I didn't venture far for my first outing of 2012. Another of my favourite local bars, Le Pantin, has been given more than just a lick of paint in recent months. It used to be a place that you'd pass in the middle of the day or late at night and a couple of people would be sitting playing chess in the window next to a flickering candle trailing tendrils of wax. I was dismayed to see the place boarded up following the introduction of the smoking ban, but luckily Le Pantin is resurrected! It is now less gloomy inside, and there is a new upstairs mezzanine cosy seating area, but otherwise nothing important has changed. Drinkers sit happily amongst clown pictures, sketches, bookshelves and chess boards, and there are some wooden farmyard (Ark?) animals perched above the bar. Hats, rings, scarves and beards abound, and there's a fuzzy, buzzy, Bohemian atmosphere: rather different from the cool beats and din of Café Belga. Rather, here's a place to while an evening away, very contentedly.
You could always learn chess. It's a new year, high time to develop some new skills, and so I begin. The rules were explained to me some years ago but need to be explained again. I am tentative. I can almost feel my brain struggling to predict several moves in advance while I try to recall which piece can move where. I may be a beginner, but I don't want to look like a fool. Then, I manage to cobble together a two-move plan and there is a moment of success! I take my opponent's Queen. I am so proud of myself that I refuse to let him re-play his move, and he retaliates by refusing to offer me advice for the remainder of the game. Soon afterwards it is Check-Mate, and I lose. But I leave the bar more alert than I would otherwise have been. I am a beginner, I don't mind losing this time.
"C'est un jeu diabolique!"
I should add that Le Pantin has a very extensive beer list. New Year, new beer! I chose a Duchesse de Bourgogne brune, which is slightly acidic, reminding me of a Gueuze, but without the fizz.