I must admit that the mounting number of ominous events have given me a sense of dread for the future. But recently I had a pleasant moment when I drank a biere blanche at a cafe for the first time in several months. G. K. Chesterton remarked in his comments about his trip to America that “there are people whom I met for a few hours or a few moments, whom I none the less sincerely admire and honour because I cannot but smile as I think of them.” In these terrible times I thought of the many bars and pubs where I spent so much of my life and enjoyed being with so many different kinds of people; it makes me smile. One of the most memorable (pun intended) passages in all of literature is the moment in Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu when Marcel tastes the tea and crumbs of his madeleine cake that sparks a shudder of pleasure throughout his body and memories of his past life. One tool to combat my dread is nostalgia. I realize modern progressive types (e.g., Pinker) always pooh pooh nostalgia. But of course they are wrong about most things. As I grow older I certainly think many things were better before and are getting worse now. What sane person would contradict that sentiment today? In the spirit nostalgia and Proust I recount below highlights from my pub life.
Park Place, Knoxville, TN
Just after graduating from the University of Florida engineering school I found a job at the Y-12 Plant in Oak Ridge, TN. This is a very interesting site with a special history beginning with the Manhattan Project.. I must say that I had 5 job offers, but took this one, the lowest in salary because of some intuition that I cannot explain. I rented an apartment in a complex in West Knoxville near the Pellissippi Parkway that is the direct route to Oak Ridge. I knew nothing about Knoxville or East Tennessee, I knew nobody. Yet, within a few months time I learned the locations of backroom gambling joints (though I never went to the back rooms themselves). This happened because East Tennessee is a special place, but even more it is because there was a clubhouse bar in the Brendon Park Apartment called Park Place. It was a simple bar with about 5 stools and canned beer owned by a couple of the residents. I recall a typical moment sitting at the bar between a Jewish physicist who did his PhD at Cornell and an unemployed hillbilly from West Virginia who’s prized possession was a magnum pistol that he often carried with him. “What shall we do tonight guys?” … miniature golf! I learned so much about life, especially about generosity, friendship, and how to enjoy life. Park Place was the wellspring of so much fun: group meals, all night poker games, road trips, fishing trips, and on and on. My friends were from Waterbury, CT; Buffalo, NY, Redondo Beach, CA, Atlantic City, NJ, etc., and of course from East Tennessee. Park Place ceased to exist long ago. My friends moved away decades ago. And I can only remember a tiny fraction of the stories and experiences that so enriched my life with so many smiles. Greater Than a Tourist... Buy New $11.97 (as of 06:19 EDT - Details)
The Hideaway Bar, Duke University, Durham, NC
After three fun and transformative years in Knoxville I realized that if I stayed at Y-12 I would be doing the same kind of projects for years with very little vacation. So I decided to go to graduate school at Duke University (another intuitive decision). I needed to work very hard to get back in the education groove so I did not find a replacement for Park Place for at least a couple of years. Eventually I found The Hideaway Bar. Tucked in the basement of administration buildings on Duke’s gothic West Campus, this simple beer bar was organized by a business school professor with a committee of graduate student co-owners.I was usually there just after my graduate student workday with other grad students and university staff. I became friends with the manager of the computer store, the head of the bus service, and parking, and food service managers. Many were graduates of Duke, others were locals. We all loved sports, playing golf, tailgate parties and road trips. The bar sponsored a softball team (the special version called modified) that was the center of activity during the hot slow days of summer along with Durham Bulls minor league baseball. It was also the best place outside of Cameron Indoor Stadium to watch the basketball games as the crowd would also pass by before and after the game. At the end of my PhD my funding ran out so I worked there for a few months. The undergrads would show up after 10 as they finished studying. I strictly required at least a fake ID when I checked people at the door. But I was quick to note that I was not a bouncer. I would not think of “bouncing” anybody as half the bar was under age including the basketball stars. During the warm days near the end of the spring term we would sell every single beer we could store in the small bar. In particular I loved walking up from the engineering building as the weather was warming through the copse of trees (long gone) behind Duke Chapel with a quick stop to smell the breath of spring, (a fragrant bush like honeysuckle). The tiny green outside the bar had a picnic table where I would read in the sun just as the carillon of the chapel played at five o’clock. I even wrote a very bad sonnet about this experience,
A warm winters day at Duke I remember clear,
Not for the gardens, grounds or Gothic towers,
It is that something special in the air,
T’is when strolling past the Chapel’s flowers,
At four or five when I care not about a thing,
Just pausing for a moment’s thought,
On the beautiful fragrance of the breath of spring,
Yea I say, this can’t be bought,
Could I enjoy this sweet scented memory from now until eternity?
Employing this sonnet is my chosen course,
Hoping to recall the things I Love especially,
I complete this Devilish reminiscence with no remorse,
Leaving you now with one last thought to share
Life was sweeter still, continuing up to the Hideaway for an ice cold beer.
I forget much more than I list here about the old Hideaway. It closed in 2001 but it had lost its charm many years previously. The campus had changed very much physically and psychologically. In my early years at Duke a beer keg was available friday afternoons at the engineering building for faculty, grad and undergrad students to help them mingle. That would be impossible to even imagine today.
The Bombay Bicycle Club, San Antonio, TX
After some years as a postdoc I took a tenure track teaching position in San Antonio, TX. Same story, I knew nothing and nobody about San Antonio or Texas. Will Rogers once characterized San Antonio as one of the four unique cities in the United States. Sydney Australia Sunse... Buy New $8.95 (as of 06:19 EDT - Details)
In those days life in the city of San Antonio still was reflected in the mix of cultures that had enriched its history. Life in the city was also enriched by the Bombay Bicycle Club. Located in Brackenridge Park, just down the street from the zoo, the BBC reflected all that was good and unique about San Antonio and exhibited all the ingredients of a great saloon. In our modern, alienated society there are very few places where one can meet a stranger and strike up a conversation. Even less where one can meet a stranger who will become a friend. A great bar is one of those places and the BBC is a great bar. In my day there a typical happy hour crowd included blue collar workers fresh from the delivery truck, white collar workers (many of them were lawyers), 09’ers (wealthy people who live within zip code 78209 which is made up of the fashionable enclaves of Olmos Park and Alamo Heights), a family of tourists who are visiting the park, and in August, members of the old Houston Oilers who trained at the nearby university. The happy customers were Anglo, Hispanic, African-American, German, Croatian, . . . You could meet a person from every race, religion, and ethnicity at Bombays. One Sunday afternoon, in the almost empty bar, I watched a Celtics playoff game with the great Dave Cowens who was a coach for the Spurs. Not only was it possible to meet all of these people, but it was possible to get to know them, and to come to like them. A special place in my heart is for the Phone Man, who should be the character out of a novel he was so original and funny, the girls highschool basketball coach who was old and wise, the ex-CIA University of Chicago PhD who was too intelligent for his real estate business, but most of all for the owners. They were a true Texas couple (sadly apart now) with histories going back into the mists of Texas history. They were so generous and so much fun. On my last visit to the BBC the owner handed me a reference letter In part he wrote, “Ira is the absolute ideal customer. He always shows up, speaks when spoken to, always pays, expects and asks for nothing for free and never causes fights. Aside from being a fountain of information on an amazing number of topics, Ira appreciates the beauty of life, which includes having membership in a great local pub (I’d probably use the word joint)…. Please take care of my friend Dr. Katz, you’ll find him the most remarkable companion.” This letter is a prized possession that I had framed and put on the wall (my wife only allows me to decorate the toilet so it is there). I should say I never felt totally comfortable in Texas; that is, I never felt like a Texan. But I felt totally at home at the BBC. It still exists and it certainly must still be great as it is run by the same wonderful owner. To find a great bar, and to make it your bar, is one of the great pleasures in life. One of the great pleasures I have had in life was finding the Bombay Bicycle Club.
I took one trip to Australia in my life. There is much to say about my trip and the country in general but here I give you this one tip if you go there. As you walk from the Sydney Opera House toward the main ferry terminal, with the water on your right, you can see your fill of street performers. On my visit there was everything from an aborigine playing the didgeridoo to a Scotsman playing his bagpipes. There was even a fellow using the kitchen sink as a prop. Well, that is not my cup of tea, so I would suggest continuing past the art museum where there is a road which leads up the hill to a yuppie district called the Rocks. Walk up the hill through the Rocks until you come to a high overpass. On your right will be a long flight of stairs which appear to lead to nowhere but trust me and be intrepid. At the top of this long flight is a path, but make a hairpin turn up another short flight of stairs. You are now on the road which you saw as the overpass below. To your right is a tiny hotel (from a foggy memory and the internet I think it is called The Glenmore) with a large pub. Of course go to the pub. Order a tub (Aussie for a pitcher I think) of beer and some chips and go up more stairs to the roof. There you will find picnic tables with umbrellas and a fantastic view of Sydney Harbor. This is the place which I dubbed the greatest spot in the southern hemisphere. Don’t miss it if you ever go to Sydney.
During my years teaching in Texas I played basketball with an archeologist. Technology was making its way into this profession at that time. I was teaching a course using computer aided design so I could help him with his research. One project was to make a visual/searchable database for an ancient Carthaginian cemetery. He asked me to help him organize a CAD package that would incorporate several types of data for an excavation he was managing in Turkey. I completed this work in San Antonio but he insisted I come to the site in Turkey. My main task in Turkey was a topographical survey of the mound using an electronic distance measurement system called a total station with an accompanying data collector. C COABALLA Elmali Grap... Buy New $25.99 (as of 06:19 EDT - Details)
There is no easy way to Elmali so my travel connections were quite circuitous: San Antonio to Memphis to Chicago to Amsterdam to Istanbul to Anatalya to Elmali over about 30 hours. Included in that time was a six hour layover in Istanbul. At the Istanbul airport I made my way from the international to the domestic terminal. I checked my bags for the flight to Anatalya with several hours available before boarding. I immediately found a cab driver who agreed to take me around town and return before my flight left. This was all negotiated even though he did not speak English. Ibrihim, that was the driver’s name, drove me along the coast of the Sea of Marmara to the Golden Horn in the heart of Istanbul. All along the water men were fishing and boys were swimming. Not many women or girls were visible. He parked and escorted me to the Haggia Sophia, the 1400 year old former church and mosque, and current tourist attraction. Later he asked if I like fish, “of course,” I replied. We drove north along the European side of the Bosporus for several miles. At a nondescript point we turned onto a gravel driveway leading to his friend’s “restaurant.” It was a shack with a few outdoor plastic tables. But it was located on the Bosporus. I sat within a couple of feet of the water. Across the famous channel was an ancient fortification. About a mile away I could see freighters entering the Black Sea. A few feet away an old fisherman was mending his net. I ordered nothing but my drink. We were served piles of fried fish and prawns, Turkish salad, and bread; it was exquisite. Ibrihim took the shortcut back to the airport where I arrived in plenty of time to catch my flight. For the few million lira (as always in Turkey inflation was rampant) I offered Ibrihim, which he accepted, (we had not discussed a fair fare), I had a most pleasant layover.
The Elmali plain is about 60 miles west of Anatalya in southwestern Turkey. This large plain is at an elevation of about 1000 m while the surrounding mountains continue to rise 500 to 1000m. The village of Hacimusalar lies at the center of the plain. Just to the south of this small village, incongruous to the plain, is a mound over 200 m in diameter and 10-15 m high. This mound is the excavation site of the ancient city which was the purpose of the expedition. The expedition was housed in the town of Elmali in apartments owned and operated by DSI, the government road building corporation, for its employees. There is little I would change in this description of Elmali published in Travels in Lycia, Milyas, and the Cibyratis, 1847, by Lieutenant T. A. B. Spratt, R.N., F.G.S. and Professor Edward Forbes, F.R.S. except for the name of the town and the population (~12,000).
The valley of Eski Hissar is separated from the main part of the plain of Almalee, by an extensive marsh, drained by a broad stream which falls into a cavern, at the eastern end of the plain, and disappears. The town of Almalee is built in a wooded recess, at the foot of a high rocky barren peak. It is the capital of Lycia, and commercial center of extensive fertile districts, the produce of which are brought here, and hence distributed to the ports of Adalia, Phikeka, and Macri. Tanning and dyeing are its special trades; and the red morocco skins made here are said to be of excellent quality. Grain and leeches are the chief exports for distant markets; their buyers,–agents, mostly of Smyrna merchants,–are numerous and active, looking to smuggling for their profits, as well as legitimate trade. At this season [mid-May], however, they have but little to do, except advancing money to the peasantry, in order to secure a monopoly of the growing crops–a system generally pursued throughout this country and adopted by the merchant to induce the farmers to cultivate more than they require for their domestic purposes. Almalee, being their centre of trade, has long held its place in maps of Asia Minor, even the oldest; but, until Sir Charles Fellows visited it in 1842, little was known beyond its existence. That gentleman has over-estimated its population in reckoning the number of inhabitants at above twenty thousand. The number stated to us as the average by several intelligent inhabitants of the place, viz. eight thousand, is probably much nearer the mark. Among them are numerous Armenians, and many Greeks. The houses are mostly built of wood. The streets are narrow and have channels of running water which serve as sewers. There are two mosques, one of which has a very beautiful minaret, and two large khans. In that in which we lodged we met some Italian leech-gatherers, old acquaintances, who has been at Xanthus, during the winter–intelligent, unprincipled fellows, fertile in plans for defrauding the revenue, of which they told us many with great glee, trusting to our honour. In a strange and far land, the well-known visage of a knave is sometimes pleasanter and more welcome than the unknown face of an honest man. The Bazaars were extensive and full of goods, and buyers and sellers. Most of the larger houses in the town have gardens attached, filled with fruit-trees and tall poplars which tower up in every direction. The people were everywhere civil and obliging; and we strolled through the streets unattended, without meeting any interruption, though the frank dress is rarely seen here.
As can be inferred from the fact that the description of Elmali from the 1840’s is accurate today (for example, I saw live leeches for sale in the market); Turkey is certainly a place where the past stubbornly resists the present.
I spent almost a month in Turkey. It is legitimate to ask what was my purpose in participating in this project and going to Turkey. My travel, room and board were paid for, which is nice but not nearly equal to the value of my time. In terms of my career, such as it was, this work would have no positive impact. I was reading the Gulag Archipelago during the trip. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn described the two months in 1946 he shared cell 75 of the Butyrki prison with the great biologist Nikolai Vladimirovich Timofeyev-Ressovsky. “And there he was in front of us, and he was simply bursting with information concerning all possible sciences. He had that breadth of scope which scientists of later generations don’t even want to have. (Or is it that the possibilities of encompassing knowledge have changed?)” I very much agree with Solzhenitsyn that scientists have become too focused. It has been my goal to have a breadth of scope whether it directly furthers my career or not. That has always been my ideal of what an academic should do. This expedition gave me a much greater breadth of scope and more, for which I am grateful. Of course Turkey is a Muslim country but there is still a limited supply of alcoholic beverages available. I saw no bars to speak of in Elmali but a cafe right below the DSI compound sold the only Turkish beer I know of called Efes Pilsen (the only competition was imported Tuborg). After each hot, dusty and bug infested day at the excavation site I was refreshed watching the busy road and by what seemed the best tasting beer I ever drank.
The Green Room, Durham, NC
In Texas I was the loser in a tenure battle that was more ridiculous than dramatic. This failure was largely due to my refusal to play the game, in part the manipulation of students. And at this undergraduate institution teaching was important. Honestly, I think I was a good teacher, but inconsistent. I also think I would be a much better one now. Anyway, much of the story revolved around the fact that among university faculty about one in ten is a psychopath. Perhaps better odds than for politicians, but when working together for years it makes academic politics especially gruesome. Anyway, as there were nine faculty in the department my odds were not good. I was literally told by one colleague that “you are either with me or against me.” I could not comply with this silly divisive demand so he worked harder to deny my tenure than I worked for it. As the French say c’est la vie.
For about a day I had a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach, as losing tenure is devastating for many. I quickly recovered and decided to pursue book projects that were in different states of completion. For research on one unfinished project (but still not forgotten!), over several months I drove several thousand miles from border to border and coast to coast. Except for a couple of exceptions I stayed with friends all along the way. Notable was a few weeks at the almond farm in the Central Valley of California inherited by one of my friends from Knoxville. I ended up back in Durham to work on a textbook with my old advisor.
These were down and out days for me economically, but much better than experienced by Orwell. I took a room in a house with students for about $100/month. A short walk down the street was The Green Room, a pool hall with a four-seat bar. It was a good pool hall with 10 well maintained tables, shuffleboard, darts, and foosball. There was a great mix of people there. It was one of the few places where townies and Dukies would mix. The place was frequented by young people and the old, straight and gay, intellectuals and blue collar. But I was there for the cheap bottles of Pabst Blue Ribbon as I normally sat at the little bar reading. I should say that I always fall asleep reading at home so that is why I would read at bars. The Green Room was owned by an ex-cop. He was known as a great pool player, but mainly played video games and smoked cigarettes when I was there. All of the young people looked up to him. He had natural charisma, something like Steve McQueen. He and everyone else was always very nice to me. There was only one exception. One evening I was reading Proust. For an unknown reason a lesbian was intrigued and asked my about the large book. She even bought me a beer. But she became indignant when I tried to explain the value of Proust and berated me before she thankfully left with her partner. Why? I have no idea other than the understanding that life can be mysterious.
Porters’ Pub, Easton, PA
One day in Durham I received a phone call from my pal, the third author on the textbook, to invite me to take a temporary teaching post at his college in Easton, PA. It turned into a permanent, but non-tenure track, position, I had all of the teaching aspects of being a professor, but no politics. Of course I also had lower pay and no security. I was told this directly by other faculty that this was unfair for what I did. I responded that I accepted the pay offered and the conditions of the work voluntarily so it was perfectly fair. I was eventually invited to apply for a tenure-track post but declined. There is so much to say about academia, tenure, science, etc.; but perhaps it will finally collapse as the rotten foundations are being attacked by post-Covid economics and social justice. For example, I received an email from Duke Engineering seemingly in support of #ShutDownSTEM. Madness!
I have previously written for LRC about the pub I found in Easton called Porters’ Pub. I will not repeat what I wrote, but emphasize again that this is a wonderful pub (see this video). I will note here anecdotes that I did not write about previously. I arrived in Easton with no place to live. But I had great luck in that I was given an on campus apartment, all expenses paid. Thus, in many months my credit card bill would list charges something like this: “Porters’ Pub”, “Porters’ Pub”, “Porters’ Pub”, “Porters’ Pub”, “Porters’ Pub”, “Porters’ Pub”, “Walmart”, “Porters’ Pub”, “Porters’ Pub”. I would explain in those days that I had a three-hour exercise regime per day: 15 minute walk to the pub, 150 minutes drinking beer, and 15 minutes walk back to the college. When I began looking to buy a house in Easton I made two circles on the city map; one centered on the college and the other centered on the pub. The circles represented a practical walking limit. The intersection of the circles was where I would look for, and eventually find, my house. One of the regulars there was an old black gentleman who worked as a dishwasher at the college where I worked. Everybody called him Sweetness, but for some reason I called him by his real name. There was a dice game at the bar that I never played unless it was with him. He told me many stories about his hard life and the wild place Easton had been when it was the end of the train line from New York City. The Porter brothers love holidays. By inclination and heritage they make a big deal out of St. Patrick’s Day. It is an all-day pub crawl (they wear kilts) ending for a dinner of cornbeef and cabbage at the pub. Thanksgiving is special in Easton because of the famous football game against the cross-river rival, Phillipsburg, NJ. The game starts about 9 AM with many parties on College Hill where the game is played. The Porters start at the pub with Guinness and eggs. We would walk up the hill for the second half with stops at friendly parties along the way. The holiday ended at the beautiful house along the Delaware River of one of the brothers with many friends around a bonfire. The pub breakfast also was traditional for Super Bowl saturday. After breakfast a group would drive out to the Appalachian Trail to camp for a night full of stories and chills in the winter cold. The trip ended the next day at the pub to watch the game. Each Porter brother is smart, fun, friendly, and gracious in their own very unique ways. I loved Porters’ Pub.
The Old Hack, Brussels, Belgium
When I was an undergraduate engineering student at UF it never crossed my mind to study abroad. Furthermore, I do not recall a single fellow student who studied in Europe. However, within a couple of years of graduation I really had the bug to go to Europe but not as a tourist. So when I decided to return to graduate school I applied only to schools in England. I was accepted at Cambridge, I was even given a small monetary award, and intended to matriculate. However, for some reason that is cloudy now, I sent a lone US application to Duke. Perhaps it was because of the basketball team, though this was before the dynasty of Coach K. I was given a very nice fellowship so the cost differential was very large. Thus I put my dreams of Europe behind me, to the point of thinking I would never travel there; or that is, only as a tourist. I recently noted in an article that I attended the 1990 General Meeting of The Mont Pelerin Society (MPS) held in Munich. I decided to go, as I was not a tourist. There I met my wonderful English friends (see the Royal Oak below). Over the years I had traveled to Europe, usually to visit them or for some other work related project, many times. And finally while teaching in Easton I “studied abroad in Europe,” that is I went to spend 5 months in Brussels leading and teaching a group of (primarily) engineering students from my college.
My first email back to the US read, “Arrived safe. Found Pub.” The Old Hack Pub is located across Charlemagne St. from the Berlaymont Building, and was around the corner from my apartment. That rainy day of our arrival I scouted the neighborhood for good joints. When I entered The Old Hack in the late afternoon there was only one patron, who was reading a thick book. I knew this would be “my pub.” The OH was frequented primarily by journalists and EU functionaries. My acquaintances there included a Scotsman who was the EU ambassador to Rwanda, a German socialist, a Flemish lobbyist for European fruit juice producers, a Swiss journalist, a very English publisher of an EU business paper with an attitude, the press secretary for the Belgian foreign minister, a Finnish photographer, and a Flemish editor for the Associated Press. The night of the Atocha train station bombing in Madrid I discussed terrorism with John Hume, from Northern Ireland, a co-winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. My closest friend from there was a Dutch IT specialist. I visited his home in Stansport (a great town once voted the happiest place in Europe), which is about 20 miles outside of Amsterdam. My last evening in Brussels I ate dinner with the owners and their two boys. They are a very hard working Dutch couple who were the only employees at The OH. I have said for many years that the necessary ingredient to a great bar is an interested and interesting owner who is often in residence. My first drink there was a foamy (Belgian beers are designed to be foamy) bronze beer from Antwerp called De Koninck. It is the custom in Belgium that each beer has its own glass. The De Koninck glass is bowl-like. Bolleke is Flemish for bowl, so when ordering a De Koninck one asks for a bolleke. I asked for enough bollekes during my stay that the owner gave me one as a gift my last night at The OH. The old owners are now back in Holland and ran a restaurant in the north of that country that unfortunately was recently made economically unviable by the Covid hysteria. This sickens me. Handling Mr. Hyde Check Amazon for Pricing.
The Royal Oak, Woburn Sands, Buckinghamshire, UK
Midweek of the MPS meeting was reserved for an outing. We took a train to the quaint town of Passau on the Danube. Like everywhere else we were met by a government functionary, the mayor, and had a special reception. We then took a wonderful cruise down the Danube, buffet lunch, open bar, and Bravarian band. On the cruise a gentleman noticed my name tag-we always had on our name tags- “you are the engineer, would you like to meet my wife, she is an engineer.” I was a bit of a novelty. I answered in the affirmative and the next thing I was following this man around the boat, at quite a fast pace, looking for his wife. This is how I met my now life-long English friends. When I was getting off the train back in Munich they were waiting for me, inviting me to be their house guest in England. They live in Woburn Sands, a little village about 50 miles northwest of London on the Three Counties line between Bedford and Bletchly. A short walk up the lane from their house is a small shopping district which includes the Royal Oak pub.
In those first days and for many years afterward there was always a stop at the pub for a pint before dinner. It was like being at a party in a small house. Plenty of conversation amongst everyone who knew each other. It was the size of a living room in a small house. I usually enjoyed the hand pulled Green King bitters. My friends stopped going there years ago somewhat due to advancing age, but more so because of the television, video games and young people (see here for an explanation of YPs) that took away the charm of what was a true village pub. The good pubs are dying in England. I was visiting my friends last summer and insisted for old times sake to have a pint there. 29 years after the first time I entered the Royal Oak the same publican was behind the tiny bar serving the beer.
Les Tontons, 14eme, Paris, France
I mentioned that I bought a house in Easton. I moved in in August, and in January of the following year I came to Paris for a one-year research sabbatical. Thus, I had no intention to stay, but I got stuck in France. I was living in the 14th arrondissement (southwest Paris) to take the train from Gare Montparnasse to Versailles for work. In the first days I found a bar with bar stools (not so common). The beer was cheap for Paris, and the peanuts were free. There was a young bartender who spoke English as again I knew nobody. Eventually I did start making friends among the patrons. They were mostly creative people like artists, musicians and music managers, people in the movie business, etc. An unemployed “artist” who I often talked to in the bar said to me after several kirs “You are like Henry Miller. I don’t mean that you have sex with animals, but that you are an American that has become a Parisian.” One evening the parents of the young bartender were there, visiting Paris for a rugby match. They were very nice and invited me to visit their home in the center of the country near Sancerre. It is a hilltop village surrounded by vineyards. The wine is wonderful and the goat cheese also has its own appellation. Like most French wines, after drinking the wine in place the memory of the physical location becomes part of the flavor. By-the-way, the name of the bar is based on a movie Les Tontons Flingueurs (gunslinger uncles) with Lino Ventura about a group of gangsters who are charged to look after the daughter of their dying mob boss. It is a classic in France.
O’Paris, Versailles, France
I am older and have a family now so I rarely go out. It has been years since I have been to Les Tontons. For all of the years I have lived in France I have worked at a research center near Versailles. My ex-pat colleagues tended to live in that small city, so it was there that for me was a rare occasion, when we had a beer after work. The O’Paris Pub did not have the human charm of the other places I have described here. But located across the street from the Chateau with a large terrace below the linden trees, it was an enjoyable place to laugh about the frustrations of our work lives. In a typically French way, we complained a lot about incredibly good working conditions.
My mind wanders to other magic nights in bars in places like Cincinnati, OH with living replicas of Laurel and Hardy, in Montreal, Canada drinking with patrons and the bartender alike, on the Freycinet Peninsula in Tasmania eating incredible oysters with a visit by a wombat, in Nottingham England drinking through the night with British Rail workers before a cricket test match the next day, arriving by boat at a marina on the Indian River in Sebastian, Florida spending hours eating smoked fish dip with cold beer, on the ferry from Dover to Oostend drinking at the ship’s bar with an African arms dealer, …… Yes, this is all nostalgia, how much dark reality have I omitted? But nothing can be more real than the happiness these people and places have given me then and even now as I contemplate the darkness that is rising.