22 December 2010

Le Cardinal Cafe

I was just wandering the streets, clearing my mind in the brisk, sharp air. The sky was the color of apathy and the people were all bundled up in scarves and hats. I had already stopped for a coffee near my place- where I sat warm and at ease writing a million letters to a million people. I stopped by the post office and mailed all the little thoughts out across the ocean.

Regretting wearing only my little black ballerina slippers instead of my cushy winter boots, I wrapped myself up tight and started walking. I crossed by Notre Dame- how it was almost camouflaged against the grey sky!- and continued down the Seine towards wherever.

I passed Shakespeare and Company, the cello maker, and two Italian tourists shouting at each other in the road. Before I knew it my watch said it was near 3 and my tummy growled- empty except the coffee and cream. I passed a brasserie, same as any other, and ducked inside from the cold.

As I stripped off all my outer layers and ordered a mulled wine, I realized I had just walked into a 1960’s Goddard film. The bar was long and plated in metal, smudged with the fingerprints of lunch guests. A few men sat there, mid 40s, with glasses full of rosé, discussing something serious in hushed tones, close to each other. Behind the bar was a man with a flop of dark hair and a striped shirt, wiping down the espresso machine and turning the glass jar of Madeleines.  The chef stood at the door of the kitchen, bored now that lunch was finished for the say; he surveyed the old men sitting to my right.

They sat, chatting, and one could tell that they hadn’t moved all day. Every time a man with silver hair and a long umbrella would walk in the door with a fresh blast of winter they would say “Hello young man!” and drag him in to conversation for a spell. One snacked on a crème caramel while the other refilled their glasses with wine from a small carafe. A tall, younger man entered and the table shouted “Bonjour Olivier!” but Olivier managed to avoid their grasp, taking a quick coffee at the bar before disappearing back into the latin quarter. A man in shocking red pants and a Burberry scarf joined them at their small table and they cried “Hey bartender! This guy needs a glass of wine! Hurry!”

To my left sat an older couple, resembling each other as many years of marriage will do. She drank a perrier and he had a coca cola, and at their feet was the largest, fluffiest black dog I have ever seen- dozing away happily on the cold tile. “Is he nice?” I asked, then scratched his head, feeling only handfuls of fur.
Beside the cooler displaying chocolate mousse in sundae cups, small crème caramels, a cherry clafouti, a large white bûche de noel, and bottles of Cotes de Provence and Sancerre, a man in small glasses, the owner I presume, sat quietly. He had a large calculator to one side, a large rubber stamp on the other, and a stack of papers in front. He held his face close to the papers as he read, lifting only to sip from his tiny espresso cup.

A Christmas tree blinked in the corner and the speakers buzzed with a quiet jazz piano. The light snow flurries turned to freezing drops of rain and the old men cried “another!” at the man in the striped shirt. 

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