Today was one of those days that was going to be uneventful and ended up being really busy. My work day was pretty full but unexciting, but then I got a text message from a friend from Chicago who was in Paris for the day. He was going to go to Le Rex tonight for the Oslo record label show, and since Fantômette was already planning to go as well, I decided to go, too.
A bit later in the afternoon, I get a text message from Fantômette, saying that she’s having people over to her place around 22h00 for some drinks before going out to the Rex. In the meanwhile, I hear from my friend from Chicago, saying that he’d be up for a drink in the evening at some point. After checking with Fantômette, I decide to take him with me to Fantô’s place.
At 15h00, I had a meeting with the doctoral workshop here at the UC Paris center, which was the usual parade of academic cock-swinging. A friend of mine had been presenting a chapter from his dissertation at the workshop, so a few of us needed to go out with him for a few drinks to soothe his nerves after a couple of hours of defending his ideas to a pack of ravenous scholars. We headed over to a kitschy but surprisingly non-lame “English Pub” in the area and had a pitcher of beer, and then went our separate ways by about 19h00.
I called my friend from Chicago, who told me that he had to head by his old restaurant (he’s a cook) to say hi to his co-workers and pick up some documents around 20h30, so I took advantage of the break in the evening to head home and take a moment to unwind. By about 22h00, I got a call from him, and we made plans to meet at Châtelet, near Fantômette’s place.
We eventually made our way to Fantô’s place by 23h30, where we hung out and had a few drinks and chatted. Among the group gathered there were my companions from the Epic Berlin New Year’s, so a lot of our conversation was dedicated to reminiscing over that night. My friend from Chicago is himself French and lived for about five years in Paris, and since he was very active in the techno scene (and also an emerging DJ) part of our conversation was also spent figuring out which friends we had in common and so on. I don’t know if this would be a universal definition, but it certainly seems that part of what makes a scene a scene is this ritual of tracing out connections and placing yourself into a social web of other “scenesters.”
We also had an interesting discussion about “party friends.” What’s interesting about party friends is that they are “superficial” friendships in one sense, and yet intensely close in another sense. Or maybe they’re both superficial and close…or at least intense. What I mean by “superficial” is that party friends are people that you see only in one context, and it’s a context where social norms encourage you to avoid serious, “heavy” or generally non-fun situations. Club life tends to be seen as unfolding in a different plane than daily life—“real life”—and so friendships based on night life are seen to be somehow less real. It seems to be partially about knowledge, too: if the only aspect of someone that I know is their nocturnal aspect, this is seen as not really knowing them—or at least not knowing them enough to be a true friend. On the other hand, the time you spend together in the night-world can be much more intense than in daily life, and in a way we risk more, expose ourselves more, and ultimately do more together in those few hours we share once or twice a week. And so it is that you can have friends that are something like intense acquaintances or distant friends; you might only see them once in a while, and yet you share an important part of your life with them. Hmm, there’s probably more to say about this…
Anyway, by 1h00 we realized that we were running a bit behind and risked missing the headliner’s live set, so we started a very, very brisk walk in the freezing cold to get to the Rex. It was only a Thursday night, so there was no long lineup and no cover at the door. The coat check was a bit of a mess, mind you. There were a couple of rowdy teenagers behind us in line, being endlessly annoying and pretty rude. In typical “French service industry” style, we commiserated with the coat-check girl about how annoying drunk young clubbers are for nearly 5 minutes while they waited behind us, and nobody seemed to find this worthy of any complaint.
We dispersed for a little while, as we made the rounds of people we knew at the club. This was our first night at Le Rex since the new year (as we pointed out to each other several times), so we had to make a point of wishing everyone we knew a happy new year. My friend from Chicago knows a lot of folks in the scene as well, so he was gone for a long while, visiting with everyone.
There seemed to be a back-to-back DJ set going on as we arrived on the dancefloor, but none of us could figure out who they were before the set ended. By about 2h30 or so, Johnny D, the headliner, was doing a live set over in the corner to the right of the DJ booth. Both the DJ set before and Johnny D’s live set were really great; they were stylistically more minimal house than minimal techno, with an emphasis on acoustic-sounding percussion, flexible rhythmic patterns, funk-inspired melodic snippets and the occasional vocal element. The whole texture was a bit heavier and more pounding than what I usually prefer, but the sets were still great.
At some point during the set, I felt a hand grip the back of my neck gently and stay there. Since I’m pretty tactile with my friend from Chicago, I was expecting it to be him, but instead I turned around to find that it was another friend. It was actually a guy that I would consider more an acquaintance than a friend, so the casual physical affection caught me off guard. In an odd sort of way, that gesture caused me to “update” how I saw our relationship from “occasional buddy” to “friend.” In Paris, a city where many forms of physical contact are much more restrained than where I come from, these kinds of moments confuse and then re-organize my boundaries of touch with a friend. By venturing to touch me in a way that casual male acquaintances usually don’t, he created an opening for us to develop our own norms of touch—an opening that I accepted by wrapping an arm around his waist. It seems like a lot of my more tactile relationships in Paris have developed this way: we start by avoiding casual touch beyond the traditional kiss of greeting and farewell, but then at some point someone ventures a bit more and suddenly we’re a lot less timid about handling each other. At least some of it has to do with affordability and risk, methinks. Signaling that you’re flexible or open about touch reduces the perceived stakes of physical contact, and this makes tactile intimacy a risk worth taking.
So the rest of the night was a lot of fun, but I had to go home relatively early. I had to accompany some students to Chartres the next day, and that meant I had to be up at 6h30 in the morning. So at 4h00 I headed back home and got a couple of hours of sleep.