The beginning of the tale is in the perfume box
(…) A wide carpeted stairwell led me discreetly to the front desk, where a polite and elegant attendant took my passport and registered me in. The mandatory coat check forced me to take a glimpse into the sumptuous main hallway. There hung a magnificent chandelier diffusing its warm lighting onto the wood trims and the perfectly weathered leather sofas. A large marble table on which rested a huge bouquet of fresh flowers lay the finishing touch to this masterpiece of a room. I then proceeded to make my way to the poker room, where I was greeted by a heavy cloud of smoke, and which quickly made me realize that a tobacco-banning law had yet to be passed in France.*
[*It is the fall of 2006 and close to fifty percent of Parisians smoke. At the Aviation Club, the only semblance of a smoking restriction was a polite invitation to refrain from lighting up if you were seated at any one of the two seats located left and right of the dealer. And although the waiting time for a seat at a table often exceeded an hour, there would still be players who would choose their cigarettes over those two seats. Talk about habit!]
I went further down the smoky aisle to discover the epicentre of the seat distribution area: a white board on which were inscribed the initials of awaiting players. Once I had figured it out, I asked the attendant to jot my initials down. I was almost glad to be waiting, as this would allow me to get familiar with the type of playing going on at the tables. About forty minutes later, I heard someone shout out ‘I’, ‘M’. That was me! I took my chips and felt quite the adrenaline rush as I walked to my table.**
[**There I was, ready to embark with eight other souls on the rollercoaster of emotions that poker brings. This is the place where so many egos are built or destroyed, where the contrasts between gains and losses, between pride and disgust, between life and death, are so big that they seem to give back to our life some of the intensity and excitement that day to day existence and modern society sometimes sorely lack.]
I greeted my table with a shy ‘bonsoir’ and received a few smiles back. The attention was on the play at hand. I sat down and stacked my chips with sweaty palms and shaky hands, trying to look as calm and collected as I could. Since I wanted to regain some of my composure before my big debut, I awaited one whole round of play before making a move. I then put down my ‘big blind’ and took a look at the two cards that had been dealt to me… I was finally playing!
A few hours later, I left the table empty handed, but quite content. I knew that I would be back for more, ready and able to turn my luck around. My visits to the club became a weekly habit. But more so than the pursuit of gain, it was the camaraderie that I experienced around the poker table that made me want to come back. Those hours spent in Paris, playing cards, made me experience first hand the French culture, especially the intricacies of the French language. The most mundane things or the meanest of comments would be said in such an intelligent, polite and elegant manner that it made for some truly entertaining table banter. And so, the fears and apprehensions that I first felt as I entered the club quickly gave way to a fun and friendly atmosphere where I could be myself. Although I was miles away from home, the Aviation Club became somewhat like a home, a place where everybody knows your name…