In the end, I never made it to the second night of the Backstage Minimal Festival. I lost 7€ in not going, but that would've been half of my taxi fare back, so I considered it a wash. Besides, it's not like my evening wasn't full.
Well, after hauling my ass out of bed at 9am in preparation for the students that I was certain would arrive today, I ended up spending the majority of the day in my room, waiting for the students to arrive. And they never did. I think, in retrospect, that some of the students (i.e. 3 of them) had given the Centre their date of departure rather than their date of arrival. When you're taking an overnight flight, that makes a difference. Either way, I ended up spending the majority of the day at home blogging and reading. I realize now that I had promised to blog about my adventures with Traktor. I'll get around to that in a day or two.
As evening came on, I had made plans to join a friend who had just arrived in Paris for drinks. The plan was to head to a bar in the Marais called Nyx, which had apparently just opened. The place was a neat little boulangerie that had been converted into a bar. By the time we got there (around 10:30) the place was packed. It was mostly a lesbian crowd, with a fair amount of gay men mixed in. We pushed our way through, got a couple of beers, and settled for standing in the middle of the room. Although it was fun to be in the middle of all the hubbub, we eventually got tired of standing and sweating, so we headed out in search of a terrasse.
Since we were on rue Roi de Sicile, we had the option of going into the old Jewish quarter or the GLBT area for drinks (I love that the two areas are practically on top of each other). We wandered down rue Sainte-Croîx de la Bretonnerie, which is sort of the main drag of gaytown in Paris, and eventually settled on a bar intersecting rue des archives. As the night progressed, we downed beers, people-watched, chatted about our various interests, and commented on the fashion decisions of passers-by. I've noticed that there is a general feeling of exuberance in fashion in Europe; people are a bit more bold, they attempt a bit more with colour and design, and are willing to follow the whims of designers to a greater degree than North America. The result, however, is mixed; some people accomplish feats of style that are simply impossible within a North American context, while others create fashion catastrophes that practically bend space and time around them, such is their suckiness. As you can imagine, these extremes are even more extreme in the gay areas. It made for some fantastic eveningtide entertainment.
As we parted ways around 2am, things suddenly got rather bizarre. I had already decided that it wasn't worth the trouble of heading over to Batofar for the last night of minimal techno. I walked down rue des archives toward Châtelet. As I went around BHV, I saw a man asking for change from a passerby. I passed them, not paying much attention to what was being said. After a moment, I heard an "excusez moi" close to my shoulder. The same man approached me, offering to shake my hand while apologizing for the intrusion. With polite but very rapid speech, he explained that he wasn't a racaille. Racaille can mean a lot of things, in French, but it most generally means "undesireables," "scum," or "criminals," and at some point came to be used to refer to a singular person. Racaille also carries significant racial undertones, as it was the used by the Minister of the Interior during the riots in Paris banlieue (Val d'Oise) as a way of referring to the mostly arabic, muslim population that was involved in the riots.
So this man, who certainly looked to be of Arab-Maghrebi origin, insisted that he wasn't racaille, pointed to his rather worn Asics tennis shoes and saying "See? I'm not a racaille, I'm a beau mec!" Beau mec means "handsome guy" literally, but can also mean "respectable" or "well-groomed." Admittedly, he was dressed in appropriate clothing, didn't smell, and was clean-shaven; on the other hand, his weather-worn face, the scar over his eye and the last traces of a bruise suggested that all was not well with him. He continued apologizing and insisting on his distance from the racaille category for a minute or so, all the while shaking my hand with an urgent grip, before finally asking me for money. I gave him a 2€ piece, thinking the transaction was over, but instead:
"You don't have any more? A ticket restaurant would be great. No? Respect, man. I respect you, you know, like a brother. Because you're honest not like those people, you know. Where are you headed? Châtelet? I'll walk you over. Man, nobody will rob you when you're with me. Come on, take my hand, I'll protect you. Nobody messes with me. Everybody respects me. I'm not racaille, though. I used to have money, I'm just going through something right now. I used to pull down thousands of euros. The ladies would just give me money. You see these shoes? Hey, let's get a coffee. Come on, there's no need to worry, let's get a coffee and chat for a while like civilized people. You seem really cool. No, man, it's OK, you won't miss your bus, another one will come in 30 minutes. Which bus do you take? Oh that's not coming for 30 minutes anyway. We'll get a coffee and be back before the bus leaves. Come on, this way."
This man was clearly manic. For approximately thirty minutes, he took me on a high-intensity tour of the block, insisting that he knew of a café "just around the corner" that was open. All the time, he would insist that we lock elbows or hold hands as if we were best friends. And, I don't doubt that he was sincerely convinced that we were, at that moment, best friends. At one point, he found a bar and approached, only to have the guard look at him, shake his head, and say "No, not him. It's not even worth letting him in." A few minutes later, two blocks north of Châtelet, he tried to enter a bar. I tried to tell him it wasn't a café, at this point hoping to convince him that nothing was open and anyway I was about to miss my bus, but he charged forward anyway, only to be rebuffed by the bouncer. This time, the bouncer (a thin white gay guy) closed the door until only his shoulders fit outside, and said, "Tonight we're only open for regulars." I saw my bus pull up ahead of me, and used that as a distraction. Still riding his mania, he was convinced that he would help me catch the bus, just by grabbing my arm and running. Thankfully, the bus stopped at the next red light and, when I knocked on the door, the driver opened it. With a mix of relief and regret, I jumped on the bus and left my momentary companion behind. I felt relief because I was spared any further awkwardness, but also regret that for this man there was little relief in sight. I also felt embarassed and ashamed for being turned away at two bars with this man holding my hand, and also guilty that I was embarassed or that all I had given him that night was 2€ and a few minutes of company.
Well, that's it. I didn't find a way to close this story or make a comforting rationalization about the outcome. I don't have anything particularly enlightening or profound to say about his or my lot, nor about the why and how of our meeting. It was a bizarre, awkward, tragic way to end an evening and I didn't sleep well. I doubt he slept at all.