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Published: August 5th 2015
It had been 18 years since I’d visited the Bar du Quartier, and 18 years since I’d seen John (alias Robert from an earlier semi-fictitious blog).
I asked the bartender if a friend I knew 20 years ago named John Copes van Hasselt was still around. The bartender quickly mimed a photographer snapping a picture, and answered, oui – that he was there earlier and would probably be back in two hours. I wrote a quick note for the bartender to give to John.
When I returned later, John was standing near the bar, facing out at the street and tables through the wide open doors - the exact same spot I had met him 20 years ago. He had a glass of beer in his hand and was talking to someone standing next to him. I had no problem recognizing him though his hair was shorter and he wore glasses. He had on baggy shorts, sneakers and a rumpled, beige Safari jacket. He wasn’t dressed the same as I remember. He looked more like he was on his way to an exotic location for a photo mission. And what he didn’t have was a cigarette in his hand.
He stared at me for about four seconds before he smiled.
“Paul,” I said, “Paul the Pilot.”
“Oh, yeah,” he replied, and smiled big as we shook hands. I found out the bartender had not given him the note, so I didn’t feel too badly that it took him several seconds to remember me. (The bartender gave him the note two days later while I was with him.)
John told me the international news organization that he had worked for, SIGMA, fired all its photographers and reporters en masse in 2003, and he and the rest became freelance. Now they put their photos and stories on a web site, and, if a news publication likes them, they buy them. Oliver, the guy John was talking to, was a fellow photographer, and had a front page photo on the newspaper, Le Monde, the day before. Oliver was humble and refused to retrieve a paper to show me, as John wanted. Oliver wore pink pants, a solid green shirt and an equally abrupt tie that hung from his open collar at an angle. I kept looking at him, wondering about his philosophy of dress. It was my first day
back in Paris, so I probably had a lot to learn about Parisian fashion. And I was never good at it.
One frequent attendee at the bar told me she rides her bicycle from north of Montmartre almost every evening. Jena is from Belgium and spends several months a year in Paris. She that told me she that, athough she likes the smaller cities in the countryside of France, she likes Paris because there oppunities to meet different people, and have good conversations. Especially at the Bar du Quartier. I was surprised to hear that her bike ride is only 30 minutes. Her return at night would take her up some long inclines. Bike riding in France is a substitute for cars, buses and the metro for many people. In Strasbourg, there were even traffic signals just for bikes – with a little bicycle green and right light. There is more of a danger of getting hit by a bicycle in Strasbourg than a car, if you don't pay attention.
Walking around Paris, the traffic takes getting used to. I'm still working on it. For me, just walking across a busy street can be perilous, especially if you
don’t adhere to the pedestrian green lights, or make the mistake of following a local who is not adhering to the green lights. I can only imagine what savvy is required to ride a bike through the streets of Paris at night. She told me the return ride at night is not so bad - that she only rides through one area that concerns her.
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