It’s Sunday morning and the whole city steeps in butter – the smell of croissants and burnt quiche seeping from under door jams and through cracked windows. The sun’s out for the first time in days, warming the lumpy unpaved pathways in front of the Louvre, sitting on the shoulders of our black coats.
“Thank fucking God!” I yell. Paris can often be so drab, so irrepressibly gray. That, and my warm wool coat is back in Brooklyn, sitting on a wire hanger at my local drycleaners doing me no amount of good. I’ve been freezing for three whole days.
Michelle and I are late again for brunch, routinely waking up about two hours too late for a proper morning. By the time we arrive, Café de Flore is out of their breadstuff and nearly all of the breakfast options. No pan au chocolate for us today, just “baguette and…uhhhh…jam…if you want” says our server. Michelle exhales loudly and considers the laminate menu. Americans are the most spoiled citizens of the world. In New York, I can get bananas at 4 a.m. and foie gras from Blue Ribbon at 3 (you know, in theory). But here, there are constraints for every purchase, short windows of opportunity for every desire. Paris is the land of “Is Not Possible.”
They’ve seated us in between a group of four men who apparently got served the last of the croissants and the most silent lesbian couple in all of Europe, likely pioneers of the movement (judging from their heartiness of build, also likely German).
I look around the room for perhaps hints of the café’s storied history. I try to imagine Ernest Hemingway or Truman Capote sitting at these sticky wooden tables, around the red vinyl banquets, their reflections bouncing off of the mirrors placed between cheap-looking marble columns. I take a note on my iPhone: Typing on this feels like literary blasphemy.
“Hey, is that Waris?”
In the foreground of two fashionable women is the back of a white turban hovering above a nicely tailored suit. Given the week, and the context, you hardly need to even bother asking.
“Yeaaahhhhh… I think so.”
Why I know the names of designers and niche fashion celebrities but I probably can’t list all of the states in my own country is beyond me. I hate myself.
Michelle orders quiche with salmon and chives. “And for you?” the server asks. He squeezes my shoulder when I tell him “just coffee” and smiles that “I would try to have sex with you in a back alley” smile before he walks away. If Michelle were closer, he’d likely squeeze her, too — a ménage trois of gross discomfort and European sexual harassment. Unfortunately, I’m the one most convenient for groping. The rest of the meal will be spent fielding various untoward advances, my least favorite being the needless proximity of his crotch to my body whenever he places something on the table. Each time, I look behind him to see if there is anything forcing him towards me, perhaps a crushing mass of hungry tourists, only to find a vast and empty nothingness.
Pardon me, while I place this plate… right… here…
I immediately regret having unbuttoned my blouse on account of the stifling heat inside the café and Michelle’s comment about me dressing like Annie Hall, giving our server carte blache access to my non-existent cleavage, a pale expanse of taut skin pulled over sternum bones like a drum.
“You good?” he asks, squeezing my shoulder again. I’m waiting for him to pat my head or stick his tongue in my ear.
“Bathroom?” I ask. “I mean, water closet? Restroom?” Asking where to pee in Europe always leaves me fraught with lingering anxiety.
“Upstairs,” he says, squeezing me one more time and then letting me pass as I head towards a narrow set of stairs, just behind a woman with a Fendi bag and a white Labradoodle. How very Hemingway.