Sunday, October 31, 2010

Lawrence Of Arabia Slept Here

It felt like goodbye to something last night sitting in what used to be our local bar, the Lawrence d'Arabie - it's now a bar/restaurant called Le Saxo. We'd resisted going into the place out of loyalty to Nico, our friend and the old owner - in memory of what he'd created there. The butcher across the street will not set foot in the new place, nor have some of the old clientele. But the new owner is a sweet man, a bit on the anxious side (but who wouldn't be trying to make a go of a new business in France these days?) If you were in Glasgow or Nashville, Norwich, Wheeling even, it would be easy to find somewhere else to go. But here on a Saturday night within a thirty mile radius there are probably only a half dozen places to get a beer or something to eat. Plus, given that Nico really wanted to sell the bar, an embargo doesn't make a lot of sense.

But I felt this wave of nostalgia and even grief, last night. Nico hadn't offered just another option - he'd given us an alternative. It wasn't just a place with food and alcohol, it was our place.

Was it coincidence or fate that made us stumble in there four years ago? Chalus was not our village, but it has a lot of history and there's something compelling about it even though it's pretty dead. You get the feeling, walking around, that once upon a time there was a lot going on in. We walked into the bar called "Lawrence d'Arabie" that had an almost Moroccan feel, with colored lamps and bamboo furniture, and I think we heard a record by Nick Cave or Tom Waits or even Alan Vega playing. Now the chances of that happening in a tiny village deep in rural France are very very slim but I had no way of knowing that back then - I thought hipsters were everywhere! Not hipsters in the derogatory sense but people into interesting music, into the world, new things, old things. By the time we walked out we had arranged our first local gig, and we ended up playing there a lot over the last couple of years.

Completely wood and stone inside, the sound was difficult. In winter I had to play next to a huge roaring fireplace, and the right corner of the stage area was also the entrance to the toilet. Sometimes people sat in front of us grimacing and sticking their fingers in their ears (for two sets) and every time the pizza oven upstairs kicked in my keyboard would cut out.

But when we played, friends and acquaintances and visitors and locals would come see us. It felt like we were most of us in it together, and by the time we got to Dancing With Joey Ramone or Round or Take The Cash, we had usually gotten somewhere - we'd changed the atmosphere of a tiny spot in the middle of France.

Sometimes I didn't want to play there, I wanted somewhere bigger, better, grander or at least somewhere without such a good view of a toilet door. But it's where Eric and I really learned to play together, to work together, like soldiers in a foxhole, or window washers up on the side of a building - keeping the balance, looking out for the other guy, if one of us goes down we both do.

I didn't think about any of this when we were sitting there last night. I just thought about how...dull the place seemed. Music kept at a barely audible level, an ipod shuffle, nothing that would put anyone off. No familiar faces, a decent meal with a sincere attempt to do everything correctly. I went in the bathroom, a tiny medieval closet under the stairs and thought of all the nights I'd gone in there after playing to wipe the eyeliner and mascara off from under my eyes. I'd go to the bar and there was always a glass of cognac there for me. Marquee Moon would come on, somebody pushing the volume up. Nico - a lanky dark Frenchman in a well-cut velvet suit jacket - would hug me and start shouting Amy! Eric! Amy! Eric! Le meilleur groupe en France!

Nico moved his family to Berlin - we hear he has a new bar there already. I think he's very happy which is good because he was often miserable in France. We'll move on too - I think the disillusionment really started sinking in for me when we found we couldn't call ourselves musicians here. A place I'd always thought was proud of and encouraged its artists requires you to jump through so many hoops it hardly seems worth it. The new bar owner had hoped to have us play there, but the charges and fear of putting a foot wrong have him hemming and hawing when we ask about a gig. None of the local bars are putting on music.

There's a sign on the wall outside the bar that says young Lawrence Of Arabia slept in one of the rooms upstairs when he was cycling through France. I think when we leave I'll put up a post-it note below, saying "here, for a few years in the second half of the first decade of the 21st century, Wreckless Eric & Amy Rigby sang and played."


Mark In Mayenne said...

Hey, thanks for the pointer to Wreckless Eric, definitely the worst thing on the internet, with the possible exception of my blog.

Maybe I should have a competition, except perhaps I'd fade out.

A lady I met recently said I look like Lawrence of Arabia as played by Peter O'Toole, but I'm not sure that's a compliement since he's pretty ancient now. Do you think I could sleep at the bar for free if I signed some photos?

Wreckless Eric said...

There's a big hole in our lives without Nico and the Lawrence d'Arabie. I always said we were lucky to have a place like that round the corner but I was knocked back by how much we miss it and Nico now they're both gone. The bottom seems to have fallen out of our existance here in France. It's time to work on moving on.

kriswhoosh said...

Hi Amy. Hi Eric.

Somehow, I'm a little sad that you're moving on. I guess I always dreamed that one day, with the right wind in my sails I'd visit you there and record something (Sorry, thats selfish of me, but words are better said than thought).

I really hope you find a better place to be yourselves. I also hope you are still gonna keep old blighty on your touring schedule.

Meeting you both has had a life changing effect on me and I just assume that it should have as a dramatic an effect on others. if "Lawrence d'Arabie" has changed then.... let it be. You have been part of its time. Don't be fabians. Don't fear that change. Move on.

You're gonna miss your exploding heating system though.

Bonne chance mes chers amis. Nous vous souhaitons bien sur votre voyage.

the fly in the web said...

If it's not the right place anymore..move on out and look for another.

The France I moved to so many years ago has we're off to Costa paradise, but we have friends...the weather is warm and the only cloud on the horizon is the 'help' the European Union is giving in setting up a tax base.

A shame about France. So many nice people and such a rotten system

alexh said...

Hi Amy & Eric,
It's sad to read that you are both so down about losing Nico and the Lawrence d'Arabie. I supppose another rural winter is looming too (maybe I am not helping here!).
Good luck with sorting out a good future and keep writing!

amy said...

Mark I think playing the O'Toole card is always a good bet.

What Eric says is true - I guess that's part of what makes rural France... rural France. Change is good natural etc but when something changes here, especially if it was a positive, you feel it in a profound way. Just like avoiding the supermarket with the nasty cashiers makes life a lot better - in a big busy place it wouldn't mean as much, but if that's your only interaction with the outside world for days at a time Yes, time to move on. I could see how it might balance out okay with a busy touring life but when it gets more and more expensive to leave (and recently, frequent threats of not being able to travel at all)and very few possibilities to make even a little money closer to home, leaving's the only thing that makes sense.

How can we skip Blighty now that we know the Black Country's there Chris? I know you're going to keep on making music and that makes me glad.

I'm embarrassed to say I had to check a map when I first saw you mention Costa Rica, Fly. It looks like a very interesting, progressive place.

I think we can make it through this one Alex - hopefully enough work in other countries will come along. And the lack of distractions gives time to do another album and keep going with the book I've been working on.

Mike said...

Ah yes, the book! I was hoping you'd say that.

Only thing worse than being unhappy is doing nothing about it. It's funny when you hear that sound that says, yep, time to go. But it's hellishly hard to ignore once you hear it.

amy said...

I've made some good progress on that Mike. I try to remind myself people look for "artist retreats" in quiet places to be able to write... PS I think you said you were coming to Angouleme this January? Looks like we're playing there the 26th (day before the festival starts).

Ed Ward said...

I hope you can show up down here -- with or without guitars -- before you move on. Unless, of course, you move on down here!

amy said...

We did start looking around at other parts of France, Ed. I often wonder what the experience would have been like elsewhere. I would sure like to get down there to visit and try some of the food and wine!

Mike said...

You are playing there on the 26th?

I am planning to come down on that day. So all going well I come along and say hello.

Still trying to nut out this 'chez l'habitant' business; not being burdened with help from the tourist office. They release the list of accommodation later this month, which is when the real wrangling starts.

See you there!

Rosie said...

oh no, amy you cant leave before we have even met!
We are as usual going through options of moving somewhere warmer. Given that we dont want to learn another language (french and english is quite enough to be going on with)and we dont want to abandon the best healthcare system in the world just as we're getting old enough to need it, I think we will have to keep a residence here (a one roomed shed probably!) and try and live somewhere musically interesting and warm like Kerala (Cochin) for half the

amy said...

Great, Mike. Le Kennedy is a good place - funny to spend part of your first evening in France in an "Irish pub" but the owners are a charming French/Moroccan pair.

I thought the same thing Rosie - but there's still time!

As another blogger friend Kim pointed out, with the money it takes to buy heating fuel (several hundred euros a month) you could spend the winter months somewhere warmer?