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Smoke Zone

photo, cafe la liberte

Neon nights are year–round.

Smell of September

by Ric Erickson

Paris:– Monday, 22. August 2005:– THis morning the air had a bounce to it, a bit of freshness, a lilt, some tonic – but no outright fizz. It seemed like overnight a gear changed, something vital shifted, and the air is not of August but of next month. September is in the air. Coming back from getting the paper my nose seemed to think garlic was in the air. Garlic and spices were floating down Daguerre – could it be September's new smell?

It was probably the west wind, and the Thai soup place had its door open. The scent lasted for a couple of blocks and disappeared when I turned a corner. Then things looked like they did last week. It's only the air that's changed. Paris–Plage rolled up its sandbox yesterday and put its parasols in storage. We have to get used to another season sans seashells.

The weather is hanging in though. Tonight's TV–weather news featured a mixed bag for the near future. While there has been heavy rain in the Swiss Alps, this is lurking over eastern France. Here, the whole northwest of the country will enjoy nearly all–sunny times tomorrow, and a high temperature in the afternoon of 23 degrees.

On Wednesday a rainy front will invade France's most westerly regions. Unless this advances further, fasterphoto, paris plage, tour eiffel than foreseen, it should be another semi–sunny day here. The temperature is supposed to slide a degree, down to 22.

For another year, goodbye seashells.

By Thursday the nasties will cover just about the whole country, leaving us to expect dark clouds and rain. This will probably mean a lot of clouds and a little bit of rain from time to time. Say around 14:00 when I go to the club meeting and again about 17:00 when I'm thinking of returning. A temperature of 21 degrees is forecast, so it will hardly be as bad as October.

Eyes focused on the heavens, this week Météo Jim sends a foreboding seasonal note about Angles, Saxons and lingonberries, not exactly in and around New York City, but apt for Labrador or Scandinavia.

Bugs Tune Up Earlier

Expect someone to toss Sirius a bone or a woofy treat and get him out of Pommeland for the coming week. Temperatures are expected to be in the mid 80's a–grad – which is upper 20's e–grad.

On Midsummer's Night in the northern Germanic lands – a concept not recognized in Paris – the Angles angle for new and improved ways to plunder, the Saxons look for new places to sack, and the Swedes linger over lingonberries. The sun sets around 10 PM or later. But in Pommeland, the sun goes down at 8:30 which leaves a less white night than in the countries across the pond. Even though summer still has a month to go, the sun sets tonight at 7:46. (In Paris, sunset is about 8:50.)

Late in the afternoon, there is a small but noticeable shift in the shadows from the declining sun. A new season slowly enters. Reds and yellows are starting to appear and end–of–summer insects are now singing in the advancing evenings.

Café Life

This week another slim and semi–whole issue is served up. I did some work on the coming Scène column, mainly cutting items that have expired in the two weeks since I last attacked it. This gave me the idea of waiting a couple more weeks until there's nothing left. But this will never do – there is a fall season coming up in Paris. If I don't get Metropole's events online soon everybody who copies them will have to do their own.

Smoke Zone

Just over a year ago I fell into Le Smoke in the Rue Delambre. I could have stopped in the Rosebud or Le Scott, a couple of hard booze troquets, but I was looking for the unashamed, the incorrect, anphoto, smoke bar unapologetically Parisian kind of joint, upfront enough in this day and age to hang out a sign created to dissuade whiners and victims, who might be seeking clean air to breathe and pastel parasols on their cocktail swizzle sticks.

The café–restaurant has a wood front that looks like it was hand carved by sturdy elves in Alsace, meant to impress their cousins from the Schwarzwald cuckoo clock industry across the river. Light wood brown outside, it looks as solid as an ethnic Swiss bank, but the painted Smoke on its front looks like somebody woozily dragged too deeply on it.

Last year I went by Le Smoke because it was in danger of extinction. The building it's in is owned by the social conglomo Hôpitaux de Paris, which wasn't going to renew the lease because it wanted to remodel the building as a tenement for nurses.

This is Montparnasse, this Rue Delambre. Next door to Smoke is the Hotel des Bains, a place where Simone de Beauvoir hung her hat. At the time, in 1935, the hotel probably only had a bath per floor. I laugh every time I see the sign. But nurses? Next door to the Hotel des Bains?

Nine years ago Lazhar Benhabhab borrowed the name 'Smoke' from the movie written by Paul Auster, and created a bar that is not so fine and nice, but is sturdy and a bit ratty and has some odd corners and weird Swiss windows, but you can sit or stand at the bar or sit at a table and eat for a reasonable price, and it's good enough if you don't mind everybody being on top of each other and thus noisy, and well, smokey too.

In case you forget, if you can see across the smallish room, there are a few black and white photo repros of jazz guys, say Dexter Gordon, with butts hanging out, smoke twisting white against the black. In a way, too bad the inside of Smoke is in color.

So, last year Lazhar was getting tossed out, also from his apartment upstairs, and the three employees were to get the boot too. To look at the place you wouldn't think so, but 'friends of Smoke' went to the other side of the cemetery to see local mayor Pierre Castagnou, and convincedphoto, smoke, rue delambre him that Le Smoke is a major headquarters of the cultural life of Montparnasse – no other place like it, blah blah, and so on. It's an argument that gets recycled often.

They copped a write–up in Le Parisien, organized a committee, got out a petition, put up a Web site kind of, and held grimly on. Smoke got an indefinite reprieve last August, and added more culture to its menu.

Where pulp fiction is real, the Rue Delambre.

But away from Montparnasse other actors were stirring. The government, the French one at the south end of the Pont de la Concorde, suddenly announced that it felt like taking over the Saint– Vincent de Paul hospital at Port Royal and stuffing the Quai d'Orsay into it. It's all we need – 2000 diplos in Montparnasse!

This Saint–Vincent is a hospital that seems to have a perpetual strike on, but one that is also considered to be one of the best maternity units in France and has special facilities for handicapped kids. There's a huge banner hanging off the front of the Mairie of the 14th arrondissement that says, 'hands off Saint–Vincent.' The banner is thanks to Pierre Castagnou of course.

Summer is a time for slipping silly stuff under the door, so it was only a couple of weeks ago that UMPphoto, cours de commerce st andre deputy Yves Bur decided to get some publicity for himself, by threatening to push for a vote in September for an insane Anglo–Saxon type ban on smoking in France. This is to be in all public places, in bars, in cafés, work areas, maybe even prisons, and including Le Smoke, no less.

The, ah, not–so–snooty, Quartier Latin.

Deputy Bur got his 24 hours of fame from the few Parisians still in town but he was eclipsed by the news a week later that an inventory at the Saint–Vincent hospital turned up 351 fetuses and premature baby bodies, stored in the mortuary of the hospital. The announcement was made jointly by the minister of health and Hôpitaux de Paris.

Le Monde hinted that the news was orchestrated by the government, but those concerned could not figure out why. Folks trying to save the hospital from being dismantled are worried that the process will be speeded up, helped along by the rotten publicity. Recent history has seen the sale of three Left Bank hospitals for 175.4 million euros in favor of Hôpitaux de Paris.

Meanwhile in the Rue Delambre, Lazhar Benhabhab decided not to go on holiday this summer. He was afraid some bad news would drag him back from the seaside. But last week he got a call from Hôpitaux de Paris who told him they decided to put the nurses elsewhere, and would renew his lease for the standard time period.

Well, the rent is going up and it doesn't include the apartment any more, but what's the difference? Maybe he'll raise the prices a bit. When asked, the mayor suggested a zoning deal had something to do with change of heart by Hôpitaux de Paris.

Lazhar Benhabhab pushes the National cash register back so I have a bit more space at the bar where I'm jammed between it and a pillar and then he gets me a big glass of orange juice. Others are dining at the bar, having big plates of steak–frites that I see cost eight euros. The place is full and so noisy you can't be sure music is playing, but it is, probably Stones.

The bar runs too close to the door, so that customers coming in have to climb over patrons before they can find a place to stand and lean over those sitting at the bar. Nobody cares, everybody yaks.

There's a trio of tables out on the sidewalk too. One has a couple with a dog. The windows are open, the room is high with black beams up there, and a ceiling ventilator feebly sweeps the smoke around, but it's a Paris place and everybody is with whoever they're with, so they are lively and not self–consciously cool. This is not the snooty Quartier Latin – this is Montparnasse, where the mayor is interested in culture. And hospitals.

The Latest Café Metropole Club 'Report'

The so–called report about last Thursday's club meeting was headlined 'Not Any Fringe.' This was an inept signal to indicate that we had a 'tour d'horizon,' such is possible in the setting of the club which everyone knows is in a café in Paris, where anyone can say whatever they feel like and the club'sphoto, seine, sails, tour eiffel secretary isn't going to record every word and put it in a 'club report,' mainly because he's lazy. But all is not lost. For example, it's worth looking at for Edna Bradley's timely 'Tip of the Week.'

Don't cry for Paris–Plage, not yet.

The next Thursday meeting of the Café Metropole Club will be on a Thursday again, amazingly like clockwork. The Saint's 'Day of the Week' will be Saint–Louis. This 'Saint of the Week' was the only one who was a king of France. Louis IX was born in Poissy in 1214, was canonized 1297 and died of the plague on 25. August 1270, only 735 years ago, on a Monday.

Equally true facts about the club can be found on the 'About the Club' page should you happen to be curious. The maladroit sketch of the club membership card on the page looks about as like a membership card as a water pistol. Virtually priceless, the club membership itself is mostly worthless, while being something you would hardly want to pawn.

This Was Metropole One Year Ago

Issue 9.35 – 23. Aug. 2004 – this issue's Café Metropole' column explained 'Summer Movies' with "Toi Tarzan!"' The week's Au Bistro column featured 'Back To the Country – And Stay There!' The three Scène columns were linked to the past. The update for the 26. August meeting of the Café Metropole Club was cheerily vague with the 'Bring Your Own Bottle'photo, sign, place jacques demy report. There were four boring 'Posters of the Week' and Ric's weekly cartoon was resigned with the end–of–summer caption, "Stop sulking!"

This Was Metropole Two Years Ago

Issue 8.35 – 25. Aug 2003 – the week's Café Metropole column was adventurous with, 'Greetings From Coney Island.' The Au Bistro column had alarming news with 'Killer Heatwave! & Blackout!.' There was an updated Scène column, titled 'Summer Events Carry Over to September.' The report for the Café Metropole Club meeting on 28. August was trumpeted as 'The 200th Meeting!' report. There were four shabby 'Posters of the Week' and Ric's Cartoon of the Week was even less upbeat than a week earlier, with the caption "What's the rush?" Was winter far off?

Face the Music

For the 24th time almost in a row, this is not about some musty old saint, but instead is a pretty pithy 'Quote of the Week.' John Dryden may have written or said, "Truth has such a face and such a mien as to be lov'd needs only to be seen." Next week right here, as a special feature, the 'Quote of the Week' will be in English.

If the Past Is Any Indication

Today marks the date in 1775 that King George III declared that his subjects in the American colonies were guiltyphoto, sign, rue linne of rebellion and if he could get his hands on them, he would order them strung up until they were good and dead and rotten. Just to be mean, on the same date in 1798, French troops landed in another colony and with help from the locals, inflicted a severe defeat on HM troops, at a battle known in Ireland as the Castlebar Races. About two weeks later the victory was reversed, and the losing Irish freedom fighters were massacred on the spot while surviving French troops were traded for British POWs. The French tried again in October, but flubbed it.

Fairly Old Patapsphysics

It would have been on this date in 1911 that the Mona Lisa was boosted from the Louvre if it had not happened the day before. Having called for the Louvre to be burnt down, Guillaume Apollinaire was arrested on 'suspicion,' and the flics talked to Pablo Picasso too, but both were released for lack of evidence. Much later it was learned that Louvre employee Vincenzo Peruggia had walked out with the painting under his coat. He was under the orders of Eduardo de Valfierno, a sneaky con–artist, who commissioned forger Yves Chaudron to make copies. But Peruggia kept the original for two years, and not hearing from De Valfierno, tried to sell the painting to a dealer in Florence. He was busted, and the Mona Lisa toured Italy before returning to the Louvre in 1913.

Best–selling Assassination Flop

Charles De Gaulle was targeted on this date in 1962 by OAS assassins in the Paris suburb of Petit–Clamart. Ridingphoto, sign, carnival duck in an official black Citröen DS, De Gaulle and his wife narrowly escaped an attack with machine guns. British writer Frederick Forsyth took the incident and turned it into 'The Day of the Jackal,' a best– selling novel and later, a successful movie. The carefully– researched book annoyed official spooks because it describes how to create a fake identity. Nevertheless, De Gaulle died at home, in bed.

Other, 'Topical Dates of the Week'

There are only 131 days left of this year, which means this year has just about run out of gas. This is exactly the same number of 'days left,' as at this time in the year 1864 when the Red Cross convention was first elaborated by an international conference in Geneva, inspired by the philanthropist Henri Dunant. This is completely unconnected to the fact that this year has used up 234 days, the same number that 1862 had when Claude Debussy was born at Saint–Germain–en–Laye, far too early by 46 years and in the wrong place to be photographed by Henri Cartier–Bresson, who shares the date as an anniversary.
signature, regards, ric

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