Jan Galligan
Paris, 1995

Pourrais-Je voir quelque chose de meillur?
Wednesday Nov 8.
During dinner, I begin to sneeze uncontrollably and finally have to admit that I am allergic to cats. Lynn offers to put out the cat. I tell her that it won't make much difference. I tell her about Rino and his idea that cats are magical animals, unlike dogs, which he see as worthless. Lynn jokes about how any animal, in a Paris apartment, is a problem, since there's never enough room, and everything competes for space. She picks up the cat and takes it out of the two room section of their apartment where we are having dinner and goes down the hall to the other two room section, where they sleep. Like I said, Paris apartments are tiny. To solve this problem, Lynn and Gerard bought two apartments, at opposite ends of the hallway. One apartment is used as kitchen and living area. The other is used as bedroom and study. The middle of the night often finds one of them padding past the neighbor's door, looking for something that was left in the other apartment.

When Lynn comes back, I ask her the name of her cat, and she says it's a long story. We have all night, so over cheese and digestifs, she tells us about the cat. Neither Lynn nor Gerard were fond of animals, cats, dogs, birds, fish, whatever, so they had never considered the idea of having a pet. One day when they came home to their apartment, they found a cat by the door, waiting for them. They picked it up, put it outside and forgot about it. However, for the next five days, everytime they came home, there was the cat. You must remember, they live on the fourth floor. Each day, they put out the cat, but each day, they took longer to do so, taking time to feed it, scratch it's head, and so on. They were growing fond of the cat. On the seventh day, they kept the cat with them. Over the weekend, they noticed that it seemed listless, so on Monday, they took it to a veterinarian. The vet prescribed some pills and told them he could determine the cats owners, provided it had been registered, as all cats in Paris are required to be, by law. This was a surprise for them, but they thought, why not?

Cats are registered by means of a number tattooed inside the ear. This cat's number was hard to find. It was deep inside the ear, but finally the vet found it. He entered the number in his computer and in moments, came up with the name and phone number of the cat's owners, plus the registered, official name of the cat: Rene de Chat. The name endeared the cat to them, even more. They took the cat back home, put Rene de Chat on the pill regimen and tried numerous times to call the owners. After a week they gave up and adopted Rene de Chat as their own. Gerard, the designer, made a small sign which they put next to the front door of their apartment. It reads: 'Sum, ergo sum. Rene de Chat'. Recently, they went back to the vet and filed the paperwork and paid the fees to have the cat formally re-registered as their cat. They left the cat's name as it was.

By now, it is very late, or very early. We've finished our cheese course, had digestifs, followed by cognac and tiny cups of coffee, black with sugar. Lillian and I set off for our apartment on Villa des Charmilles. Walking home, we pass Resturante Piccola Italie. It's 3:30 am, the lights are off, the door is locked. We try a few 'open sesame's', but nothing happens. We call it a night and go home.

'Veuillez me conduire a cette adresse.'
Friday Nov 10
Veronique says she will give us a ride back to our hotel. I think that I would prefer to walk, but Lillian would rather accept the ride. Veronique's car is parked at the end of the narrow cul-de-sac which runs in front of their house. As we approach the car, she points up at the streetlamp overhead. It's exactly like the lamps I noticed on one of the postcards I bought earlier today. The postcards show city scenes of Paris at the turn of the century. The lamp sits on a three foot arm mounted atop a 15 foot high cast iron pole. It looks like a birdcage with glass sides. The top of the cage looks like a crown, with filigree and careful detailing; the bottom of the cage is open. As we look closely, Veronique says that it is a gas lamp, and that it may be the last working gas lamp in Paris. I look more closely, up and down the cul-de-sac. All of the other gas lamps along the street have been fitted with sodium-vapour electric bulbs. Veronique asks us to notice how different the light of the gas lamp is compared to the electric bulbs. She says that the section of the street lit by the gas lamp has the character of a painting. The shadows are soft and full of detail. The bright areas are suffused with light and the objects seem to glow. In contrast, the rest of the street is harsh in the glare of the sodium-vapour bulbs. Veronique tells us how when Paris was only lit by gas lamps, lamplighters would make their rounds every evening and every morning to light and douse the gas lamps. It was a time when all of Paris glowed like a painting by Corot or Courbet. This lamp, a relic of that era, is left to burn night and morning, an homage to the end of the 19th century, an eternal flame of our own fin-de-siecle.

After a short ride through the late night streets of Malakoff and Montparnasse, Veronique drops us of at Place Falguiere. We are back in our neighborhood. We notice the lights are on at Piccola Italie, even though it is just after midnight. We go in to take a table and have some wine. The place is fairly packed. Sitting in the back of the room is Rino. We are back in the house of cards. Jokers are wild and they're dealing from every part of the deck. We order a half-bottle of Lachrema de Christo. Rino shouts that we should order Sangre de Torro. I think that we should have Lachrema de Torro or Sangre de Christo. Fausto, in his red and white sweatshirt, brings our wine, asks how we've been, and starts to clear the table next to us of the detritus of someone's dinner. I pantomime pulling the table cloth and leaving things intact. He says that in Hong Kong, at the end of the meal they just wrap it all up in the paper tablecloth and carry it away to the trash. 'Same as MacDonalds', he says. American disco is on the tape player and the guy in the corner with Rino is doing John Travolta, sitting down. The song is 'Staying Alive'. His arms are waving back and forth, over his head. The only thing he can't do are the pirouettes.

Some of the tables are starting to clear out. Fausto is lighting checks on fire all over the room. Patrons are punching their pin numbers into his credit-card-calculator. The music has switched to 'Volare' again. This time it has a vocal track sung by Dean Martin. I thought this song belonged to Bobby Darin. John Travolta is singing along, at the top of his lungs. We are beginning to feel right at home here. Fausto comes to our table and says that he has a new gimmick. He checks his pronunciation and the meaning of gimmick. Lillian says he is right. He shows us the gimmick. 'You can see', he says, 'I have here an ordinary plastic box with an ordinary black die with white spots. Pick a number'. 'Eight', says Lillian. 'Non!', says Fausto. 'It must be on the die. Try again. Pick a number between one and six, zero and seven not included.' 'Three', says Lillian. 'Just the number I would have picked', I think. 'Observe', says Fausto. He strikes the box on the table. Viola! The die has shrunk slightly, and now is pink with black spots. 'Mac the Knife' is on the tape player. Barry Manilow is singing. John Travolta is dancing in his seat and singing along. 'A gimmick', says Fausto. He goes off to burn another table's check.

Lillian and I get into a discussion about her definition of gimmick, when she told Fausto that it was some odd-kind-of-thing, done to attract attention. I explain to her what I think is a more accurate use of gimmick in this situation. There are two kinds of magic tricks; those that rely on sleight-of-hand, skill and practice, and those that rely on gimmicks, mechanical mechanisms that makes the trick work. Fausto was right. The die in the box is a gimmick, just like the guillotine that amputated the bread, but not my finger. Fausto brings the gimmick back to our table. 'Let's look at the gimmick again', he says. He asks Lillian to pick a number again. This time, she know the limitations. 'Five', she says. I was thinking two. He slams the box on the tabletop. The one black die immediately transforms into five little white dice with blacks spots. Right before our eyes. It may be a mechanism, but it certainly has our attention.

The restaurant has cleared out now. Fausto brings a set of chinese metal rings to our table and passes them around for inspection. Rino has joined us at the table. Fausto shows us eight rings. Holding them all in his left hand, he takes two in his right hand. He shakes them a few times. Viola! One ring drops down, and is now attached to the other. He passes them to us to inspect and allows us to try to separate the rings. Impossible. Even Rino is impressed. Fausto takes back the two, pulls out two more, shakes them, and now all four are interlocked. Two more and now six rings are joined. He works at adding the last two, but they keep falling to the table, separate from the rest. He goes in the backroom and returns with a pair of scissors. All the while he has been acting his usual, shy, clumsy and slightly confused self, speaking to us in his lightly broken english. 'Maybe I need to cut them', he says. He takes the scissors and trys to cut a ring, starts fumbling with the rings and the scissors, and suddenly his hands are flying and the rings are spinning, Martha and the Vandellas are singing in the background, John Travolta is out of his chair spinning and shaking, and the scissors are now interlocked in the rings, as Fausto holds the jumbled mess out for our inspection. As usual, he looks puzzled and flummoxed. He asks Lillian to pull on the rings. She does. Nothing happens. He shakes the rings. One falls to the table. Again. The scissors are free. Again and again, the rings come apart, one by one. Eight rings and one scissors are now on the table. He passes them around again. Rino pulls on the rings and tries biting one in two. Lillian smiles. We all applaud wildly. Waylon Jennings is pounding out an Elvis Presley song 'You're the Devil in de Skies'. The guy in the corner is shaking his hips and gyrating wildly.

Rino and Lillian have been conversing in spanish, and she has been translating the highlights for me. Actually, I can follow along fairly well. He asks her if I am a painter or sculptor. She says I am a photographer. We've given him the opening he was looking for. 'Fausto is una bella de photographer', he says, 'un fotographia mejor que mejor'. He goes over to the corner behind John Travolta, who is now slunk deep in his chair, his head in his hands. Maria Callas is singing sweetly. Rino comes back to the table with a portfolio of what looks like 300 photographs. They turn out to be 11x14 black and white xerox copies of photographs and other images. We start making our way through the pile, Rino narrating in spanish and Lillian simultaneously translating for me. The pictures fall into three categories: Rino with his sculptures; Rino in Venice on a trip with Fausto, standing atop every empty pedestal in the city, arm upraised, head held high; and page after page photocopied from an Italian book which appears to be a photo-biography of Mussolini. Mussolini on his mother's lap. Mussolini as a young boy. Mussolini as a twenty year old. Mussolini with Hitler, at the start of World War II. Rino is chortling under his narration.

The music has changed. Italian martial music is blaring from the loud speakers. John Travolta has jumped up from his chair and is marching around the room. Little fires are burning in the ashtrays. The flames shoot to the ceiling. Fausto has transformed into Hirohito. Rino is shouting: 'Viva Italie! Viva Fascismo! Viva El Duci!' The cards on the ceiling have burst into flame. Lillian yawns and says in spanish that it's time for me to take her home. We asks Fausto for the bill for tonight's entertainment. He goes in the back and returns with a 50 franc note and hands it to Lillian. 'L'addition.', he says. Lillian takes the money, crumples it up, and with a wave of her hands, drops it on the table. 'Non!', says Fausto, 'you must do it like this.' He takes the note and carefully folds it again and again into a very small packet. He waves his hands and as he unfolds, it magically transforms into the check. He hands it to me. The addition on l'addition says 50 francs. I take five 10 franc coins from my pocket and drop them on the table. I add one more, for good measure. We walk out the door and make our way in the early morning, back to our cul-de-sac, Villa de Charmilles. Another night in Paris has come to an end.

Next: Acceptez-vous les cheques de voyage?

Last change: July 24, 1998
Copyright 1995,1998
Jan Galligan
All Rights Reserved