Passers-by may stop to admire the window display, but will be unprepared for what lies within and will perhaps be deterred. Emerging into the dim interior of Goupil le Fol a little prematurely one Saturday evening, I was, as usual, hoping to make an inconscipuous entrance. However slinking into this ancienne maison de confiance is not an easy thing to do. I am met, not by la patronne, but by le patron, who welcomes me, somewhat flirtatiously, planting a smacker on my cheek. "Tu es américaine?" He asks, no doubt prompted by my frustratingly ever-present accent. Close enough, but he still needs correcting. Then, nationality established, he insists that I follow him to view the portrait of Prince Philip, hanging somewhere on the ground floor, in a doorway beside a sepia photograph. I ask where he came from, and le patron responds with a chuckle; "Je ne sais pas." The Prince is keeping interesting company: each floor is well supplied with nude portraits of women, as you might expect, but so many other things as well - old records, assorted chanson française memorabilia and lots of random junk. In fact, His Royal Highness might just like it.
"Have you been here before? Do you know we stay open until 6am?" Of course I do. And this is when the realisation dawns. When I've turned up in the small hours and le patron has appeared to recognise me, offering me and my entourage sweets - this was all a pretence, for le patron does not remember me at all! For a moment I am almost disappointed, but then I know that late one night I will return. Somehow Goupil le Fol is only findable in those wee hours of the morning, when alcohol has both numbed and sharpened your senses but your feet still deliver you here, to be met by the welcoming riot of colourful stuff, Edith Piaf on a gorgeous jukebox, and the knowing smile of le patron. Into this dimly lit space you slip, with its years of cigarette smoke seeping out of the fibres of the upholstery, and sink into one of the many sofas in their various stages of decrepitude; and you stay there for hours. Some choose the downstairs room for conversations over candlelight, while those who are beyond much animated talking head to the dimly-lit rooms upstairs for fumbling trysts or just the chance to close their eyes. There's even probably a drinks list available somewhere, but in keeping with the history of this place, it is the serveuse who will seek you out for your order. Know only that the homemade fruit wines are very sweet and to be avoided, so you should opt for more conventional choices instead.
So, who was Goupil? Why, he's part of "la culture française!" exclaimed a friend. He appeared shocked that I had not come across le roman de Renart, that classic of Medieval French literature that somehow did not make it onto my university reading list. Later I tried to put this omission right: If I had read about Goupil, I'd have discovered that in Medieval French goupil was the word for fox, but such was the popularity of the character Renart le goupil in these medieval tales that his name gradually took over. So the French for fox became renard. And much later stuffed specimens appeared in le patron's Aladdin's cave.
Par foi, sire, ce dist Renart,
Vos savez qu'en engin et art
Si vaut a chose mainbornir
Qu'en ne puet a force fornir
rue de la Violette 22