Tag Archives: sex

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


Athens, Greece

Because You Asked Why I came

By Bobby Damore

I met her at the club where she dj’d, a place called the Key Bar. She had some friends with her and I met all of them there. They were nice people. The man in the group insisted that he and I only speak in Greek. I managed to do so only slowly, while Anastasia implored us to give it up. A short girl with an aquiline nose, a thick mess of black hair, and a hipster’s fashion and music sensibilities, she and I attempted sex the night we met, but she had gotten me too drunk and I couldn’t get it up with the condom and all. On this night I was hoping for round two, a second chance, not because I really wanted to have sex with her, but so I could redeem myself and make it so that calling what we did “sex” more accurate. She’s a busy girl, some sort of well-known journalist. Well-known for what, she didn’t tell me.

I hated the bar we were in. Too modern. More to the point, it was too loud and I coudln’t hear anyone talking. Why do they have to turn up the stereo so loud? A few of her friends left, and I saw my opportunity for the three of us to do the same. I suggested we go to a place called Rebetiki Istoria, a bar/cafe where they have live Rebetika music. Rebetika is the blues music of Greece. It’s golden age was the 1920s to the 1950s. Everybody in Greece loves Rebetika, and so they naturally obliged.

It was a long walk from Psyrri to Exarcheia, but we had much to talk about. Anastasia was interested in why I would want to be in Greece, not just because of the economy crumbling but in general. In her mind, Greece was just about the last place anyone would want to live and she regretted passing up her own opportunity to leave it. Her questions were not merely inquisitive; they had an edge to them, a sharp edge that cut me and got my attention. Her questions were imploring and critical – I at once felt an urge to answer her genuinely and an urge to curse her for her insolence. I told her many times already that I was here following my musical dreams, but whereas this would be enough for your average person, even if they didn’t think it was worth it, it wasn’t enough for her. This was her opportunity to proclaim to an outsider all of her grievances against her mother country, the place that nurtured her growth and betrayed her trust. The place that built in her a sense that maybe Greece could be a respectable country finally, and then used that same sense to beat her in the face. Perhaps there was also a humanitarian bent to her screaming. Maybe she was actually worried that I really had no idea what I was getting myself into. Certainly, I didn’t know everything before coming, but I knew it would be hard and that’s really the most important thing I needed to know. I mostly brushed her off, figuring that her business as a journalist would turn anybody into a void of negativity. Every one of Anastasia’s friends was more understanding of why I came and what I was doing even if they agreed with Anastasia’s criticisms of Greece, but she was out to prove to me that I had made a mistake.

Her friend asked me what I thought of the air in Athens. I remarked that I thought it had improved since eight years ago, because I remembered the mucus in my nose turning black and this time around that wasn’t happening. He said that his job was to study the air quality in Athens and that it may actually be worse, since if you can see the pollution in your nose, then that means it’s big enough to be filtered. But if you can’t, then it may actually be entering your lungs.

All well and good, I already knew that Athens was a smoke choked city halfway on fire with anarchists, heroin addicts, and mobster politicians. In fact, that’s the only environment where Rebetika truly made any sense and I very simply was on a mission to become a part of the music I was in love with.

We arrived at the club very early, 9pm, and it was empty. Not even the band had shown up. It was only the waitress. The place was very pretty from the outside. It was an old building, blue and in an ornate, neo-classical style, which isn’t very common in Athens anymore but a little more common in Exarcheia. There is one wooden sign next to the door which says “Rebetiki Istoria” but other than that there is no trace of the existence of good times, drinking, dancing, music, or smoking within. If the police still cared to shut down places like this, they could very easily walk right by it and not see it. Within, the walls were old and stained, but continued in this ornate style, as if there would be a meeting of dignitaries or holy men, only they’d have to be from hell or something. Pictures and paintings covered the walls. Paintings depicting scenes from Rebetika songs. A man in a suit walks in on another man sleeping in his bed and takes out his pistol. His mother and his wife, presumably, try to stop him by giving him alcohol. Other pictures have guys in suits partying in hell, or partying in some tavern, or smoking on a mountain, or smoking with lots of girls, or smoking in hell. One painting depicts the Nazi Occupation. Another depicts the lost Greek homelands of Asia Minor, where my grandfather was born and where many of these musicians were from. The photos were old pictures of all the greats and all the legends of old times. All the people who basically created modern Greek music, enshrined in their own personal club, where the songs they wrote would continue to be deified by ever new generations of venerators and imitators. There were no windows. The club was obviously formerly an abode, since there were rooms that had the doors taken off to open up the space. Many small tables were crammed next to each other. The place had the smell of constant smoke, as if it would always smell like a club. Indeed, this felt like the place I was looking for.

We sat in a corner and I changed the subject. We went back into trying to teach me Greek by only speaking Greek. I forget what we were talking about. They asked me to play my bouzouki before the band showed up and so I did. I played songs until customers began to arrive and then the guy with us decided to leave. They were thoroughly impressed, not only that someone from Texas could be so interested in the music, but that they’d be so good at playing it. The waitress had overheard me playing and told the band about me after they showed up. I was called into the back room to meet them, with Anastasia giving me a not so gentle push to go and meet my dreams. Of course, there was no way of knowing if I was going to meet my dreams.

The band consisted of lively characters, casually dressed in modern attire, subdued dark colors, jeans, ribbed, tight shirts, gruff and full of cigarettes and booze. They smiled the smile of pranksters, tricksters. Someone had already taught me the word psonyara, which means a person who thinks they’re much better than they actually are. They had the smile of a psonyara, someone with attitude, people who think they’re hot shit. They looked upon me with a kind of tired, over it, been there look and quickly brushed me off – if they even noticed me. The head of the band, also the owner of the club, beckoned me to come.

In Greek:

“Give me your bouzouki!”

“No!”

(laughter)

“I’ll play you a song first.”

(laughter)

“No, first you give us your bouzouki!”

I pulled out my bouzouki to start playing and the lead bouzoukist in the band reached over and snatched it from me. Everyone in the group hunched over it inspecting every last inch. They poked, prodded, placed ears over things, plucked and pulled and played a few notes.

“It’s crap,” said the lead.

“Let him play and then we’ll see,” replied the owner. “Play us your best song.”

I took a seat and played a song called “Markos the Jack-of-All-Trades”, a song where a man and a woman are arguing. She acuses him of evading his marriage vows because he’s been chasing other women. He claims he’s been too busy working all these jobs this whole time to be able to find the time to marry her. It’s the song I know the best because it was the first Rebetika song I ever learned. I used to get stoned and listen to the 78 rpm recording over and over because of it’s hypnotic, pulsing rhythm and the way the singers sound like they’re dogs barking ready to pounce, but somehow eloquently, like nobility. I escaped into the world of the song, performed the opening melody and began to sing the first line.

“Okay that’s enough. Stop now.”

“Huh?”

“Stop playing. You’re good. You’re very good. Come tomorrow evening between 9 and 9:30 to perform with us, okay?”

“Okay.”

“Nice to meet you. We have to go on stage now.”

The “stage” was just a space cut into the wall in the next room. It had the effect of bringing the experience right to your table since they were on the same leve as everyone else. I appreciated this set-up, since you could clearly participate with the performers as they played. The next day would be my first public performance in Greece. I returned to my table and told Anastasia what happened. She became very excited for me. The band took their seats and she and I began to make out hard and solid for what seemed like ten minutes or so. This was definitely a high point in the life of any musician anywhere, to get the job and get the girl in the same night. Her lips tasted like victory, or white wine. I’m not sure since I was too drunk at this point. I don’t see the difference between victory and wine anyway.

The place was full, packed. The music was not loud, but the people were. It was very lively. The crowd was mostly young, with some people of all ages filling in the rest. There was a group of people who moved from England to some island back in the 60s to start their own school for the islanders who didn’t have one. They professed their love of Greece and Greek music when Anastasia predictably questioned their motives for deciding to live in Greece. They gestured to the lively and boisterous crowd, getting hammered and joyously yelling, singing and dancing all over the place as their reason for staying. Anastasia admitted that having fun is the one thing Greek people tend to be good at. In fact, it was the reason why she didn’t take the job offer in New York, because she knew this doesn’t exist in America. Songs about crime and living as a bohemian, with intricate melodies, stirring poetry, dark themes, high passion, driving rhythms that shake your bones; Rebetika is the siren call of Greece, if I may use a gratuitously overused Greek metaphor. In this case, it may be true though. The music I love has brought me to a Greece teetering on financial and economic ruin, a Greece on it’s way down after so many years on it’s way up. I really had no way of knowing if I was jumping into my dreams or into my ruin. The bouzouki, sqeaking it’s woody, spring loaded twang, distracted me from any thoughts of utter ruin. I had a strange sense of being at home, like everyone here could be my best friend for the night if I simply spoke with them.

Before we left, she reminded me of how evil and terrible Greek people are, that I should be careful of these people who have invited me into their band. She said they will do terrible, horrible things to me. I told her that all artists are terrible people and that she should fucking relax for god’s sake.

I walked her home. The air was cool and we were both ripped. It was a long walk that took us by a large park. We had lots of time to talk about “us” and what “we” were as a couple. She told me that her boyfriend of many years had recently dumped her because, apparently, he thinks she’s too negative. “Hmm, how could he have gotten that idea?” She told me to lay down the rules for her. She asked me, “What are the rules, so that I don’t hurt you?” I should have told her not to ask such ridiculous questions because I’d lay down some rules if I had to. Instead, I told her not to do the exact thing that I knew she was going to do. “Don’t tell me you like me and want to be with me, but then never meet up with me again.” She promised she wouldn’t and then she said that she had to go home alone. I didn’t see her again for a few weeks.

The next night when I showed up, there was no one except the owner and the waitress. There was a small stereo playing old recordings. The waitress sat smoking, dressed in all black, her curly Greek afro guided the wafting cigarette smoke to escape. The owner was sitting with his bouzouki and his whiskey. He very gentlemanly invited me in and sat me down next to him. He knew no English, and my Greek was still pretty bad so we just focused on playing music. The way it works in a Rebetika band is, whoever starts playing a song, everyone else just joins in if they know it. This is how it works during practice, while working on stage, or just hanging out. Somebody thinks of a song, and without saying anything starts playing it. At this point, nobody else is allowed to butt in and try to take over with a song they thought of. They must wait until the song is over and begin playing it immediately if they wish to play it. It’s an interesting form of etiquette. I find it both fair and liberating to have a small set of simple rules designed to keep people from playing over each other. If no one can play along with your song, then you stop and another song is selected. If no one knows the words, the song is skipped. No computers are consulted at any time. No Youtube, no online song databases. That’s all done in your private time because “the ones who wrote the songs and played other people’s songs back then had everything memorized” and that’s the level of skill and quality everyone is aiming for. The owner was impressed with my repertoire of some of the most obscure songs written by the most popular artists. I was in awe, simply because I had never been in the prescence of a bouzouki player who’s style and repertoire I respected so much, having a dearth of bouzouki players in America. His notes were harsh and present, they vibrated the air in front of my face. His age had done his skills well. His voice was in a traditional cantada style, which was a nice element. We went on like that until the lead bouzouki player showed up. The other guys in the group called him simply “the fat guy” even though by American standards he just had a large belly. The three of us played a few songs together but I had a feeling this man considered me an unwanted addition. They began to discuss the issue of me after I played a few songs for the fat guy. I didn’t understand most of it, but I think I got the gist of their argument. The fat guy was not on my side. He was coming up with excuses of why I couldn’t join. The main excuse was that my repertoire was too small. The owner insisted that I could easily learn all the songs they play if I keep coming back every day. He insisted that my style and skill was unique and good enough to be a positive addition. Yet this was unconvincing for the fat guy. At a later time, the waitress would tell me her suspicions that he was indeed blocking my access to the group because he knew I was better than him. It was a nice thing for the waitress to say to me and I choose to believe this because it is so flattering and because the guy was just generally a dick. He would stare at me while he was playing. He’d stare directly into my eyes with this look that said, “See, I’m better than you! Look what I can do, can you do this?”

Now, I’m not the kind of guy that cares to dethrone people who are that invested in their position. What would working with him have been like? I didn’t want to know.

Three other guys showed up which was a relief. They were much more lively and their styles were much more to my liking than that of the fat guy. One was young, and he expertly played some of the most difficult pieces in all of Rebetika. He was quiet and nervous but spoke English, so I got to know him best. Another was a guitarist. His strings were of nylon, which I hate. There’s no brute power in nylon. Nylon is for soft music that flitters. Rebetika is not soft music, even when it is fun, there is something terribly serious about this fun they have, as if it could be the last time they ever have fun. Nylon strings cannot convey this. Also, his style was unremarkable. But the third guy, an older gentleman, like the owner, was the king of the evening. He led us all. He took control of the entire affair and led us to a path of enrichment. He annointed us with his powerful singing voice, made me burst out laughing with some ridiculous move he pulled on the bouzouki. He was a clown, but one who could best us all at our own game. He was very fun to perform with.

Customers began to show up. It was a quiet night, it being a Sunday. The audience were silent and attentive. I had the chance to whip out a few obscure masterpieces that I save for the right moment to impress people and succeeded in doing so, but mostly I was in over my head. The fat guy was right about my small repertoire. But this was really a great honor, a night I will probably remember for a long time. When the night was over, the owner even paid me. It wasn’t much, 10 euros, but I took it as a token of appreciation, and as an endearment.

There were no girls for me on this night. But I walked out of Rebetiki Istoria with something far more important.

Locations in Athens

Key Bar
37  Praxitelous St.
Athens, Greece 10560
(+30) 210 32 30 380
Keybar.gr

Rebetiki Istoria
Ippokratous 181
Athens, Greece 11472
(+30) 210 64 24 937
rebetiki.istoria@gmail.com