Jan Galligan
Paris, 1995

 Overt tous les jours jusqu'a minuit.
Monday 6 November
Tonight we have returned to Piccola Italia for dinner. We've spent the day wandering, with some deliberateness, the southern section of Paris, including Montparnasse, Odeon, Val de Grace, St. Germain, Goeblins, and the Latin Quarter. We set out for the Luxembourg Gardens. As usual, we passed Gar Montparnasse, Denfert Rochereau, and Place Catalogne. Following my notes, we decided to hunt for the retail store of Brett Computers which we found eventually on Rue Montparnasse, near Hotel Renoir, just across the street from the TexMex Resturant. I introduced myself to the store manager and explained that I am 'mon amis de B.J.' He asked if I was from Houston, and I explained that I was from New York. I was given a tour of the store while Lillian watched Dallas, dubbed in French, on one of the computers on display, which had video and sound card adapters for showing TV.

 After the store, we found the Gardens and spent time in the sun. I plan to go back soon, on Photo-Day to document the Statue of Liberty which stands there in the park. From the Gardens, we walked north until we reached the Seine, at the pont St. Michel. We walked along the Quai Grandes Augustins and were treated to classic vistas of Paris, postcard views, in the flesh. We stopped at the kiosks and bought typical french postcards for all of our friends back in the states. By this time the sun was going down and we were cold, so we looked for a cafe where we could get hot chocolate and tea. This took us into the art district, and we did a lot of looking in windows. We stopped in one gallery, which uncharacteristically had contemporary art. The show was thematic, featuring works about books. One work was a series of diptychs, made by cutting off the top half of two paperbacks and exchanging them so that the titles were chopped in half, the top halves switched. Another work had paperbacks about specific art styles shredded and put into clear plastic containers shaped like paperbacks. The most interesting work was a group of small, passport sized notebooks filled with obsessive notes and sketches. 

By this time, we were ready for the movies, so we worked our way south to Place de Italie, to find the Grand Movie Palace. We planned to see Waterworld. We did, in a 300 seat theatre with a screen 35 feet high by 110 feet wide. The room was filled with speakers, so we had a thoroughly absorbing experience. I began to feel nauseous from the constant shifting of the images of water. The film is a totally absurd story of an 8 year old girl who is taken from her parents and kept on an artificial reef-city until she is rescued by a half-man half-fish who sails the seas like the rime of the ancient mariner. The world is all water due to a natural-man-made disaster. Everyone, including Dennis Hopper, and a Robin Williams-look-sound-alike, is sailing around trying to find Dry Land which is depicted in a tatoo on the girl's back. 

It takes them the entire movie: twenty battles between sailboats and jetskis, two hundred explosions, two thousand deaths and two million delays to realize that the map on the girl's back is upside down and that they have been sailing away from their goal instead of towards it. In the end, the girl and her adopted mother stand on the shore watching the man-fish sail off into the sunset. After the film, we took the Metro from Place d' Italie to Gar Montparnasse, but not without wandering around below ground through twenty different tunnels; first in search of the correct train platform (the colors on my map of Paris, from Border's Bookstore are different than the colors of the subways) and later in search of the correct exit. We finally got out and headed for Piccola Italia, where we are now, having dinner. 

We were here last night for a late vodka and camabert. Tonight we've ordered pasta with mushrooms and creme sauce and a salad of tomatoes, tunafish and corn. We've also ordered a bottle of Frascati. What we noticed first, last night, was that the ceiling is covered in playing cards, stuck into the ceiling tiles. It seemed like an amusing decoration. Tonight, in the bathroom, I've noticed the ceiling covered with empty cigarette boxes. There's an electronic scale which when you stand on it and push the button as instructed, reads your weight as 888.8. Then a tinny voice says 'ERROR'. The toilet has a sign that says NO PARKING, and the door has a sign saying 'Limit: two minutes' attached to a clock with no hands. While we're eating I see the owner, a very shy man about my age who wears a red sweatshirt with the resturant's name and logo in white, go over to the table of four men next to us. Two of them have been caught up in a heated discussion since we came in; Lillian says they are talking politics. I hear the word american a few times. The owner has put a small black rabbit on the table, in a bread-basket which is covered with a napkin. 

The resturant is small, the walls are covered in amateurish art, the shelves laden with similar sculptures, and the windows covered with art-show posters. The eight tables have red and white checked table cloths, covered with red and white checked paper covers. In addition to the owner, who seems an equal mix of french and italian, and the men at the next table, there is the owner's compatriot, who was here the night before, and two older men, one of whom I see is the man depicted in a newspaper article on the wall next to our table. He's the one who has done all of the sculptures and some of the paintings. He looks a lot like Picasso in his later years. According to the newspaper, his name is Rino. He seems to be here with a friend. The younger friend of the owner, sitting at a table in the back of the resturant, has been shuffling and sorting a deck of cards. At one point, I joked with him that he was the one who threw all of the cards onto the ceiling. He laughed. The only one missing from last night, is Louis Berger (the shepherd). Lillian and I had a long talk with Louis, about the states, and his desire to see NYC and San Francisco. He said he spends a lot of time visiting friends in London, and that he speaks french, italian, english, german, and a little spanish, 'un poco de espanol'.

 I see the owner reaching down to the rabbit, and he pulls a 200 franc note from the rabbit's ear. Two of the men at the table laugh and applaud; the other two go on talking vigorously. The owner folds up the money, rubs his hands together, opens them to show the francs disappeared. He rubs his hands again, and produces a folded piece of paper. He opens it to show that it is a part of the paper table cloth, exactly the size and shape of the franc note. He folds up the paper cloth, claps his hands and produces the francs once again. Cheers from two men; more conversation from the other two. Next he shows one of the men how to feed the rabbit by wetting two fingers with white wine and letting the rabbit lick it off. 

Our dinner is just about finished, so we order vodka and tea. We've been laughing and clapping along with the others, enjoying the show. In the background, the patriotic italian songs have segued into euro-disco and are now moving toward 50's american songs like Volarie and other Bobby Darin tunes, without the vocals. The owner brings us our drinks and goes over to give the four men their bill. Resturant checks in Paris come on little pieces of calculator tape, called l'addition. The owner takes their bill and writes on it. Then he folds it up and rubs his hand together. He takes the paper out again and unfolds it, holding it up to the light. The addition on the l'addition has disappeared, leaving only the hand-writing. He folds the bill up again, rubs his hands together, takes the bill out, unfolds it and hands it back to them. The addition has returned. He rolls the bill up into a small tube. He asks one of the men for his cigarette. He holds the bill to the cigarette. It bursts into flame, WHOOSH! L'addition drops to the table. One of the men picks it up. It is still intact; the handwriting has disappeared. The four men leave. Two of them laughing, the other two carrying on with their argument. 

The owner comes back to our table, and after struggling with french, spanish and english, introduces himself as Fausto. Fausto has a deck of cards. He pulls eight cards from the deck and puts them on the table, face down, in two piles of four cards each. One pile is red, the other blue. He tells Lillian that the cards are all Queens. He asks her to name one suit for the red cards, either hearts or diamonds and one for the blue cards, either clubs or spades. The hearts are called corazon and the clubs are flores, the queens are riena, but I get the idea. Lillian picks the queen of diamonds and the queen of clubs. Fausto waves his hands over the cards and says that the two cards she has named have changed places, red with blue. He turns over one card from each pile, and it is true. We clap. Fausto leaves. He comes back with a new deck of cards. This time he asks Lillian to pick a card, and then forces one on her, which turns out to be a blank card with handwriting on it. It says 'Choisir un autre carte'. He takes it back. He forces another card on her, a Joker. He takes it back. He leaves. He comes back with a magic marker. He lets Lillian take a card. He tells her to write her name on it, on the face. It's a five of diamonds, but that doesn't matter. He puts the card back in the deck and has her pick another card, ten of hearts. He takes the card and writes his name, Fausto, on the back of the card, and returns it to the deck. He shuffles the cards, fans them, and has Lillian pick a card. It's the five of diamonds, her card. Her name is still written on it. He turns the card over. There's his name, Fausto, on the back. Fausto pulls out a chair and puts Lillian's card onto the ceiling with all the others. When we look up, we notice that they all have names written on them. They didn't before; we swear it's true, honest. Fausto comes back with a wooden guillotine. It has a hole in the wooden slat which would be the knife. He asks me to put my finger in the hole of the guillotine. I do. He chops. My finger is intact. He opens the frame of the guillotine . My finger is now in the hole of the wooden slat. I haven't felt a thing. He comes back with a clear plastic guillotine. It has two holes. One big enough for my finger, and one big enough for a small breadstick. The holes are surrounded by what he tells us is blood. This time there is a real blade in the knife. He puts a bread-stick in the small hole at the bottom. He gets me to put my finger in the big hole. He chops. I feel it, but my finger is intact. The breadstick is chopped in two. This time, I know how it works. There are two blades. One above and one below my finger. The top blade is stopped by my finger, the bottom blade, hidden by the blood, emerges to chop the bread. Viola. Fausto comes back to our table with a pencil. He shows us that the point is dull. He says he can sharpen it magically. He puts the point end into his fist and turns it around slowly, as if to sharpen it. It begins to emerge from his hand, eraser end first. When it's all the way out, it is sharp. Great, another opening for me.

 While Fausto is in the kitchen, no doubt getting another trick ready; I get a pen from my jacket. When he comes back, I say 'excuse me, but I want to show you something. Observe, an ordinary pen.' I hand it to him to examine. He looks it over, takes off the cap, and hands it back to me. I tap it on the table a few times. 'Now watch', I say. I hold it lightly between my thumb and forefinger. I shake my hand up and down. The speed of my movement causes an optical illusion that makes the pen look like rubber. 'Viola', I say. He claps. He leaves. Fausto comes back with a five franc coin. He gives it to me, to inspect. He says that with magic, and heat he can melt a hole in the center, as if it were made of chocolate. Sounds good to me. He rubs it between his thumb and forefinger for a while. Nothing happens. 'It needs more heat', he says. He asks Lillian for her cigarette. He rubs some more, holding the cigarette near his thumb. Slowly, the cigarette emerges from the bottom of his hand. He opens his fingers. The cigarette is sticking through a hole in the center of the coin, exactly the size of the cigarette tube. Amazing. We ask for l'addition. I imagine it going up in flames. Why not? 

As we wait for Fausto to come back with the bill, I notice the older men talking to Fausto's friend, who has stopped playing with his cards, but not before doing a whole series of mid-air shuffles that I had watched out the corner of my eye. They are inspecting a series of color xeroxes that Rino has brought with him. Lillian and I go over to see what they are looking at. Fausto comes out with a bottle, not our check. He says it is a special drink that his uncle in Italy has made. We should try it. 'Taste it', he says, 'but not too fast!' It is grappa. An incredibly strong alcohol. It tastes very smooth and then burns its way down the esophagus. Lillian has gotten into a discussion with Rino and the other two men. She has switched them to spanish and at first they think she is from Columbia, or the south of Spain. 'No,' she says, 'Puerto Rico'. 'Ah,' says the other, 'I have four cousins there.' Now we're on a roll, only it's two- o'clock in the morning. Good thing we only live half-a-block away.

 Rino talks enthusiastically about his pictures which are done in a very semi-realistic manner, much like Picasso. The subjects are horses and caballos, until we get deeper into the pile. Next are images of cows in congress. Then a picture of a very small man riding the back of a giant. Rino says that the large man is a patron of the resturant who can eat eight plates of pasta at one meal, including two of Rino's own. The next picture shows a horse and a nude woman. The next is Rino, mounting a nude woman, from the rear. Finally there is an image of a horse, seen from the rear, its legs spread wide, pissing onto the ground. All of the paintings have been made on pieces of unprimed wood, so the color copies show the grain of the wood with great detail. The copies are all at life-size. Rino's friend says that we have come to the end of an era in art, the time of Picasso has passed, and that we are now moving into a new period, the age of Rino. Given Rino's age, this era will be short lived. Rino says that Picasso was an interesting artist, but his fault was in doing the same work again and again.

 Rino switches subjects suddenly and begins to speak more intimately, but also with more vigor. He is talking about Mussolini. Lillian is doing simultaneous translation for me. Rino's friend is smiling. To paraphrase what he's saying: Things were good in Italy when Mussolini was alive. People were happy. The country was strong and respected. There was a force in the land. 'When a tree grows crookedly', he says holding his arm out in front of him, his hand pointing down like a limp member, 'it can never be straight again'. He thrusts his arm in the air, above his head, a salute to the gods. Fausto comes over and says something softly to Rino and his friend. We hand Fausto the 150 francs for our evenings entertainment. Lillian and I head out onto rue de Vouille, street of wonderment, and make our way in the night to Villa des Charmilles, town of a thousand charms.

 Next: Pourrais-Je voir quelque chose de meillur?


Last change: July 24, 1998

Copyright 1995,1998
Jan Galligan
All Rights Reserved