Ah, Paris. The city of love…a perfect place to take your wife for Valentine’s day. How could a guy go wrong? I’ll tell you how: He invites one of his best friends to just happen to show up and join the fun.
In 2002, my first year of marriage, I did just that. My wife and I were living in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. I decided to orchestrate a Valentine’s Day three-day weekend in Paris. It was a special trip: our first Valentine’s Day as a married couple. I knew The Wife would be happy. She had been to Paris before and talked about how much she loved the city. I had never been to Paris and was looking forward to it.
I organised a great first night (which was the actual Valentine’s Day). I bought two tickets to the midnight showing at the Moulin Rouge. That was the first of the two “Big Surprises” that I kept telling The Wife I had for her on the trip. That one went over very well. First night in Paris was an epic success and quite a romantic evening.
Day Two was when “Big Surprise #2” was expected. After the Moulin Rouge, The Wife was expecting Big things. I was confident that she would love Big Surprise #2. Even before the trip I thought it was going to be a hit. In hindsight, I may have thought this because Big Surprise #2 was a surprise I would have loved to have sprung on me!
I fucked up. Capital-R, Royally. This was Valentine’s Day…in Paris…as newlyweds…for only three days…just the two of us…or so she thought. I invited my good buddy, The Rouster (name changed to protect the guilty) to surprise Julie by showing up at the Louvre at the same time we were there (what a coincidence!).
Let me repeat: I invited one of my best friends, drinking buddy, trouble-making twin, to surprise my wife while she was on a romantic holiday weekend with her husband in Paris. What was I thinking? What THE HELL was I thinking?!?
I remember telling my old man about my plan. When I did, he just stared at me with pupils the size of manhole covers. “Are you stupid?”, he asked. “She is going to hate this idea”.
I was dumbfounded. She liked The Rouster. She really enjoyed all the times we went out together and had said so often. Like me, she hadn’t seen him since he moved to South Korea two years earlier. Why wouldn’t she want to see him? He was coming back to the States for a visit anyhow, so a rendezvous made sense.
“Judd”, my old man said to me as he fixed that you’ve really done it this time stare on me, “do you really think (The Wife) wants to be surprised by one of your craziest, beer swillingest friends…in Paris…on Valentine’s Day?”
“Oh, shit!? What have I done”, I said to myself.
Long story short: Big Surprise #2 blew up in my face. The Wife was not all too happy to be sharing time with The Rouster that could have otherwise been spent on L’Amour with L’Wife.
It took some tears and beers, but I smoothed things over and we carried on with our Paris fun. Like I said, The Wife and the The Rouster are good friends. There was no option but to act like the true Champions of Fun that we knew each other to be and get on with getting down.
We decided to have a red hot go at the Latin Quarter on our last night. We went out for sushi and sake and then searched the streets to find the pulse of the city…and a bit of live music. We were walking down a busy street and heard blues music coming out of a small pub. We looked inside and couldn’t see where the band was. The pub was small (maybe 20 ft by 40 ft) and packed with people. Where the hell was the band?
We went inside and had the barkeep pull a few pints for us. I was about to ask where the band was when I saw a closed circuit TV hanging from the wall with musicians playing on it…but where the hell were they. In the back of the pub there was doorway. That doorway led to a staircase down to the cellar. Ah! That’s where the band was!
We struck gold. The cellar looked like someone went down earlier that day with a jack-hammer and banged out a cave big enough for a stage and a makeshift bar. There were two rooms. In the main room there was the stage and assorted chairs, tables and church pews strewn about. The other room was smaller, but important…it was where the beer taps were.
The scene was fantastic. The timing was spot on. We were Pros. We were professional subterranean scene seekers and we just hit the mother-load. I spent a lot of my youth reading about the days of yore when the R&R got it’s passport and spent time traipsing Europe. Stories of scenes such as this one seem to be the norm, each one hipper than the last. True underground…that’s where we were and that’s what we were.
(The stage in the cellar)
It was a Sunday night. Sunday night was (and still is) the open Blues Jam night. Ah, the Jam. Everybody loves a blues jam, right? Drums, piano, harp, guitars…as many as the stage can hold. They all lurch out in a crude and chaotic cacophonic stupor, stalking each other until they find the communal groove.
(me and The Rouster, 2002)
Who knows what can happen when the Jam is on…sparks strike and legends are born. The crowd thought we had a birthing right there and then. There was this young kid…he must have been 15 if he wasn’t 12. he jumped up on stage with the “house” band and strapped on someone’s guitar. Oh man! We were knocked out loaded once he started to play!
He was tearing frets and slamming the slide and seemed to do it with the wisdom of a guitar god. The floor was littered with jaws. This kid could play and the crowd let him know it. People were screaming out, “Le Petite Clapton”. Hot Damn! What a night.
We left around 2am. The Wife and I had to catch a few winks for our 8am flight back to the US. The Rouster stayed on in Paris to carry on the V-Tine’s Day celebration for a few nights with a new sweetheart he met at the hostel. No love lost in Paris that Valentine’s Day.
This past weekend, The Wife and I took the train to Paris for the day. Almost eight years to the day, we visited that bar. We hoisted beers and toasted to Big Surprises, good friends and the sweet joy of serendipity.
(me, returning to the Scene of the Crime this past weekend)
(The Sunday night Blues Jam lives on)
In medieval times, Le Caveau des Oubliettes, which translates to “the cave of the forgotten,” held prisoners awaiting the guillotine. The tight door and thick stone walls masked the prisoners’ wails and howls. Iron handcuffs on the walls, chains along the staircase, and a barred window remind listeners of the room’s past and give the intimate club an uniquely eerie feel.
Funny, I think I saw a couple of those guys there that night…
Speaking of the Blues Jam & Eric Clapton, here is a jam from the anniversary edition of Layla.