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Nights In August

photo: roller rando, ave du maine

And they're off – to roll around Paris for 3 hours.

Smoke In Delambre

Paris:– Sunday, 8. August:– In the Rue Delambre there are two drinker's bars, the Rosebud and Smoke. By 'drinker's bars' I mean they are bars and not cafés. In July Le Parisien ran a story about the mayor of the 14th arrondissement putting his weight behind Smoke, to save it from eviction.

The owner of the building is the Hospitals de Paris and they want to turn it into a residence for nurses. It wants the entire building and has already evicted tenants who have lived in it for 40 years. If Smoke closes, its owner will also lose his apartment in the building, and Smoke's three employees will lose their jobs.

A protest meeting was organized, led by supporters Pierre Meige and Bernard Giusti, with Mayor Pierre Castagnou, journalists, sympathizers and customers, to stop Smoke's eviction on Monday, 12. July. The action was effective and bought a month's grace.

On Monday, 2. August, Smoke's management had its first sit–down with Hospitals de Paris. Thephoto: bar smoke, rue delambre result was the indefinite suspension of the eviction order. But Hospitals de Paris is one of the city's biggest landlords and property developers, so they are unlikely to be deflected forever.

Wednesday evening at Smoke.

Eight years ago Lazhar Benhabhab realized his dream of opening a bar of style, of the style of Montparnasse, in the street not far from the location of the legendary Dingo and the 'centre of the world' at Vavin. Lazhar borrowed the name 'Smoke' from the movie written by Paul Auster, but it's a bar and not a smoke shop in Brooklyn.

On Wednesday there were a few people at tables out on the warm sidewalk as the sun was going down behind the Tour Montparnasse. The bar just to the right inside, I had almost to myself. Half the tables along the left side were occupied with diners, having, I thought, mostly salads.

It's a roomy place with a lot of space for stand–up drinking. Overhead beams are above a high ceiling fan that wasn't trying too hard to move next–to–no smoke around, and there were a lot of black and white jazz photos on the walls. There's one place at the bar that is in the way of the entry, but the rest of it is spread out without having the proportions of a barn.

Like Arlene's Grocery, it's a place where I could become attached. If you find somebody to talk to, the music is too loud, but at least it is music. While in the joint my major discovery was finding that the prices are reasonable – I paid less than 5€ for two large glasses of orange juice.

Smoke is for informal people who find the boulevard's La Coupole or Le Select too stuffy, and too expensive. In the Rue Delambre all you need to remember is the tourist's reaction to an initial vision of Flossie Martin. "This must be the place!"

Le Smoke – 29. Rue Delambre, Paris 14. Métro: Edgar Quinet, Vavin or Montparnasse. Expressions of support should go to 'Save Smoke.'

Friday Night Rando Fever

In the neighborhood there isn't much going on at night, aside from the Bistro 48 and the lime–green bar with portholes. It may be our own 'Smoke' but I've never been in it. Anyway, it's quiet and everything is shuttered, and I wonder if the rollers are still meeting in Montparnasse.

Most Paris streetlights give a yellowish light, making everything in the dark seem warm. It seems warm anyway, and tree leaves are falling as if it's October. They're lying yellow dots on the brown sidewalk.

Over on the Avenue du Maine there are higher streetlights and they have white light, but they are very high and by the time the light reaches the ground it is brown too. The Indiana bar is red and brown and full of people who like big loud places with pool tables. A couple of roller people are taking a refreshment on its terrace.

The cops have their cars and vans and ambulances by the Gare Montparnasse, and the rollers are gathering in the place behind, many perched on the stone steps with their backs to the Rue du Départ. Across the way many others are tanking up in the Atlantique.

Gauging the crowd before the start is always hard in the near–dark. Participants are arriving fromphoto: tango, quai st bernard every compass corner, and some show up right at the launch. So it looks like about 500 rollers are waiting to go and when they go 10 minutes later they've turned into 2500 or 5000.

Saturday evening by the Seine for tango.

With so few other people around, even next to the big station, it seems like everybody there is, is on wheels. Out to ride the August Friday night streets of Paris in a convertible, without the car. It makes me feel flat–footed.

Three police motorcycles take the lead followed by a dozen of the organizing teams wearing yellow shirts. They point themselves up Maine towards Alésia where they'll turn left into Leclerc and make the straight run down to Saint–Michel and then over to Bastille.

The rollers whiz by and I walk up to the Rue Jean Zay intersection and catch them coming head–on. Cars going down to Montparnasse get hung up and wait, and wait patiently. It's a small mob tonight but the wait is more than five minutes.

Just at this moment it's quiet. There's the zizz of the roller wheels and the whoops of the people on them, but the motorcycles are far ahead, the sweepers still behind, and the waiting cars are idling – it's like a hole in the city's noise.

The sweep–up ambulances come, accompanied with a minor squad of roller flics and followed by a dozen bike riders. There must be about two dozen cops on skates with the rando. I think they're out for the ride.

Once clear of the intersection, regular Paris lurches back to life and the waiting cars turn. If they aren't in a mangle, jammed up in the middle of the intersection. A minute later everybody is clear and warm Friday night resumes, back at its regular noise level.

Dancing, Dancing

I keep hearing about the tango nights on the Quai Saint–Bernard. On a hot summer night in August of 2000 I went down to see what was up, but my only memory is of not much. I remember the heat of the night though, walking past the deserted Curie institute in the Rue Cuvier.

On Saturday night, in very much the same weather, I went back. The 'quai' is the road and beyond the RER tracks beside the Seine it is called 'port.' I think everybody calls it Quai Saint–Bernard, and not its other name which is Square Tino Rossi.

There are a series of small half–arenas facing the river, and the first had the tango dancers. The musicphoto: samba, quai st bernard was original, including the needle–hops. It seemed to be staggering more than necessary. The dancers didn't seem to mind. Maybe they didn't notice. They looked formal, and they looked like they were trying hard. Tango looks too formal to be a dance.

The back–lit samba or salsa dancers.

The next arena to the west just had a few bongo players. They might have been between sets. The arenas are far enough apart so the music from one doesn't drown out the music of the neighbors.

The third arena was full of samba dancers, being led by a samba chief. They all faced towards the curve of the arena and away from the river. When the bateaux mouches with the lights passed, it was like a three–minute blitz lighting up their backs.

They would do a series of steps for a few minutes and then the chief would change the tune, show some new steps, restart the music and everybody would do it. You could do it as a spectator too and a lot of the audience around the arena were doing this. It looked like it could hardly be better in Rio.

Up by the sunken RER tracks there is a large flat area and this was jammed with latino rhythm fans. I couldn't see the difference between the audience and the dancers. They were all doing it. Signs said 'Bar La Peña' and 'Radio Latina.'

Altogether this amounted to four outdoor music and dancing scenes, within a five–minute walk of each other. A lot of other people were spread out on the grass and stone of the park next to the Seine.

I kept going west and I left the quay to cross the Pont de Sully, to the Ile Saint–Louis, and to the right bank where Paris Plage starts. Its first lights were violet, which has an odd effect on the green of the leaves.

The 'plage' was crowded with people of all ages being outside, beside the Seine. I think light strips have been added to many of the bridges, including the interiors of arches over the speedway converted into a 'beach.'

There is a big bandstand just beyond the swimming pool, but it always seems to be 'between sets.' There was a guy under a bridge arch wailing away on an instrument that looked like a flute with accordion keys, and its French sound carried well a bit beyond the arch.

Parisians buying ice creams, pushing babies in strollers, occasional rollers gliding past, couples sitting besidephoto: paris plage the river in the fluid air. Under another bridge arch between the two sets of boules pitches there was a lone guitarist, with a big audience.

Camping through the evening at Paris Plage.

He side–stepped the microphone a couple of times, and the sound was almost the same. He began 'Hotel California' and there was scattered applause, and for one guy with one instrument, he was good. He sang the lyrics but stopped for the chorus, and the audience filled it in. Truly magic, just right.

Up on the Pont d'Arcole I could see a lot of Paris Plage, one color of lights to the east and green lights to the west, with the Hôtel de Ville up above looking like a postcard of some theme city.

It's all a bit unreal, in the centre of Paris this summer. But it's open in August and since it is, it must be a 'fête,' and this is what it is. A few colored lights don't make it any less. If you come here it won't be for the glooms.

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