Fr Cn De Es Pt It

XI - Le Baroudeur

Painting by Jean-Marc Guéroux

Place des Abbesses. After barely setting foot in Le Baroudeur, before she could even order her café au lait, a tall black man sat down at Elisa’s table and asked if he could give her a present. Elisa assumed he must be a little high or had at least knocked back a few, but she didn’t stop him from joining her. After explaining that he came from Guadeloupe, the guy made a sketch for her, a portrait of a “dangerous-looking Serb with a soft heart”. “I’m a specialist in bad guys with big hearts,” said the stranger.

Me too, thought Elisa.

He asked her if she was a cabaret dancer. “No, a classical dancer,” protested Elisa, a little vexed. Did she look like a cabaret dancer? Certainly not. First of all, she hadn’t told him that she was a dancer. Second of all, she hadn’t danced in such a long time that she couldn’t even call herself a dancer.

“I never finish my drawings,” stated the giant, who seemed tailor-made for the décor of Le Baroudeur. “The most beautiful symphonies are often unfinished,” responded Elisa, to reassure him.

When his drawing was as complete as it would get, he asked Elisa if she had 2.50 euros. She realised that she had met yet another of these precarious creatures of Montmartre, who were sustained by the chance of the moment.

Ertann, Roudy, this tall black man… They had no real home. They squatted here and there and ate whenever a little money came in. How many others shared the same fate?

Montmartre, which smiled upon her, which offered her a dream life, was apparently much tougher on so many others...

Le Baroudeur is decorated in beige and ochre tones that contrast beautifully with the dark woodwork. Large frescoes illustrate “baroudeurs”, real “tough guys” taking lifehead on: a man driving a jeep out of a ditch, adventurers in faraway lands, settlers and more.

A painted map of Africa spans the ceiling with a fluorescent light stretching from Béchar, Algeria to the Cape of South Africa.

Elisa would have liked to meet the real tough guy of the bar, the owner, and hear about his life.

This is a bistro with an African spirit, but worlds away from the Jungle Bar Rue Gabrielle, which is truly African. Le Baroudeur has white owners, French waiters and white or North African customers.

“Have you ever seen a black waiter in a Parisian restaurant, apart from African bars like the Jungle?” Roudy had once asked her. “The blacks are washing the dishes or at the stove, where you don’t see them at all.”

Elisa had never thought about this before. She tried in vain to think of a restaurant with black waiters. At Café Marly, there was a gorgeous black woman at the reception.

But it was true that apart from a few sculptural beauties, more like models really, she couldn’t remember seeing black waiters in any of her usual restaurants.

There were no more croissants at Le Baroudeur, the café au lait was just okay (all for just 4.50 euros) and the bread and butter was nothing to write home about, but none of this mattered, because the place was nice all the same. It was the bar where the postmen hung out, as the Abbesses post office was just next door.

The postmen always reminded her of the postman in her favourite film “Diva”. He fell in love with the black singer who ended up falling for him just as Elisa had fallen for an improbable boy one night. She wondered what had happened next between the Diva and the postman.

Just this week, Elisa had learned to sing the aria from “La Wally” by Alfredo Catalani, the leitmotif of the film, which seemed very fitting.

The service at Le Baroudeur was pleasantly discreet. You could work in peace and no one seemed bothered if you sat there for hours.

The crowd was very mixed: locals who stopped by for an espresso and people of all ages. As they weren’t overly hip, they were easy to rub shoulders with. They were welcoming, but not exuberant.

Since Elisa’s visit, Le Baroudeur closed up shop to make room for a bank. An insult to the Montmartre spirit.

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