The Singing German In France
We could have walked into the French bar through the windows but we chose the door instead. The fenêtres were in fact the establishment’s tallest entrances. Twelve of them wrapped around the corner of the building – six on each side of the door.
Inside, all the bar’s patrons faced the same way. The French girls wore flowing dresses and wide open cardigan sweaters and solid headbands studded with pink flowers. They crossed their legs under the table and smiled wide in the direction they were looking. The French boys were clothed – black t-shirts and blue jeans. We wore navy blue sport coats and creased khaki pants with too much room in the thighs.
The three of us, having aesthetically doxxed ourselves as Americans, walked briskly to the bar. The room was dim, except for the wooden counter, which lit up like an arena before an important game. We ordered three white ales. The bartender poured them in wide glasses. I paid for my beer with the coins from my pocket.
We took seats apart from the crowd near the big open windows. The sea air flew in through the high open glassways and entangled with the smell of the French boys’ smokes. The mix was odd and pleasant.
My arms and legs felt heavy from a long flight but the rest of my senses were on fire, heightened at all the new stimuli. The beer had that good crisp taste. Then a boy at the front began to play Elton John on his guitar.
“I told you man,” my compatriot Andrew said. “Europe has the beer and wine and we dominate the rest of it. He’s playing American songs!”
I believed him because I was young. Also, hours earlier, blaring into the street from a small blue car, “I wake up in the morning feeling like P. Diddy” was the first lyric I’d heard in Nice, my first foreign city.
The boy finished playing. The crowd’s applause was gentle.
“Danke, danke, thank you very much,” the boy said. He gestured to a tall book on the table next to us and told his crowd they could request any song they’d like to hear.
“Do you know any Bruce Springsteen!” Andrew said.
The room laughed in harmony.
“No, I’m sorry, but I’ll play whatever song you want from the book.” So Andrew flipped through the heavy songbook.
While I listened to the German in the white shirt play his guitar, I looked out the open windows at the street. The music hit the surrounding restaurants and apartments without obstacle. The quiet city glowed in the dark.
“Once upon a time, you dressed so fine…”
I really enjoyed that beer, so I walked back to the bar to order three more with the coins from my pocket. In the mirror behind the liquor bottles, I looked at my eyes. People are speaking different languages and playing music, I thought. This is the other side of the world. Another side of the world.
“Merci,” I said to the barman, who didn’t laugh at what I was wearing or at my accent.
I delivered the pale drinks and sat down in a conversation about gambling. Our schedule was allegedly booked tightly.
“We’ll do Casino Ruhl now,” Andrew said.
“Do they have table games there?” John said.
“Good, I’ll be able to win us some money for tomorrow.”
“How much do you need from us?”
“30 euros each should be enough. How long do you want to stay?”
“If we’re up? ’Til they kick us out, man. We can grab a few bottles of wine, sit on the beach, watch the sun come up.”
That doesn’t sound so bad, I thought. Let us just stay here at this table a little while longer. The beer is good. The girls are too. And there’s the music.
“…how does it feel? / How does it feel?”
The audience stared at the smooth, strumming musician. Together, their gaze felt averse to any French stereotype. And I looked with them, feeling envy and appreciation. I loved that brave, German boy.
The gamblers planned their exit as the edges of my sight rounded and grayed. I haven’t heard this song before, I thought. I might never hear it the same way again.
“…to be on your own? / with no direction home? / like a complete unknown? / like a fuckin’ rolling stone?”
We were 19-year-old Americans, so we left out the open door while the boy was still playing. The pavement of the street was crimson and shining and the breeze blew the music with us as we walked toward the sea.