Intrepid Optimist is the place where I can share my stories; fact, fiction and thoughts from the past and present. It’s Written by myself for people who believe adventure knows no age
The Bistro Paris was once a fruitful venture but over the years it’s attraction, along with the charm of the old colonial part of city in which it is located had been declining. The interior, originally designed to be a replica of how Doña Clemencia, the proprietor, had imagined a nineteen twenties Parisian bar should look like. But in reality, it was only after twenty years of wear and tear that it had taken on the aspect of a French bistro, albeit a run down one. In the long and narrow interior was an ornate brown, panelled bar running the full length of the room, Behind the bar stretched a cracked and tarnished mirror etched with cocktail glasses and bubbles.
The original wooden tables were still in service, their age and dilapidated condition hidden under cracked plastic table covers and required folded beer mats under their legs to keep them on an even keel. Warped chairs were strewn over the cracked tiled floor. At the entrance end of the bar a nicotine, stained panel, advertising drinks with names which would confound anyone under the age of forty, hung from the wall. From under this panel, Lilly oversaw the business, as she has done for twenty years before I started going there.
Like her establishment, Doña Clemencia had also seen better days. The few regulars us who knew her from those earlier years, remembered her as a brassy but handsome young thing but her once comely appearance had lapsed along with the bar. After the last of her young men, as liked to call them had departed, her appearance became neglected and a few pounds had been added to an already stocky figure. From an elevated seat behind the cash drawer, a cigarette dangling from her lower lip and a hairy chin – a match for any one day growth to be seen on her male clients, she is able not only to observe what was going on but also to hear all but the whispered conversations that took place between them.
Not that the BistroParis has not had its moments. There were those fifteen minutes of fame during the coup d’etat in seventy-nine; the generals took over the country and for a few days, it became the unofficial, international press club. Then again in eighty-four, when the press pack returned, to observe those very same generals being booted out of office.
Business had been steadily going down-hill, as had her clientele. Clemencia or Lil, as she permitted herself to be called by the chosen few, still managed to eke out a precarious living. Sufficient quantities of spirits and beer were sold on a daily basis to the few remaining expatriates, as were coffees and occasional half bottle of the local firewater – Aguadiente to the card playing Latinos, kept her from shutting shop. Occasionally, by way of an unexpected bonus, some unwary traveller in search of adventure, would find his way inside and invariably end up buying the drinks, after losing game after game of liar’s dice.
As I learned with time, Clemencia was not her true name nor was she French. Lilly Butterworth formally came from a two up, two down, terraced house, under the shadow of Manchester’s Bradford gasworks. As soon as she blossomed she left her job in the nearby bleaching mill and headed for London. With her she took her first boy friend, an apprentice electrician from the same factory. Their relationship lasted one week before he had been overcome with an attack of homesickness and headed back up north to the arms of his mother and the smell of gas.
A couple of years, various mundane jobs and a variety of lovers later, she too decided to quit drab, post war London. Naively, she had signed a dubious contract to dance on a commission basis, in an Istanbul nightclub. She quickly discovered that to earn any commission, she was expected to do more than just dance with her partners. Not that she had had anything against this. In fact, during one of her rare moments of confidentiality she told me that she had rather enjoyed the work and it had not taken long for her to branch out on her own.
For a few years it was a seller’s market. The Turks loved the attractive blonde who, like some cheeky chameleon, had changed from a northern English lass into the French Madame Clemencia. The necessity for a new identity was formed out of her personal experience that English women were not expected to charge for their services.
As can be expected in that particular line of work, alcohol, drugs and a series of demanding lovers who, in reality were no more than pimps, began to take their toll on her looks. She eventually managed to get out of Turkey, with gratitude to an extremely large and wealthy Armenian jeweler, with rather strange tastes in his sex life. He died of a massive heart attack while attempting to disentangle himself from a maze of rubber straps which Clemencia had obligingly enveloped him.
In the brief case he had with him, apart from a whip and a snorkel, were some of his most expensive samples and an ample supply of cash. Clemencia easily convinced herself that, had he had the time to have made a will and testament, he would have more than likely named her as the one and only beneficiary. Sensibly she had fled Istanbul before the inquest was held, taking a fast boat to Alexandria.
With her past and hard gained experience, plus the inheritance, she had enjoyed and gotten by comfortably for a couple of years. However, having never learned the real difference between love and business, she found herself once more in dire straits and with no other offers available she had no choice but to accept the proposal of a Lebanese con man to move to South America and open a bistro in Cali.
I can assure you if you should ever find yourself in Cali and short of funds, do not ask for credit at the Bistro Paris. Lil told me that day her Levantine lover skipped town with the weeks earnings was the day she finally stopped trusting in men – and who could blame her.
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