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Published: March 29th 2010
12th June ‘09:
Let me introduce Holgar, a fellow trucker on the AC/DC tour. We are still parked in Paris, when there is a light knock on the door of my truck. Holgar asks if he can hop in for a chat; as a German, he is keen to practise his English. Obviously I initiate proceedings with derisory laughter - he is wearing socks with sandals - but we promptly get down to business. Tins of beer are opened, and somehow the topic of cockroaches arises. Holgar frowns and reaches for my dictionary, lying within easy reach.
'Cocktail,' he reads, and I suggest going back a page. 'Mm, you know this book?' he asks. Well, it's a dictionary; it is alphabetical. 'Cock up,’ he murmurs, his finger heavily tracing the entries. He's getting closer now, but he sighs exhaustedly and sips from his beer can. 'This book is heavy,' he says, but resumes his perusal nonetheless.
'Ah, what's this? A cock is a man's penis.' He reads aloud, forgetting about cockroaches entirely. He consults the dictionary again, discovering “cock” can also mean a male chicken. Poker-faced, he asks, 'so I'm not a cock but I have one?'
Little Dick, who happens to be sitting in my passenger seat, wipes away tears of mirth.
Well, I don’t have all afternoon to sit around talking about cocks - German, or otherwise. Actually, that’s not strictly true; I could loll lazily in the lorry all day- oiling alliteration over Little Dick and Holgar - but I promised myself I’d toddle down to the Latin Quarter of Paris. Truck doors are promptly locked; drivers are dismissed; metro trains are boarded. And why is the Latin Quarter named so? Because, until the Revolution, professors and students communicated in Latin.
Café Procope is no longer a cafe, but a restaurant, and allegedly the oldest restaurant in the world. I say allegedly, because that seems rather a lofty claim, especially seeing as “Café” is in the title. There is a pamphlet for sale, which reads, 'not a great restaurant, but a good restaurant, which is far more unusual.' Well, what sort of talk is that? I would say that there are plenty of good restaurants - in Paris, and in the rest of the world, for that matter.
Anyway, cafe or restaurant, it was opened in 1686. It's no surprise,
therefore, to feel a waft of antediluvian charm as I cross the threshold. It is sumptuous - even more so, upstairs apparently - but the maitre'd won't let me go and sit on the balcony.
While somebody makes my coffee, I go upstairs - and sit on the balcony, momentarily - for a look around. Voltaire was a regular here, you know, as was Thomas Jefferson. In fact, a large part of the American Constitution was drafted on this very spot. Benjamin Franklin, too, floated around sipping coffee - he was the one that said, 'three can keep a secret if two of them are dead.' I doubt he went in for skinny decaf moccaccinos, though.
It's stuffy when I return downstairs, and I've been strategically placed next to a pair of Dutch lesbians. Again this is only supposition; gauging sexual proclivities from their hair length may be a trifle unfair, but I'm pretty sure I'm right. Anyway, chatting amiably about whether the food is great or just unusually good, I notice a glass case. There is an admiral's hat in it, upright on a peg. It turns out that Napoleon, also, was once a customer. Young, and
short of cash - 'no worthwhile employment has yet been given him', says the pamphlet - he left his hat as a pledge.
Well, I haven’t got a hat. Despite having a stupidly shaped head and a short haircut, I would look even stupider in a hat. It’s simply the way it is. So, hatless and with a job, I feel I ought to pay for my refreshment. Strewth, €5 for a cuppa? No wonder Napoleon baulked; he certainly couldn’t have afforded cake. And nor can I - not in here, anyway.
But I can probably stretch to an ice cream, coupled with a stroll round Ile St Louis as the shadows lengthen. Now, if you’re ever in Paris, Berthillon is the place. It’s a parlour - on a little island in the River Seine - allegedly selling the best ice cream in all of Paris. Ooh, they have such decadently creamy ice cream. But, a moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips..
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