In a crowd, you’re just one of the overheard.
Walking down Rue des Martyrs the other day I crossed paths with a young father and his three-or-so-year-old son. A police car was racing up the street in the opposite direction, siren blaring and lights flashing. When I passed the guy, I heard him saying to the kid, in a patient pedagogical tone of voice, “No, it’s not a taxidermist. It’s the police.”
I love absurd julienne slices of life like that. To put it another way, I am an incorrigible snoop. For me, one of the advantages of living in a big city is having lots of opportunities to eavesdrop on strangers.
Here’s another of my favorites: I was standing at the bar in one of those alleged “Irish pubs” that Paris seems to have on every block when I overheard the following exchange (in English):
Young guy (to bartender): “I’ll have a Guinness please.”
Guy next to him: “Hi! Are you Irish?”
Young guy: “No, American.”
Guy next to him (shouting): “I should f–ing kill you!”
Fortunately, the verbal violence was not followed by physical. So we didn’t have to call a taxidermist.
I should also admit that my unsavory curiosity extends beyond the audible. During last summer’s heat wave I went to my favorite butcher’s shop on Rue Lepic to get a chicken. Since this was France, where butchers keep poultry carcasses whole until purchased, the bird had to be beheaded and befeeted and begutted and so forth, which takes a while, and since I was also very thirsty I decided to do my waiting at the café across the street in the company of a glass of something cold.
Once inside I immediately noticed two things:
1) I was in the now-famous Café des 2 Moulins, as seen in the hit movie Amélie – which I realized not so much from recognizing it as from ruling out any other explanation for the high density of Japanese tourists and wall-sized Amélie posters.
2) A fair number of the other patrons were would-be writers from out of town.
How could I tell? They were young, seated alone in a famous café with a notebook and pencil in front of them, staring thoughtfully and distractedly into the distance. It’s the look, also quite common around Saint Germain, that says, “Here’s me: writer. In Paris!”
I happened to be sitting just behind a young woman in the sidewalk (smoking) section who looked to be about the right age for Creative Writing 102. Her table held a ruled tablet open to the first page with two and a half lines scribbled on it, a brimming full ashtray and three empty coffee cups. She was nursing her fourth and, to complete the tableau, wearing a beret.
Being me, I was aching to see what she had written. To my delight she got up to go to the WC, giving me a clear look at her novel in progress. Here’s what she had so far (quoted in its entirety and translated verbatim from the French):
“The telephone rang in the big apartment. Michelle, groggy after yet another long night of lovemaking,…”
I guess she was drinking decaf, because that was it. And she didn’t make any more progress by the time I drank up, paid up and went back across the street to pick up my dinner, so I never did find out who was calling Michelle and why. I like to think it was a taxidermist, phoning to say, “I should f–ing kill you!” If she could write her way out of that opening, she’d have a future in fiction.
© 2010 Paris UpdateFavorite
An album of David Jaggard’s comic compositions is now available for streaming on Spotify and Apple Music, for purchase (whole or track by track) on iTunes and Amazon, and on every other music downloading service in the known universe, under the title “Totally Unrelated.”
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