“Rocky Raccoon” blasted from his tiny stereo out into the hallway, and our English-speaking presence earned us curious looks from building residents who were returning home after their long workday. Paul was lit up like the fourteenth of July, and after introducing me to the other revelers in his flat, he insisted on a sing-a-long to “Why don’t we do it in the road?” Call me inhibited, but would you have joined in singing THAT song with a bunch of people you’d never met, and had all had more wine to drink than you?
I wanted to edge discreetly back down the stairwell and into the Marais streets, but instead I chose to step onto the crumbling hexagonal tomette tiles in the nearly-empty studio, where I was invited to swill from a plastic bottle of wine bought at ED discount store. That wine gave me the courage to put up with Paul’s gap-toothed grin and the way he flipped his graying mop over to the side of his face when he interrupted me for the third time.
Paul was born in Canada, but he grew up in Paris and in London, where he attended King’s College and became a prominent journalist, editing Decanter and Taste magazines, and then working for the Evening Standard. When I met him, he still dressed the part, but was living in and out of Shakespeare and Company bookstore and sometimes he even slept on the cold stones under the Pont Neuf, right next to the Seine.
Even after thirty-odd years of Parisian life, Paul still has a pronounced British accent when he speaks French - it’s something of a trademark - and yet his perfect deadpan works in English or in French. Time stopped the day Paul met John Lennon. Woody Allen and Austin Powers rank close to the top of his list of idols, as does the Kinkster, a.k.a. Kinky Friedman - another character in Paul’s world of unlikely heroes, punny jokes, and chain-smoking.
Bob’s your uncle
Even though I managed to warm up to Paul’s dry and sometimes corny wit as well as his particular brand of old-world charm long before punting him into the river, the Seine turned out to play an important role in our friendship. One summer, our favorite meal-time activity with other friends was to hold Seine-side merguez sausage barbecues on the quay under the Pont des Arts, accompanied by plenty of red wine.
Since then, Paul and I have become good friends, and our cooking techniques have evolved off of the quais and into actual kitchens. And nowadays I wouldn’t dare barbecue anything under the Pont des Arts anyway, for fear of it collapsing under the weight of all those hideous "love locks". But Paul still pronounces the English quay as [key], and one of his specialties is a good old-fashioned curry. (People who have lived in England learn to appreciate a good curry, don’t they?)
The recipe below is what I call a quick curry - one that uses the pre-packaged mix of all the spices necessary. When I want an all-out authentic Indian meal, I reach for at least fifteen different spice jars and Julie Sahni’s Classic Indian Cooking. Here is Paul’s faster but no less delicious way with chicken, and as he says, “Get those goddamn onions in there, and Bob’s your uncle.”