23, 2004 - - Earlier this month I am sitting in Seat 37J on
American Airlines Flight 42 to Paris when I hear the familiar sounds
of little girls squabbling.
An American Babe/Mommy is being overwhelmed by the difficulty of
keeping three seven- to ten-year-olds corralled while trying to
get their carry-ons into the overhead bins. Meantime other embarking
passengers are pressuring her from the front in their attempts to
stampede to their seats.
A cool head is called
Manfully I step into
the breach. "Let me help you there, little lady," I say
in my best John Wayne, lifting her bags into the overhead bins as
though they were empty.
She's seen this movie, too. "Oh, thank you sir, you're very
kind." I wait for her to say her next line, "And me just
a poor widow woman who hasn't enjoyed a man's company in...it seems
forever," but she doesn't and so hefting the last fifty-pound
behemoth of a suitcase into the bay, I smile my grandfatherly smile
at her young jezebels and suavely collapse overheated and winded
back into Seat 37J.
We arrive at DeGaulle
Airport on time at 9:30 the next morning. The same racket ensues
when we have to hike up the stairs to Customs. The sweet little
girls are spitting mad at each other, but this time there are other
gentlemanly buckos to hand and each grab a kid's carry-on and haul
them up the stairs, again to the gratitude of the Mommy. Hey, what
are two strong arms for?
We get through Customs
unscarred - - unexamined actually - - and I catch a taxi to my friend
Michael's pied-a-terre. The driver does not give me an unrequested
tour of Paris, but takes me straight to Boulevard Voltaire...costs
about 35 Euros.
Michael has his foot
of earth up for sale as he has found another he wishes to buy which
is even closer to his home, so the next day, which I'm spending
alone in Paris, I wake up constantly to pleasant strangers looking
in on my bedroom so as to check out the premises. I figure, what
the hell, it's Paris, these are French, and being all Continental
and everything they're probably unfazed by looking in at some strange
American as he sleeps. Who am I to interfere with the dealing of
prime Paris real estate? So I spend my first day in Paris re-reading
Gore Vidal's "Burr" and dozing while posed attractively
for the locals.
LE DOC ARRIVES...
Doc shows up Thursday
sharply at five pm. We go have coffee, rehearse far too little and
then go visit our friend the French rocknroller Jean-Philippe Thepault
and his more than somewhat beautiful wife Berengere.
I have brought some Wint-o-green Lifesavers from America, something
to stick in my mouth in lieu of a cigarette. I offer one to Jean-Philippe.
He takes it and puts it in his mouth. "Ptah!" he says,
spitting it out. "Qu'est ce que?"
"It's candy," I reply.
"Oh, Berengere, come taste American candy!"
She comes and tastes hers with the same result.
"Ptah! You EAT this?" she asks.
"Well, yeah," I say, "and we like it."
"It tastes like something we put in the toilet bowl,"
Next day, when I relate
this story to Michael, he confirms that, yes, wintergreen is the
universally preferred toilet deodorant aroma in France. I lay off
the Lifesavers for the rest of the trip, lest I become known to
my fans as "Toilet Breath".
My friend Michael, the
noted anthropologist, is currently in the throes of recounting the
ins and outs, if you will, of marriage customs among Dravidian tribesmen.
Day after day he locks himself into his office and draws all kinds
of overlapping circles which represent who can ordinarily marry
whom, understood only by a few specialists in the field...and the
Dravidians, I suppose. It is taxing work, I'm sure. I only mention
this so that you will be impressed by the fact that my circle of
acquaintances is not limited merely to pimps and gangsters, but
extends to famous anthropologists as well. But no one truly respectable.
On Friday, our last
day in Paris, Michael introduces me to the panache, a drink consisting
of basically 7-Up and beer. It is like beer, but refreshing. Or
like 7-Up but alcoholic.
The Doc and I set out
for our first gig, a Tex-Mex biker bar called Tomahawk. We played
there last year, too. It is owned and staffed by an old hippie/biker
dude named Serge and his wife Claudine and an indeterminate number
of daughters and grand-daughters.
Last year because we were pressed for time we couldn't spend the
night in one of Tomahawk's faux teepees, but we bunk in one this
At all of these places
we play food and lodging is provided. The meal at Tomahawk is basically
a pot roast of beef and potatoes, but along with the cactus salad
it is one of the premier gustatory experiences ever. After we eat,
it is time to perform.
It is the first time
in a year that the Doc and I have played together so there are some
bumps in the road but we arrive at the end of the show not having
gotten into a knife fight or worse and to great appreciation of
the audience. They file out and as is also the custom here the staff
and the musicians gather round the table for a last glass of wine...but
it takes about three hours of herbs; Corsican beer (great stuff);
exchanging toasts and in the case of The Doc and one of the daughters,
glances; and listening to Bob Seger to drink the wine until it is
The Tomahawk is located
in Chantenay-St. Imbert on Route National Seven (RN7), just south
of Nevers, which is itself about 260 kilometers below Paris. Tell
Serge I sent you. You will be adopted.
Next morning, The Doc
and I set off for our second gig, at Le Cornemuse in Arleuf.