Thinking of it right now – the holiday, the sunshine, the cold beer, the massive demonstration two streets away – I can’t remember what had gotten me into the bar on the Rue de Therese in the first place. And now here I was, talking to an Irish guy who was telling me about the parties he been going to while living at an amphetamine dealer’s house nearby. ‘You should come,’ he said. We talked loud, in the way people always do when they believe the locals can’t understand them. The barman watched us, scowling, dealing with the handful of locals drinking coffee.
‘Why are you in Paris?’ I asked the Irish guy.
‘I’m kinda travelling,’ he said.
‘You’re not here for the demonstration?’
‘Ha,’ he said, ‘those lazy fuckers are only doing it to get the day off work. A protest here is like a sandcastle on a beach – they appear sooner or later when the weather is good. No…I’m just travelling around a bit. Seeing what’s out there. I’ve just got caught up in Paris for a few months. Got some stuff I have to shift, if you get my meaning.’
I got the meaning ok. He was starting to look nervously around the bar. And why hadn’t I noticed his eye twitching sooner? His fingers drummed on the dark polished bar top. He excused himself and went off to the toilet. The sound of the protest was growing fiercer in the middle distance. Outside, sometimes a figure would run past the bar towards the noise. The Actors and Performers Union knew how to organise a protest, I’d give them that much. I heard a bang, then the crescendo of a wave of voices reacting to what sounded like a tear gas grenade being deployed. Figures began to run past the bar in the other direction, away from what I guessed were thick lines of heavily armoured French policemen all doubting their ability to remain patient with things much longer.
The Irishman came out of the toilet. ‘What the fuck is going on?’ he asked.
‘I think the police have decided to knock some actors about.’
Was that cocaine on his nose? White powder was lining the inside of one nostril. He was twitching more than he had been earlier, making larger gestures with his hands, eyes following the people running past the long windows. ‘Jesus,’ he said. ‘I’d better get out of here. I’ve got four kilos of Speed in this bag.’ He pointed to his rucksack.
‘In a minute this place is going to be threshed by hordes of adrenaline-fuelled police. You know that, right?’ I said. More protesters gathered outside. The eye of it all was moving towards us.
‘Fuck, you’re right.’ He drank the rest of his beer. ‘I’ll be going. Good luck to you.’ He walked calmly outside, shut the door, looked in both directions, then ran like a man with four kilos of hard narcotics in his bag up the street away from the Gendarme. Just another holiday maker, come to see what the fuss of a foreign city is all about. Caught up in the moment.