by Jonah Raskin
Read Next Stop: France, by Jonah Raskin (the beginning of his Travelogue to France).
Also Paris I: Memories & Laughter
(Swans - December 2, 2013) The music ended at 10:00 p.m. and that seemed awfully early to me. After all, it was a Thursday night in the 19th arrondissement in Paris and down in Pigale the evening had only just started to warm up. Rumor had it that Eva Pritsky's joint had recently run afoul of les flics -- the cops, if you don't mind the translation. It seems that some of the patrons had been smoking la beuh -- weed -- on the premises and that's against the law in the 19th and in every other arrondissement in Paris. So, putting a stop to the music and to the drinks -- red wine and white wine at three euros a glass -- at 10:00 p.m. looked like a good way to show the neighbors and les flics that Eva knew well enough to clean up her own house, which has often been advertised as a flea market by day and a "clandestine bar" by night. It's also been called a bistro, but there was no sign of food Thursday night.
Everyone at Eva's, including myself and a French woman I've known for years, had come to hear the music by Jay Leroy and his quartet -- a drummer, and two guitarists. Leroy warbled the lyrics to American classics such as "Bye, Bye Blue" and "Ain't Misbehavin," which has been performed for decades by the likes of Fats Waller and Billie Holiday. Leroy has his own distinct versions of the songs that he sings. Wearing a rumpled suit and a kind of fez, he performed in a style that he calls farouche, which is a takeoff on marouche, or French gypsy music of the kind that can be heard on the soundtrack to Woody Allen's goofy romantic postcard, "Midnight in Paris."
The French woman who had guided me to Eva's little place explained that farouche means "fierce, wild." When I looked up the word on line, it said, "shyness coupled with an air of sullen, fey charm." Someone also explained that the band played "drunky love songs." Whatever you call them they were good. Indeed, Leroy is charming, sullen, shy, and oddly wild all at the same time. After a couple of tunes, I was snapping my fingers and drumming with my hands on the rickety table in front of me. A couple of women in the crowd were dancing, though there was hardly enough room to move one's hips from side-to-side.
Eva's is really tiny. In fact, she urges guests specifically not to bring the whole family because they couldn't all fit into her flea market and clandestine bar. The bar itself is tiny -- maybe two feet long and curved. The chairs are old and funky and not arranged in any order. There are also a few old sofas in a back corner that were occupied by couples who seemed more interested in one another than in the music, but that didn't bother Leroy or the band. They played one set, took a break, and then came back and played another set. By 10:00 p.m. everyone in the place was standing and clapping and smiling. I hadn't seen so many happy, smiling faces and so many happy, moving bodies in a long time. Jay Leroy's music was good for the soul on a Thursday night in the 19th.
My friend and I walked down the rue d'Eupatoria toward the Metro Menilmontant. We found a Vietnamese restaurant still open and serving very tasty Pho Ga. I had the beef Pho and my friend had the chicken at nine euros each. By midnight, I was in the Metro on the way home, still a bit jet-lagged and ready for bed. (To Be Continued.)
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About the Author
Jonah Raskin is a professor emeritus in communication studies at Sonoma State University in California and is the author of Field Days: A Year of Farming, Eating and Drinking Wine, The Mythology of Imperialism: A revolutionary Critique of British Literature and Society in the Modern Age, and For the Hell of It: the Life and Times of Abbie Hoffman. He lived and taught in Belgium in the 1980s. He is the editor of The Radical Jack London: Writings on War and Revolution. He also worked in Hollywood in the 1980s and wrote the story for the movie Homegrown. To learn more about Jonah, please read his entry on Wikipedia. (back)