The Paris Chronicles: Will sketch for wine

The Paris Chronicles: Will sketch for wine

I found that glass of wine. While getting a little bit lost and slightly turned around on my walk back to the apartment I passed by countless little bars, restaurants, cafes between the Louvre and Le Marais. Some were cute, some were edgy, some somber, some full of life, but none drew me in. I am used to this feeling now, a month ago I would have thrown up my arms in disgust (usually with myself) and done one of two things: 1. ignored the hunger/thirst; 2. settled for the closest place. Often #1 would fail leading to #2, and then I would be even more disgusted with myself.

A bit of wisdom has crept into my travel style as I have come to learn a universal truth –


Never settle for the first one that might do,

there is almost always the perfect spot around the corner.


Well, I turned many a corner, but this is Paris. So with each turn there is at the very least something interesting to look at, which becomes increasingly important as my feet remind me that it does not matter how good my shoes are, ten hours of walking is still   ten hours  of walking.

Then I found it, a wine bar down a quiet little street, sandwiched between two busy areas glowing with flashy restaurant and cafe signs, crowded terraces spilling the standard plastic woven chairs and handwritten chalkboards onto the sidewalk. Maybe it was the lack of flash that made me pause, I am not sure. What I do know is I saw the word ‘bio’ written next to a couple of items on the sign, and when I looked up I saw the smiling faces of the bartenders and responsive laughter of their customers.

I am told my French is good. I feel like it is closer to passable with a high school level vocabulary which often leaves me grasping for the right word or turn of phrase, mouth open like a fish out of water, as I feel the red of embarrassment start to creep across my cheeks. Needless to say, my confidence does not improve at the end of a long day. So I walk towards the bar, gesture towards the back, and quietly mumble a question something along the lines of, ‘Est-ce que je peux prendre une table?’ getting a nod and a smile in response. Phew, that is over and I did not even have to repeat myself.

Yup, off come the shoes (why do I even bother buying shoes with laces?), out comes the sketchbook and pen, I start inking the sketch of a statue from my walk in Pere-Lachaise the day before. One of the bartenders comes up and asks what I would like. Ugh, right, forgot about the ordering part. Let’s go brain, we can do this. Try to sound at least semi intelligent, k?

I know from the board outside that there is organic beer, so I ask if there are any ‘bio’ wines as well. As it turns out, I have walked into a bar stocked solely with organic wines. Somewhere between the initial astonishment at my luck of finding this gem of an establishment without Google, and the slow smile I can feel stretch my lips, I have lost all concern about doing Canada proud and sounding like a true bilingual.

I order a Syrah, a taste is poured into my glass – there is something about that custom that makes me feel special, as if the person holding the bottle actually cares about what my ignorant palette might think – I sip, I nod, the glass is filled, and I get back to pen and paper.

I have been working on perfecting the art of not noticing other people noticing me drawing, a kind of ‘if I don’t see you, you don’t see me’ logic. I know, childish, but whatever works, right? Dropping into an almost meditation-like state, I somehow trick my shy self into believing that I am alone. But by the end of my two hour stay, how I managed to stretch one glass of wine that long I have no idea, power of meditation I guess, one of the bartenders has definitely taken an interest in what I have been up to.

Packing up I head to the bar to pay on my way out. I am asked if I would show the progress of my sketch. Sure. A couple more people crowd around, my stomach drops. Shyness of being the focus of attention and embarrassment as I have to string together more French phrases war for centre stage.


Is this a travel journal? Yes. Can they flip through it? Pause. A steady gaze meets mine and a promise is made not to read, just to look at the drawings. Ok. Would I do drawings for the bar? Wait. What? I could come in as often as I like to sketch, and in exchange for originals I would be fed and kept happy with wine. Oh, and my work would be framed and hung in the bar.

As it turns out I was talking with the bar owner. I have been back to Monsieur Henri (name of the bar, not the owner) twice since that first visit, happily plied with great wine, melt in my mouth cheeses, foot tappingly good music, and attentive bartenders always ready with a smile.

This is the first sketch, done and delivered:



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1 Comment

  1. michael

    What a great blog! Takes me back to 1980 when we spent a year in Paris. Unfortunately, because I was always on babysitting duty while Anne audited courses by people like Roland Barthes at the Sorbonne, I saw less of that beautiful city than I would have liked. We rented an apartment in the rue Brochant in the 17eme, near the avenue Clichy. We were within walking distance of Montmartre and le Sacre Coeur Best of all, at the end of rue Brochant is the square des Batignolles, which Jacques Brel immortalised in one of his songs. Fiona was two, and we used to walk hand in hand to the square (which had a real carousel) and hang out with all the other stay-at-home parents. That was one of the best times of my life, and I am so glad we were able to that. In the end, memories are all we have, so keep storing them up. You’ll be glad you did.


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