montparnasse together so Nigel could get a train ticket: Paris-Cahors-Barcelona-Paris.

It cost so-and-so much until we told the SNCF agent about Oz; then train agent did a recalc and squeezed another 150 francs out of the price by finding a 'double-Saturday' loophole. Readers in Australia should note this ploy.

Then we went up the Avenue du Maine to Darty where I bought a snazzy 12-thimble-cupphoto: snack stand 'masion de gyros' coffee machine so Nigel would have something to dunk his ficelles into. Testing over several days has revealed that the strong Italian café I used to drink, is not nearly as powerful as the stuff in local cafés. I need to switch brands.

We did have bagels in a sandwich shop in the Passage Choiseul, but not here, not in the rain.

We got through Tuesday okay, with the rain holding off until Wednesday, when we went out anyway and dodged it - by looking for Halloween in several of Paris' passages.

The rain paused briefly on Thursday so we could go to the Café Metropole Club. Nigel ran the camera and I forgot to take it over and get him in a group shot with the other charter members.

Afterwards he went on a ramble while I did the club's 'report.' I found a decent restaurant listed in a guide, a block away, so Nigel could eat something French. Me too, for that matter.

On Friday - still raining - Nigel decided he'd better do his 'Paris tour' and I decided 'to do' this week's issue, so we split up.

Nigel's report: 'The Musée d'Orsay is a very good one. All good museums should start out as big train stations.'

My report: 'Every second shop has Halloween this year; and a lot more of them have it on Friday than had it on Wednesday.'

Because his friend in Belgium moved to DC two months ago, Nigel plans no beer-moules-frites excursions in that direction this time, so we went to Léon's in Montparnasse and had beer-moules-frites.

Nigel had a huge pot of moules and a huge pot of dark beer and my fake beer smelled faintly like bleach. Belgians make so many kinds of drinkable beer they can't be bothered making any for dedicated ex-beer drinkers. The frites were pretty good though. The moules were simply illegal outside of Europe.

Well set-up, we sallied up the boulevard to Le Select where I finally connected with its head barman, Philippe. He gave us the coveted beside-the-bar cozy corner. Nigel had a Sancerre. He said Oz has nothing like it. So he had another one.

I told him the 'missing garden gnome' story - from a Metropole reader, who is sometimes on station inphoto: rue st andre des arts Antarctica, who says it is a replica of an ancestor and asked me to look for it in Suresnes where it was last seen in 1714. Actually, I am not looking for this missing 'zwerg' full time.

We weren't in the Rue Saint-André-des-Arts at the same time. It was raining both times though.

For this, Nigel had another Sancerre and I took another thimble of excellent Le Select café. After Philippe tells me to come back again in less than five years, we strolled up Raspail to Denfert between showers of rain.

This morning when the apartment's shutters are opened, bright sunlight is pouring down my street. Nigel zips out to get his day's 'fix' of a ficelle. After a quick breakfast, he is packed and on his way to the Gare d'Austerlitz and points south.

At the doorway, we do the snappy 'Euro' handshake. How many times have we done this? Twenty minutes later rain falls hard for ten minutes. Now it is off and on, but basically, Nigel brought the rain to Paris - but not, I guess, from Oz.

Next week should be sunny and maybe the leaves will turn colors. Usually they have colored and mostly fallen by now - but as it is a special 'last' year, Paris is having a special autumn which is 50 percent rain. Like in my 'colonial' days.

In Metropole Paris
Latest Issue
2008 Issues
2007 | 2006 | 2005
2004 | 2003 | 2002
2001 | 2000 | 1999
1998 | 1997 | 1996
In Metropole Paris
About Metropole
About the Café Club
Links | Search Site
The Lodging Page
Paris Museums List
Metropole's 1996 Tours
Metropole's 2003 Tours
Support Metropole
Metropole's Books
Shop with Metropole
Metropole's Wine
metropole paris goodblogweek button
Send email concerning the
contents to: Ric Erickson, Editor.
Metropole Midi © 2014
– unless stated otherwise.
logo, metropole sml midi logo No matter how good it tastes,
there is no such thing
as a free lunch.
Waldo Bini