PenTales Paris

Recently in a cafe near Père Lachaise, I wandered into the midst of one of Paris’ insular little expat communities. It resembled closely the one I knew well when I lived in the city – a balance of English and Americans which favoured the former, a bourgeois background common to all, and members who more and less seriously might introduce themselves as ‘writers’, generally in possession of a graduate degree or working on one.

These little groups seem cloistered enough from their neighbours, and their membership is transient enough, that one rarely meets the next, and from within any given one it seems the only one – the community of writers, and those who would quite like to be writers, writing in English in Paris. The minute scale of these little communities seems to insist on warmth and generosity in everyone, and the easy integration of newcomers who might however briefly swell the ranks. I’ll stop my generalizations here, and excuse them as the legitimate first impressions of a newcomer into such a group.

Ostensibly, these people gathered for a meeting of PenTales, which is a sort of international writers group working on a franchise model – it began in New York, and has satellites of varying magnitude all throughout the world. The Paris PenTales is fairly small, and the organiser was at university with one of the New-York based founders. In turn, one of her friends, also present at the meeting, had set one up in Hanoi. The group met in a cafe off the Boulevard Ménilmontant, in a little square in the rue des Panoyaux.

I arrived for the beginning of the meeting, at four, but the trickle of arrivals didn’t reach any considerable size until five, and the meeting itself didn’t get going until half-past. That space of time seemed like the crux of it, and consisted of coffee, the construction of paper hats (for thematic reasons) and cake. The cheer common to everyone was a surprise, and seemed exceptional; it is difficult to guess at why it was possible.

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