Giving One Out

photo: cafe reflections, oasis, ile st louis

One of Sunday's full terraces, on the Ile Saint-Louis.

Millions On the Champs-Elysées

Paris:- Sunday, 1. June:- When I worked in Hamburg one of the local customs was to 'give-one-out.' This meant if you had a happy occasion you had to put together a pile of food and drink, and offer it to colleagues, or relatives, or friends, or all three.

For example, a 'happy' occasion could be your own birthday, getting a job, getting married, having a baby, getting a new used car, or even getting a divorce. A lot of times, changing jobs was a 'give-one-out' occasion.

I worked in an office with 25 colleagues, including the boss. This meant somebody had to 'give-one-out' about twice a month. The boss had to 'give-one-out' on his birthday too. In addition to watering and feeding his minions, he also had to do it at a level for his bosses, colleagues and cronies from the eighth floor.

Because he was such a good boss and slightly anxious about our possible behavior, we always decorated his office for the big occasion. He would have preferred we didn't, but he didn't quite dare to say no.

For some reason, I was the one who discovered where to get the newsprint roll-ends. They were handy to have aroundphoto: carneval, mairie 14, saturday in a general way, but once I found a steady supply - at the newspaper's newsprint depot across the street - it seemed only natural to use our newsprint for 'give-one- out' decorations.

Carnival performers in front of the Mairie of the 14th on Saturday.

In the morning of the great day I would paper the celebrant's office, and then get whoever was around to tell me well-kept secrets, and use these as editorial material for the murals I would compose. The celebrant was not supposed to turn up before 11:00, but I had to work fast because using spray paint was 'not done.' We never had any spare cans of it around.

Without going on about all of the six years' worth of two birthdays a month, plus the marriages and babies and new used cars - here's one time for our big boss's birthday, when my own boss had an evil idea.

We were in the second hour of a planning session in the Vis-à-Vis bar, on the third or fourth beer and second or third schnapps, when a light suddenly appeared in my boss's beady eyes. We cringed. It was going to be bad. It was going to be terrible. We stayed another hour to dream up a few extra details, then we went back to the office after paying for the drinks with one of the junior copywriter's budgets.

It was such an evil idea that we came to work early the following day. That in itself was strange, to be in the office at nine. But we had a lot to do and the cause was good.

First we papered the boss's whole office from the floor up to a level just about one metre fifty above it. I had two typed pages of embarrassing personal information, plus a couple of drawings to do. There were collages to paste up too.

Before I finished this, some of the others began putting in the 'ceiling,' roughly suspended about two metres below the real ceiling. When this was done and all the decor was finished, we fashioned the doorway so that it would have been about right for a big dog to enter, or a bit smaller.

Then to put the proper touch on it, we did the boss's secretary's wall where the doorway was. While this was going on, she was receiving all the booze and food that the boss had ordered, plus all the other drink and eatables that were sent over from his cronies on the eighth floor, and other tons of graft from the office's outside contractors.

When it was all finished we returned to our own offices and did some of the work that had a deadline the same day.

The big boss had one inflexible routine. He would come around and shake everybody's hand every morning after he arrived, which was usually 15 minutes after us. But on his birthday, it was at 11:00 and after he'd seen his 'fixed up' office, from the outside.

He was brave. He knew who the ringleaders were and we were they. If those hadn't been the days before Prozac, I think he would have chugged half a bottle.

A little while after he left his secretary came in to the atelier and shut the door behind her so she could tell us whatphoto: cafe table, water, cafe, kir happened when he saw his office. She was pretty incoherent because she had had to sit through it with a straight face as if there was nothing unusual. She said he finally got down on his hands and knees and crawled inside, and screamed, loudly, once.

One of many terrace tables I've seen since Friday.

After a decent interval, it was lunchtime, so we wandered up there and crawled into his office too. Did I mention he was two metres tall in his socks? I forgot the windows. We had papered them too.

He was sitting at his desk, leaning far back, with the ceiling paper draped slightly over his head. He seemed to prefer leaving the lights off, so it was pretty dim. We all sincerely wished him 'happy birthday,' had a drink or two, and went out for lunch over to the Vis-à-Vis.

I think we had pretzels, beer and schnapps. We used the boss's budget to pay for it. We stayed there long enough for his cronies to skip their eighth floor lunches, so they could go and help the boss eat his booty. They all crawled in too, and once inside it was easier to stay there.

After our lunch we went back and worked a bit. About two or three we all drifted into the boss's office with the crawl routine. It was like a dark steambath. We had blocked the ventilation ducts with all the paper.

The bigwig cronies were all sitting on sofas, mostly pretty blitzed. They thought our boss was really smart to have a clever and loyal crew who could think up a cave-like thing like we had.

Nobody wanted to crawl out into the real world. The secretary brought us cold beers. She was kind of tipsy too. We had lots to eat. The bigwigs talked to us like we were all members of the same soccer fan club. We were all chums.

And we were all sweating, plus smoking. Some of the cronies favored cigars. They were drinking brandy out of schnapps glasses. By quitting time it smelled like the worst dive on the Reeperbahn. The hardcore of us, including the boss, stayed on for another 90 minutes.

When enough was enough we crawled out. We left it and the mess it contained, for the Turkish cleaning ladies.

I think the boss had to go to a family birthday party and we wished him luck. We went back across the street to the Vis-à-Vis to cool off and have some more beers, and swap tales about what we'd done, seen and heard.

Then the others came over from Frau Szass' bar and we told them all about it and they were sorry they hadn't seen it. I think it was the only birthday 'give-one-out' for which there were no photos.

Six years of experience of 'giving-one-out' has made me cautious about doing it in the 14th, but its time came, on Saturday night.

Malakoff by Night

My place is a shambles. I moved the furniture so the cable guy could put in his wire, and this is not been done yet. I haven't moved the furniture back because it fits tightly. It is harder to put in place than to take it apart. Stuffing it into place isn't habit-forming.

But I've got a big round table and can scrape four chairs together, so this is about the limit for 'giving-one-out' these days. I had help getting the stuff from the marché. To go with the Marseille bedroom, I decided we should have my favorite Mediterranean foods - like nuts and olives and salamis and chorizo.

There was some other stuff too. I think it was eggplant made up to look like some sort of spinach pie. There were two kinds of it. It looked like finger-food before picking it up. Then it oozed olive oil.

I put three bottles of Côtes-du-Rhône in the sink in the bathroom with all the ice cubes I had. For 'room temperature,' 28 degrees was much too high.

I put the radio on FIP and when it got tiresome I switched it to TSF, the all-jazz station. The guests, Dimitri and Dennis, thought the radio sounded fine, and so did the helper.

The street window was cracked open so there was a bit of a cross-flow breeze through the apartment. But everybody except me was feeling the heat and the humidity.

Dennis kept getting up to look at the trees hiding the cemetery. They still look good because their leaves are still pretty fresh. By August I think I'll want to see the cool stones of the cemetery again.

About 21:00 the sky started dropping lightening flashes off to the north and there were some thunderphoto: cafe la palette booms. It was a long way away. The breeze whipped up a bit, but it didn't rain and there wasn't any lightening near here.

In the Quartier Latin at La Palette on Thursday.

The others gave up eating and drinking dropped off. Dimitri was promoting 'his' gas lamp in Malakoff. It is not only the only one around, it is lit all the time. He has been trying to get us to make a trip to see it, but nobody else knows where Malakoff is exactly.

Finally, because he kept at it, and nobody seemed to want more of the 'give-one-out,' we dragged ourselves off the chairs and got down to the street - where it seemed to be a perfectly normal summer night, not too late, and the air was fresher.

At the Avenue du Maine we were heading towards Montparnasse, with me vaguely wondering which watering hole we would end up in. But I was disabused. We were going to see the gas lamp in Malakoff.

So, the métro Gaité is right there, and in this hole we went and rode on the train the whole way - three stops but skipping Pernety because it is closed - and got out at Vanves.

With Dimitri giving impossible directions, but being enough in front to lead, we went past where the weekend fleamarket is held, and into darkest Malakoff, on the other side of the Perifreak! A suburb. Out in the country almost. Deepest province. Dim streetlights. Very little traffic away from the Perifreak! - with cars shooting down its gutter, racing somewhere around Paris.

Even in the warm dark you could tell it wasn't Paris. Some of it looked like board-sided horseshoe factories, built about 1860, with little houses around. Some of these fixed up to their original shape, with correctly colored paint and re-done ironwork gates.

The civic architecture was up to our times - no-parking stone blocks, speedbumps, roadside reflectors, lines, crosswalks, no parking signs - everything so fine and well-painted. There seemed to be a lot of flowers in window boxes too.

The first grand sight we came to in Makakoff looked like a beer circus. This was a café-bar lit up like an insane Christmas tree, with dozens and dozens of beer signs plastered all over it, with figurines on outcrops, and neon signs. Outside the corner, with bit of sidewalk for a terrace, made smaller by being lined with geraniums in flower boxes on cane legs.

The door was wide open and judging from the sound coming out of it, the entire rugby squads of Toulouse and Albi were inside trying to run the place dry. Just to take in the whole outside would take about a hour, either day or night. Dimitri said its food was good too.

We went on a few short blocks further, past a hideous high-rise apartment block and a scruffy tavern with a bunch of younger people hanging around outside, and then a bit further to a T-junction.

Here Dimitri turned left. He pointed at the old-fashioned lamps. "This one is electric," he said. He pointed at three other similar lamps. "All electric."

Where the road, the alley, narrowed slightly, there was one lamp by itself with a stone wall behind and leaves of trees almost overhanging it. It wasn't very bright.

The reason for seeing it at night is because it runs all the time, but its gas is turned on low - possibly to keep its mantle from wearing out too fast. Yessir. There it was. Dimitri's only gas lantern in Malakoff. Maybe the only working one anywhere.

We gave it and its surroundings a good look-over in the near darkness and then toured some of the little lanes and alleys until I led us into an impasse, which turned out to be a dead-end, like the sign said.

On the way back we stopped at the gaudy café-bar to look inside. If the outside was a marvel, the insidephoto: dimitri, dennis looked like one of those sculptures you can walk into, into which the sculptor has crammed every possible object - in this case most of it having to do with beer or spirits and all sorts of promotional trash, none of it less than about 60 years old.

Dimitri and Dennis in the Bouquet having evening cocktails of rouge.

We didn't go in further than the doorway. As it was, we were constantly bumped by dashing young lady beer servers, racing from the terrace to the bar. I couldn't understand it - there weren't more than a handful of people on the terrace. They must have been drinking with both hands or pouring it in the gutter for fun.

After a good look we retraced our route back across the bridge over the Perifreak! where the cars, fewer now, seemed to be going faster than before.

At the métro, I half-felt like we could hoof it all the way back, but everybody else was firmly fixed on the métro. That's my trouble - once I'm out I want to keep going.

Anyway, there it is, only a few métro stops away and across the Perifreak! in Malakoff. Dimitri said there are a lot of other good sights to see in Malakoff, and every other café has good food, much less expensive than in Paris 200 metres away.

So, there it is. Again. My 'giving-one-out' turned into Dimitri taking us out and it was a perfect way to end a dinner in too hot Paris on a night when the weather dumped tons of hail on Montmartre.

Millions On the Champs-Elysées

It was as hot as Thai sauce on Sunday, so I planned an easy jaunt from Beaubourg to the Ile Saint-Louis. I briefly considered starting out from Etienne Marcel, but it was really hot.

So hot that people sitting on the quays around the island were sitting on the shady side. On the bridge going over to the Ile de la Cité we came across René Miller and his Wedding Band giving hot people some hot music.

Fans of this band will be happy to hear that its drummer, Jonathan, has a new boater. The rim fell off the other one he had, so for a while he just wore what was left, giving the band an oriental flavor.

It was the kind of day for walking on the shady sides or under trees and we got the Maubert, where thephoto: renes wedding band, sunday café table was not only on the shady side but under an awning too. It took a hour to get away from there.

Part of the life of a bridge band without parasols.

Then it was up the hill to the Panthéon and down Soufflot to the shade under the Luxembourg's trees. More shade was followed up to the Boulevard Montparnasse and then along from there to Denfert and the terrace of the café Rendez-Vous, where I had my first citron-pressé of the season.

I don't think it's possible to over-terrace, but I must have come pretty close in the last half week.

Ah - about the train running on the Champs-Elysées. If I had remembered it I probably would have felt it was a necessary sight to see. According to TV-news a million people did turn out in the blazing sun to gawk at it.

One guy, interviewed wearing his blue steam-train duds with the red bandanna, said he thought it was supposed to be antique choo-choo trains huffing and puffing up and down the avenue. So did I.

Instead it was one of the SNCF's Santa Fe-type diesel locomotives pulling three modern commuter wagons, plastered with decals, at about 0.5 kms per hour. On TV, the most impressive thing about it was the million people out to see it, leaving the rest of Paris nearly empty, quiet and sprinkled across its terraces.

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