Pausefully Magazine

the online magazine about life as a creative process


 

The Café de Flore On A Colorful Day

By Sandy Kinnee


 
     
 

An older British gentleman, asked permission, by pointing at the stool across from me and then his foot, to tie his yellow ochre colored shoe. As he bent forward his hair almost brushed my face. His hair had probably been flame red in an earlier life, or shall I say, earlier in this life. It was currently a faded red mixed with grey that one maintains with chemicals. He was talking about various nuts, entertaining the crazy couple at the table to my left by trading colorful insults. My neighbor engaged with this character in an outrageous barrage of insults, including one I’d never heard in my life: “If I listen to you long enough I may find out my own name”. Yak. Yak. Yak. “Ya, ya, I must go.” Pure verbal entertainment. Up to now, I wasn’t sure these people weren’t just crazy total strangers had who stumbled into a good natured exchange of barbs. There words came fast and were certainly clever.

These continentals were at very least well known by regulars at the café and passers by. In ones, twos, and threes, counting dogs on leashes, a cast worthy of a Broadway comedy stopped to pass on a compliment, greeting, or additional bizarre comment or join the ever growing crowd around the table. One basset hound joined the group. He was an old basset who whacked my leg with his tail, but was otherwise polite. I was only a fly on the wall, or at a table, taking my time with a double espresso, and toying with a new tiger fountain pen Lauren, my daughter, had given to me. I was making notes in a black covered notebook, with a leatherette finish. The format was small, about the size of a postcard.

A Parisian Terrasse table is only about 20 inches in diameter, at the most. It’s large enough to hold a few beverages, an ash tray, and a small menu. It is designed for economy. While I did have room to write in the tiny book, I kept it on my lap.

At the Café de Flore, the color scheme is white and green, to differentiate it from the motif used by the Deux Maggots, which is green and gold. These two famous cafes are virtually next door to each other. Years ago one café and then the other pronounced itself to be the cultural center of the universe. Each cited its list of noted writers and actors who were regulars. “Our writers are more forward thinking than theirs, blah, blah, blah.” The espresso was the same hue, value, and intensity in either establishment; the blackness of a coffee bean liquefied and turned around the corner toward the color orange. It was expensive in either place. The café chairs are light weight, easy to stack, durable, and allow for arrangements of maximum customers in minimal space. The table abutting ours never changed size while numerous sitters spiraled into the cluster. As the crowd grew in size the enjoining voices became overwhelming and the common language changed from English to French. The change was like a tide coming in, as the English speakers did not depart, while the number of French speakers swelled. High tide was in and French was the language. It was now all French and our original pink haired Englishman retreated across the Boulevard St. Germain to the Brassiere Lipp, to join his friend, Albert Cossery, the Egyptian expatriate writer. Another Egyptian writer was with Albert. I wouldn’t have known who Albert was except our table mates saw Albert across the street and started yelling above the sound of the traffic and gesturing between vehicles “Albert!! Albert!! Come over and join the table”.

Traffic didn’t magically stop on Boulevard St. Germain. The three crossed over to the Café. Albert relocated as the focal point for the table. It would seem he had recent surgery and had no voice. He answered questions with his hands, which changed the party from an exchange of quips to polite gestures, leading to a type of charades.

Guesses, in French, were in singular words shot back at our Egyptian writer, Albert, who confirmed correctness with a nod or waved a no with his hand to the player. Albert although quite articulate in any number of tongues, was a failure at hand gestures. His attempts at sign language evoked wide and wild interpretations. His friends, after a series of Albert’s hand swinging, proposed this as a possible answer: “My mother, no, my father, no, my mother in front of the train station at Montparnasse .......”. The mystery of his gestures never unraveled more satisfactorily. Albert didn’t seem to care whether or not the answer was correct. He continued to smile and take notes in his tiny butterscotch orange notebook.

He carried a small orange notebook, but didn’t show his jottings to his audience. How easy would it have been to write his reply and display to the group? I liked the red fountain pen which he tucked back into the inside breast pocket of his daffodil yellow sports coat. The pen was a dark garnet shade of red. As he scribbled into his notebook, I peeked to see that the pen was filled with scarlet ink. He was a truly colorful personage, not afraid to be the center of attention, even craved it. His plumage heralded his presence: “I am here and as colorful inside as out!” He wore orange socks and shoes with his yellow jacket and matching pants. His shirt was a deep jade green and the woven tie that spilled down from his throat was a rich cadmium red deep. He sipped his café and pitched the empty white and green wrapper from his Café de Flore square of chocolate onto the sidewalk. Gestures ceased and the mood shifted again in the neighborhood.

Our aged basset hound’s keeper gave all a polite goodbye, picked up the leash and tugged his charge into motion, leaving behind all to comment on how well behaved the dog had been.

Not long afterward Albert sipped his final sip of café, allowed the pink haired Englishman to pick up the tab, waved goodbye, then went away in his yellow suit. Goodbye yellow suit. Goodbye silent writer.

The café became ordinary once more. Waiters clearing tables, tearing paid receipts, and nodding to the regulars. The afternoon’s amusement had ended. The customers, mostly tourists and former models, sat dressed in khaki and grey suits, white dresses, and the occasional Hard Rock Café t-shirt, nursing drinks. Around the corner, minus his basset hound, came our friend to rejoin his friends. All were gone but for two. He had gone home, to put on something that made a statement: it said, “Hey, look at me, I can wear a yellow sport coat, too.” He then sat in Albert’s vacant throne.

 
     
     
 

Sandy Kinnee is an artist whose work figures in the collections of many museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art. He lives in Colorado Springs. See website.

 
     

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