Brèves de comptoir

It’s pretty quiet around here, not much happening as we settle into the cold season.  With the first snows the farmers are bringing in the cows for the winter and they have a little more time to sit and chat.  We were invited round for coffee with Roger last Friday.  Friday is Roger’s day for coffee because his old friend Robert comes to get his weekly supply of eggs and his neighbour Gérard usually pops in too, so it is quite an occasion.  Not exactly a “coffee morning” as the idea is generally understood, but a reason to get out the enamel pot we gave him for his birthday some years ago and brew up his lethal robusta-and-chicory mixture.  Otherwise Roger has foresworn coffee, for reasons best known to himself, or maybe it is in fact to do with the potency of this mixture.

The conversation turned up perfect examples of what the French call brèves de comptoir, that is snippets of news and gossip which are passed around and mulled over at the zinc – the bar of a café.  So, naming no names, this is what we heard.

A comment on the particularly hopeless restaurant in a nearby village – “If you feel like eating he’s not open and if you aren’t hungry he is”.

About a charity event organised on the main square in Arlebosc with roast chestnuts and hot wine  –  “No, but really, chestnuts at nine in the morning!  Now if it was saucisson or hot blood pudding, that’s another matter, but chestnuts …..”

New regulations mean that snow chains or winter tyres are now required in Arlebosc and neighbouring communes – “They should be compulsory in Marseille!  That’s what causes problems, when they all come up here and get stuck! We’re smart enough to stay at home when it snows.”

There were some longer stories too, of strictly local interest. 

A neighbour called his neighbour to let her know that he had seen the chasseurs deposit a fox they had shot in a bramble thicket on her property.  (There is a certain amount of tension between this person and the hunters, so their hope was evidently that she would not know anything about their unwelcome gift until it started to pong.)  She called another friend saying “I need a dog”, and they came down with their two labradors, who quickly sniffed out the exact position of the corpse.  It was retrieved and bagged in two bin bags.  Her next step is to present it, with her comments, to the President of the hunters’ association … to be continued.

Roger is trying to train his new sheepdog puppy to get into the van, but the dog is very nervous about being shut up in a strange-smelling tin box and Roger doesn’t have a hand free, what with his crutches, to lift her into the vehicle.  So he tried leaving the back door of the van open.  Sure enough, later that day, Sila was discovered inside, having overcome her apprehension, and looking very pleased with herself.  Roger repeated the experiment the next day but this time when the dog approached she discovered that the cat had got there before her and was comfortably ensconced.  Fury and flying fur all round!

Photo Roger Schall. Paris 1937

A couple more brèves:  About an unusual weather pattern, (global warming?) – “Ah mais bien sûr, c’est tout la faute des avions.  All those planes flying around, they burst the clouds!”

About a very elderly inhabitant who has recently died – “Was he really that age?  You know all old people lie about their age.  Look at that Mme Calment who was supposed to be 122 when she died, turned out that she was cheating, she was only 116!”  “No, that’s not it, the fact is that she was really her daughter …”

And so the morning passed, until it was time to fetch the eggs for Robert and for Gérard to get back to burning up the undergrowth, which he does with great gusto.

2 thoughts on “Brèves de comptoir

  1. What a wonderful scene. How could you be more integrated?

    I’m interested in why the bars had a zinc surface. I remember that The Prospect of Whitby (Wapping) is noted for its metal bar surface, I think also zinc, though possibly pewter. It seems that here it is unusual (or possibly unusual to have survived). I wonder why?

    1. What an interesting comment Peter. It’s one of those things you take for granted living here but, as Mäggi says, the inquiring scientific mind wants to know *why*. A quick search revealed that zinc is resistant but does not rust, making it ideal for a bar counter. It also acquires a pleasant patina with age. My own additional thoughts are that, since so much zinc is used on the roofs in Paris, both the material and proficient zinguers would be readily available.

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