You get very lonely in Paris because you see so many people on the sidewalks at the cafés drinking and smoking and laughing. There is a constant reminder that you are walking home by yourself with your dinner and your rosé in your backpack.
I don’t mind being alone that much but I was happy when Harold texted me on Saturday late afternoon and said let’s grab a drink. I said sure and asked where. “Les Étages,” he said. It was on Rue Vieille du Temple, less than a five minute walk away. We decided to meet at six.
It was an unseasonably mild February and the tiny bar was spilling onto the sidewalk. The cramped single room on the rez de chaussée tightly held a bar and a few small tables. Once you ordered your drink, however, you could bring it upstairs to a couple of levels of other tiny rooms where you could sit and look out over the street.
Harold knew the bartender and kicked off a quick conversation with her and then we ordered. Red for him, white for me. We found a seat on the second floor by the window. The table tilted each time you touched it threatening to spill our drinks and I found myself clutching my glass. The thought of an accidental spill and two flights of stairs for refill was frightening.
“Tu aimes bien la vie à Paris?” Harold asked. Harold had been in Paris, in Le Marais, for seven months. He was also from San Francisco and I had known him for a long time though we only saw each other every few years. “Moitié, moitié” I replied. “Ma famille me manque mais Paris ça roule.” I miss my family but Paris is great. Harold added, “you’re accent is good. It’s better than mine. I can tell you’re married to a French woman.”
Later we moved on to a restaurant nearby, Camille. The waiter too knew Harold and I was beginning to see a pattern. They spoke for a few minutes. Harold was asking him how to say things in French slang. The waiter left and returned quickly with some champagne. We ordered dinner and more wine. After we finished, we ordered a calva. It was strong and smoky. The friendly waiter kept filling our glasses and I was starting to feel a bit heady. Maud texted me and I started to write back. Harold said, “do you know the slang for a little drunk? Text her that t’es pompette.”
I was ready to call it quits but Harold suggested one more drink at La Perle. It was just around the corner. He said his friend may stop by. Okay, one more. It was still early for a Saturday and the bar wasn’t too full, but like us people were arriving. I ordered drinks for the two of us and it took forever. When I finally delivered the drink to Harold I said, “the waitress is beautiful and I think she hates me.” Harold defended her, “she’s just stressed.” It was getting crowded now.
A trio of Québécois came in, a man and woman couple and their bearded sidekick buddy. Harold naturally picked up a conversation with them right away. They had just moved to Paris as well and worked for a mining company or something. They had been out too and were having a boozy celebratory night. The single guy with the scrubby beard grabbed me and asked me to join him. He needed a wing man to talk to some girls. He would not take no for an answer. We walked over to two pretty girls just down the bar on barstools. He started talking to them but they didn’t understand him. He kept trying but no dice. They only spoke English. “It’s just my luck” he said in drunken Québécois French when we had turned away.
A little later I found myself talking to these girls again. One was from England and had lived in Paris for three years. She proudly stated that she didn’t know any French and doesn’t want to learn. The other prettier one was from Albania and had been here less than a year. She wanted to learn but hadn’t started yet. I asked them how they knew each other and they told me they had met online but were not a couple.
I found Harold again talking to some new people. Unlike the English and Albanian girls Harold was constantly learning the language. He was now talking to the young Jimmy-Page-circa-1969-lookalike bartender asking him if this is how you say this, if this is how you say that. There was a group of about eight of us now all talking and taking turns buying rounds. Harold seemed to be the inconspicuous center of the group, a friendly sun with planets in orbit, gently pulling new ones in. Round and round we went.
As I went to buy another round of drinks the lights came on and the bar was closing. It was past 1am. I was shocked and thought it cannot be that late. I looked at my watch to confirm. It was true. For a second I thought of going somewhere else to keep the night going, but the reality of the hour sobered me up enough to realize I was pretty drunk. Out on the sidewalk I said goodnight to Harold and started walking toward my apartment. The small cobblestoned streets of Le Marais seemed to carry me home.