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by François Taillandier

The End of Our "Bistrots"?

Translated Friday 23 May 2008, by Isabelle Métral

I first had a premonition of it when smoking was banned, but fresh signs revive the fear: our governing technocrats might well be plotting the death of our "bistrots". No less.

On the pretence of fighting alcohol abuse, they propose putting a ban on “the happy hours” that have been the privilege of countless penniless students. On top of that, all drinking establishments will be required to provide breathalysers. To cap it all, Brussels (to keep energy consumption down) might be considering a ban on outdoor heating systems thanks to which customers, the cursed tribe of smokers among them, can sit at terraces.

In short, there is no end to the harassment. The guilt must be driven home. You’d think the aim was to spoil the feast by all means possible.

The cry, these days, is for unmitigated “efficiency and positivity”. Bistrots are the very opposite: people drink there, they smoke (or rather they did), they play, they shout out during matches. They waste their time, dream it away. They have discussions there. At all times bistrots have been places where riots and plots were hatched — where yesterday’s students argued about Proudhon, Marx, and Marcuse; where the young worker, brought there by older work pals, would decide to sign his name on his first union card. In short, bistrots leave space for thought.

Could surrealism and existentialism have thrived without them?

Precisely, the problem in this country, Our Lady in the economy and finance ministry said bluntly: people think too much. Besides, bistrots do not make sense economically. Aragon said of them: “People will hang around indefinitely on a single glass.” Indefinitely in return for a single glass! That can’t boost growth much, can it?

Let’s look bravely ahead and face the coarsest facts: by all these tokens, it can be logically assumed that some time in the future (when I will be remembered for predicting as much) a directive will opportunely be issued for bistrot toilets - which in too many cases are diminutive, dilapidated, disgracefully un-hygienic places. The toilet is the bistrot’s Achilles’ heel. There the axe must fall. Half of Europe’s bistrots could be executed at one swoop. All it would take is some political exertion.

Where will the compulsions, anxieties, and dark desires that could be spent there find new outlets? That is a question nobody will ask. Well, to me, this much is certain: the devil is chuckling - already.

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