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A Surprise Party

photo: batofar

Fabulous Paris joint, the Batofar;

EuroFoot In the Mouth

Paris:– Friday, 25. June:– No newspapers on Thursday, the France– Greece Eurofoot match today and a weather forecast well short of the prediction, might contribute to the elevated Métro station Quai de la Gare being deserted just before 20:00 this evening.

The station, with all of its elaborate iron, rivets and glass, looks like it is in perfect shape. All the same, the RATP is going to close its line 6 from Raspail to Quai de la Gare on Monday for renovations. It'll be closed until the end of August. The sign I saw said something about its 100th anniversary, but I'm glad this thing is tonight because getting to the Quai de la Gare, or Chinatown, is going to be a long way around after Monday.

On the ground below the Métro station there is next to nobody around. The rush hour is over and the day's researchers have left the 'grande bibliothèque' to brood emptilyphoto: gilbert shelton on its pyramid base. Up on top of the steps where the four towers shoot up to the sky there are vast open spaces to contrast with the blank–faced buildings.

The only thing anybody can do with it is sit on the pyramid steps and look at the sun set in the Seine and watch miniature Métro trains crossing the bridge to pass by the ministry of finance on the Bercy side. There are kilometres of empty stair steps for doing this.

Gilbert Shelton, inspires.

Down below, across the road that runs along the left bank, a line of peniches are tied up to the Port de la Gare, behind the trees between the Pont de Bercy and the Pont de Tolbiac. Friday's surprise party is in the Batofar, an ex–lightship recycled into a new life as a floating party central.

I see that it has expanded its territory onto the quay, into what looks like a Tunisian holiday tent village. The foredeck of the red lightship seems to contain a milling herd of fêtards, but Pic spots me as he is walking up a gangway from the rear of the boat. He says it is hot in the hold and we squeeze by the people milling about the entry and descend the steep iron stairs.

It was Pic who called to tell me about the surprise party. My hearing must have skipped a vital word because I think the purpose is something else. What 'authors?' I thought it was supposed to be about movies. Being in the dark, airless hold, with an uneven deck, doesn't tell me anything.

Gilbert Shelton is wearing a jacket and has a colorful lei around the collar. He is busy signing a book in the dark – aha! book equals 'authors' – it gradually emerges from the hot gloom that the 'book' is a homage to Gilbert, a 'Homage in 'Freak Style,' titled 'Fabuleux Furieux.'

This is the surprise. A French group of 'Freak Brothers' fans, led by Olivier Josso, has published a 200–page tribute to the life of freak. It starts off with, "1983, alors jeune hard–rocker féru de BD, j'ignore tout de Gilbert Shelton et de ses Freak Brothers." This begins the history of the book.

The second story is by Pic himself, in the guise of Zou, Pic's creation for the weekly 'Spirou.' At once autobiography andphoto: book, fabuleux furieux history of Texas in Paris, Pic functions as Shelton's ambassador, or translator. "A Paris on parle vite et on parle trop. Si vous avez la patience d'attendre calmement jusqu' à vingt seconds (une éternité) quand vous posez une question à Shelton."

"...Alors va éclore devant vous un grimoire magique de savoir et d'intelligence, doux et précis, léger, profond et pertinent." This is necessary in case you are an impatient Parisian type – "Putain, il est grillé à l'acide ou quoi?"

Then, about 85 cartoonists and 184 black and white pages later, 'L'Américain Shelton repond aux charges:' "Quoi? Vous nous accusez d'impérialisme cultural?" "C'est ridicule!" "Taisez–vous espèces de dessinateurs froggys ou j'achète cette maison d'édition et vous vire tous!"

In the hot dark of the Batofar's red innards the Géant Vert tells me to take the book, hard cover, nearly 200 pages, heavy, dense with ink. Another two kilos in my sack is breaking the law of sacks. But with a free, warm, orange juice, how can I refuse? Cheap at the price.

Getting out of the Batofar, as we all must to get some air, is updeck, uphill, up ladders, up the gang plank, on to the stone quay. The sun is dropping over the Quartier Latin behind the bibliothèque, sliding into the glassy Seine, smeared with light reflections from the blue sky and gold windows of the ministry of finance.

Gilbert is still signing books like the good humor man. He does it like it's an occupational treat. Each 'signing' takes five minutes because it requires a bit of Freewheelin' Franklin along with the signature. One fast–ink pen goes dry doing it. An official Café Metropole Club pen takes up the relay.

A sign for the Batofar says 'dresscode – Hawaiian.' Gary 'Spell My Name Right' Karp is within the code because he only wears Hawaiian shirts, and Gilbert has a lei slung around his collar. Gary tells me the history of tonight's featured band, the Ukulele Club de Paris.


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