20th January 2020.

Last night, Alexandra cooked a meal for herself and, when she saw that I wasn’t preparing myself something to eat, asked me if I wanted to join her. So, after finding out that she was staying in the house today, I decided to return the favour and cooked a meal for her and Nashide. I invited Denis but he refused, saying the he had too much work to do. I knew that Alexandra was giving him a Russian lesson later that night so, accepted his excuse.

I wasn’t sure if Fred would be back in time to join us but cooked enough just in case. Good job because, delphine is back. Managed to squeeze out an extra plate.

21st January 2020

My time in Neuilly-sur-Marne is nearly over and I still want to get a photo of the café that I went to on my first day here. There’s something decidedly aggressive about that place, it’s like the owners and patrons have got something to hide. This isn’t like my bullshit feelings about the black guys at the grocers’ shop around the corner, it’s a very real feeling that I have about the place.

There are many things in France which are very different from the UK, one of which is the selling of tobacco products. Cigs are sold in special Tabac shops. Invariably, these Tabac shops are also cafes and bars and………betting shops. Everything from scratch cards, to Lotto tickets, to betting on, well pretty much everything seems to be up for grabs. That’s what this place is, a Tabac shop. One minor technical detail, even though there is a sign outside stating that this is indeed a Tabac shop, inside there is another sign which declares that there are no cigarettes for sale.

There are two reasons why I want to photograph this place. First, the almost menacing aspect of the place. Maybe it’s just my imagination. Maybe if I spend a little time in there, I’ll see that I was wrong. Again.

The second reason is that the wall behind the counter is covered with foreign bank notes. A sight which seems to have vanished in Europe since the euro was introduced. I want to get the owners (either one of them or both) to pose in front of this wall. I figure it would look great in the “People” gallery that I’m working on.

So, today I finally went back. I got myself a coffee, sat at one of the tables and started writing in this journal. All the while generally absorbing the place. The feeling of menace persists.

After a while, I took out my camera and left it on the table for all to see. Immediately, both it and I were eyed with suspicion. Make that more suspicion………..compared to when I first entered the place. I let a few minutes go by and then approached one of the owners.

“Can I make photo please?”, gesturing about the place hoping that he would understand that I wanted to shoot a few scenes in the bar.

Dead pan stare.

“Photo of the place”, wide sweeping gesture “and of you”, open palm gesture pointing at him “very interesting.” All said with my winningest smile.

Longer dead pan stare. This time followed with,

“You pay.”

“No. No pay. I take free of charge. I no charge you.” This time a slightly cheeky smile.

I’d tried to inject some humour by pretending that I thought that he expected me to charge him for photographing his establishment. If the guy had a sense of humour, it was on vacation today.

He insisted that I must pay him. I refused. That was the end of it. I paid for my coffee and left. Yeah, my assessment of the place was valid………because of the owners. They were the ones who were menacing.

As luck would have it, I needed cigarettes and, as I’d already noticed, they didn’t sell cigarettes in this damned Tabac shop. And so, I found myself walking to the same Tabac shop that I’d been going to since I arrived in Neuilly-sur-Marne. It’s a little place on the way to Neuilly Plaisance, a single building surrounded by construction sites.

La Terrasse is similar to all of the other Tabac shops that I’ve seen. They sell cigs, booze and, it’s a betting shop. However, today I noticed something that I hadn’t noticed on any of my previous visits. They served food. It was a little after 01:00pm so I figured I’d have a light lunch there. I knew the owner spoke passable English so,

“Can I see the menu please?”

“No menu. We cook, you eat.”

Cool. The meal of the day was beef stew with rice, served with the standard chunks of fresh crusty baguette. It was absolutely excellent. Not only that, they were more than happy for me to take photos. Result!