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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, i cafés, work areas, maybe even prisons, and including Le Smoke, no less.

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