When you visit Paris, you need to visit the Que Pasa Cafe, at 3 rue de Lappe, near the Place de La Bastille. It’s quite an unusual night spot and happens to be the creation and personal domain of my ex-husband, David. In the summer, it’s a fun place to sit outside and watch the throngs of people that stroll along the cobblestone street – pretty girls in mini-skirts and high heels, comical drunks, show-offs, the local bar-flies. Couples kiss, beggars beg, flower salesmen peddle overpriced roses, and an occasional fight breaks out. Once in a while, a car goes down the street as well. Sometimes this is due to driver error but, as David points out, the majority of cars on the street have exhibitionism as their only goal. You see, the Rue de Lappe is a street that doesn’t really lead anywhere, but because the street is so dense with pedestrians, it doesn’t lead anywhere slowly. The majority of cars, easing down the street Tournament of Roses style, are expensive sports cars, driven by arrogant young men studying the people who are studying them.
In the winter, Que Pasa is a little cave, sheltered from the cold and damp – a refuge, where anything can happen and often does. I like it because I enjoy a Mojito, which is the bar’s signature cocktail, made with Havana Club, real Cuban rum. And, when I’m not in the mood for rum, there’s always plenty of champagne. A word of warning, though: the Que Pasa Cafe is not for the overly squeamish – those who require pristine cleanliness, for example, or an elegant decor. It’s cluttered, funky, and dimly lit, with Che Gevara posters everywhere. Although it’s a simple bar, still, it has pretensions. The other night, when someone asked where the bathrooms were, one regular replied, “Just follow the flies.” That was a little unkind, as David pays someone handsomely to clean the place on a daily basis. But if it isn’t genuinely dirty, it is artificially so, in the same way that its owner has pretensions to being a communist. If we’re talking armchair philosophy, I suppose he really is one. But don’t bring up the fact that he’s a nightclub owner in one of the world’s most expensive cities. That would hurt his feelings.
David is quite the actor, in some ways. He doesn’t exactly pretend to be something that he’s not, but if you’re accidentally misled, he’ll do nothing to set you straight. Once, for example, he found himself at an event for European movie people and someone mistook him for Marlon Brando. “What are you filming lately?” the innocent person inquired. “I’m working exclusively in porn,” my ex-husband casually replied. You see, David grew up as an Algerian in Paris, which is like growing up Puerto Rican in New York, Mexican in Los Angeles or Lithuanian in Canada – not exactly what you’d call the Ruling Class. But, because he’s a Kabyle, (as opposed to a darker-complected Arab), he has a different, physical look and can pass for almost anything, as can his friends. Sadly, North African Berbers (of which the Kabyles are but one of several tribes) in Paris live with the racism and bigotry suffered by minority populations the world over. This is doubly sad because Kabyles are historically, culturally and characteristically amazing. The Kabyles I’ve known through my association with David fascinate me. They tend to be warm and very funny people, who are able to converse on almost any subject, as they are startlingly educated and informed. Generally speaking, they possess a detailed knowledge of history, geography, politics and current events. They have the souls of artists and poets, and many of them are natural philosophers who are unafraid to discuss politics, religion or any other incendiary topic. Understandably, from time to time, friends will stop speaking to each other for months on end.
The clientele of the Que Pasa Cafe is a mixed bag. There’s a little bit of everything: local people and tourists, for sure, French people, other Europeans and Americans, not to mention ex-patriots and all manner of the disenfranchised, as well as Kabyles and other Berbers. It’s a comfortable place for the spiritually homeless. And, to top it off, the atmosphere is great because of David, himself, who exudes tremendous warmth and charm, as well as a bewitching charisma. And he’s a lover of good music. A lot of the music he plays at the bar is Latin, to support his theme. But he’s passionate about American Jazz (Louis Armstrong, Nina Simone) as well as other types of American music, (Stevie Wonder, Tina Turner), traditional French music (Jacques Brel, Edith Piaf, Serge Gainsbourg), Bob Marley and other Reggae artists, as well as African artists like Fela Kuti and, of course, Kabyle music by artists like Djamel Allam, Idir, Khaled and Rachid Taha. And, because the Kabyle community in Paris is so tightly-knit, David knows personally the majority of the most famous Kabyle and Rai music stars.
It wasn’t surprising, then, to see Rachid Taha enter the Que Pasa Cafe the other night. He’s one of my personal favorites and I recognized him immediately. Besides, I’d met him before. Rachid and David threw their arms around each other immediately, then David reintroduced him to me. Rachid and I had a conversation for the first time and, not surprisingly, it was fascinating. Turns out he practices Sufism, a mystical sect I was personally exposed to at a young age and have loved ever since. (For those who are unfamiliar, Whirling Dervishes are Sufi’s.) Rachid quoted a passage from an Arabic poem and, although I don’t speak Arabic, it was obvious to me that it was a poem because of the cadence and rhythm. It was beautiful. I mentioned Rumi, which sent us galloping happily off into further conversation and then, in a strange and touching non-sequitor, Rachid began talking about his son, who also lives in Paris. Rachid said, “It was so cold today that it made my hands hurt, so I went shopping for gloves. Then I gave them to my son.” A surprising sentiment from a rocker…