Notes from behind the counter

Pontarlier, by Leon Friederichs

Le pon­tissa­li­en” is the loc­al hip­ster café: sterile atmo­sphere, fur­niture in a pois­on­ous green, one pop­u­lar offer con­sist­ing of luke­warm water with a sep­ar­ately served teabag. Featured on far­from­ready today: its barkeeper.

2nd of August, 14:00

Three men on three bikes are walk­ing to and fro in front of the café. Finally one comes in and asks wheth­er “il y a dü vi-fi?”. When I con­firm, they all leave.


They return, ask for a cof­fee and a tea and sit down out­side. To put the cups onto their table turns out to be impossible: Within seconds, they have it covered in post­cards, writ­ing gear, large paper folders, diverse devices and a lar­ger-than-table map of Switzerland.


One writes post­cards with neur­ot­ic pre­ci­sion, one stares at an iPad and only occa­sion­ally scribbles some­thing into a small note­book, one seems sleep­ing or per­haps dead. I hear them com­plain to each oth­er about the cof­fee, the tea and the café in general.


The German and the one with the Taliban beard are stand­ing in the back of the café, in front of the toi­let and dis­cuss some­thing that seems to greatly worry them. As they return to the table, the third goes inside. Upon his return, few words are exchanged, and their faces light up in an instant. Minutes later, the misers pay their measly two cups and dart down the Rue de Besançon.


Three men with three bikes and a large card­board box return to the square. In the middle of the town, right in front of the café, they start to dis­mantle one of the bikes. The quiet one wanders around, inspect­ing some­thing on the tab­let. They buy the grue­somely over­priced muffins of the bakery next door.


Great cheer­ing after the tenth attempt to squish the dis­as­sembled bike into the far too small box turns out to be successful.

20:15 Three men with two bikes and a bul­ging card­board box are sit­ting on the square and eat saus­age sand­wiches gar­nished with sardines.


Taking the open box and the rest of their lug­gage bit for bit, the small cara­van slowly trails off towards the Porte Saint Pierre.

3rd of August, 9:30

As I cross the Rue Grenier on my way to work I encounter the German and the Ayatollah car­ry­ing the now-closed box from God knows where to the Porte. Having passed by them I hear whis­per­ing and chuck­ling behind my back.


I almost for­get the cyc­lists amongst the pat­rons of my café, who aren’t any bit less enig­mat­ic. Today, they com­plain about the young clochards loiter­ing around the sta­tion, besmirch­ing the park benches with their unwashed sleep­ing bags … Another guest takes great­er offence at the teens that had partied loudly behind Saint Bénigne the night before. His neigh­bour chimes in that in the morn­ing he found a dozen Wiener saus­ages on the roof of his car.


Two men with two bikes return to the square. Twenty minutes before I close as on every Wednesday after­noon, they saunter inside and run their usu­al pro­gramme: a cof­fee and a tea for which there is no place on a table covered in paper and pens and maps. Would the third one have fit into the package?

Pontarlier – goodbye, Jorge

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