Pun Intended

Paul Cézanne: The Card Players 1894–1895, Musée d'Orsay, Paris

Paul Cézanne: The Card Players, 1894–1895, Musée d’Orsay, Paris

Last Thursday had been a long day. “What would make you happier tonight,” I asked myself on the way home, “yoga or beer?” No easy decision until I walked by Henry Public, “the Old Time Brooklyn Saloon in Cobble Hill” — and another chez moi before the cocktail rush hour hits. Thirty years ago, home was chez Noël or chez Antoine, the bistrots where high-school kids hung out after le lycée was over. Not the best place to bachoter — and forget about thorough Bac prep — yet not one day went by without un petit noir chez l’un ou un Monaco chez l’autre. I can’t say my visits at Henry Public are as frequent, nor can I say the stylish, old-fashioned-looking bar looks like a small-town French troquet from the ’80s.

Moyenneville-Somme troquet

By François Goglins (own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

No baby-foot (great French word!), no juke-box blasting Téléphone’s biggest hit, no Gauloises smoke rising over the card players’ table. None of that at Henry Public, yet the joy of the old café-hopping days comes back to me each time I see friends seated at the counter — where I found them last Thursday, deep into talk and a third round of drinks. The urban — and richer — diet of hawks in New York City was the topic of conversation when I joined in, soon followed by workout ideas for the chubby birds. “Three more flaps!” Allen suddenly exclaimed, spreading his arms as if they were wings. To which I replied — emphasizing the tail end of my question: “Ever thought of getting a job at Equin-hawks?” A few loud “oooh’s” added to my own surprise, for as intended as it must have been, I hardly saw the pun coming.

Are my French bons mots as sneaky? Maybe. All I know is that, a good thirty years into practicing English, plays on words are the most recent of my acquired skills, and, unsurprisingly, the most satisfying. Like a good bistro atmosphere, they make me feel at home in the American language and culture. Indeed, it is precisely because they require a good command of the two that puns — getting or making them — are considered markers of fluency.

— Claire

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