2 Nights in Palermo: Where to Wander, Drink, and Dine

This is a tale of two cities, one in the light and one at dark. The Capital of Sicily strikes as a larger, more complex metropolis than what it embodies, an ancient city that has seen the perils and progress of society.

Graffiti plastered over walls like propaganda. Twisting, trash-filled backstreets that open onto crowded piazzas. Colorful markets with buzzing flies and the aroma of fried Arancini and thick cuts of Pizza. Palermo is a riot. Palermo is a clash, one side spilling onto the other. A mix between Rome, Los Angeles, and Casablanca, the city is even more. Palermo is a furious medley of class, culture, food and aesthetic.

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A cheap flight from Paris, my girlfriend and I arrive after two hours of smooth travel over an azure Mediterranean.  The Airport, small and clean, is located about 45 minutes from the city center of Palermo and gives you three options on how to get there:

  1. Rent a car
  2. Take a Bus (Prestia e Comande)
  3. Share a Taxi

The air is thick, yet arid. After a moment of confusion, we stumble onto the shared taxi line where a man is yelling at the taxi driver to let him board an already full van.  The driver departs without him. He yells something and slaps the trunk in frustration.

Here we have a big city Sicilian. A severe red tan and curly black hair, this portly man anxiously watches incoming traffic.

The next taxi arrives 10 minutes later. The man motions to the driver that my gf and I are with him in a friendly and ‘Tutto benne’ manner. We nod our appreciation and hop on board. The three of us are in the back and two others plop into the van. He yells over them to tell the driver to go. He’s not pushy or angry but welcoming. In fact, he has a huge smile and is almost joking as he directs the driver to get on the highway.

He works in Paris, but his French is questionable at best, and he speaks zero English.

The green, palm-tree covered countryside sweeps passed us, he points at a few landmarks and vigourously yells when something is lost in translation. Mafia! Mountain! Motorcycles! Through the windows, we watch, as the van is engulfed by urban life. Apartment buildings stretch down boulevards like sunny CA, white fountains, and two large Teatros.  The man tells us of a bar called Champagneria and bids us a farewell and safe journey.

The First Night: Bisso Bistrot & Bonter

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That evening, after a small introduction, our host directs us to Bisso Bistrot, a jazzy, contemporary take on Sicilian food.

Sicily is famous for its street food, which while tasty, is a reduction of its complexity. The cuisine departs from traditional Italian food in several ways: its Arab influence (Eggplant, Saffron, Mint, Rice, Apricots, etc.), and the bounty of Seafood (Cuttlefish, Tuna, Mussels, Squid, even Sea Snails). I once saw Cous Cous with Fish!

Bisso Bistrot is packed, full of Palermo Street Style (something I will talk about later). We take a glass of wine and drink outside.

Let go of the plane flight, I think. I take another glass of wine–it’s only 2 Euros. 

We set it off by ordering two starters, and a main dish. A Calamari Milanese dressed in parsley, capers, and caciocavallo; Roasted Octopus Salad with greens tossed in oil,  and lemon; and a Pici (Pasta) with Mint, Aubergine, Tuna, and Saffron. It was world class. It was 7 Euros. I am in f***in heaven.

Elegant but stripped down, the industrial walls, and minimal furniture filled with well-dressed urbanites yammering about philosophy over wine, and I enjoyed every second.

Bonter

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For some reason, I’d forgotten the Italians do cocktails so well. To me, the Negroni is arguably the greatest drink of all time.

Bonter Bar, however, showed me a thing or two about a good G&T.  If you know me, you know my thoughts on the Gin-Tonic; it’s a basic-ass drink somehow elevated to a cult-like Martini status.

The bartender prefaced this Gin-Tonic with an introduction to their ‘special’ tonic water…oooooohh. Then, he brought over two dark, mysterious bottles, the Gin de Professor-Madame et Monsieur (Italian Gin!!!!). He asked, ‘do you prefer a subtle gin or an aromatic gin?’ Pause. OK, at this point, I’m starting to buy the hype. Unpause. Then, the guy was like, ‘ here’s this custom made platter thingy that’s only for this drink. Oh yeah, and don’t forget a slice of cucumber and juniper berries. JUNIPER BERRIES?!?

The nerve!! I was rattled by this titan of a drink that rested on the pine before me. I sniffed it like I worked for Le Guide Michelin. I paused. And finally, I took a sip.

Yeah, it exceptional, smoky, yet refreshing. I recommend the bar, however, for the ambiance. No one needs all of those dramatics! In the background, they had a folk band playing with a great harmonica soloist.  The crowd was lit. The bartender seemed offended when I asked if any of the owners had been to East Nashville. Right, people don’t like Americans because of him.

Visual Interlude

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The Second Night – 30 Mazzini Taverna & Frida

After sightseeing, we return to our flat. I read online about this place that serves really, really good pizza. That sounds like something I’m interested in, I thought. I ask my girlfriend and we agree, it’s something that we’re really, really interested in. As we leave the Airbnb, I see my host, and we start talking. I ask her about Champagneria, as I’d heard it was good from this cool ass guy in our shared taxi.

She says, ‘no, if you want a really good cocktail, you must go here–30 Mazzini.’ No need for arguing, so I say ‘Tutto Benne.’ She insists on making reservations for us, and she adds that she’s friends with the owner.

So, we head out. Down the boulevard, we pass the two Teatros and enter a…posh neighborhood.

30 Mazzini Taverna

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The bar is elegant and has that style composed mostly of dark tones, except for ridiculous neon lights behind the bar. We see the hostess and she directs us to a table out front.

Sitting outside feels bizarre. It is a world apart in only a few avenues of difference. The grit and raw beauty that up to this point had defined my time in Palermo have been manipulated into something resembling a ‘Europe proper.’

It’s not a bad thing. There is still beauty, but it is of a different, manicured kind.

I enjoy a Gin Fizz (pictured) and later, I take a Negroni.

Out of a car pops two men holding glow in the dark trinkets. They have dark, brown skin, and look as if they come from a foreign land. They pass and plead that we purchase the trinkets. I don’t carry cash, so I apologize and we let them on their way.

At a table next to us, a man has purchased one for his baby, who is there in the stroller at the moment. We gaze over. The man turns, makes eye contact with my girlfriend, and stands. He is a rather dapper middle-aged man, he paces over to our table and introduces himself in a broken language. I am the owner of this bar, he manages to say. A warmth flows from his smile as we tell him who our host is, and once again, we are back in Sicily.

Frida

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After our drinks, we are hungry, so we decide to try for Frida, even though it is past 10pm. No matter for Italy. When we arrive, there’s a 20-minute wait. The place is full and we stand about, waiting for our table.

The street style in Palermo is distinct, and Frida (named after Frida Kahlo) is a place for the stylish. Striped slacks with tucked, over-sized dress shirts, suspenders pulled up, and earrings curve through like moons. Tans, breezy cloth and oversized skirts, high heels and jewelry, it’s a cross between luxury and vintage, between beach and city.

When we’re seated, I order the spectacle above. A four cheese pizza with soppressata and mozzarella tucked into the crust. It’s the original stuffed crust. And it might be bold to say, but this pizza rivals the best in New York.


The Short List

  1. Bisso Bistrot – Via Maqueda, 172a, 90133 Palermo
  2. Bonter – Via Orologio, 43, 90133 Palermo
  3. Mazzini 30 –  Via Mazzini 30, 90139 Palermo
  4. Frida Pizzeria – Piazza Sant’Onofrio, 37/38, 90134 Palermo

Bise,

Alexander

 

I hope that you enjoyed my post, if so, please give me a follow on:

IG: @african.bowtie

Mapstr: @african.bowtie

 

 

5.26 The Blue Notes: Champion’s League Final

May 26th, 2018

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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.

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Subway map confusing AF, but you will notice Porte D’Orleans circled at the bottom.
Denfert Rochereau is where we are headed.

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.

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A brief existential interlude:

  1. 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.


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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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Bise,

Alexander


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Mapstr: @ african.bowtie

Très Chic, Très Zen Bars: Des Prés Tapas in Montrouge

Listen. Tapas are Spanish, but the Spanish don’t just eat Tapas. Got it?

One of my friends from Madrid reminded me of this cliché like…hmm..they only drink sangria, and dance Flamenca, and stay up gabbing until 4am, wait, no, that is a real thing. If anything, the Spanish rival the French in terms of tradition, but the French will forever be difficult to top in cuisine.

So, when the French make French tapas, believe that they are insane.

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Hol’ up. This site is about drinks though, correct? True, but while in Europe we have to get a few things straight. Each country in Europe has their own drinking ideology, and they are often very different from ours.

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That’s me.

The French believe in complements, not to be confused with compliments. Rather than balance, drinks build off of a meal and elevate the experience, creating uplifting, convivial atmosphere. A stark contrast from a moody dive bar banging Gang of Four, ironic leather vests, and empty rocks glasses. If the French sound uppity, they’re not, they are just raised this way. It’s instinctual. And it’s a little unfair to label instinct as uppityness (yes, it’s a word).

Anyways, back to the food, back to Des Pres Tapas. I’m almost done and I’ve hardly written about the restaurant!

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Their raison d’etre is their tapas, a spectrum of flavors, neatly divided on a menu as meat, fish, or vegetable. Gambas sauteed in Pastis, hand-made falafel, mini-croque monsieurs, and roasted veggies with thick wedges of Pecorino delight the table. Pair four or five plates with a cheap glass of Rosé, and you won’t be disappointed. Pair it with a bottle, and you’ll be feeling all types of jolly as you hobble out of the somewhat cramped, casual yet elegant spot.

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Opened just earlier this month, Des Pres is the laid back edition of their next-door neighbor, and the Montrouge culinary Juggernaut, Aubergine et Cie. I’d imagine that the owners have plans for the future.

They have draft beers from Brasserie Toussaint, a craft brewery from Louveciennes, (dare you to pronounce that) France. And a large list of wines as cheap as 3 Euro a glass.

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Me also

If you want a drink without all the fuss of eating involved, below I have a list of other bars in the area for a cocktail. Also, I’ll attach Des Pres info, if you want to do your own snooping.

Bise,

Alexander

Insta: @african.bowtie

Mapstr: @african.bowtie

Address: 38 Avenue Henri Ginoux, 92120 Montrouge

Website: des-pres.fr

Read also:

  • 5 Decent Enough Bars Walking Distance from Porte D’Orleans
  • 5 Bars That Make the Terminus Marie De Montrouge Less Boring
    • coming soon

The Blue Notes: Alésia

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Alésia–a Metro stop with a name like a fairytale or a Disney movie, and while that comparison may hype it up WAY too much, it is a cute pocket with enchanting backstreets and a surprising amount of life during the day and nighttime. There are brasseries to brunch, eat oysters, and smoke–all the essentials of quotidian Parisienne lifestyle.

The mini-streets and mysterious doors of Alesia.

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Eglise Saint-Pierre de Montrouge, like so many other Catholic churches in Paris, rises out of the middle with authority, and an eerily inescapable shadow. This means: Jesus is watching you. Jesus sees you entering that KFC over there.

Just because you went to the gym, does not mean that you deserve to eat a crispy chicken sandwich! – Judgemental French Jesus

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Alesia may not be on the mustache-trimmer of cool, but it is a nice hub that, if you are spending a summer or a semester in Paris, you should visit at least once. Pourquoi pas?

It’s perfect for a weekday drink, in a typically Parisienne, uncrowded, untouristy hub.  As you walk North, retailers pop up–Zara, Muji, Lush–and this saves a trek across the city.

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While the vibe may not be snoot-level 100 like the 15th or 16th arr., it is an uncompromising mix of casual and typical Paris.

Below, I’ll attach some bars if you’re feeling up for a normal night, accentuated by a drink in the sun.

 

Bise,

Alexander

 

Follow me:

Insta: @african.bowtie

 

The Blue Notes: Porte D’Orleans

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The Southern gate of a wall destroyed in World War 1, Porte D’Orleans looks like it hasn’t gotten it’s act together since. For about a month and a half now, I’ve been living in Paris, and I’ve walked through this hub, maybe 100 f***ing times. It’s not a pretty place. I said it Paris, Porte D’Orleans is NOT a pretty place.

This Porte, or door of Paris is a hectic spot during the day with heavy traffic, and sullen faces.

A bus terminal rests to the Southwest and Southeast; a tram line rolls through the center; and on the North end, Avenue General Leclerc leads you towards the Catacombs of Paris. The area also hosts several homeless men, which is, unfortunately, a very apparent problem in the city.

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It’s still Paris. A woman with a flowing black overcoat and obtrusive sunglasses picks up a well-groomed greyhound before they cross the street; at another instance, two archetypal insta-girls pass with simple white tank tops, combat boots, and plaid pants; a mec with windswept hair and a blue blazer cuts me off; however, most pedestrians are city workers, heading home after long hours.

Skip Port D’Orleans (there’s really nothing to see!) unless it’s mandatory that you walk through it for your hotel, as a transfer point to the tram, or to buy a pack of cigarettes.

A small park beyond the Southwest bus terminals makes a decent place to sit and eat a sandwich or pound a croissant. But, I’d even refrain from buying this snack in Porte D’Orleans.

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At night, it’s the same thing. The place isn’t dodgy, but it surely isn’t an area you’d want to spend a night out, or even stop to get a drink.

If you’re for some reason marooned here, fret not, I’ve compiled a list of nearby bars, which are surprisingly…nice.

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  • 5 Semi-Decent Bars Walking Distance from Porte D’Orleans
  • 1st Entry, Southern Paris
    • coming soon

 

Bise,

Alexander

Ps. Living in large cities over the past 2 years, I’ve seen the bad shape some people are because of economic circumstances. In New York especially, it weighed heavily on my heart.  On my daily A-train commute, two or three homeless people would walk through, some asking for money, some in such poor shape that they couldn’t form the words, due to terrets or other mental disorders, and the masses would act as if these people didn’t exist.  Books and cellphones held over their face, only a few would give them pocket change or something from their TJ’s bag, but this passive approach, in the end, doesn’t solve anything. Below, I’ll link the Bowery mission, a place that I personally have walked by dozens of times when I lived in New York, and I know the difference that they make to the city. For every five likes this post gets, I’ll donate $25 to the mission.

Donate to the Bowery Mission:

https://www.bowery.org/donate/

 

The Blue Notes

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The Blue Notes are comprehensive scribblings about today’s Paris and tonight’s Parisienne nightlife.

And they’re written from my perspective:  a writer who doesn’t like Well drinks but likes to drink well (well, most of the time). A Seattle-raised Brooklynite, who somehow ended up in France. And apparently, a loiterer who likes to sit in front of rundown warehouses.

Continue reading “The Blue Notes”