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Paris, France

Two Tits and Six Hands

By Carrie Tee

Photos By Sarrah Danziger

If you don’t think Paris was made for love…maybe you can relate to a night like this.

When I “woke up” at seven o’clock Friday morning, I had a plan. From  the crazy hills of Montmartre, my ass needed to find itself in a seat at the Sorbonne, Latin Quarter, way across the city. Morning-sex had left me unsatisfied and even more exhausted than I already was. I stumbled down the steep cobblestone streets with the thought of Stam sleeping soundly, keeping me awake with jealousy. My partner, in addition to stealing the covers and pushing me off the bed, had a snoring problem, and I, in addition to not enjoying being cold, falling on the floor, or the sound of weed-whackers, had chronic insomnia. I’d stop short of calling us an ideal couple. It was going to be a long day. I knew it would start in a stuffy classroom, but thankfully the paltry air held no notion as to what corner of Paris the night would unravel.

View From Pompidou

 

Around the block of Stam’s flat are a few of Montmartre’s beloved charms and tourists traps: Moulin RougeSacré-Cœur, and that damned café from Amélie, Café des Deux Moulins. Luckily the sun was too low for the fanny-packers to be snapping photos. I wasn’t especially in the mood to shove past people blocking the sidewalks, fumbling with  cameras, and trying to unfold-maps and find what was right-side-up.

My class was around the corner from Shakespeare & Co, which Hemmingway, Pound, Fitzgerald and Joyce used to haunt. Every expat knows that “writers” can sleep for free between the book stacks upstairs. However, I bet the bed-bugs and swarms of tourists make this a little less than cozy. I decided to study between the classrooms and the bookstore in the wee garden that surrounds St. Julien le Pauvre Church. Amid flowers and hobos and in the shadow of Notre Dame’s spires, I tried my best to comprehend the agreement of French verb tenses in complex and hypothetical phrases. Snooze! I wanted to cover myself with Le Monde and doze off like one of the hobos.

After two hours of this pronoun and verb and si clause shit, I wanted to sleep. I really didn’t want to go back to Montmartre to see Stam, and we had no plans to hang anyway. I also really didn’t want to go back to my flat out in the suburbs.  But at least out in the suburbs, there would be no one wheezing in my ear. So I told Stam I needed to go home and sleep. He sounded annoyed and I will probably never know why or if he was or not…one of life’s great mysteries.

What can I tell you about Melun, where I live? Well, I don’t actually live in Melun. My village is such a tiny little thing that it’s not worth mentioning. Neither is Melun. But the area does have two of the most impressive chateaux around, Fontainebleau and Vaux le Vicomte(upon which Versailles is based), both worth visiting. There are also the Fontainebleau forests, famous for hiking and prostitution. But none of this makes taking the RER way out there very interesting.

The ride home seemed eternal and my nap was a failure. Internet trolling revealed that Turbo Fruits had a gig at Point Ephémère. A former construction depot, Point FMR was taken over by an artists collective and now houses art exhibitions, studio spaces, a big concert hall and a large patio that sprawls out onto Canal St. Martin. All the hip young things line that canal on summer nights like weeds, drinking in clusters until the wee hours. The option of cheap bodega beer along the water there isn’t a bad back up plan or after hours spot.

 

 

We found the Turbo Fruits show was free; now all we needed was a  little male company.

Sophie and I spent all afternoon loly-gagging, making ourselves pretty, casting a net out for options. Some guys we had met earlier in the week were down for a bit of fun. We had picked the fellows up in the splendidly dilapidated gardens of La Miroiterie, the oldest squat in Paris. The place is known for punk, hardcore, and noise shows, as well as its free store. That night, we had decided to splurge five big ones for a show, but the door ended up being pay-what-you-can. This was definitely a good thing considering that  Total Abuse, the band we went to see, had canceled and we had already climbed all the way up that damned hill with tallboys in hand. So we tossed a euro to the doorman for both of us and snuck around, checking out zines and records, enjoying what was essentially a big garden party. Shows there are played in a sweaty cement box, and seeing as the French hardcore bands had been nothing to write home about, we mostly stayed outside. There was a guy next to us that had been speaking in English on his phone. When he hung up, Sophie said, “Hey, where you from?” Cameron was from Austin and also there to see the canceled band. We bummed out together for a second, talked about the short he had just shopped-around at Cannes, and bullshitted about how cool Berlin is. He had seemed more interested in addressing Sophie, so I started talking to Cam’s buddies, Trevor and James, who had approached the three of us during our conversation with Cam. I had noticed Trevor out in the street before… and I certainly didn’t mind seeing him up close. The two Aussies were soon going from Paris to Milan. On bike. They looked like the type that would do that, the type that would be in a crusty spot in Paris questioning what they were doing in Paris. I told them they seemed unhappy and they raised their moping, little heads to look at each other.  It was the only time they had cracked a smile all night. They seemed really stressed, really tired, and really bored. They said they’d yet to have a decent time in this city. We exchanged numbers and I had hoped something would come up before they left. We decided we would all hook back up on Friday.

Now it was Friday, and Sophie gave Cameron a call. He was going to the Pop-in, a hipster dive full of Brits and smelly live shows. I called Trevor and James, but they had some dinner thing. We planned to meet them all sometime later, somewhere along the canal. The sun was going down when we finally left our flat, and Sophie was enchanted with the magic-hour sunlight over the green fields, the skies still bright blue and everything smelling of lavender. The big city was a short ride away, but we were worlds apart. Sophie and I missed our train and bought flasks of gin and whiskey in the corner shop to whittle away the 30 minute wait. Bullshit with Stam was stressing me out. He wouldn’t commit to meeting anywhere and just kept saying, “call when you get in and we’ll see.” Then he called and said he felt like going out right away, so he was seeing what his other friends were up to.

Charming.

 
La Miroiterie

 

We hopped off the metro at Jaures and talked about how the above-ground metro and all the highway overpasses are a bit reminiscent of Brooklyn. It’s probably a reason I like this area; it’s a bit industrial, a bit grimy, and doesn’t have any set style. It’s a mass of every taste and every ethnicity, and lots of cool graffiti. I love it, but I don’t love the boldness of guys in the area. They follow an offer to buy hash with an offer to fuck them, as though their shitty stashes were the hottest things going. The more romantically inclined fellas, nuance the deal with a proposition for a massage.

We trotted down the huge staircase and out of the metal turn-style, and I did feel for a second like we were hopping out in Bushwick, about to swing around the corner to the Market Hotel. Before I could really get caught in melancholic nostalgia, a brigade of yellow-shirted police officers and police vans came charging down the avenue in front of us. A stream of roller skaters started behind them. We took out our cameras and snapped the seemingly endless flow of skaters, gliding through the perfect early-summer night. All the trains and subway transfers we kept missing that night suddenly seemed like a blessing. Nothing is better than being perfectly on time for something totally unplanned.

 
We headed out to find a place to pee, having the good luck to pick a bar selling cans of cheep beer to take away, a brilliant idea in this convenience-store desert. We stocked up and went over to Point Ephémère. The terrace was overflowing as ever, the canal was teaming, and the Aussies called to say they were on the way.

I called Stam and told him where we were. He’d ended up drinking on the canal with a friend, and we were to meet up. He described where they were. I was a bit drunk and have no sense of orientation, anyway, so this wasn’t great. “What playground, what bridge?” I asked. I had no fucking idea what he was talking about. Regardless, we had our biker friends on the way, so for the moment we waited along one of the main intersections. Sophie and I were continually harassed by people trying to sell us beer or drink our liquor, telling us how lovely we were or calling us bitches when we refused to give them a cigarette or let them take a puff…. Really, sorry herpes mouth, but that’s a no.

I saw James’ tie-dye shirt first, then the two of them slowing their bikes and scanning the crowds. I tried to get their attention and almost yelled the wrong name. In any case, Trevor what’s-his-face was looking way finer than I remembered. The cap and hoodie he had at the show were gone, showing off long messy locks and ripped arms. The tattoos and the mustache, tight black pants…it was hopeless. I might have tried harder to remember Stam, but after the ungodly sleepless night and him being weird about meeting up and being bitchy in general, well, it gave me too much room to reconsider. Did I need any room or was I already reconsidering?

I still had to figure out where the fuck Stam was. Did he just happen to come here, or come because I told him I was gonna come here? Did he even want to see me? Was he being a douche for the expressed purpose of being a douche?

At first it seemed harmless getting us all together this night, but it could have been the gin interpreting for my tired mind. The mention of “my guy” sent the biker dudes running off to get beers (a.k.a. have an emergency bro-chat). When they came back, they seemed a bit bummed and said they couldn’t stay long, that they had to get up early and all. Sophie and I had some girl-talk while they were gone, and I think everybody knew the score, which was that no one was going to score. I don’t remember a damn thing anybody said, I just remember Trevor’s accent and ridiculously sexy, puppy-eye combination rendering me senseless.

Point Ephémère

 

I called Stam again. We talked forever. Maybe a lot of it was my poor French, but I still couldn’t figure out where in the fuck they were. Then I thought I understood where they were. Sophie and I walked up steps, over a bridge, down more steps and found a dead-end that reeked of piss. I apparently had been very wrong. I asked some guys down piss-alley if they knew about this playground area that Stam had described, but no one had a clue.

One more angry talk with Stam, who knew exactly where we were. He knew I was struggling to understand what mystical little bridge they were located under that’s next to some imaginary playground, yet not once did he offer to just come find us. He opted instead to start shouting directions at me.

This made things slightly awkward. Obligingly the boys dragged their bikes as we tried to find “my guy”. Trevor knew I was pissed at my man. But nonetheless I was trying to find him. This situation is what the French call la lose. It’s a shitty situation in which everybody probably looses, but it remains kinda funny. This is more or less the description of my life.

Eventually the guys took off. As he left, Trevor said, “Will I see you again, if I come back to Paris?” along with the worst killer puppy-eyes and sweet tender hug. Neither of us wanted to say goodbye.

Now, Sophie wasn’t so keen on finding Stam: “Why the fuck couldn’t he just come get us, and why the fuck is he so mad at you when you’re trying to find him. And you went all the way to his place from the suburbs last night just to see him, and now he can’t even walk one minute to find you?” It was true. I went to class the day before, came home to rest and shower, went all the way back to Paris in a cracked out, tired state just to see my man. Then I didn’t sleep again because of him, and now I was exhausted and pissed. And for what? mediocre sex and a totally non-committal relationship? I could do better…but what is better, again?

I stared at Trevor’s number in my phone as Sophie went off and I listened, each second my stomach turning more with a strange cocktail of irritation, gin, beer and butterflies. The butterflies were winning and the liquid courage took hold. I dialed. “Hello?” his voice said: “I was expecting you.”

We miraculously got the last metro out of Jaures, miraculously caught our connection just in time, and made it to Hotel de Ville where the guys, not so miraculously, had agreed to wait for us. We were in Central Paris, where the Seine was polluted with a much different type of crowd: younger, maybe slightly less hip and over-excited when breaking bottles and creating a mess. Sophie talked about finding Cameron, who was across the river in this fancy cocktail bar. She added that I owed her one as we approached Hotel de Ville. I knew it.

We settled in once again along the water. The boys had found some wine, so we sipped as I sat knee to knee with Trevor. I felt the tension of the evening melting away at last. I kept trying to peer over to see if Sophie was okay, but she and James seemed to be having a lively conversation and I never even caught her gaze.

Hormones were preventing Trevor and me from saying anything terribly interesting, or at least I prefer to blame hormones. We were waiting for the big K-I-S-S and that was about it. Sophie later said that she saw our heads getting closer and then couldn’t see me anymore. Yes, I had disappeared into a dangerous state of blind teenage lust, aided by alcohol, spitefulness, and an accent. I often bag these fragile musician guys, but having this solid block of man to play with was incredibly sexy.  His kiss was a bit too eager, his embrace a bit too rough, but it was the distraction I neededif things were slow and gentle, I would think about what I was doing, which was having fun, and then I wouldn’t be having it anymore. Joy is so ephemeral for young foolish things.

Drinking along the Seine is one of my favorite past times. It’s free, interesting figures keep popping up, and no shitty song is ever going to come on and bring you down. The only problem is the lack of toilets. After shooting down Trevor’s idea for me to take a leak under the bridge (yeah, that’s a dude thing), we wandered back up the steps and around Ile-St-Louise in search of a toilet.

I’ve played this game before. Bars are closing, chairs are being stacked, workers are starting to illegally light up smokes inside as they clean. FUCK NO, you can’t use the bathroom. Everyone has just cleaned the bathroom. Sorry, but we’ve got bridges for that, Madame.

So we go down some side-streets to look for a quiet alley. The early hours are romantic in central Paristhe reflections on the river, the shadows and silhouettes, the whimsical street lamps, the dead streets. But it was less romantic hunting for a grimy alley in which to take a piss. There was a promising candidate, full of parked cars and crates, but no people. Trevor walked me a ways and, instead of using the privacy of the spot for the original objective, he pulled me in tight. He leaned against a van and had his arms around me, the same semi-desperate tongue pushing even stronger. His hands were down my pants and I regretted having left my purse down by the Seine, especially when he guided my hand down toward his open fly…I could work with that. No matter, he came ready, and reached in his pocket. As I heard the plastic tearing, I suddenly lost focus. Someone came down the street, and we had to cool it a second. It was one thing to have a condom in your bag, but really, in your front pocket? Wait, who is this guy again? I only got his name figured out this morning.

It was like waking up sober after falling asleep in a drunken stupor. It wasn’t my last night in Paris. I didn’t need to grab this night by the balls, pull the dawn down from the horizon. I don’t know what exactly happened, but the moment was lost. The wandering soul that passed by was like a rock skipping on a placid lake suddenly we saw the water rippling in front of us just before our boots got wet.

We went back. “Where were you guys?”“Looking for a place to piss.” Everyone was tired, everything was cool and soggy, and the metro was about to reopen. It was time to go home. The boys got on their bikes, and Sophie and I decided to walk to Gare de Lyon.

Over the river, the sun was beginning to flicker and suddenly the city had repented its dirty, lascivious ways and was back to its charming self, buttons redone, hair combed. The view of Bastille in the distance, back-lit by the lightening sky, began erasing my fatigue. We left at sunset and were headed home at sunriseeverything seemed to be in its right place. I was excited at the prospect of a hot shower and lying down in my little white room, way way out in the suburbs. The train would be quiet and we would be back safely in no time. But first, we would have to wait it out in the station, watching the times and towns shifting on the huge departure boards.

Gare de Lyon

 

Of course there are sketchy guys hanging around outside a train station at 5am. One bothered us for a cigarette. He kept telling us, “no problem, tranquil. Me, tranquil, no problem,” which is something all the fucking creepers say to the ladies, usually accentuated with “vous êtes vraiment charmante.”  Yes, so charming, in fact, that I wouldn’t be wasting an iota of that precious shit on your ass. BYE.

I really was dying of thirst and this guy said, “What you want?” We were standing by a vending machine and he pulled out a bunch of change. Thirst. All that was on my mind. He said, “I’ll get you whatever you want, but first, come take a picture with me.” To do anything in France, you must submit passport sized photos and, because of that, booths are all over the place. I have been asked by lots of tourists, mainly Japanese guys, to take a photo with them. It didn’t matter much to me at this pointI had no change and sure, a bottle of water for a picture, why not? Stranger things have happenedand what better way to top off the morning than some PG prostitution?

Sophie took off somewhere and we went in the booth.

The guy put me on his lap. Then he kept trying to get me closer to an uncomfortable area. “Just put the change in,” I said.  He fumbled with the coins, and then tried to pull my face close to his, fondled my breasts with a free hand. I somehow grabbed some of his coins and threw them in his face.

I found Sophie at the station’s café. It was just opening. The waiter said: “What, you want to use the toilet?”  I said, “No, no,” in a defeated voice. Then he turned friendly and said: “What do you need?” French people love this game…I said, “Just a glass of water.” As he went to fetch it, Mr. Fondles showed up with a bottle in his hand. At the same moment, the waiter came back with the glass. The creep made a motion to take it, the waiter seemed confused. I took the bottle of water, pointed to the waiter and said, “You give that glass back to him!” and took off. Water water, everywhere, and way too many creeps.

I had had it. Twenty-four hours ago, I was in bed with my man, a guy who more or less respected me as a human. A few hours ago, I was nearly getting busy in an alley way with a stranger. And now I had just been felt up by some cretin against my will. The day had digressed steadily…too many hands for two tiny tits. We’d seen the full spectrum from boyfriend figure, to random fling, to assault. The last instance was stupidity, but that’s what I get for not assuming every guy is a total piece of scum. The other two guys, well, that’s Paris, that’s me, that’s being twenty something.

“If you don’t think Paris was made for love, give Paris one more chance,” sang Jonathan Richman with the Modern Lovers. That’s one line that was in my head when we finally boarded the train home. The other comes from Naughty by Nature: “There ain’t no room for relationships, there’s just room to hit it”.  Somewhere between these two lines, between night and day, between the wicked city and noble countryside, on my tranquil train in a lonesome cubby, I was hiding.

And that’s how I like it. For now.

Locations in Paris

Moulin Rouge
82 Boulevard de Clichy
75018 Paris, France
01 53 09 82 82

www.moulinrouge.fr

Sacré-Cœur
35 Rue du Chevalier de La Barre
75018 Paris, France

01 53 41 89 00
www.sacre-coeur-montmartre.com

Café des Deux Moulins
15 Rue Lepic
75018 Paris, France

01 42 54 90 50‎
Google Maps

Shakespeare and Company
37 Rue de la Bûcherie
75005 Paris, France

01 43 25 40 93
www.shakespeareandcompany.com

St. Julien le Pauvre Church
79 Rue Galande
75005 Paris, France

01 43 29 09 09
www.sjlpmelkites.org

Fontainebleau
Place du Général de Gaulle
77300 Fontainebleau, France

01 60 71 50 60
www.musee-chateau-fontainebleau.fr

Vaux le Vicomte
Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte
77950 Maincy, France‎

01 64 14 41 90‎
www.vaux-le-vicomte.com

Point Ephémère
Quai de Valmy
75010 Paris, France

01 40 34 02 48
www.pointephemere.org

La Miroiterie
88 rue de Ménilmontant
75020 Paris, France

Google Maps

Pop In
105 Rue Amelot
75011 Paris, France

01 48 05 56 11
www.popin.fr


Bands Featured

Turbo Fruits
www.myspace.com/turbofruits

Total Abuse
www.myspace.com/totalabuse


Cabaret Embassy (Casablanca, Morocco)

The Things They Never Knew

By Bobby Rich

Photos by Sarrah Danziger

It was late for the hotel and everyone was asleep except the American couple who sat sharing shots of whiskey and anisee on their bed. The paint on their walls was chipping off and the florescent light-bulb overhead had no shade and was suspended from the ceiling only by the electric wires that powered it. The room had a small window at the far side of it that looked onto the terrace, which had no street view because rooms were built around it. To have any type of natural light in their room, one would have to open the door, and even then it was not direct. The American couple kept taking shot after shot from their small glass cups that were normally used by Moroccans for tea and coffee. Sam kept on the bottle of anisee, holding up her cup to the electric light as she poured in the water. And Richard held the bottle of whiskey in one hand and his cup in the other since he didn’t take much time between shots, unless he was ready for a cigarette. They were quiet for the most part, looking at the floor or the ugly wall ahead, and then Richard said:

“Do you want to go out tonight? It is your last night in Morocco and Casablanca is supposed to be a party town.”

“Is it supposed to be?” she said mockingly.

“Well, that’s what I hear. Plus you saw the gay couple romantically kissing and walking hand in hand at the Hassan Two Mosque today. That was a first in Morocco! The people must be less repressed here.”

“I mean, where exactly would you want to go?”

“You know as much as I do about this town. I don’t know, we’ll take out the motorcycle and see what we find.”

“The patron is going to hate us. She already told us the curfew is midnight.”

“That’s nothing ten dirham can’t fix.”

The motorcycle was silver and reflected the night sky wonderfully. Richard had bought it from a friend of his in Marrakech, and he planned to sell it before he left the country. It had fifteen hundred original miles on it which Sam and him had put on together, but after tomorrow how ever many more miles the bike would accumulate would be put on only by Richard. He pushed the bike to the middle of the plaza away from the entrance of the Hotel des Amis, kick-started it, and then said: “I love these women here! I told you that curfew was nothing a small bribe couldn’t change. To think, we’re only paying an equivalent of three-fifty each to stay here. The Western world has it all wrong, Sam. Whoever started charging eighty bucks for a hotel room a night in America was a fucking crook!”

Sam didn’t say anything.

As they drove through the winding alleys of the medina, Sam held on tight to Richard. It is possible that she did this because she was cold, but it was the look on her face which made one think she was doing this to savor her last feelings of love for this man. Her eyes were closed, her lips were slightly parted with the faint hint of a smile, and she pressed her cheek warmly against his back. Sometimes Richard could have sworn that he heard her sigh, and at other times it seemed that she was rubbing herself against him. If she was he didn’t want to know, not because he wanted to pretend it wasn’t happening but because he knew if he talked about it he would ruin the moment for her. So he continued to drive looking straight ahead, driving faster and faster as he felt her wriggling behind him. They were now outside of the medina going down the Atlantic Coast, and he tried not to pay attention to anything but the road. And when he finally heard her let out a subtle moan and loosen her grip, he slowed down the bike for the first time, turned around, and started toward Boulevard Mohammed el Hansali and Boulevard Mohammed V, which was outside the medina. He didn’t know of any clubs there, but he had seen many flashing lights when they drove past ten minutes previous and thought it would be a good place to look.

They drove down Mohammed V and decided they would go to the first club they saw. Richard seemed to not only be physically drunk but mentally drunk as well. Any time he stopped at a red light, which only was when certain death seemed inevitable, he would rev his engine until the light turned green. And when it did he would kick his bike into first and speed away even faster than the crazy Moroccan drivers. Sam told him to slow down, but he couldn’t get a hold of himself. And when he saw the first club with flashing lights he swerved into oncoming traffic, squeezed between the moving cars and the parked ones, rode up onto the sidewalk, somehow managed to stop the bike smoothly, and then jumped off it with his keys in hand before Sam could even scream from fright. Sam did not seem impressed.

The club had a cover charge of fifty dirham, which is an equivalent to five Euros, and this seemed a bit pricey to the couple. “Do you mind if I go take a look?” asked Richard. The door man let him in and Sam stood outside looking at the sign above the doorman which read: CABARET EMBASSY. She thought this club was located in a strange place. It was right next to a Kentucky Fried Chicken. She was also surprised by the fact that she hadn’t noticed it before, because it was right behind the Cafe de France, which is the most noticeable cafe outside the medina. But, of course, this club was always closed during the day and looked like a little hole-in-the-wall joint even now when it was open. The couple had walked by it many times and had never taken a second glance at it.

Richard came back and said, “This place is wild. We should go in.”

“I don’t really have fifty dirham to spend. I only have thirty now, and I’ll need it for food before I go to the airport tomorrow. I’ll walk home and see you when you get back.”

“No, you can’t do that. You’ll disturb the patron! Since it’s your last night I’ll pay for it. And really, the cover isn’t bad and plus it comes with a drink.”

They walked to the doorman and Richard handed him the hundred, and then the couple walked down the stairs into the basement, split apart a black, velvet curtain and heard a blast of electric sound. “Isn’t this great!” Sam looked over the crowd. Everybody had their arms up in the air dancing in a way she hadn’t seen before. There were women everywhere wearing short little dresses and smoking hookah with the men at their tables, and they were drinking beer too. This was the first time Sam had seen this kind of female behavior in Morocco, and she figured Richard must have been correct when he said people were less repressed in Casa. “What do you want to drink?”

Sam said, “A whiskey.”

“You go get a table and I’ll be right back.”

Richard found Sam over in the corner and laid a whiskey in front of her. She took a sip and said thank you. She looked over the scene again with a crooked kind of smile. Richard had taken note of what the other men were doing and started to dance the way they were. It seemed to be natural with the kind of music he was hearing. Sam started watching him and then snapped out of the trance she was in. “Those guys over there…” She pointed to the next table, “are New Yorkers. They introduced themselves to me when I sat down.”

Richard looked at the stage. Everybody seemed incredibly drunk to him. The men were getting on stage and dancing with the fat women singers with their arms in the air and shaking their bodies like worms. Richard thought they looked possessed. He didn’t know what was going on or what he was hearing, so he leaned over on the banquet toward the next table and started conversation.

Salam alaikum.”

“Alaikum salam,” Said one man from the group of five who sat closest to Richard.

“Hey, my girlfriend over here says you are from New York.”

“Yeah, we’ve all been living in New York for twenty years. Where’re you two from?”

“We’re from New York too. Bushwick area. Where you from?”

“Astoria.”

“Nice. Yeah, me and my friends like to go there. Play some backgammon, smoke some hookah. We actually almost lived in Astoria once.”

Sam chimed in: “We didn’t almost live there. Honestly this place was uninhabitable,” Sam said to the other man. “It was a basement in someone’s laundry room. It was a railroad apartment in a dungeon. We could see this beautiful backyard but the door was sealed with cement; and only the people upstairs could use it. It wasn’t fit for human beings! You’d have to pay me to live there.”

“Well, it was nine hundred a month for a two bedroom,” Richard said to the man. “I would have lived there.”

“Two bedroom?” said Sam scornfully. “One room was a hallway, and the other was a closet you couldn’t even stand up in.”

“Anyway, I would have lived there,” Richard reiterated. “How long are you in town for?”

“We’re going to stay for a couple months, visit the family, you know?”

“Cool, live it up for a bit, eh? Is this a club you come to often?”

“Naw, it’s our friend’s birthday.” He pointed to one in his group. He blew out some smoke from a hookah and then said, “you want some?”.

“Yeah,” said Richard.

“We like to come here for a couple months every year. Come back to the homeland. How long are you two staying for?”

“We’ve been in Morocco for a month. Sam is leaving tomorrow, but I’m here for a while longer. Say, what’s the name of this music?”

“It’s called Chaabi. It means popular, but It’s country and  mountain music.”

Sam hadn’t been listening to them. She was surveying the crowd again, and then some kind of greater understanding occurred and she pulled at Richard’s sleeve.

“What is it?”

“Ask him if these women are prostitutes. I keep seeing them go from table to table.”

“You think all of these women are prostitutes?” Richard looked around the room with a new pair of eyes. Why were they all wearing these trashy looking, sequin sparkling mini-dresses? Why had they all applied such heavy make-up? And yes, why were they jumping from table to table, talking to almost every man in the bar?

Richard leaned over toward the man. “Wait, are all these women prostitutes?”

The man didn’t even look around. “Yes, every woman who is in this club is a prostitute.”

“Really?”

Sam pulled Richard’s sleeve again. “Ask him how much they are.”

“Hey, man.” Richard handed him back the hookah. “How much are one of these girls?”

“Why, you want one?” He laughed.

“She wants to know.” And Richard looked over at Sam.

“Damn, you get down like that?”

“Naw, she’s just curious.”

“Well, for me they are about three hundred. For you, probably about six hundred, all night. They have different prices for foreigners.”

“All night, eh?” said Richard curiously. “Wait.” He leaned over to Sam. “He says they cost three hundred for him; six hundred for us.” Richard leaned back over to the man. “Wait, so this is a normal practice?”

“Yeah, all over the place.”

“Would you say all women who go to bars are prostitutes?”

“I wouldn’t say one hundred percent, but probably about eighty percent are.”

“Crazy! I never knew that.” He went back over to Sam. “He says all of these women are definitely prostitutes, and about eighty percent of all women in bars are prostitutes.”

The couple polished off their whiskeys. “Wow,” said Sam. She looked all around. “This is amazing.” On stage nothing had changed. The blue Christmas lights were still flashing , drunken men were still dancing, but the women singers seemed to have forgotten they were singing and were now just drinking beers on the side. Sam pulled out her camera and started filming.

The man saw what Sam was doing and leaned toward Richard. “What is she doing?”

“We’re journalists. We write for a website that covers cultural music. We want to get some footage for an article.”

“You shouldn’t do that,” he said. “These people have families and, you know, different identities in the day.”

“Don’t worry,” said Richard. “Our audience is predominantly American. Everybody’s identity will be protected.”

The man seemed not to like this response, but he sat back in his seat and continued to smoke his hookah. Some prostitute had the demon running through her and went on a rampage, hopping from man to man, swinging her head in circles like a rocker. Sam quickly started to film her when she attacked one drunken soul who sat near them. The man from Queens looked over at the couple with little respect as Sam filmed the woman.

Sam said, “I’m having such a great time, and now I have to leave Morocco. I’m sad. I wish I could stay.”

Richard looked at the scene around him, the prostitute hopping onto another man, the crowd drunk and falling on the floor, the man next to them giving the evil eye, and then Richard said, “Trust me, I think it’s better this way.”

Locations In Casablanca

Hôtel des Amis
12 Rue Markazia
Casablanca, Morocco

Google Maps

Cabaret Embassy
2 Boulevard Mohammed V
Casablanca, Morocco

Google Maps

Cafe de France
Boulevard Mohammed V
Casablanca, Morocco

Google Maps



Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

Saturday Nights in Sinza

By Richard Prins

The Mwenge Bus Stand: April, 2010

It’s Saturday night, and like the rest of Dar es Salaam, I’m in pursuit of starehe. Good times. Cold lager. Loud laughter. Callipygian women. And the most delicious music I can find. Nine o’clock is approaching and I’m still alone in the room I rent from my friend’s mother, sipping brandy and listening to “The Heart of Saturday Night” to remind myself what melancholy tastes like. I’m sending text messages, receiving urgent beeps. Every time I come here to my second favorite city the Saturday night circuit has changed. Last year’s top club got arrogant and started charging entrance fees, so all the penny pinching thrill-seekers fled to freer pastures. This year Milton Nyerere, grandson of Tanzania’s first president and patron socialist saint, has remodeled the dying Paris Club and christened it The Calabash. With its own house band that covers soukous, Bongo Flava, taarab, Afro and Euro and American pop, it’s the place to sell your face in 2010. People come all the way from Msasani, where the ministers and diplomats live, to dance and drink here in Mlalakua, the slummiest neighborhood in Sinza.

When I get home to New York and resume my studies, there are many things I’ll miss. Swahili and its fluid angularity; my friends’ antic-some sagas and grandiose hustles; all the strangers (there is no Swahili word for stranger), our spontaneous conversations, and being called Jesus for my hirsute benevolence in the bars, in the streets, in my home, even in bed. But I won’t pine for anything more than the starehe of Sinza, where joy is never more than 1,500 shillings away (500 ml beers generally run you slightly more than a dollar). I’ll even be plagued by dreams where I hop a Thursday night plane to Dar, only to realize I have to cut my Saturday night short to make it to Monday class on time. Most visitors to Tanzania find Dar es Salaam, the third-fastest-growing city in the world, ugly, unplanned, dirty, nothing more than a place to sleep and board a plane, just a stop on their way to animal-voyeuring or rural do-gooding. But if you find yourself in Tanzania, I highly recommend you ride a daladala to the Mwenge bus stand; all of the locales I profile here are within walking distance.

The Mwenge bus stand, Dar es Salaam


AMBIANCE: July, 2007

My first night out in Dar es Salaam. With my new mzungu friend, whom I hated for speaking better Swahili than me, and his mshikaji Ambrose. I also hated that when they first greeted each other as “mshikaji,” I thought they were calling each other “mshikaki,” which means “shish kebab” instead of “homeboy.” And they laughed at my expense, which is all part of being a mzungu. A neon turquoise sign glittered, AMBIANCE. Ambrose spoke to a thick brick of a man and handed him a 5,000 shilling note. We breezed past with halted glances as the bouncer pocketed our discounted entry fee. A deep, buoyant bass line rumbled in my ears and under my feet, lights strobed past the surprisingly sparse dance floor, illuminating the bar’s swarm of scanty-dressers. Through a barred window, Ambrose got all of us Safaris. Mike and Ambrose bounced into the limelight, which had more mirrors on its walls than people on its floor, and scores of drink-nurses on its outskirts. Mike threw up his hands like a frat boy and revolved a few times stiffly.

My beer twirled my hips into motion; I hadn’t felt so visible since I was the only person not dancing at the bar mitzvahs of seventh grade. I caught an eye that had set upon me, sparkling like her can of hard cider, which clinked a man’s Tusker. She wore a button-laden shirt with a price tag, in dollars, still dangling from the sleeve. She laughed at a joke that couldn’t possibly be audible over the pidgin grunts of “Banjuka Tu” (the latest track out of Kenya), let alone funny. Mike and Ambrose still had their hands up like frat boys. A splash of beer sloshed out of the bottle in Mike’s hand as he executed a few more flat footed semi-turns.

There was a howl in my ear; the sparkly-eyed lady nearly tripped over her heels (two sizes too big) to seize my shoulders and sway her hips in a smoother replication of my own. Bejeweled pink tendrils emanated from her thighs. She clapped with all her wingspan and whooped like a Maenad at the disco ball suspended from the ceiling. Again she gave my shoulders a whack. “Enjoy!” she ordered me, and spun around to rollick her buttocks. So I palmed the small of her back and traced her undulations, as she performed acrobatic squat-thrusts before me, her eyes transfixed by the narrow mirror, lapping up the sight of us amidst the coruscating postures. Dozens flocked to the dance floor. Young men banded together to hail each other’s moves. Mike had picked up a girl of his own, though she was already swinging her head to the disinterested left and right on every beat. I cupped my hands to my partner’s ear, so she might know I spoke Swahili.

“I’m the only one who doesn’t know the words!”

She cackled, “You will know!” She flattened herself against the mirror, one leg off the ground like a micturating dog, her hips vibrating hummingbirds flailing against the glass. Ambrose’s hand landed heavily on my shoulder, “Remember Jesus, if you fuck a prostitute, just use a condom.”

And the world made a numbing sort of sense again. The song ended, and something American began to play, presumably to appease us wazungu who had lured everybody to the dance floor. She scampered towards the bar in a manner that assumed I would follow. But I only broke away from the dance floor to lose myself in a crowd of hungry eyes, their word-breathing lips like mosquitoes scanning for veins on each other’s faces.

And I recognized the English song:

Now that it’s raining more than ever

Know that we’ll still have each other

You can stand under my umbrella

Ella, ella, eh eh eh

Under my umbrella

Ella, ella, eh eh eh

The dancers tossed up their arms with added vigor on the chorus of “Ella!” Hela. Swahili for cash. The entire room supplicant at the very mention of it.

Ambrose bellowed an earthquake into my ear, “Jesus! Let me take you a beer! Look at all the vicheche!” He’d already taught me the slang word for loose women; Vicheche refers to a type of savannah weasel that emits foul fumes from its anal glands.

Me with friends at local liquor bar, Dar es Salaam


I sought an empty bar stool among the diamond of miniature counters hung from the ceiling by strip-club-style poles. And there were thick arms around my waist. Grappled from behind, as if the barstool had been resurrected as an anthropomorphic tree. “I laaav you!” wailed my assailant, a chunky woman with glittery makeup and braids like chutes, eyes shuttered in blind drunk bliss. “Take me home!”

“Home? Where’s home?”

“Where you come from!”

“But you’re too drunk to walk!”

“No! I laaav you your body!!”

The middle-aged man she was sitting with frowned resentfully, cursing himself for buying her a last drink before getting down to business. Mike and Ambrose came pursuing new beers, Mike’s brow slick with sweat, cheekbones languid with intoxication. They saw the gridlock I walked into, and laughed to my rescue.

“She wants Jesus to save her,” Ambrose snorted.

“Save me! Take me!”

“I bless you!” I repeated for the dozenth time that day. Then the motion of dramatically, Jesusly placing my hands on somebody’s head. “Now go in peace!”

“No!” she stumbled to her feet, taller than me, huger than me, still gripping me.

Ambrose jabbered angrily. She screamed something back, crudely caressing my Jesus tangles. Ambrose stuck two fingers in his mouth for a shrill whistle, “Bouncer!” He gave a strong yank on one of her arms but she didn’t come loose. He tore at the other arm and my scalp burned at the pull of hair. He cocked his arm to strike; she cleared the counter of empty beers, flung one bar stool at Ambrose, the other at me. The hulk bouncer then dragged her away with much shrieking and little effort.

“Crazy bitch, huh!” Mike was impressed by how the night had developed. “Too bad she wasn’t good looking.”

“I hate that shit!” Ambrose fumed, finally releasing his pent-up punch in a thwarted fist pump.

“Man, I could tell you just wanted to fucking smack her,” Mike commiserated.

“We fuck her!” Ambrose Englished back. “Three dicks, one pussy!”

And not even misogyny could dispel a sumptuous alliteration assembling in my brain. “Kicheche kichaa!”

“Jesus! I take you another beer! She broke yours!”

“She must have been a Pentecostal!”

“Hope she’s not too hungover for church tomorrow.”

We colonized a countertop and sipped our last drinks. The blue label on the Safari Lager read:

As the red sun sets, like a growing tribute to our work, our pride, our tomorrows, one reward is in order. Full bodied, full flavoured, a beer for a people of purpose. Safari Lager, more than just a beer.

Meeda Club: October, 2007

She was rotund, bouncy and loud. Chilu liked that; on Meeda’s dance floor, he dove to her and hung from her thick neckline. She whooped and held up his puny frame for a few gyrations.

After stumbling off his feet one too many times, he pushed me into her and growled like a chainsaw, “Try it, Jesus!”

I traced her enormous butt’s rapid pumping with his hips. That’s right, my mind echoed with boozy laughter, I’m that white boy who knows how to shake his ass.

A dreadlocked someone slapped at my pocket and skittered away. I thumped my wallet into my thigh – still there, the fool didn’t know what to do with the baggy African pants I wore, their pockets six inches deep.

“That one tried to rob me!” I pointed, marveling to my partner.

She tossed her loose braids and a glance across her shoulder, then backed up into me like a pickup truck with hydraulics. “Don’t worry! Don’t worry! We have fun!”

Chilu returned to drag us out past the club’s patio; he led the way, but we balanced his dipsomaniacal gait. As they bargained, a familiar voice spoke to me from the darkness.

“How have you been, Jesus?”

“Cool, cool,” I bobbed my head, not recognizing the speaker. (I swear, I can usually tell one black person from another, but without streetlights, I can’t tell a black face from black night.)

“You didn’t get my email?”

Now I saw the corvine visage was Teacher’s. “Email? What email?” Last week he pawned his phone to the bartender for beer money; he promised he’d be sending me an email.

“About the school for street kids I’m starting?”

“Ah, didn’t see it. You know how the internet is mad slow around here,” I dropped my voice as though we shared some cosmopolitan understanding.

“My birthday is next Tuesday, you know?”

“Cool, cool, we’ll have to get some beers.”

Now I heard Chilu snap, “No, my dorm! Me and Jesus, we fuck you, 25,000 shillings.”

“Hell no!” she stomped a conniption in the road. “Rent a guest house. Then we all tombatomba!”

A lesson in Swahili grammar: Tomba means to fuck. Tombatomba means to fuck a lot.

Bwaga!” I tried coaxing Chilu out of his fixation. Drop it.

“Jesus, you have money for a taxi?”

“Your dorm’s a block away!” Half a block; we were already walking. “You’re drunk, let’s sleep!”

“No! Guest house!” she hollered, still adamant.

“Chilu, I don’t want it, you know I have a girlfriend.”

“You have two girlfriends!” Chilu snickered, flashing a pronged peace sign. “What’s a third!”

Hard to argue with that logic. But I already knew that Chilu would shortly throw a fit. Either right now. Or at the gate in front of dozing guards. Or in Chilu’s room and wake up our friends.

And then a firm, muscular wrist seized me by the Adam’s apple and whisked me off my feet. I hung from the arm like pants from a clothesline; another shadow barked in my ear, “White phone! White phone!”

The prostitute scattered as a fist exploded in Chilu’s face.

“If you’re gonna mug me, mug me in Swahili,” I gurgled my lifeline, and was placed back on my feet.

Simu iko wapi?” he demanded, less gruffly.

“In my pocket. The other pocket.”

He tore at the pants, and out popped a phone. He picked it off the ground, and unsnapped Tevas from my feet as expertly as one might a brassiere.

Kuma mamao!” I roared to the sky and Chilu, who was shirtless with a mustache of blood. Their mothers’ pussies.

“The bastards take my phone! My Professor Jay shirt!”

In the morning, I am that whiteboy walking barefoot to the daladala stand, preparing to beg for a free ride back to the university.

Did I pass her on the road? It was so dark last night – but what other heavyset, curly-braided woman would be slapping cahoots with a thick-wristed thug, his tall dreadlocks still glowering?

Maasai locals at local liquor bar, Dar es Salaam


Gaspar’s Place & Pluto: December, 2007

Teacher was surprised next Tuesday when I showed up at the squathouse he hoped to convert into a makeshift English school. The structure resembled Stonehenge, but instead of tourists, the neighborhood riff raff sat on cinder blocks, dragging on a joint and freestyling in Swahili. I didn’t partake in the joint, as I had reason to believe Teacher’s drinking was interfering with the efficacy of his TB medication. I was, however, pressured into reciting the one Swahili poem I’d written, which propagates an afrocentric theory of Jesus’s ethnicity. I had brought ten thousand shillings; Teacher ditched his customers and students so we could enjoy four rounds on two stools at a short wooden table. Gaspar’s Place was the name of the kiosk that had a large cooler, and an excellent collection of old-school hip-hop records donated by the regulars.

“Jesus, this means a lot to me, man,” Teacher’s baritone began to wobble on his fourth Safari. “Those years in the Lower East Side, I froze my ass every birthday! Nobody ever did this for me!”

“You ain’t freezing now,” I clapped his knobby shoulder, referring less to my beneficence than to the blanket of sweat that had followed me around the past five months.

“Who has paper!” Teacher shouted. “What’s your birthday, Jesus? Everybody here, tell me your birthday so I can write it down!”

I ripped a page out of my palm-sized notebook so Teacher wouldn’t see what I had already written about him. “February 6. But I’ll be back home by Christmas.”

“Then we’ll have a going away party instead! Pablo Escobar, what’s yours?”

The characters of Gaspar’s Place stopped reiterating their stances on the latest beef between Kanye and 50-Cent, and began shouting out their birthdays. Most of them are former members of the faux-gang Sewaside, some of them having made cameos in Swahili hip-hop music videos, others having made late-night promises to me that we’d record a single together at Bongo Records, any day now. “I never knew,” Scarface, the elder statesman of the local drunks and veteran bar-brawler, shrugged. “But I think I’m almost sixty.” I couldn’t stop staring at his face; he had a new gash in his left cheek, an inch long and almost as deep, his skin cratered with infected, desiccated pus the color of strawberry shortcake. I couldn’t imagine how much that hurt.

“Another round, Jesus?”

Niko mbovu,” I unidiomatically stated that I was “broke,” unwittingly using a phrase that essentially referred to myself as a “broken person,” i.e. a prostitute. It’s quite fortunate that East Africans have an uncanny ability to understand any and all manglings of their language.

“A moneyless mzungu!” Scarface snapped his fingers, his craggy face suddenly pneumatic with awe. “But a sociable one! Teacher, compare Jesus to the others. There is a reason the Tanzanians go around with him – he mixes himself! None of the others will sleep in Kijitonyama Hostel! Or come drink with us at Gaspar’s Place! But when you see Jesus, you see he is a man of the people!”

Buying people beers always pays off in excessive praise. “That’s right!” Teacher pounded the table. “It’s because he knows the Lower East Side! When I was a squatter there, we drank Midnight Dragon every night, and smashed the bottles when they were empty! Jesus, I’ll show you how the other half lives! We drank Safari tonight, but most of my people can’t afford Safari. They drink gongo, you know what that is?”

“I know it ain’t legal!” I arched an eyebrow, and followed him across the highway to the paths, where I couldn’t see the mud puddles and continually step in them.

“Everybody welcome Jesus to Pluto!” Teacher debuted me to a room with mudded floors, dim kerosene lamps and dimmer eyelids. “They call it Pluto because when you come here, you’ll never get back! Tell me, sister, have you ever seen a white man here before?”

The waitress nodded, unimpressed, “One time.”

“Damn,” Teacher pumped his fist in dismay. I too was dismayed that I could not claim, like Columbus, to have discovered this foreign land. “But I bet he wasn’t drinking no gongo!”

“He came from World Bank.”

“The bastards! I translated for them once and took them to Meeda. As soon as they saw how much beer we drink, I saw their eyes clicking, calculating how much money they could make if they just got us drinking Heinekens! Kuma mamao, bring us some gongo!”

For two coins, she brought us a jam jar filled with foggy liquid. Teacher had a deep sip and passed it along with an involuntary grimace. I lifted it to my lips and saw suspended debris, smelled corn husk, crucifixion and rubber cement.

“You quoted Jacob Riis earlier!” I realized. “You do know the Lower East Side!”

Every swig gagged me, hammered my head bluntly. I got so drunk on poverty that I fell in mud on my way back to the hostel and ruined my favorite dashiki.


Locations in Dar es Salaam

Mwenge Bus Stand
Google Maps

The Calabash
Sam Nujoma Road between Mlimani City and the Mwenge bus stand
(The intersection of Sam Nujoma Road and Bagamoyo Road)


Ambiance
Shekilango Road

Gaspar’s Place
Mlalakua (If it’s street is on the map it’s one of those forking out
behind the Calabash on the Mlimani City side of Sam Nujoma Road)

NOTE: People in Dar es Salaan don’t usually use street names, due to the fact that they don’t have signs. All of the listings above are educated guesses. The best way for anybody to get to get to these locations is to go to the Mwenge bus stand and just ask an autoriksha driver.

Barcelona, Spain

A Red-Lit Basement

By Bobby Rich

Photos by Sarrah Danziger

The night was similar to every other night we had had in Barcelona. We’d go for a drink and take it from there. If nothing happened we’d go back to our place and have a couple bottles of cava. If something did happen, like we found a party or met some people who were club hopping, we would hang with them until we got bored. This was the easiest way I had found to discover a city. When doing this there was no telling where you might find yourself, who you might meet or what you might end up doing.

The next stop of the night would be Marsella, an absinthe bar. It was a tourist bar, I suppose, but it was the best tourist bar in the city. It was first opened in 1820, and the absinthe, from what I have heard from a reliable source, is brewed in the back of the bar. One thing I can tell you from firsthand experience, I have never been as happily drunk as I have been here. It’s even better when you realize you’ve only spent seven euros to feel drunk.

Bar Marsella

We had met this guy earlier in the night at a bar somewhere in the Barrio Gothic. We had just been standing there at the cigarette machine. Sophia and my friend Claire, who was from Paris and visitng Barcelona for the first time, were laughing and I wasn’t listening to them. There was bad music playing and we had just paid too much for our beer. It was precisely at that moment, when everything was adding up and I was about to be in a bad mood, that I heard a trailing voice pass me: “You from America?” it said. The girls weren’t paying attention to it, but I looked up and saw the man that the voice had come from. He wore a Yankee’s cap, so I pointed to my head and said, “We’re from New York City.”

He said, “Yeah?” It was questioning, as though he didn’t believe me.

I said, “Brooklyn.”

He said, “Yeah?” His eyes sparkled, “I’m from Queens.”

“Where?”

“Jamaica?”

“Off the J?”

“Yep.”

“I’m off the J, too. The Flushing stop.”

“That’s where my brother lives.”

We thought about what else we could say.

“Uh-huh,” I muttered, “another friend of mine from Flushing is living here. Right down the street actually.” (This is the friend who told me Marsella makes the absinthe in the back room.)

“I haven’t met anyone from America here.”

“Really? There are people all over Barcelona from America”

“Naw.”

“Yeah, I meet them all the time. People from all over the fucking place. Texas, New York, California, Washington. Shit, Claire’s from New Jersey and I’m from Georgia.”

He laughed. “Shit, where in Georgia?”

“Atlanta.”

“Aww,” he said, understandingly. “I’m moving here soon, I think. You know, because the situation in America is so fucked up.”

“Yep,” I said. I had recently watched Zeitgeist, and crazily thought he was talking about how fucked up American politics were. “Well, I really think you’ll like it here.”

We walked away from the cigarette machine and left the girls where they were. I said, “It’s similar to New York here, you have a subway at least. It’s just a lot smaller. You’ll figure it out in no time. If you got New York City down, then this is easy.”

“You know, I don’t know how to get around, so I’m just kickin’ it at my brother’s. I’ve been living in Camden, NJ since ’97.”

I laughed. “Just get a map. Do you even like it here so far?”

“I don’t know. The bitches are different. And they just pass you off like what?

“Well, I guess it’s difficult if you don’t speak Spanish.”

“Naw,” he said, “I do speak Spanish. My father is Dominican and my mom’s Puerto Rican.”

“That makes sense,” I said. For some reason I hadn’t assumed any ethnicity for him. “Well, you’re set then. I think you’ll like it just fine. What are you doing here, anyway?” That was the most New York question I had asked since I arrived in Spain. I felt like I was betraying my purpose for traveling. But sometimes these kind of feelings can be wrong, because the next question this guy asked me was: “You do coke?”

I was taken by surprise at first, but out of habit I then asked, “Why, you selling?”

“Yeah. And this shit’s good, dawg. I’ve seen them cook it.”

“What do they cut it with?”

“Baking soda. Shit’s ninety-seven percent pure.”

“I don’t know.” I was playing the game, the New York game possibly. I wanted a free bump, and he knew it. You at least have to get a gummer before you throw fifty down on a sack.

“Try it,” he said.

“Yeah?” I said, excitedly. But I wasn’t blowing it.

“I don’t care. I just moved here three days ago, and I’m trying to get some regular customers.” He handed me a folded-up American fifty dollar bill.

“How much of this do you have?” I said, referring to the currency.

He opened up his wallet and flashed me the cash. There must of been $7,000 in it. I acted cool, even though I wanted to knock out his teeth and take every cent of it, and then laugh in his face like a banshee in the night. Instead I would make him feel less about himself, since he had no previous international traveling experience. I laughed condescendingly, “That’s like monopoly money here, fool.”

“I know,” he said, but he wasn’t about to give it up. And I let a greedy wave, that had probably shown in my eyes, pass through me and be taken with the winds that howled in the alley. He then asked how much I paid for my ticket from New York City to Barcelona.

“Three-hundred. You?”

“Twelve.”

“Twelve-hundred dollars!” I repeated. “Man, I’m going to go to the bathroom and do this coke, but you got ripped off.”

“Shit,” he said, “Where did you get it?”

“Cheap Tickets dot com, or something. Be right back.”

I passed Sophia and Claire, who had taken a seat at a table by the window. Sophia looked at me. I wanted to tell her the news, but the girls and I had talked earlier about getting coke and they had said they didn’t want it. I knew both of them would take it for free, but I always like to hold someone to their word.

The bathroom looked very hipster. They had Vice magazine pictures glued to the walls, very attractive women and men necking and sucking and even fucking! Pictures of cops getting head from young Spanish brunettes, bro’s rocking a shaka sign and boning a prostitute over the toilet! Pop culture had become sick and twisted, and I was glad I stayed out of it as much as I could. I hadn’t had cable for over five years, and I thought it was distasteful when someone did. I was so far distanced from what was happening I hadn’t even heard of HD until three months ago.

I shook my head and took my eyes off of the Vice pictures, and then I opened the door to the bathroom and some chick was squatting over the toilet. I closed the door fast, my cheeks running pink from embarrassment. Then I tried to open the other door across from it. It was open, but apparently someone had been waiting in line before me. He pushed me aside and went in. I didn’t start an argument because my Spanish wasn’t good enough to do so. I waited my turn and, when that asshole who had pushed me aside was finished, I went in the stall and locked the door. The coke was folded up in the fifty dollar bill in a little square. I looked inside of it, and there was a lot more coke than I thought there would be. I looked in my pockets for my house key, but I knew it would do nothing for me in this situation. It wasn’t shaped the way normal American keys are shaped (perfect for doing bumps of coke), it was shaped like an old lever key, which is triangular and not useful for doing coke. I searched my pocket for anything that may help me in my mission, but I found nothing. My credit and bank cards had been left at home and none of my coins would suffice. I finally dumped the whole thing into the palm of my hand and lifted it to my nose, sniffing like a pig in heat. I looked into my hand, expecting to see some coke left over, but there was none. I shrugged my shoulders and walked back toward the street, passing the girls and seeing Sophia again. Already I had that coke horniness, and so thought the stuff was good. I interrupted Sophia and gave her a kiss. She didn’t seem to be impressed, but as I walked away we looked at each other and had eye sex right then and there.

I knew she had liked it, and, at the same time, found it surprising. I felt good about it, anyway. At least she didn’t roll her eyes, I thought. That would have been a dagger to the heart.

He was standing outside. “What’d you think?” he asked.

“It’s all right. I think it’s laced with speed, not baking soda. That shit will keep me up all night with the shakes.”

“Naw, I’m telling you, it’s pure. I watch them make it.”

“Alright. Well, let me get your number. What’s your name anyway?”

“Jay,” he said. “Actually let me get your number. Then I’ll call you, and you’ll have mine.”

“Works for me.”

We made the exchange and he said, “Call me anytime. I’ll be around.” We shook hands and went our separate ways: him down the dark alley of Caller de Avinyo, and me back to the bar and the girls.

The girls, once again, were talking, and their conversation couldn’t have been any more boring to me. They were talking about birth control and the effects it had on a woman’s mental state. Claire had recently stopped taking birth control, and now was just going for it without any protection. Sophia and I thought it was a bad idea. The difference between Sophia and I was that Sophia told her it was a bad idea and I didn’t say anything. As far as I was concerned, she could do whatever the fuck she wanted.

Sophia always told the same story about her birth control experience. It went something like this:

(I’m actually going to ask her to tell the story now. I’ll record it and transcribe it later. She is in the room alone with the tape recorder, and I’m in the living room writing this. She’s telling her story, the horror story of using birth control. And she’s not the only woman who has had these problems. If you are a woman and you’re feeling crazy, it’s time to stop blaming it on your period, it’s time to stop blaming it on your boyfriend, it’s time to stop blaming it on your ex-boyfriend, it’s time to stop blaming it on your parents, your husband, or your children. It is none of the above, it is your birth control. Wake up! Read the reviews and the side-effects of your prescription! This isn’t news, ladies. This is a fact, and it may be happening to you! So if you are a crazy bitch, go talk to your doctor right now and get another script, get some Xanax – get something! But take Sophia’s advice to Claire, don’t actually stop taking birth control, just find the one that makes you least crazy. Because truth be told, us guys, we don’t like using condoms. It gives us even less of the pleasure we as men are able to feel. It’s a scientific fact, ladies, that the sexual regions of a woman are ten times more sensitive than a males’. So, in short, honey, baby (whatever the fuck he calls you), go crazy for him, but don’t go so crazy that you bother him and everybody around you. You have to be perfectly crazy to turn your man on. And I mean that with all the love in the world.

Yours truly:

BR)

I was smoking my twentieth cigarette by the time Sophia finished her story and I was ready to leave the bar. I knew a place that had good jazz some nights, called The Pipa Club, so I told the girls about it. We had all finished our absurdly small beers, that were quarter pints at a Euro-fifty a glass, and we were ready to go. We had a bottle of wine stashed in Claire’s purse, so the plan was to chug it while walking to the club. The club was about six blocks away at the Placa Reial.

For anyone who finds themselves in Barcelona and want to see good jazz, or wants to play good jazz, go to the Sunday night jam sessions at The Pipa Club. Jam sessions are equivalent to America’s open mics, except jam sessions are themed. At some places it may be Rasta themed, at some places it may be Electro Jazz themed, at some places it may be Flamenco themed – in the case of Sunday nights at the Pipa Club it is acoustic Ragtime and Gypsy Jazz themed. The address is 3 Placa Reial. To get in you have to buzz the bottom right button of the intercom, and they will let you in if they’re open. The bar is on the second floor. The focus there seems to be on stringed instruments, but the musicians are usually open to anything, as long as it fits the genre. I have seen some of the greatest unexpected orchestrations here. Seven guitarists, two violinists and a bassist, half of whom the regulars didn’t know the names of, and they managed to improvise one of the best stringed versions of “Dina” I had ever heard.


Sunday Nights at Pipa Club

The Pipa Club is not all great though. All in all it’s a hit or miss club. I have found Sunday nights to be consistent, but there have been other nights, nights when I was drunk and searching for jazz, only to enter the Pipa Club and find a room filled with Australian and Brazilian tourists wearing silken  shirts with their top three buttons undone, listening to house music, bobbing their heads, and speaking unfathomable babble to women way out of my league. So, in short, go to the Pipa Club at your own risk. And I suggest getting drunk before you get there, because beers are five Euros and straight liquors or mixed drinks are at least seven Euros, and the prices go up from there.

When Sophia, Claire and I got to the Pipa Club this night, after chugging our one-twenty euro bottle of merlot, we didn’t get buzzed in. We walked away from the door looking up to the second story windows, but unfortunately we didn’t see any lights on. I asked Sophia what time it was, and she told me it was past midnight. I knew they had after-hour times on Friday and Saturday, but it seemed strange to me that on Saturday they wouldn’t be open at midnight. “Well, Claire,” I said, “We tried to show you a cool club. I know they’re open on Sundays so, if you wanna, we’ll go there tomorrow.”

“That’d be nice. For tonight, it doesn’t really matter.”

Claire and I started walking to another bar, while Sophia trailed behind taking photographs.

“Are you tired?” I asked Claire. She had mentioned earlier she was tired from not having slept for two nights, and wanted to go home early. “If you wanna go home, it’s no big deal to me. We’ll walk you to your hostel from here. Or do you think you know your way by now?”

“I could probably find my way.”

“To tell you the truth, I’d rather walk you home anyway. That way it will give me an excuse to go to the absinthe bar. ‘Sophia, we’re already in this neighborhood, we might as well get an absinthe.’”

“Okay, okay,” she said.

We stopped completely and waited for Sophia to catch up.

“All right,” I said, “We’re going to walk Claire home.”

“Okay,” she said. Sophia was used to doing this. Claire had only been in town for two nights and we had walked her back to her hostel on both. Granted, it would have been extremely easy for Claire to walk there from where we were, all she had to do was walk straight until she hit Paral-lel. But Claire kept insisting she didn’t know her way, and then Sophia whispered into my ear, “Why don’t we just tell her to go by herself?”

I have always been good at keeping a secret, but never any good at subduing my excitement. “Because I wanna get an absinthe,” I blurted. She didn’t say anything. I had gotten an absinthe every night for the past two weeks, and, in that time, she had gotten used to the flavor, which she initially hated. Still, I knew she didn’t want to go to Marsella. “C’mon,” I said, “It’ll be fun. And I promise, I’ll just have a quickie.”

She pushed me away from her. “That’s what you always say.”

“Well, this time I mean it. One absinthe, and then we can go home.”

She gave me a dirty look that in my mind meant, “Yes, of course you can go to Marsella for an absinthe. I love you.”

I gave her a kiss. She gave me another dirty look.

Bar Marsella is located at 65 Carrer Sant Pau, and, like I said earlier, it is about two hundred years old. Many say it was the first bar in Barcelona. I don’t believe the place has been dusted since the day it opened. There are liquor bottles caked with resin an inch thick lining the interior walls, and chandeliers hanging from the ceiling that are caked with resin just as thick. And just imagine, you can sit there looking at all this and think, “That’s the resin from the cigarettes of Picasso, Gaudi, Hemingway, and Dali!” And then scribble in your little notebook.

Unfortunately Bar Marsella is not all it’s cracked up to be. It’s a great place, and, as far as I’m concerned, the only place to get an absinthe in Barcelona. However, on a Friday or Saturday night it is packed shoulder to shoulder, reminding one of a club in New York City. And don’t go there expecting to hear any music made before 1985. They love to play artists such as The Cure, Queen, and Tom Petty. And they do not take requests, so don’t even try it. Apparently it’s one of their policies.

In no way were Claire and Sophia interested in being at Bar Marsella tonight. They hadn’t told me this, but it was all too clear by their expressions. I walked in with them, we stood in a circle in the middle of the crowd, and I was unable to hear anything they were saying. The crowd was so loud I couldn’t even hear the bad music that was playing. I asked the girls if they wanted a drink, and both said no. “All right,” I yelled over the buzz of voices, “I’ll be right back.”

I went over to the bar and asked for an Absinthe.

“Con agua?” asked the barkeep.

“Si, senior,” I answered. My Spanish wasn’t great, but I knew how to be polite.

The barkeep went to the next customer, and I dropped two sugar cubes into the absinthe. As the sugar absorbed the liquor I looked for the girls, but they were gone. I left my drink where it was and went searching for them. I found them outside smoking cigarettes. “What are you doing?” I asked.

“It’s too loud in there,” they answered.

I was annoyed, but wasn’t going to leave my drink unattended longer than a minute.

The sugar had already started to dissolve into the absinthe when I got back. I used the fork which was placed on top of the glass to mix the sugar. Many people like to light the sugar on fire, but I think that’s just a parlor trick, it’s a novelty, like blowing fire with 151. It becomes trite after a while, and you realize how unnecessary it is. Eventually you just want the drink, and that’s all that matters. Next, I mixed in the water and watched the clear yellow liquid become a milky green. I looked at it with a fiendish glare, and then drank it in two gulps, gagging discreetly on the second. Then I walked back to the girls, feeling congenial now.

“You didn’t have to drink it that fast. We’re fine,” said Sophia.

“I told you I was going for a quickie.” For once I had kept my word on such a promise, and I was sure Sophia was happy she hadn’t waited on me for an hour, like she usually did.

It was at this time that I heard a familiar voice call my name. I looked over my shoulder and saw that it was Dan, Natalia, Xavier, and a couple others whom I hadn’t met. We started talking the shit: “That’s crazy that we just ran into each other like this”, “I tried to call you earlier tonight”, and “What have you been up to tonight?” We sorted through all the bull-shit and decided we’d hang out for a while. With everyone being excited for the next bar, we left bar Marsella behind and at the same time Claire. I hadn’t even realized she was missing until I asked Sophia. Then she told me she had forgotten to tell me that Claire had said good-night.

I didn’t like the next bar we went to. It played techno music, it was packed even more than Marsella (but people were trying to dance), the drinks were expensive, and it was extremely hot. It was so hot in this place that I decided to go outside for a cigarette. To my surprise everyone I had come with was outside smoking a joint. What’s crazy about Barcelona, and possibly all of Spain, is that its citizens are allowed to have two marijuana plants in their home, legally. It’s also legal to purchase weed, but illegal to sell it. It’s common to see a person light a pipe or roll a joint at the bars there, which suited my fancy. I had never been one to purchase weed, but any time it was around I smoked it.

I passed the joint to Dan, and he said the shit was making him tired and that he wanted an upper. I didn’t know Dan well, but I didn’t have any qualms telling him that I had just met a guy from New York who sold coke and delivered, and, if he wanted, I could call him and hook up a deal. Dan asked me if it was any good and I answered, “Well, I’m on it right now, and I like it.” That was a good enough answer for everyone. Xavier, Dan, Natalia, Sophia, and I decided we’d pitch ten each and get a gram.

I called Jay and told him I wanted to get a sack. He told me that wouldn’t be a problem, but that he had gone back to his brother’s and would have to meet me in thirty minutes on Las Ramblas. I confirmed saying, “All right, I’ll meet you there at one-thirty.” Everyone wanted to know the status of the deal, and I told them I was going to meet Jay in a half-hour. That sounded good to everyone, and they all handed me their money. During the waiting period we went back into the club. I attempted to dance for a few minutes with Sophia, but there were too many people and we couldn’t move the way we wanted. “Do you just wanna get some beer on the street and wait for Jay?” I asked Sophia.

“I don’t wanna be here any more than you do,” she answered.

We had a problem getting out of the club though. I told Dan we were going to meet the man and that we would be back in an hour maximum, but he said he wanted Sophia to stay as collateral. But Sophia didn’t want to stay, so I comforted him, reminding him that he had my phone number, my email, and all my other information. I also said I had no intention of ripping him off, and this pacified him.

Like it always happens, the dealer was running late. I tried calling him, I tried calling Dan, I tried calling Natalia, but no one would answer their phone. As I was stressing out, Sophia was gaily taking photos of the prostitutes across the street. I knew they all would think I was sketchy now, but I shrugged my shoulders to this idea, instead deciding to blame it on them for not answering their phones.

Ladies of the Night, Barcelona

So, at quarter past two, I finally get a call from Jay. He’s getting out of the subway right now and he’ll be there in a few minuets. I tell him not to worry about being late and I’ll see him when he gets here. When he does get here the exchange is made with a handshake, and then we both part ways. An hour and fifteen minute wait for a ten second exchange and a fifteen minute high, I think to myself, what a deal!

Sophia and I start walking back to the club that we left, calling Dan and Natalia, but neither will answer their phone. Sophia and I are nervous about this, but at the same time it only means there’s more for us. This revelation brings comfort to our stroll, and we start realizing what beauty we are walking through. Barcelona is truly one of the most fantastic cities in Europe. Besides the Gaudi, just the simple Gothic architecture can make you feel that you are in a different time. All the cobble stone alleys, the terraces, and the dim-lit bars make the Barrio Raval and Gothic romantic at anytime. So Sophia and I decide to hold hands and enjoy it while we can.

Barrio Gothic, Barcelona


By the time we got back to the club it was closed. Sophia asked me if I wanted to call them again, but I said, “What’s the point? We’ve already tried to call them ten times.” She agreed, and we started to leave. But as we were going down the alley to the train station I received a call and looked at the number. It was Dan.

“Where you been, man? We’ve been waiting for you.”

“I tried to call you. You should pick up your phone every once-in-awhile. Hey, we’re at the club, where did you go?”

“Did you get the stuff?”

“Yeah, I got the stuff.”

“We’re going to this after hours club on Cera and Sant Pau. You know where that is?”

“Naw.”

“All right. Stay right there. Natalia and I will be there in a minute.”

The after hours club was located at 55 Ronda de Sant Pau and Carrer de la Cera. The place didn’t have a name, nor did it have any specific hours. It was ran by a group of hip African immigrants who threw parties whenever they felt like it, said Dan. All I knew was there was no cover charge to get in, and I didn’t have anything to lose. When we got there we all waited in line for the bathroom, and when it was our turn Dan, Natalia, Sophia, and I crammed into a small stall together and finished the sack in no time. But it was too long for someone who kept knocking on the door.

The dance floor was downstairs in the basement, and it didn’t take long before I realized I didn’t want to be there. Once again it was some bad techno music, which seems to be an overwhelming trend that has spread uncontrollably throughout Europe. Currently I was a little drunk and extremely high on coke, but the music just wouldn’t do. I just don’t like techno, it doesn’t matter how high or drunk I am.

So I decided I would explore the building of this after hours club. In a way it reminded me of a warehouse party, except for the fact that it was located in the center of the city. It was an entire apartment building. The top three floors were personal rooms for the owners to bring their girls into, the ground floor was where the entrance and bathrooms were, and the basement was where the party was. On my way back to the dance floor I noticed a door that was cracked open, and peeked inside. Sitting in a circle were three men and one woman. One guy had a guitar and the other two men were singing call and response, as the woman would clap. It was Flamenco, my first experience with the heart and soul of it, and I couldn’t have been happier.

I went back and retrieved Sophia. The scene was so enchanting in that little room it was hard not to be mesmerized. There was a dim red light hanging above them and they all had six packs beside them. They were crying out there souls to each other, and those who were there were actually listening. Sophia and I just sat there watching, and soon the speed thoughts of cocaine vanished and all we could pay attention to was the next electric moan of the vocalists, and the encouragement of the listeners and the plucking of the guitarists. The next thing I knew I heard someone singing from across the way, and realized there were now more people in this room than there had been on the dance floor.

I had no idea how much time had passed, or where Dan and Natalia were, but that didn’t matter to me. People all over  the room were taking their turn singing now, women were dancing, people were clapping. If you weren’t participating you were watching with amazement. But all good things have to come to an end, and unfortunately this party got broken up by the owners of the club. They were pissed off that everyone was in this room and not buying drinks at their bar on the dance floor. We told them to fuck off at first, but they kept bothering us. In the end, I guess, the owners got what they deserved for breaking up our party, because the cops busted in and everyone slowly began to leave.

Sophia and I commenced our walk to the subway, which runs twenty-four hours on Saturday, but first talked to a street peddler and bargained two beers for a Euro. They tasted nice and cold in the cheap air.

Locations in Barcelona
Bar Marsella
C/ Sant Pau, 65
08001 Barcelona, España
934 427 263
Pipa Club
Plaça Reial, 3
08002 Barcelona, España

933 011 165
After Hours Club
55 Ronda de Sant Pau (at Carrer de la Cera)
08001 Barcelona, Espana