Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Adieu, Madame

I am stunned. I feel as though a doctor has just informed me that I'll have to have an arm amputated.

Madame Tabac is selling.

I haven't written about her in a while, partly because I was embarrassed, perhaps, at my first profile of her. Since that time, she has truly become an ally, a camarade, a faithful friend in the neighborhood. A source of information, some juicy gossip -- and mostly updates, complete with photos, on her cherished grandson. She has a heart of gold. She is a genuine human being, not a character or caricature of some American blogger's perception.

Lately when I've stopped by to say hello, the shelves in the loto-tabac shop area of the café have been empty. "They won't deliver unless we pay in advance now," she has confided. Not stamps, or mobicartes or cigarettes or anything else furnished by the Régie. Without merchandise to sell, she's had more spare time on her hands. She and I have had long chats about the café, business, current events, government, the neighborhood, weather, the economy, Life.

So she's calling it quits and selling the Jean B. After 19 or 20 years as owner, 35 in the café-tabac business, she's hanging up her hat. "Oh, you know, it's sad, in a way. There are des gamins in the neighborhood who I've seen as newborns, now they're in université, grand comme ça!" she says. "It'll be different," she admits, "but quite frankly, I'm looking forward to not having to get up and work seven days a week. Sometimes I like just staying at home between four walls. You know what I mean?"

"Oui, oui, of course. But it just won't be the same without you," I lament. "You're the tradition of the neighborhood -- we all love you."

"Don't worry," she reassures me. "The new owners are nice. Ce sont des Auvergnats -- people from the Auvergne. They are sympa. Des gens bien. They'll be good workers, keep this a nice, friendly place."

I instantly regret all the time that I haven't spent at the Jean B in the past two years. Sure, it's kind of grungy, and certainly prior to January 1 it was thick with cigarette smoke. Now the same regulars are still at the bar having their café or their ballon de rouge, just more visible without the smoke. Madame knows them all by name, tutoies them as they arrive and depart. She knows what they want before they've pushed the door all the way in from the street corner.

"Oh I'm so, so desolée that you are leaving," I say. "But happy for you if that's what you want." Then I suggest brightly, "Maybe we'll have to have a fête d'adieu for you. All the neighborhood can come in to say good bye."

Her face lights up. "Pourquoi pas?"

How can I arrange this? She's leaving in three weeks.

2 comments:

carrie and/or john said...

You make such a lovely point about her humanity, rather than a pat French caricature and I admire your self-awareness about that. She sounds wonderful.

You could make an invitation/"flier" for the fete, post some in the windows, at the register of the tabac, and distribute others to the regulars. Maybe asking people to contribute something to the fete, so you don't have to do it all yourself (wine, etc.) Then all you need is good music and the rest will take care of itself.

Good luck, it's a great idea!
--carrie

Polly-Vous Francais said...

Thanks so much for your suggestions.

I was almost sobbing after I left the Jean B when Madame told me her news. It's the end of an era -- and I've just caught the tail of it. She's been such an important part of my learning curve in Paris -- and I don't even know her name.

But I'm so caught up with work right now that I'm worried I won't be able to do anything.

Anyway, I'll ask around with some of the neighborhood merchants and see what they have to say.

Keep your fingers crossed!

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