Regarde le vide à côté d’un sac baguette (Ogle the void next to a baguette bag)
There in the 7th arrondissement, just east of the famous tower and south of la Seine, sits the perfect Parisian brasserie. Here you do not have the industrial “brewery” you may commonly find in the North American continent, with stainless steel equipment and giant fermenters and aproned, bearded hipsters hosing off cement floors…in fact, it is quite the opposite. The French brasserie is more a large bistro or bar/café that serves meals and beverages at all hours, in a relaxed setting. At this particular location, the food is presented artistically, and the selection is quintessentially French despite the Italian name of “Le Campanella.” Weaving through the interior with Rose, European decor rings true both inside and out as I notice there is no bad place to sit. The pleasant summer breeze beckons, and we opt for the open-air option. Outside reveals two rows of round tables against the establishment, then another outer corral of tables beyond the sidewalk. We are motioned to the inner lane and settle on the far right table, cornered by the glass window and the mostly transparent end partition. My eyes trace the length of the yellow and white striped awning overhead, bearing a heavy load of string lights. The metal accordion style extenders are pulled in, like the overweight belly of a plumber while a good looking woman passes by, waiting to be stretched out at the first sign of inclement weather. My good-looking woman glares playfully at me while we are in the motion of sitting, more next to one another than across, and says “welcome to the bell.” I, in a goofy excitement for corporeal nourishment via spirits, respond with a good natured “ring a ding ding ding dong” mimic of a bell, drawing out the last “oooooonngggggg” as I frame my reverberating head with flat upturned hands to hold a giant imaginary bell. The bell was supposedly covering the stupid frozen expression I put on while finishing a slow descend into the seat of my chair. The lovely rodent offers a throw away laugh in her grace accompanied by a heavy eye roll. It wouldn’t be till later on that I would understand “bell” was the translation from Italian of “le Campanella”.
Our waiter approaches in quick long strides, speaking first in French then immediately repeating in English waiting for our preferred response. The staff is clad in white shirts, black skinny ties, black pants with black, waist high apron, and longer hair pulled back fairly tight. His black wavy hair would be less than shoulder length if free, but not by much. He stands ready, delivering our menus, and has a slightly hurried, yet professional demeanor. He responds “of course” and that he’ll be back (in English), after I request “Deux l’eau, s’il vous plaît.” His serious look is tempered with cordial check ins with all his tables whilst we befuddle over the menu, giving one the feeling that this guy really gives himself to the work.
The drink menu is to be studied first, a tall leather-bound booklet with heavy laminated pages with brass re-enforced corners. Rose began a non sequitur as we look. “Franz Liszt was probably the worlds first rock star…”, she was saying as I investigated the wine list. They boast an impressive cellar with strictly French offerings. The house references an award-winning rosé “Côtes de Provence – Château Réal d’Or” and multiple champagne offerings ranging anywhere from 58€ to 510€ a bottle. My Rosé continued. “In his time, he was thought to have sold his soul to the devil due to his incredible virtuoso as a pianist.”
“He travelled around Europe on tour. Actually, the first performer to coin such a thing as a recital as he was the first to hold a captive audience with piano alone. He plucked the instrument out of the collective and made it sound ways no one thought capable. A true front runner of things we now take as standard…such as being animated while playing creating a theatrical production! He played without sheet music, which wasn’t done. He also composed and conducted in the way that is now considered standard. You know, like a powerful, flamboyant wizard shaping the entire sound ocean of the orchestra, instead of the mere human metronome of prior. But the guy was really a master of the piano.”
Our waiter appears, interrupting my thoughts of Jerry running through a grand piano and Tom playing the keys like a madman (in disheveled tux), sending a wave of hammers against strings in hot pursuit of the pixel mouse. I rashly skim over the wine list as if a selection would pop out at me, and in the end, order the recent go to: Kronenbourg (Krone), a popular French lager; perfect for anytime. I deliver the size requirements in perfect française: “Grand, S’il vous plaît…”before holding my hand up tall over the tabletop with an meaningful eyebrow raise of mutual understanding.
The real treat of Paris is the same treat of a Carolina bus depot or a baseball stadium in Korea; it is the people watching. One of today’s lead character features, whom I can only assume to be a rich French influencer, early twenties standing close to us and the restaurants border of outer tables. She seems reserved and poised, refined and elegant. I imagine her tic tocs would be less sloppy bikini dancing with laughing friend in tow and more catwalking through old town Barcelona dressed to sell Prada. She stands casually looking down at her phone with a parasol resting on her shoulder, offering a bit of shade to both her and her uninspiring chihuahua below. As the scene pans from her position across to the street corner, I notice another actor who has indeed noticed her. She my stage right, just a couple meters from the partition, he my left, across from the eastern entrance. She, close to the building, faces the street and he, faces the building from the curb, coolly leaning into a light pole aligned in her direction. Our gazer is another waitstaff, dressed the same way but with a sturdier, athletic build in comparison, and his near shoulder length hair is ginger, pulled back into a neat pony that is reminiscent of black sails’ Captain Flint. He is coherently transfixed, all work duties seemingly abandoned. His gaze lasers solely towards her, unflinchingly. She offers only her side profile for admiration, content with the company of the scroll. I am surprised at his lack of fucks to see if anyone is watching him as I realize I am the one blatantly staring at him; yet he has fixed in on her with such utter singularity that I am in no danger of being caught in this looking triangle. I am sure to witness the art of the pickup or at least the attempt as he is obviously trying to initiate eye contact with the beauty who can’t be bothered.
“You know” I begin, turning back to my companion “if there is a thing I love about children, it is the random bits of information they decide to share. More specifically, the fact that it doesn’t logically follow. Or that it’s unprompted. Its conversational non sequitur.” The slanted look on Roses face makes me unsure whether she thinks I’m accusing her of being a child for bringing up a classic musician out of the blue, or whether she sees the irony of me as this child (making such a statement). She of course is right in both ways, though stripped of the negative aspect. This is the endearing chemistry I’ve always admired of the friendships depicted on Seinfeld. They are all children in this aspect, often having their own monologues in the same room, while the others listen and comprehend, but then they respond with a continuation of their own drama. Its brilliant, allowing for a lot of play when it does come together; a master level of independence within community. A trust in another’s care for you, allowing for deferred validation and a respect for timing. When life feels like a sitcom, you have achieved a golden age of fellowship.
Our server deposits our drinks and pulls his pad up from his waist apron ready for our further order, testing the seams of his tightly fitted shirt as his arm bends to hover his readied pen. He’s becoming more familiar as one of our cast, such as a waiter does, though thankfully not intrusively. He’s a taller, borderline skinny fellow, Mediterranean looking in skin complexion, with kind, worn eyes. Pasta and duck confit are scribbled down before he is turned around and quickly attending to a five top of Scandinavian tourists. They had finished their meal and had not skimped on the chilled white, as their table briefly resembled an octopus of arms and a chair skid symphony with elevated laughs and talking’s over of one another as they departed.
Over the brim of her mimosa, I hear my companion garble something into the orange juice and widen her eyes in the direction of one o’clock. The signal was received, and I slowly turned my head to follow her glare. There sat our delightful hero; a strange man, aged and solitary. A man with unexpected interest for his peculiar absence of presence. He was sitting at a small table on the outer rim facing the corner, so as to present us with his left side. He wore tight fitting clothes, looking a bit like Nick Cave’s long-lost brother, only add Steve Buscemi’s eyes with another few layers of heavy bags below them. His hair was full, like a helmet, perhaps brushed up and back, but likely with a brush he shared with his dog. The man was a magnet to look at. He carried himself like the food critic from Ratatouille…yet he too was lost in a stare of his own; the thousand-yard stare that kept him enraptured though looking nowhere. Lost in thought? Venturing out in a drug addled stupor? Having a last meal before a grim end? Writing his novel mentally? There was just no way to know, which made his viewership primetime. He was something of a bearded dragon, the conservation of motion made each little head tilt meaningful. Regarding the reptiles, it was therapeutic to slow down and watch them sit and look. And then, to witness the tongue capture a cricket followed by the crunchy jaw: ecstasy. Somehow this man afforded that witnessed joy of contemplation or deep meditation.
Rouge had finished his smoke and I realized he was making his move. He was walking this way with eyes still trained on his mark. He passed by our table and approached his Juliette. There was French exchanged, and in my estimation of reading body language, he seemed to be using a ratio of 72/28 personal to professional composure. And he was coming off suave…at least to this invested voyeur. How penetrating his interaction was to her, well, that is the question. A million small things must go right, just to be categorized as an eligible suitor to a woman one is wooing. His expressions were governed as was her reception of his advances, clearly not an unusual occurrence for her. He began leading her over to the table in front of us to sit down which she accepted with unsurprised self-assurance. Over her shoulder the outer table at one o’clock still held a mesmerized Keith Richards, now sipping a brilliant green substance out of an ornate crystal martini glass. Juliette sat, wearing her narrow Chanel black glasses with the gold side emblems near the lenses. Her clothes and shoes were all designer and hair and nails pristine. She lazily flopped over the heavy pages of a menu lying dead on the table that our tall server dropped off as he passed. He had looked surprised by her arrival in his section and seemed rather uncomfortable while talking to her. She remained disattatched from the server, giving him the bare minimum of engagement.
“I got a sliver in my finger at camp” I recalled the real-life conversation I heard from this little Asian preschooler recently. We were both attending a celebration of life gathering at the departed’s house, and she was in the tree house window holding up her index finger. “Is it still there?” “No, it’s gone now”
Rouge is on his way back over with an aged couple; he is seating them on the other side of the sidewalk, passing by our cluster as he goes. While the French girl may or may not be taking note of him, I notice he is showcasing the old opportunity generating method of proximity. He’s getting close, he’s passing by, playing the numbers. His presence is becoming part of her environment. Will she now be looking for his eyes? This is data he can glean. He will be able to share that glance or choose to withhold his in love’s game of cat and mouse. Who knows, she may stop him to talk, or some other chance opening may take place. I take a swig of beer like it’s popcorn. After seating them, he spins and slows for the few paces that would carry him back our direction. It was game on for how he was to play this crucial second approach. Just at the height of suspense our slender waiter comes rushing outside to the sidewalk and the irritation is clear on his face as he calls the name of his workmate, waving his arms to signal something is wrong. Now Rouge, with momentary furred brow, quickens his pace to intercept longlegs before he reaches our earshot. The exchange is brief, and suddenly he is beckoning the older couple to stand back up and without fully waiting for them to process, is whisking them back to a table closer to the center. It is funny to watch. The couple follow directions; Siamese mouth gaping twins of dumbstruck boomer cattle being led by the working class. Rouge maintains a cool and professional posture before retreating inside. I would tell Rose that that didn’t go as planned, but that would require a lengthy explanation of what the fuck I meant, and the French starlet was sitting right in front of us besides. I thought it best to return to our topic while Romeo recovered.
“Liszt played in France you know”, I hazarded, looking for more information on the protégée whose soul was now in possession of the devil. “I can see here he had shoulder length hair, still in style 200 years later it would seem” gazing at the Hungarians likeness on my phone. My fear that she has been discouraged to talk about the topic due to my delayed response is quelled. “Oh yeah, for starters, women would throw their clothes on stage at this guy” she says with a good-natured scoff “he was an enthralling performer and the forerunner of a Beatlemania phenomenon. But he revolutionized what was possible with the piano.” Something else occurs to her after a brief pause. “You’d like him, he was kind of grunge. He’d break pianos during his concerts he’d be so into it! They actually started having to make higher quality piano’s because they couldn’t hold up to his level of engagement.”
I muse that in some multiverse, all of Listz performances were unplugged by default, but that he cut a VH1 pluggedalbum.
I don’t have to wonder long what Rouges next move will be, he’s on the way back, with a smooth glide in his step and a plastic bowl of water. He drops it off and retreats again to the center post. He is not away long however, as we begin to dine he has suddenly become a puppy enthusiast and stoops low in a proposal position to lovingly hassle the face of the toy dog, speaking to it directly in a high voice while mixing in normal small talk to the girl without looking up at her. She is quite unarmed and happy to respond how old he is, and that he doesn’t often bark, and that she does live in the neighborhood. Coolly raising up he looks at her and smiles with hints of seduction masked in the confidence of restraint. He proficiently smiles “trop mignon” as he backs away smoothly and turns back to the center.
Rose tunes me back into the other channel that I was neglecting. Our writer had a small plate delivered. He sits with a tight leg cross and elbows on the table, smoking a cigarette. He’d hinge his elbow, bringing hand to mouth to take a long slow drag without moving his head. Then resting his smoke in the ash tray, he slowly picks up the silver tools, specialized tongs and a small two-pronged fork gleaming in the sunlight. With all the time in the world, he works out a snail and holds it up to his mouth, before taking a deliberate bite. He then begins a slow chew, interrupted by drags of his smoke. Of course he’d order escargot! the rodent is delighted as if we’d won the cosmic lottery, which we kind of did. As a frail wind swirls, I catch the scent of cloves on the air.
The end of it is best left to the imagination. Juliette’s blond friend did arrive in heels, houndstooth crop top, and a listening ear to her friend’s sudden gift to gab. The table had been set for our Romeo, but now suddenly there was a game changer. Experience has shown that nothing will kill a budding connection like a friend running interference, but perchance Rouge is able to hurdle this new obstacle. Or perhaps he opts to play the long game and wait for another encounter. I choose to think he is right now bringing some lone mark under the shelter of the canopy and calculating them into his evening plans. Conceivably the writer is finalizing the greatest heist of Versailles artwork ever to be attempted whilst simultaneously weighing the blowback from some administration for failing his entire class’s shit attempt to cohesively write about medieval comedy’s response to inhibited music theory. And maybe our headwaiter is through his shift and closing his eyes to the incredible sounds of Liszt’s masterpiece “La Campenelli”. One thing these French locals have mastered, is not being bothered with the perceptions of any sideliners. But we have stared long enough. We, happy to have found such an accommodating stop so close to Eiffel’s tower, depart on foot. After enjoying the inner prompts caused by strangers, it is time to pay it forward, allowing our oddities to be the program for others as we go.