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  • Mark Smith

Two Old Friends

One can’t speak. The other never stops. One is beautiful and functions perfectly. The other drinks too much and spews food while eating. One does its job smoothly, asking nothing of its owner. The other assaults his acquaintances with outrageous questions, incomprehensible jokes and rude observations. Yet both have found common ground in the appreciation of one person—me.

I climbed on the silent friend yesterday to go have lunch with the talkative one, who goes by the name of Bernard. I hurtled down the Boulevard St. Michel, past Notre Dame, and finally sniffed my way through the narrow lanes of the Marais to our meeting point—an Israeli falafel joint in the heart of the Jewish quarter. I climbed off the newer friend and shook hands with the elder who, true to his nature, had arrived 10 minutes early and was pacing the pavement like a caged animal.

Some of the best food in the world involves simple ingredients put together in a creative way one wouldn't necessarily think of oneself. That's how they do it at Miznon.

Here's to the Paris version of Miznon, the original fast food eatery of the same name in Tel Aviv.

I first met Bernard Cucchi in the summer of 1988, when he came knocking on our door in search of Bandini, his beloved cat named after the John Fante book, Wait Until Spring, Bandini. I’d never heard of Fante, but I soon procured a copy and read it with extraordinary pleasure. That was the beginning of my education in American literature

at the hands of a would-be poet from another world.

We left that ratty sublet on the rue Bichat two months later, but stayed in touch with Bernard. It’s almost hard to believe that he was in his 30s at the time and is now nearing 70, but then I look in the mirror and…

Bernard tried to be a writer, supporting himself as a night receptionist in a series of flophouse hotels. He’d laugh while telling stories about all the desperate things that went on in those places at night. He’d write during the day with Bandini at his side. It was a tough rhythm to keep.

Bernard finally found success as a translator of books and magazines. He masters the French language like few of his countrymen and is now recognized for his talents. But he’ll never save any money to rest and retire. He gives it all away to the collection of underprivileged friends and vague relatives who now constitute his family. You want to strangle the guy for all his unconscious charity. You tell him, “Bernard, what the hell are you doing? Save some money! You’re getting old. You’re going to need it.” You waste your breath.

It started to rain. My bike was getting wet, except for the seat which I’d covered with a plastic bag. Bernard and I huddled in a bakery drinking coffee until the sky cleared. “Hold this for a second while I get my coat on,” I said, indicating the bike. There they were, my two old friends. They looked good together. Then the rain started again. It was time to go.

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