by Michael E. Lloyd
There were, after all, no serious problems with our trains that Thursday — just some understandable delays — and after making a very early start we arrived at the Gare de Lyon soon after five in the afternoon. The sky was remarkably clear and the sun was still shining brightly. We went straight to the Accueil de Paris at the station and they found us a cheap room only fifteen minutes’ walk away. So we strolled up to Place de la Bastille and on into Rue de la Roquette, and checked in at the Hôtel Bastille.
That evening we allowed ourselves a night out in the Latin Quarter, but we were tired from our long journey and dismayed at the devastation still obvious in many of its streets, so it was hard to relax and enjoy ourselves. Our dinner in a lovely little restaurant on Rue de la Harpe was delightful, but we were back at the hotel by ten o’clock, in no mood for further entertainment of any sort.
* * *
The next day we started our hunt for Emilie up in Montmartre, figuring it might be a good place to find a performer who had probably wanted to stay out of the central Paris limelight — at least when she first arrived here. So we visited all the music shops and clubs we could find in the streets and little squares of the famous old artists’ quarter.
In every one of them we showed people the ten-year-old photograph of Emilie and asked if they recognised her. Then we ran through Pureza’s list of names and asked if people had heard of any of them, and if so how long they had been performing in Paris, and whether they were still active, and where they had typically worked, and what they looked like, and if there was any chance of finding a photo of them in a magazine or a publicity poster or whatever ...
But no joy. Just two names to be definitely crossed off our list.
By early afternoon we were pretty sure we’d exhausted all the places that were open during the day. So we called a halt, had a late lunch, and went to enjoy the splendour of the Sacré-Coeur.
When we emerged from the basilisk into the bright spring sunshine, Arthur gazed across the vast panorama of Paris spread out before us, and said quietly ‘I wonder if she really is down there somewhere?’
And I said ‘I feel she is, Arthur. But God knows where ...’
‘We’ll find her,’ he declared, and we began our descent back towards the great northern boulevard.
We stayed in Montmartre all evening, drinking in the rather sleazy atmosphere, enjoying the food, and asking after Emilie in a dozen or more clubs and music bars that were now open for the night. But all we achieved was the removal of three further names from our very long list.
* * *
On Saturday the eighth of June we visited some of the music shops and clubs we’d spotted on the Left Bank on our first evening in the city.
We once again got a very meagre set of comments on our list from the first six or seven places we tried, but at least they helped us rule out one more name. And still nobody recognised the old photo of Emilie. But in two separate shops we were told: ‘Ah, you need to visit old Hubert. He’s been in the business here since 1950. There’s nothing he doesn’t know about the Paris music scene!’
We found Hubert in his little shop in Rue de Lanneau. And he half-recognised the face in the old photo, but could not put a name to it. But as soon as we showed him the list, it all added up for him.
‘Ah, of course! That’s Rosie Renart! Same little face, but she must be ... what? ... ten years older now?’
‘And her hair is completely different. These days it’s long and straight, very American folkie style. And look at those Fifties clothes! Today she usually performs in a man’s lumberjack shirt and a pair of blue jeans. Hah! You know, all the students here will finally be getting round to wearing jeans now, after their little social revolution last month!’
‘Oh, this is wonderful!’ Arthur exclaimed. ‘So, do you have any up-to-date publicity photos or press cuttings?’
‘I’m afraid not. But I can tell you where she’s been performing recently ...’
And he wrote down the addresses of two music clubs — both of them back in the Saint-Antoine district, very close to our own little hotel!
Early that afternoon we found the first place, in Passage Thiéré just off Rue de Charonne. There were many tatty publicity posters on the grubby old front doors, but none of them featured anyone looking like Emilie. And when the owner heard why we were there, he was not at all happy.
‘Yes,’ he told us rather angrily, ‘Rosie played here quite often over the past year or so. But she hasn’t turned up for work since her show on Friday the third of May. And everything in the city’s gone to pot since then! She’s probably been wasting her time on sit-ins with those lazy students. How are we supposed to make a living when bloody baby intellectuals go and screw it all up for us?’
I was stunned. ‘So you don’t support what they’re trying to achieve?’
‘Of course I don’t!’
‘But you employ lots of beat musicians and protest singers here! Look at all these posters!’
‘That’s business, girl, not my politics! This is Saint-Antoine, dammit, not the Champs-Elysées! And I’ve got better things to do than talk to you about someone who let me down. She won’t be working here again, I can tell you!’
‘One moment, please, monsieur. Do you happen to have a poster of Rosie that we could take with us?’
‘No, I don’t! I tore it down and threw it in the bin. I told you — she’s history now.’
‘OK. But do you perhaps know where she lived?’
‘Non! Foutez-moi le camp, hein!’
And he slammed the door in our faces. We walked back to Rue de Charonne with an unspoken sense of growing concern.
We moved on to the second address we had been given: a slightly smarter-looking club called the Cheval à Bascule, just one block further down on Rue de Lappe. There were even more posters on the outside wall of this place, but none of them featured Rosie Renart either, and not one of the few female singers looked the slightest bit like Emilie.
And there was no reply to our repeated knocking on the door.
So we found a nearby bar, and we bought some more expensive drinks and we talked, both voicing our obvious concerns, but both also agreeing that we still had absolutely no firm evidence that Rosie was our girl. Just one “celebrated” man’s possibly over-confident guess, based on a ten-year-old photo ...
The club was still closed when we tried again an hour later. So we decided to go back to the hotel — it was literally around the corner! — and change into some smarter clothes and have another nice evening meal together. Then we could hit the night-time scene at the end of the evening, But not, sadly, for the music or the dancing ...
The place was open when we finally arrived back at around ten o’clock, and there was already quite a queue to get in. But as we slowly shuffled forwards, I spotted some more posters inside, on the far wall of the lobby. One of them showed a guitar-girl looking just as Hubert had described Rosie Renart and a lot like the old Emilie too — and probably not a lot older than her, either. From where we were, I still couldn’t read the rather small and over-groovy handwriting at the bottom of the poster. But I knew I had to get someone else’s opinion on this first, without any special prompting ...
‘Arthur, look at all the pictures on the wall ahead of us! Can you see a face you recognise?’
‘Yes!’ he hissed in my ear. ‘It’s her, Julia! It’s her!!’
‘So, shall we start asking the people in the queue ...?’
‘No. Not yet, anyway. Let’s go straight to the top first.’
We eventually extracted the manager, whose name was Oscar, from a back room and persuaded him to talk to us in the far corner of the lobby.
‘Yeah, man, Rosie played here every Sunday and Thursday night for the past three years or more. Very popular ... but she’s an acquired taste, you know.’
‘Yes, I do ...’ Arthur began. I gave him a look that said ‘Shut up and listen!’ and he got the message.
‘So when is she playing next?’ I prompted the very cool cat.
‘No idea, sugar. She hasn’t been in since ... hmmm, it must be about four weeks now. Hold on ... yeah, she played here on the ninth of May, as usual, and she sat down afterwards at the end of the bar, as usual, and she had a little chat with her friend Sophie, as usual, and then she went home. As usual. But she never turned up for her spot the following Sunday, or the next Thursday. I was a bit sad, you know, sort of disappointed, but nobody seemed to care, ’cos they were all talking about the riots on the Left Bank. Have been ever since ...’
‘Is Sophie here tonight?’ I asked.
‘Nah. She only ever comes in on Sundays and Thursdays. Must have liked Rosie’s style.’
‘So she’ll be here tomorrow?’
‘Maybe. Haven’t seen much of her recently, either. So maybe not. Anything’s possible in Paris this spring, man!’
‘OK. We’ll be back tomorrow, then. Meanwhile ... do you know Rosie’s address? Or Sophie’s?’
‘Are you kidding? Most of the time I can’t even remember my own!’
‘OK. But can you possibly let us borrow that poster?’
‘Sure. I’ve got a couple more of them in the office, and it’s no good to me up there ... till she comes back down to earth. Yeah, help yourself — and you can keep it!’
‘So, are you guys coming in now? We have a couple of great acts on tonight!’
Arthur and I exchanged glances and decided firmly against it. This was no time to be letting our hair down.
We spent an uneasy Sunday back on the Left Bank, showing the poster of Rosie Renart to hundreds of people on the damaged streets, but failing to find anyone who recognised her name or her face, let alone remembered seeing her recently.
We wondered at lunchtime about whether we should now go to the police, but then decided we actually had very little to report, and that it might be best to leave it at least until the next day, just in case we managed to meet up with Sophie and pick up any more information from her.
So we went back to the Cheval à Bascule as soon as it opened that evening, and we waited. And finally Sophie arrived! Oscar pointed her out to us as she walked past, and once she was settled at the end of the bar we approached her very politely and asked if we could join her. And after accepting another large glass of wine to rapidly follow her first one, she was happy to talk.
‘Yeah, I first met Rosie here a couple of years ago, and one evening she told me a little bit about herself.
‘She’d come up to Paris from the south a few years earlier. I think she said she’d been working in a hotel in Aix-en-Provence, and hadn’t been singing for a while. Anyway, she found some digs here in a poor area south of the Gare de Lyon, and picked up another cleaning job in a cheap hotel. I got the feeling she’d chosen the sorts of places that don’t worry too much about identity cards, but I didn’t ask, of course ...
‘Apparently her hair was a lot shorter at that time, but she then let it grow very long. She was trying to get a kind of “French Joan Baez” look, and I think she succeeded!’
Arthur showed her Emilie’s old photograph.
‘Wow, was that her? Really pretty, wasn’t she?’
‘So, after a few weeks she managed to get a better job, as a waitress in a side street café up near Place de la Bastille. Told me she borrowed a cheap Spanish guitar from one of the waiters and tried it and enjoyed it. So she sold an old clarinet she’d brought along with her, and got herself a good quality steel-string folk guitar.
‘Over the next few months she learnt to play some simple chords and developed her own new style. And eventually she felt confident enough to enquire about playing in the local music bars and folk clubs, and she got work quite easily. Her first little spot was in late 1960, I think she said — at a beatnik club in a rather unsavoury stretch of Rue Oberkampf. She was determined to stay firmly out of the central Paris limelight. I didn’t ask why.
‘And she’s been playing on and off in this area ever since.’
Arthur had been getting fidgety.
‘OK, that was all very useful, Sophie. Thank you! But what about last month? Oscar says you were with her here on Thursday the ninth ...’
‘Yeah. She normally just sits right here after her show and I do most of the talking. Sometimes I think she gets a bit bored with that. But it’s nice to talk to talented people, isn’t it? Well I think so, anyway. But that night she was in a funny mood, and she did most of the talking. Basically she was getting all het up about the students and the workers, and saying she was going to join their demo the next day ...’
‘That’s just what I said. And I told her she wasn’t getting any younger or any prettier, and how stupid I thought she was to be playing Joan of Arc instead of getting some milk in her tits. That’s when she walked out.’
I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, and I dare not look at Arthur to see his reaction.
‘So have you seen her since then?’
‘No. I didn’t come in the following Sunday. The next Thursday I turned up late, and I was rather preoccupied with other things, especially the riots. So I didn’t ask anyone about her. And I also missed the next Sunday. So it was two weeks before I actually wondered where she had got to. I mentioned it to Oscar, and he said she hadn’t been in since the ninth — the evening I last spoke to her.’
Arthur was still really quiet, so I moved rapidly on.
‘Do you know where she lives, Sophie?’
‘Somewhere on Passage Josset, I think.’
‘Where is that, please?’
‘Five minutes’ walk from here. Up Rue de Charonne, on the right just before you reach Avenue Ledru-Rollin.’
‘OK. Is there anything more you can tell us?’
‘Did you ever think of going to the police about this?’
‘Hah! Those crazy students injured nearly a thousand of their officers in the last few weeks. Do you really think they have the time or the will to care about some missing little leftie folk singer?’
‘Well, they ought to!’
‘So you’d better talk to them yourselves.’
‘Don’t worry, we’re going to. And thanks for ... well, thanks for all your information, at least.’
She shrugged and drained her glass. ‘It was given for free. Well, almost. Bonne chance.’
To be continued ...
Copyright © 2012 by Michael E. Lloyd