YES, I am in full possession of all my faculties. NO, I am not under the influence of any hallucinogenic substances. SO, there I was, on this pleasantly warm early autumn afternoon, ambling through the cobbled streets of the old town, admiring the half-timbered medieval houses, taking time to sit on the cathedral steps and watch the hordes of tourists, snapping away with their cameras, capturing digital memories of their visit to small town France: French, Dutch, Germans, even a coach load of Japanese tourists, WHEN up runs a pink rabbit carrying a tray of cold beers. Huffing and puffing, the rabbit asks me in broken out of breath phrases, if I wouldn’t like to have a beer. A free beer from a pink rabbit? Behind the rabbit there are two Vikings in full chain mail and horned helmets, also offering up beers to all those sitting, quietly soaking up the sun on the cathedral steps.
A free beer? Of course. I have nothing against huffing puffing pink rabbits offering up gratuitous beverages to the thirsty and weary – Oh yes, I am tired of traipsing round town in seek of sartorial inspiration. Just this week, I had a « nothing to wear » moment five minutes before heading out the door to work. I need a whole new wardrobe.
As I sit and sip on the amber nectar, the pink rabbit sits down next to me, pulls off its head, whips out a brand new packet of Marlboro lights and feverishly tries to tear the cellophane shrink wrap with its big fluffy paws.
« Do you want a hand? » (or a paw,) I venture.
The rabbit hands me the packet and I peel off the wrap, flip open the top, remove the foil and hand the rabbit a cigarette, proffering up my lighter once the rabbit has the cigarette firmly between its lips. The rabbit draws long and hard on the cigarette with all the relish of a condemned man (or rabbit)
« Putain » exclaims the rabbit in addictive relief (the latter expression being the French equivalent of the F word). I am most shocked to hear the fluffy bunny let forth with a very unbunny expletive. Thumper never said « F**k. »
After several long puffs, the rabbit (or the man in the rabbit costume) explains that he is taking part in a race – that most French of races – la course des garçons de café – basically meaning a « waiters’ race » – a one a year occurrence in many French towns and a veritable cultural institution.
The « race » (if you could really call it such) involves waiters waitresses, barmen and bar maids from most of the downtown watering holes, carrying a tray of drinks around a course as quickly as possible, without spilling or dropping any. The course is a 1-kilometre loop in the centre of town, taking in part of the main street and some of the older cobbled Streets in the historic old town. For the occasion, some of the runners have chosen to dress up – there are drag queens, young ladies in Viking garb, a dragon, and no less than three pink rabbits. My rabbit has « given up » on the race, which is why, like the Viking ladies he is getting rid of his drinks, unwilling to carry them back to the bar where he works. Let’s face it, on this unseasonably warm late September day with temperatures in the high 20°c – it is no weather to be running round in thick, furry, man made fibre, pink rabbit costume.
Anyway, next time a pink rabbit offers you a beer …
The « waiters race » is a traditional event in most French towns. The nation’s greatest race of course happens in Paris on or around July 14th. It might seem a bit of fun, but when you observe waiters at work in a café – weaving in between the tables, serving their customers as quickly as possible, carrying their tray of drinks precariously in one hand … these guys have to be nimble and fleet of foot, moving with the grace of dancers or professional soccer players – all the more difficult when you are wearing a rabbit costume.