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Hot Guitars

photo, saint ouen, puces, sunday

North Paris, in its glorious flea market area.

In Django Land

Paris:– Sunday, 30. January 2005:– At the club meeting on Thursday the members made a pact to meet today at the gypsy jazz café near the Marché aux Puces in Saint&ndash,Ouen. They didn't bother asking me what the weather would probably be like. It could be like it was last year – wet and cold, or like this year – not so cold but wetter. But they didn't ask.

I made a deal with uncle Den–Den. I was to phone him in time for us to get there by 15:00 if I felt like going. I looked out the window at all the glistening tombstones in the cemetery across the street. Inside was warm. Outside was jazz in a cozy café on the edge of town. I picked up the phone, dialed Den–Den and spoke to his answering machine.

Since I was up I put on my scarf, cap, coat and gloves and got underway out the door and down the stairs and up the street into the wind and down the avenue andphoto, cafe la chope de st ouen into the hole at Gaîté and on to a line 13 train to the Garibaldi stop somewhere in Saint–Ouen. It took more than a paragraph but that's all it's worth;

Raining in Saint–Ouen, so the first thing is to have a pick–up café in a corner café that had recently been hive of intense betting activity, with betting slips up to the ankles. Still raining going through the park by the church, and right in the Rue des Rosiers, and down its red sidewalk trying to avoid cascades falling off buildings.

Weekend jazz at La Chope des Puces café.

I haven't looked up the address. I see a building on the other side I remember, but a café on my side is closed. Sure, the one I'm looking for is further. The next café is closed, its shutter rolled down and locked tight. Then I pass a couple of places that are open, but they're not right. Was it really this far, almost to the puces?

The first sights of used things for sale slide past, as well as more cafés. There are more than I remember. It is dark and damp. If it's closed or I miss it, I can keep going to get the Métro at Clignancourt. I keep going.

In what seems more of a marché area, I peer at a café that seems to be full, with steamy windows. I amphoto, guitarists, la chope de st ouen ready to go in any place now, but a corner of an eye catches an arm waving inside. It is Heather Stimmler–Hall and Gary De La Rosa. I photo the outside and go in, tripping over the mob, dressed in bulk for a bad day on the Baltic.

Two of Sunday's guitarists.

Hah! Inside is the entire membership of the last club meeting, holding an off–Thursday meet without the secretary and his dumb notes. To the left of the entry, two guitarists strumming away in that Django style. The place is rocking. It's like 04:00 in the morning at the Hamburg fischmarkt except that it's next door to Paris, but with the same rain outside.

The café is a shrine to Django. The walls are covered with mementos. There is no bandstand – the guitarists are perched where they have room and everybody stands around in the room that's left. And, the room, it isn't big, even with amplification, even less so because the behind the bar about equals the in–front of it.

The music, therefore, isn't hard to hear.photo, cafe le rosier It has equal volume in the back room, where we ate last year. Uncle Den–Den is tired of standing so we go in and sit down. Four ladies in a group come in and sit down too. A guy at the next table is looking at a 78 rpm record he must have just bought at the puces. It has ultra–black grooves.

Another café, for the 'puces,' without jazz.

The next hour or 90 minutes go where they all go when you are sitting in a café and some nimble fingers are running over strings. Some you listen to and some you talk through, and the café lady brings us some chips and peanuts and there are drinks and Gary takes some photos of the musicians, and Heather takes some photos too, but it's my day off and I take no notes, still.

James MacNeil says he's going and then Heather does too. Uncle Den–Den begins to feel faint from hunger, so we leave and push through the crowds of shoppers with their insane treasures, in the rain, towards Clignancourt. The sky looks like moveable putty. Neon signs seems like flames in the gloom.

Clignancourt, with the Périfreak! overhead, has the appearance of a down–scale bazar on the outskirts of a major favela built up against some peeling colonial glory. There are a lot of people around and it's dark and the streets are wet. In comparison, the 14th will be like a Sunday ghost town, tea and cakes.

We go into a major café that must be the local 'bar central.' It has the PMU, the Loto, a tabac, video games, steam, chock–full of custom and smoke, and then we are out – going across the street to another café.

Inside it seems like a bus station in Peru after the weekly bus has just left for Lima. Gary says it reminds himphoto, saint ouen of East Los Angeles. Den–Den wants some spicy sausages, but they're all out. We have whatever we can get, with drinks on the side. A young couple at another table grapple quietly the whole time. The philosophical conversation, begun on Thursday, continues.

In Saint–Ouen on Sunday.

Los Angeles, San Francisco, what can anyone say about Clignancourt? No one does say anything about Clignancourt. It's right outside, trucking by, lights reflecting in the puddles black as grease, turning yellow as the streetlights come on, breathing, heaving – north Paris. Django land.

La Chope des Puces – with its guitarist musicians, in the afternoons on Saturday, Sunday and holiday Mondays. At 122. Rue des Rosiers, in Saint– Ouen. Métro: Garibaldi or Porte de Clignancourt. InfoTel.: 01 40 11 02 49.

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