“Des yeux qui font baisser les miens…”
I’ve no idea what that means but it’s the opening line to one of the most iconic French language songs that us English speaking folk know. It’s what Amazon Music has decided I should be listening to as the second song on the French Jazz playlist that it has automatically set up. It’s immediately followed by the much more modern and contemporary Época by Gotan Project from their album La Revancha Del Tango. Incidentally, rather than include the elusive footnote, the lyrics belonged to La Vie on Rose; Amazon Music was playing the Édith Piaf version.
What has this to do with anything? Actually, not very much. Yet, it also has virtually everything to do with the journey that I am embarking on. Mixed with the Master’s and the claim that I’m writing my second book, I am trying my best to bury myself within French culture. Or at least Parisian culture.
I have found myself submerging even further into the depths of research, where I am attempting to cover as much ground as possible. The strange thing is, there’s a lot of interconnectivity as well as new avenues to discover. One of the newest routes that I have taken is through Virtual Trips. An online walking tour through different parts of Paris, looking at different parts of the city, the history, the culture, the architecture, the lifestyle. It’s presented by a regular person that has an interest in whatever it is they decide to talk about on that particular tour that one signs up for.
My first one was about writers. It strangely covered Oscar Wilde’s time as well as that of Hemingway. I’d previously known that these two writers had been in Paris however, as part of different reading, I’d found A Moveable Feast was written by Hemingway toward the end of his life. It’s a memoir of his time between 1921 and 1926 that was spent residing in Paris. I bought the book on eBay. I’m currently on page 31. The tour guide, Patrick, with whom I shall spend a couple of hours more over the next few days, has mentioned Gertrude Stein. I have since covered the chapter entitled Une Génération Perdue but there is mention of neither Le Pré aux Clercs nor Hôtel D’Angleterre on Rue Jacob.
As part of the lost generation, just after the Belle Époque, the end of the Bohemian movement, I can only imagine how it would have felt sitting somewhere in Paris, writing away, soaking up all the clichéd ambience. And it is this that I aim for. Being sat at my regular table in Au Père Tranquille, sipping on an Absinthe whilst my Croque Madame waits for me patiently. As patiently as I’ve had to wait for my makeshift drink that is sat beside me.
As is my ethos for research, as soon as I get an inkling of an idea, I’m off like a five pence piece down the back of a sofa. Or a pièce de cinq cents à l’arrière d’un canapé (as Google Translate assures me). I’ve once more discovered how to pour the perfect – non-flambé – Absinthe utilising the fountain and spoon or, as I would require for a serving in solitude, balancier. This is also known as the Cusenier auto verseur. We would call it a see-saw. The dark path of drinking with the green fairy, là fée verte, would have been a very different route years ago. Since then, the myths have been busted, the bans lifted and the paraphernalia still hard to come by in England without hefty shipping fees, post Brexit. So instead, I improvised. I can’t simply get all het up about following in the footsteps of possibly Hemingway, Picasso, James Joyce and van Gogh or any of those anonymous creative types that decided to swap wine for the high-alcohol spirit during the grape crisis in France.
I took my little Jack Daniel’s whisky glass, the infusing spoon that I use when having loose leaf tea and an ice cube. I then poured “a measure” of Pernod. That’s not the absinthe, but the drink made popular in the 90’s (1990’s when mixed with blackcurrant cordial for the students and teen-dancers of the UK). I then naively poured a little mint syrup from an old bottle of Monoprix sirop de menthe on top of the ice cube, a là sugar cube. It took an agonising ninety minutes for that solitary ice cube to melt. And upon the first sip, I was transported all the way back to my first visit to France. Not to Paris, but to Calais. On the ferry. When I had to drink neat Jack Daniel’s to create space for the trial sized Coca Cola to infiltrate the glass. Except this time, the flavour was more bearable.
To be accurately plausible, I couldn’t actually taste this. The combination of pure alcohol, neat mint syrup and a minimalist amount of cold water, has meant that my throat has still not reset from the louched experience. I say louched very tentatively. Whilst the whole louching is nowhere near the same as a simple watering down, I nowhere near came close to such a thing. Yes, the original liquid has become a more cloudy, opaque green. And yet, there will still be no way I’m going to attempt the non-authentic igniting of French alcohol. The measured contents of the glass should be:
* 1 part absinthe – 30ml
* 3 parts water – 90ml
I’m at (approximately)
* 1 part Pernod – 30ml
* 1/8 part sirop de menthe – 3.7ml
* 1/32 part water – 0.94ml
Upon sipping three quarters of this abstruse concoction, I decide to call it a stalemate (rather than subterfuge). The cold lemonade hits the bottom of the glass, pushing the thick, green foundation into a frenzied minted maelstrom, mingling with the star anise flavoured liqueur. It was like magic. There was no fabled hallucinogenic mind melt. There wasn’t even a wall-movement whilst sitting still. There was, however, a deep-rooted vibration on my phone. It was a notification on Instagram. Which is totally irrelevant. As a point of uninterest, I didn’t even bother checking it.
I am due to be in Paris in twenty-two days. I am also expected to have an assignment uploaded in nineteen days. At the very best, one of these things will be happening. The assignment is based around writers that have influenced my writing over the years. From the outset, I couldn’t think of anyone. Then slowly, little by little, names of authors and books start to trickle into my consciousness. Ideas form. Thoughts gather like trains in the depot at the end of the day. More and more I can see how over the years, magnificent writers and their works of art, their pieces of literary excellence have infiltrated my own writing, the very inks of my own pens. The darkened sky outside the window is illuminated by the yellowing bulb of my writing lamp. The gentle tapping of the keys on the Freewrite Traveler ensure the blue Ted Baker notebook feels the same jealousy as the Eurostar does over the stairs that connect my bedroom to the outside world. Not that I have had much reason to open the front door of late. Even the delivery of parcels have dried up. Like the momentum of my thought processes.
Maybe I should just have a Diabolo Menthe next time.