May 26th, 2018
The Setting: 30 minutes before the 2018 Champion’s League final, Real Madrid vs. Liverpool with a growing fervor for the upcoming World Cup.
Two friends have invited us to a local’s bar in Denfert Rochereau, a small, cool, but not quite a chic hub, which separates inner and outer South Paris. The bar is one of those you go to get decent priced drinks, and although they don’t have a good Gin Fizz, and aren’t highly rated on La Fourchette or even Google, the mojitos are average and thus satisfying.
In the air, an essence wafts that all French flock to on a sunny evening. The bar is nothing special, or distinct, but lifts you into a good mood, and leaves you buzzing for hours.
From Porte D’Orleans, a messy pocket of Paris where nothing is cute, nothing is fancy, nothing shines except the occasional clean bus window. We speed-walk north on Avenue General Leclerc to get there. Brick, mortar, and stone bâtiments are painted in vermilion colors from the sun’s departure, it’s 9pm.
Porte D’OrleansOne of the many bus terminals of Paris, signified by its name ‘Porte,’ meaning door. Like any bus terminal, it’s not a place you choose to spend time. Unfortunately, we live on the opposite side, and to enter Paris, you must use a door.
Underneath a red-tiled roof rests a flower-filled window sill, and above spreads an indigo sky. The ground level hosts a bio (organic) grocer, a brasserie, a small magasin for chachka. As we pass Alesia and close on Denfert Rochereau, clothing retailers, and perks of France become more apparent. Boulangeries with sprawling displays of brioches, baguettes, and biscuits.
A man spits a fat loogie on the street. Disgusting;
“C’est dégoûtant!” my gf Cece yells at him.
He is a hulking man. The sleeves of his brown hoodie look like cigar leaves, stuffed to the brim with tobacco. I haven’t been to the gym in months. ‘Attention!’ I yell. We accelerate and cross the street at the next intersection.
Almost hit by a scooter, ‘putain,’ the rider curses at me as he whizzes; ‘pardon,’ I yell back. So far, it’s been a fantastic night.
Disoriented, lost, moving to a new country has reintroduced me to these old friends of mine.
A brief existential interlude:
- What am I doing here? 2. Why am I so opinionated? 3. Who the f*** am I anyway?
I ask myself these questions every day. We all do, I’m sure.
- Irrefutably, I moved to Paris for my girlfriend. Though we might dispute if it was the best move, after three years in a long distance relationship, a relationship where nothing is certain, especially not the ‘where,’ I jumped on the quickest route: a year-long Visa and a one-way on Norwegian Air to CDG.
- I’m opinionated because currently, I’m adrift. Those who know me see a serene person on the outside. But I brood! I’m a brooder, not a bruiser! And my opinions form from this ego, they funnel from a place that seethes with these emotions and wishes to express them, but in futility (and maybe fear?) I pander, and joke, and supplace my truths with sarcasm.
- Note: Alexander, you will work on this throughout the year.
- Once I was told that everyone needs family, needs community. This was in response to the feeling I was suffering from the distance with my own. That I was failing because I felt distance from my own. I was failing to keep in touch with them. But family helps form identity, they said. Family grounds oneself. The cliche goes, you don’t choose your family. But family chooses to change while you’re away, and act like things are the same when you return, family makes mistakes, and you must forgive family or else larger problems will follow you along your travels. Who can you forgive, if not family? Choosing to create new ‘families’ is a decision made out of love, not of rejection of your origins.
I ask myself these questions every day. We all do, I’m sure.
In Paris, warm weather drives people to the streets like the first week of Pokemon Go. Except, instead of breaking into private property or stumbling upon dead bodies in the river, Parisiens long for a streetside table, and a straw chair.
Along with an Aperol Spritz, a packet of cigarettes, their ego, and maybe some olive tapenade, they sit, watch and talk, inhaling and exhaling smoke in their OH SO dignified way with three cigarette-free fingers waving and controlling the conversation like a Maestro on his podium.
We pass an Indiana Café, a Mexican-American French bar chain, and head to a different bar chain–Café Oz.
Cafe Oz — Denfert Rochereau
The Land Down Under now cares about Soccer, Neopolitan Pizza and has ‘Surf Bars.’
This installment of the Australian bar chain is top. And by top, I mean the best of its kind. A massive outdoor beer garden supplemented by cheap Fosters and decent pizza makes it the fucking JAM for Futbol matches. Plus, when the sun’s gone down, the dj turns up, and the crowd gets wild. It’s top-40. It’s Calvin Harris. It’s LMFAO. It’s more Belle Eclasse (Beautiful Trash) from Australia.
Setting: the Champion’s League final, Madrid vs. Liverpool.
We’ve made it. The place is elbow to elbow. Squeezing past a viewing area indoors, we find our friends at a spacious beer garden out back called the Surf bar.
Small thought: the French must equate the two geographically large anglophone countries with terrible, cheap beer because that’s precisely what you find at these bar chains. Maybe they’re right?
We’ve joined two French guys, and one of my gf’s friends, a wonderful spirit, who seems to lack an unfunny bone in her body. I’ll call her Zara.
She once leaned over with her cigarette in hand and simply whispered ‘I met Cece partying, and we became friends.’ Like that’s the process. 1. You meet someone at a party 2. You become friends. Another time she told us of a guy who texted her at a late, late hour–presumably another friend from another party. Her response was, ‘just because I’m Brazilian, doesn’t mean there’s a time difference.’ Effectively shutting him down, and making a joke out of it. Her frizzy hair and huge smile takes up the as much room as her personality, and I’ve had many great moments watching her antics. C’est énorme meuf.
Her guy Max is a genuine Gosling, an extremely nice dude with puppy dog looks. I try with my French to get to know him, but the crowd is too loud, and often you can find out more about a person, just hanging around them. He’s surprised to find out that I like soccer. I’m surprised to find out that he lives in Versailles. Memories of the sparkling marble floors and twisting stairwells come to memory. But, apparently, people who live in Versailles don’t live in the actual castle.
Mo Salah, Liverpool’s star is injured and carried off the field. An injury that we will see affect his performance in the World Cup. So far, it’s been an even match, but this is a huge loss for Liverpool.
I turn to the scene; an eclectic crowd has gathered.
The first table to catch my eye has two elegantly aged women sitting with a bottle of Rosé on ice. One strikes me as beautifully out of place at this rowdy sport’s bar; dark lipstick, her hair is up; she wears a blue sundress, cigarette in hand, smoke envelops, and she’s shrouded from all excitement in the match.
The table next to them hosts a group of well-groomed 20-somethings with expensively cut white-T’s, designer sunglasses and recently trimmed hair, a girl with spaghetti string top joins them. She’s wearing striped bell bottoms that blossom in the way that is at once fashionable and ironic because it’s unfashionable.
Behind them, next to us has a table of guys that Cece calls racailles, or ‘the uneducated.’ This is a term that I will return to. Personally, I dislike the term and find it marginalizing and classist. I, however, have not had the experience of being catcalled by a large group of them, followed down dark alleys, and cornered for my wallet. These guys wear Lacoste joggers, jerseys, tanks and pull their hats low. They’re a bit louder than everyone, point at women, use improper grammar, pour pitchers and toast. The table has done nothing harmful to me, they seem to be having a good time, and still, these supplanted thoughts creep into my head.
Boom, Madrid scores right out of the half. It’s Karim Benzema, king of racailles, whose stunts curbed him from Les Bleus at this World Cup. Then, out of nowhere Liverpool equalizes. The Surf bar goes wild. Red jerseys are lifted into the air. It seems as if the bar is more than 50/50.
We order two pizzas, and I grab another drink. One of the guys from the table next to us ushers his crew to the bar. They use elbows. I patiently turn to the screen. The match is closely contested. Then, Gareth Bale is subbed in.
Out of my periphery, I notice a group of West Africans in Yellow uniforms. They look to be a part of some crew, not watching the game and instead huddled in a small circle, one yelling to the others. When I look back, the game is out of hand. The Welsh footballer has a monstrous 30 minutes, scoring two goals, and leading the heavily favored team to a win.
After the game, the lights turn low, and the DJ tries to shift the mood. I’m wearing Doc Marten’s, aka an impossible mood to shift. So we leave it at that and depart for home.
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Mapstr: @ african.bowtie