Nothing New à l'Ouest

photo: cafe cadran, francois bouyon

Photographer and rock-star, François Bouyon, checks his
date book in the café Cadran.

Another Saunter With Dennis

Paris:- Wednesday, 23. May 2001:- There are times when I am serious about Paris and there are other times when I don't give a damn. These 'other' times are when I've missed my weekend on Tuesday, which means I've missed getting 'serious' about Wednesday - which also happens to be today.

Today's fall-back plan is to get an idea at lunch 'chez Dennis.' But all I get is lunch. This is, in itself, news - good food! - but hardly worth a feature about today's life and times in summer-like Paris.

Outside, in the sun, Dennis asks, "What now?" We can't sit around on café terraces because we did that last week.

I have a feeling that we should go west - cross the Avenue du Maine, and see if there are any wonders in the western part of the 14th arrondissement. I dragged my leg and its cast over the Maine boundary in the winter. So, now castless, winterless, things might be better.

Dennis is agreeable. We get across the Avenue du Maine without getting killed, which is the first good sign. The second good signs are the odd buildings in the Rue Asseline. They must be leftovers from the time this was Montrouge, before it became part of Paris in 1860.

There are two Portuguese bars in thephoto: pipe life, rue chateau sunny Place Moro-Giafferi. One is for old guys who play dominos or look out the windows, and the other one is for young Portuguese guys. Dennis says this one is easy to spot because it always has a broken window.

Pipe-life at the Rue du Château's mint-tea palace.

Just beyond the irregular place, in the Rue du Château a couple are sitting in front of a mint-tea place, and the guy is puffing energetically away on a bubble-pipe and sweating because the sun is focused here.

The young lady with him says, "Hey! I know you!" Right - she is the nifty babe who used to do the shampoos in Claudio's hairdressing salon and joke parlor - where I got a clipjob yesterday. She must have gotten tired of Chaudio's guitar renditions of operas.

The bubble-pipes are street-legal, so we move on to the Cadran café. It is a well-kept old place in the Rue de l'Ouest. A lot of this area has been transformed into modern boredom in the last 20 years, but some islands of originality remain.

The walls are decorated with photos of other old cafés and bars, and by coincidence François Bouyon, the photographer, is in the bar to tell us the real exhibition is at another café, the Vrai Paris in the Rue Didot.

He also says he plays in a rock band, but out of town in places like the Salle Jacques Brel in Fontenoy-sous-Bois. We may not know where we're going today but we know we're not going anywhere near Fontenoy-sous- Bois, wherever it is.

François spent some time - years! - in a French part of South America, so he decides we are all 'Les Etats Univerians,' rather than Brazilians, Canadians or Yankees. I think we should be 'Los Etados Uninistas' instead.

Further on down the Rue de l'Ouest Dennis decides we should say howdy to the lady named Joëlle in 'Le Phinéas' tarte shop and restaurant because of a mistaken notion that it used to be a Robert Crumb canteen.

He has got his San Francisco lore mixed up, because 'Phinéas' - even spelt in French - is one of Gilbertphoto: cakes, tartes, phineas restaurant Shelton's 'Freak Brothers.' And sure enough, the guy on the phone says "Non!" to the Crumb question, and the Joëlle with a broom produces a photo of Gilbert, taken about 15 years ago.

Tartes, cakes and cartoons at Phinéas in the Rue de l'Ouest.

'Le Phinéas' is a cartoon café, with cakes. Its business card cartoon was designed by Florence Cestac, who was this year's president at the comics festival in Angoulême. She also lives in our own 'eastern' part of the 14th. If you are ever down this way, try Le Phinéas' 'Bong' cocktail and let me know what it's like.

We turn off the Rue de l'Ouest to pass by Frédéric Mitterrand's old Olympic Entrepôt, which still has its three cinemas. It also has a garden in back, where some people are still having lunch. In addition to classic movies the place also hosts a lot of live music.

Films, rock, jazz, food and cocktails - the place keeps on trucking after a quarter-century. It is like this whole 'western' 14th - a bit offside and a bit out-of-the-news, but very much alive for people who like to live in the past more than the present. Last time I was in the Entrepôt it was for an Internet wannabes-meet-the-suits gig.

In an alley called the Cité Bauer we almost get brained by some happy-go-lucky deconstruction workers and a bit further along are still alive enough to admire somebody's eccentric Oriental-looking gate.

This brings us to the Rue Didot and we have to go south of Alésia on it to get to the Vrai Paris café, which has the rest of the François Bouyon - Dominique Morelieras exhibit of bar and café photos.

If memory serves, the Vrai Paris is merely repainted. It looked like it was about to fall down the last time I saw it, about 1990. It's lights have been changed though, and not for the better. If you're in it, don't look up.

This has been sort of a side-trip, because Dennis wants to show me the place called 'Magic Retour' wherephoto: sign, magic retour Dimitri gets his clothes. Actually the place has antique clothes and was built with its owner's own hands - there's something about the lilies in a bathtub, but we don't see this.

Instead Olivier, who says he is upset on account of a missing or misplaced plumber, shows us into his cocktail garden. Graced with a dead bicycle and a dead-looking Vélosolex, some hanging vines and some very antique and mis-matched furniture, we meet an attractive lady who has had more than one cocktail since breakfast.

After some musical chairs and idle chit-chat, on the way out the opera singer Elizabeth Fossion, also attractive, tells us her 'Petit Bar' will be opening on Friday, 15. June. If you want to try a slightly loopy 'western' 14th 'opening,' this new place is located at 9. Rue Raymond Losserand, which is almost in our 'eastern' 14th, not far from the Montparnasse cemetery.

After a little more trekking, while I'm still wondering what today's feature will be about - this one in fact - we are at the Avenue du Maine again, and again we are still alive after crossing it.

This is such a relief, plus the discovery that we are very near our own 'eastern' turf, that we go to the café Comédia across from the open- market place, and have a couple of glasses of water.

In case you think afternoon café and bar crawling in Paris requires tanking up on litres of high-test cocktails, you now know that it is perfectly legal to do it on itty-bitty cafés and water.

I'm not saying this is cheaper - it is justphoto: cafe vrai paris okay to do it. It's a good idea too, because the days are getting longer by about two minutes per - which means that outdoor café life goes on longer as the afternoons get longer.

More or less, the café's name means the 'real thing.'

Other good stuff includes the outside air being about room temperature. This means that outdoor café life can comfortably carry on after dark - kind of rounding out a day that can start as early as 06:00 if you are a sunrise fan.

If you are in Paris and you are a slightly 'old-style' type of human being, I can recommend the 'western' 14th arrondissement for establishments that perform pretty much as they used to do - quite a long time ago.

For me, today's exploration of this part of Paris has turned out well. There's nothing much worth writing about, but it has been a nice day for a walk and bar-crawl. Since most of the places had good music playing, it has been worth this too.

Of course, if you prefer 21st century Paris, there is a lot of it around too and not quite so out of the way as the 'western' part of the 14th arrondissement. But if you only do the up-to-date parts, what are you going to tell the folks back home?

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