18 April 2017

Montmartre: Plus Ça Change...

Time hadn't smoothed the 18th Arrondissement’s rough edges. Little had changed. The internet café had closed, as had the massage parlor where I’d see a Thai girl in a white dress smoking outside every time I passed by. The doorways that would later be filled with lithe silhouettes and stained velvet curtains were closed.  Pigalle’s narrow streets were dead in the daytime and not much better at night, though if you liked your vices cheap, dirty, and served with a sidecar of penicillin, it was glad to suck you in. Gangs of loud hustlers shouted at each other and forced their wares and cons on scared tourists. I ignored their dirty french and continued on, hands in my pockets, carefully watching the pale junkies pacing near the public toilets. 

I crossed Boulevard de Rochechouart and continued north, up through Cligancourt. Little had changed. Rue des Martyrs was still covered in a layer of dust and dog shit. Dog shit saints, I thought to myself, and it wasn't as funny as I wanted it to be. It wasn't funny at all, really. 

It had been 8 years since I walked through Montmartre and met Karl at Le Vrai Paris on Rue de Abbesses, but my feet still knew the cobblestoned hills and as I passed the red bricks of Eglise Saint-Jean de Montmartre and the carousel at the Abbesses Metro, everything became familiar. 

A block later and I saw the black and white striped canopy hanging over the sidewalk tables.

Voila. Le Vrai Paris. 

I sat at the table I had always taken and ordered a carafe of wine. They no longer served carafes, so I settled for a large glass. The waiter brought me an ashtray when I lit a cigarette and put my pack down. 

The combination of the smoke and cheap bordeaux still tasted green to me. It was the last of my first memories of Paris that had not, like me, been corrupted by time. 

I thought about Karl. I thought about what I had become in 8 years, how like him I was, but how different too. He had never really liked violence. He just happened to be very good at it. He didn't dislike it either: he was simply neutral. Zéro

I had developed a taste for the way it felt like a game to me; the way it felt to turn the tables on someone, to feign weakness, infirmity, or gullibility and then simply... hunt. 

I wanted it to bother me, the way that it used to at first, but it didn't. It also didn't bother me that it didn't bother me, so I was left somehow blank, like a mirror that didn't reflect anything back. 

No. It never bothered me. 

I longed to feel something other than the desire to feel something. Pigalle was a flea market of cheap feeling, cheap art, cheap desires, cheap thrills, all of which I had enjoyed at one time or another during the week that became a month that became a year in Paris before I sought my trade not in words but in arms and dark places.

I glanced at my watch. Almost 1630. The sun had started its lazy descent and the shadows began to change. I reached down to search my rucksack for a notebook, hoping to try to write something. I heard the scrape of metal chair legs and when I looked up, pulling my Moleskine from the depths of the bag, Karl was sitting next to me, grinning and chomping on a cigar that he briefly held a torch lighter to.

"Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose, eh?" he sneered, blowing a thick plume of smoke into the air. "Have you thought of anything to fucking write about yet?" 

Time hadn't smoothed his rough edges. Little had changed.

(Fiction related to Le Vrai Paris and the related unfinished novel)