The 'Café Life' Issue

photo: cafe the frog & rosbif

Dennis' first stop in a day of 'Café Life.'

The Edition With 'l'Addition'

by Ric Erickson

Paris:- Monday, 21. May 2001:- Now that the city is fully in the grip of 'spring,' the weather continues much as it has been in the past - with a combination of partially cloudy days, partially sunny days and with a few short, sharp storms thrown in for variety.

Temperatures have been bobbing up and down according to whether the Azores' 'high' or Iceland's 'low' has the upper hand. Paris seems to be on a frontier between the two, so the ups and downs are not great - more like 'tilts' rather than 'bobbing.' Let's say, more than 20 and less than 26 degrees can be expected within the next 18 hours. Both newspapers and TV-weather news are forecasting a sunny week for northern France.

I think it is also pretty safe to say that you can leave your fancy and warm winter-sports outer clothingphoto: trabant 1.1 cabrio and fur coats at home. Of course, I am personally 'safe' saying this, because my rotten weather gear is hanging in a handy closet.

Another one of the little 'perks' of living in Paris is having closets instead of cubical wheelie bags.

This rare ex-East German Trabant cabrio is the 'Car of the Week.'

Concerning the 'Question of the Week' - the palms in the Luxembourg are not 'native.' The Senat has borrowed them from the palm park at Auteuil. If there is a cold snap, they can be trucked back to their greenhouses in a jiffy.

Café Life

In this week's issue there is a lot more 'Café Life' than usual. Dennis Moyer really lives it, in comparison to my own pretensions, and he took me on a tour of his which forms this issue's main feature.

Sampling Dennis' 'Café Life' took about five hours on Wednesday. There is not enough space to put in everything we did and saw, or even a fraction of the conversation we had together. Therefore here are a couple of 'extras.'

The Village Voice Bookstore

Both Dennis and Dimitri swear by this bookshop, which I have been largely unaware of for 19 years. Oh, I have been through the Rue Princesse more than once during this time - I have photos of it - but I guess I wasn't in a book mood on these occasions.

The store is owned and operated by Odile Hellier, an intense Frenchwoman who thinks books by writers in English are insanely great. But, in order to carry works by Gertrude Stein beside John Grisham's legal potboilers, the Village Voice stocks 25,000 titles instead of having towering piles of any current bestsellers.

This means that the wider your taste is, the book you want is most likely to be in stock. Those that are not, can be ordered - and both Dennis and Dimitri often do this.

In the book-trade scheme of things, Odile is near the bottom of a commercial totem pole. Knowing her customers, many of whom are French, keeps the shop alive - against the trends of a formidable industry devoted to selling books like disposable and discounted diapers.

The two-story shop is not huge. It is full of books and tidy, and did not seem cramped. For crime and detective fans, there is an impressive selection, which includes Raymond Chandler's elegant short stories beside James Ellroy's LA thrillers, written with a chainsaw.

For visitors, books with Paris settings are prominently featured, such as Howard Engle's 'Murder In Montparnasse.' This is not far from the Rue Princesse, which is one short block long, dates to 1630 and is named for one of the Guise family's princesses.

Short Change

The neat little old lady is always dressed in black, with a black scarf, and I guess she is between 95 and 100 and she can barely see over the bar. I see her in the Rendez-Vous on Sundays, nursing a large balloon glass of rouge, with a carafe of water to stretch it out.

Yesterday she already had her wine at her usual table and was standing up at the bar, strewing it with small coins. The amount was a bit short the barman said, when she asked if it was right. He said she could pay the rest later.

Not making the total disturbed her. At her table she searched through her little black bag and camephoto: renault 4cv back to the bar, with a wadded collection of keys and other handbag contents. The barman said, "C'est bon -" meaning, 'that's okay, forget it, some other day.'

The bonus 2nd 'Car of the Week' is a classic Renault 4CV.

For the little old lady it was not 'bon.' Instead of spending a hour to polish off her balloon of rouge, with extensions of water, she had it nearly finished as my café came to an end.

Usually when I see her I think she has been sitting at her usual table on the indoor terrace since before the café was built. Not making the amount for the wine was certain to spoil her Sunday - unless she decided to go home and return with more cash.

This is what she will do, I thought. Her Sunday wouldn't be complete without the full hour on the terrace, 52 Sundays a year, in all seasons.

Restaurants and Single Ladies

I have been hearing that single ladies have been having uncomfortable experiences with some restaurants in Paris in the evenings.

By 'restaurant' I mean a places to dine - ones that are usually only open for midday and evening meals. Cafés and brasseries with non-stop service are not included in this definition.

Also by definition, all restaurants are set up with tables having a minimum of two chairs. So a 'single' of any gender will represent an empty seat, one meal not consumed, to any restaurant.

Generally, people do not eat alone in Paris. But single people do exist and we get just as hungry as couples. Restaurants are public places which are supposed to be free of discrimination - so, even if you have no companion you have as much right as anybody to have a meal.

Since you are coming to a restaurant because of hunger there is no need to pretend to be starving. The trick to being acceptably single is to carry a 'prop,' to indicate that you are really a diner and not some sort of nosy voyeur.

Generally, acceptable 'props' are newspapers, magazines or a book, or all three. With these obviously in sight, you will appear to be a 'literary' diner - and, of course, to be this sort of diner it is normal to be single.

If you think having a 'prop' isphoto: fete rue de seine, cadillac insufficient, adding a bit of 'attitude' to your role will help. Keep in mind that you've chosen whichever restaurant it is becuse you think its food will be good.


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