My night in Paris started with my friend and I getting a bit lost on Boulevard Henri IV while looking for the Bastille. From our pause on the corner we were looking at a map in the middle of the hustle and bustle of Parisians making their way along the busy street at the end of the day. All of a sudden a hand reached up out of the crowd of passersby and touched my shoulder. I turned and came face to face with a very old gentleman who looked a little like Peter O’Toole and he asked in perfect Londoner English, “Can I be of some service? You two seem quite lost.”
He introduced himself as Monsieur Mada and provided us with a short history of the area we had wondered into. He said he was intrigued to meet a real Canadian Aboriginal. After a lengthy conversation, which was more like a history lesson, the fragile, yet still bright and vivid man with a cane invited us to see “a real Parisian apartment.” How could we refuse?
His apartment was nearby in one of the historic buildings that lined the street. On the fourth floor we made our way down a marble corridor, where we were greeted by a burly young black man with a bush of frizzy hair. Monsieur Mada addressed him as Edmund his assistant and introduced us as his new Canadian friends. We were soon seated in a very elegant and large living room sipping on orange juice.
Monsieur Mada, who informed us he was 80 years of age, told us his story there in the dim lamp-lit room that featured a wall of books and soft old leather couches. He took us on a tour of his home, revealing his life story as we walked about.
His mother was a renowned Algerian dancer who had fallen in love with his father, a World War II fighter pilot who later became a commercial aviator. We saw images of his parents in black-and-white photos. Many were of a beautiful young Algerian woman in a flowing robe and several of his father in military uniform. He spoke slowly and softly about his career in government and the military, only to say, “I was always employed in the service of NATO. That was long ago now and honestly, I have some very difficult memories of that time. It was after the war and there was a lot going on. Some of the things I had to do, I am not proud of so I prefer to leave it there.”
As if to clear the air he invited us out to dinner at his favourite restaurant. “We will go down the block to visit the Fat Lady,” he said, beaming with a mischievous smile. Edmund encouraged us to head to the bar and let us know that Monsieur Mada had a running tab there so not to think about the cost. Actually, we decided the night was on us and that was an expensive decision.
It was a short walk down Boulevard Henri IV to the small restaurant bar called La Cavetière. The lights inside were warm and inviting. A young man was playing a piano, people were dancing and the space was filled with music, chatter and laughter. The walls were adorned with autographed framed photos of many of the artists, musicians and actors of France. As we shuffled between chairs, tables and people, a haze of cigarette smoke hung around us like fog. The place was already full in the early evening.
A woman shouted, “Monsieur Mada! Monsieur Mada!” A big, blonde lady raced up to Monsieur Mada and devoured him in a hug with excited words in French. We were introduced to the Fat Lady and ushered to a table at the back of the bar where we could see everyone. We ate an amazing meal of roasted lamb in a rich sauce. As the night rolled on, the crowd swelled and the piano player sang his heart out in well-known French tunes and American hits.
After a few hours we could see that Monsieur Mada had lost his perkiness and seemed to grow droopy and tired. We suggested getting him back to his apartment and calling it a night. I think he was thankful for that offer.
On the way out the piano player was tinkling the ivories and belting out one of my favourite tunes, “Just A Gigolo.” The crowd was pressing and Monsieur Mada led us in a line parting the dancing Parisians. Midway through the place a beautiful young woman turned and reached for Monsieur Mada’s hand. He took her hand and danced with her under the glow of the soft warm yellow lights and the haze of cigarette smoke. His face lit up as he ushered up the energy to spin her around and move gracefully on the floor. They embraced for an instant and then we continued on our way to the front door.
Back on the street we made our way to his apartment. We left him and Edmund with promises of a return visit after exchanging addresses. On leaving the impressive old building and returning to the Parisian night we were surprised by the sound of a party horn. We looked up and there was Monsieur Mada on his balcony, waving adieu, adorned in a party hat and blowing on one of those silly party horns.
All my love and condolences to the people of Paris in this tragic time with the memories of Monsieur Mada and my night in Paris.