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In the In-Between at La Lutece

August 3, 2018

 

 

A foul combination of heat and jetlag woke me up at 4:30am. It was still dark out, and as I opened my shutters the partiers across the river were still singing The Marsellaise, as they'd been doing since 11pm.

 

When the sun came up at 5:05, they broke ranks and spilled across the Seine over Pont Neuf. The sun coming up made me want coffee, and since I thought the singers would also be wanting coffee, having been singing all night, I thought I'd go where I knew they must be going, to Le Depart, the only place around open all night. 

 

I thought how pleasant it would be to sit outside at a cafe and have an espresso brought to me so I could write my morning pages. 

 

To my delight, the terrace was filled with people, the street filled with people who'd not gone to sleep, who spoke with boisterous and happy voices. It was now 6am.

 

I indicated to the waiter I'd like to sit outside and ordered an espresso. 

 

Wrong. They only serve beer and wine on the wicker chairs. Or is it in the morning? He pointed to his watch. My French being limited, I only understood that he wouldn't serve me an espresso and I “departed,” wandering the quiet streets in search. 

 

Across from Notre Dame, I queried a man putting tables out in front of a brasserie, but he shook his head and directed me to Le Depart, to which I returned, this time walking straight back to the bar, ordering “un café” there.

 

It was delicious, so much better than the ones I make in my Nespresso machine. But they told me the bar was closed, (what about the couple standing and having their espressos? Huh?)

 

My search for the perfect spot for my morning work would have to continue the following day.

 

I woke at 5:15. Couldn't go back to sleep. Did a few things, then around 7, decided to find a place to work. 

 

I'd walked past it dozens of times on my way to this errand or that activity. La Lutece. The name of the first people who occupied this area, 2,300 years ago.

 

An ordinary extraordinary brasserie, with rows of wicker chairs outside and a curving bar trimmed in gleaming copper inside. Glamorous with its undulating wooden staircase leading to the second floor; are there no right angles here? is it Art Deco?

 

In the US a place that looks Art Deco probably isn't, (unless it's in Miami) but here a place that looks Art Deco most probably is.

 

I strolled past a man who was smoking and found myself a table, as far from him as possible, said "Bonjour" to the room and the waiter wiping down the tables before I sat down; I know that much about the protocol of cafés in Paris. (say hello, ask permission to sit)

 

I pointed at the table and asked, “Ici c’est bon?” (My attempt at, "Here is good?")

 

He managed to acknowledge me without making eye contact or even looking up from his wiping. 

 

I pleased myself by remembering to order my espresso the cool way, dropping the “un.” 

“P’tit café, s’il vous plait.” 

 

Not even a hint of a smile with his nod of acknowledgement.

 

I thought to myself that he takes the "dour waiter" reputation to the extreme.

 

He floated off and returned with my espresso and a cup of water, placed with care before me. I like when they serve the coffee with water. 

 

It was good. Chocolatey, dark, smoky, rich. I wrote, paid, gave him a modest tip. He said, “C’est gentil, merci.” (That's nice, thank you.)

 

You don't have to smile to take pride in your work, to serve your guests well, to keep the tables immaculate. I returned the next morning at 7:00. 

 

 

The morning air was a little too cool. Unwilling to subject myself to the possibility of cigarette smoke out on the terrasse, but still wanting to enjoy the view of people and life going by, I decided to sit at one of the half-between-in-and-out tables.

 

They're the ones on the raised floor of the inside, but right next to the outside ones. In the winter, the thick glass doors would be closed, but now, it's perfect.

 

A view of the walkers-by but less exposed to the smokers and street cleaners and noise. I chose the farthest corner two-top.

 

The in-between is comfortable for me in my discomfort. I am in-between everything now. No longer solely American, not French by anyone's standards. Without the security of a home I can call home, but not homeless either. I teeter on the edge.

 

He didn't smile in greeting and I wasn't expecting him to. I ordered my café. He brought it without the glass of water. I requested, “un petit verre d’eau, s’il vous plait.” He returned and placed it before me. 

 

I remembered having read somewhere that in some cafés regulars will be served their “usual” without having to speak. How many times does one have to visit a place before that happens, I wondered. 

 

Today I woke again at 5:15. This is not usual for me, but in the in-between, I have come to expect anything. 

 

At 7:00 I walked over to La Lutece, pointed to the in-between table in the corner (did I remember to say bonjour? Do you still say bonjour to people whose backs remain turned, who are ignoring you?)

 

I don't consider it rude, to be ignored, it's puzzling, but not rude. I don't know all the cultural norms here. The world doesn't revolve around me. 

 

Still no smile. There never will be, and I'm okay with that. I pointed to "my" table, sat, and enjoyed the fresh morning air while he continued righting the rest of the chairs and setting up.

 

After placing the last chair, he let out a theatrical sigh. The first sign of personality? I commiserated to his already turned back, “beaucoup de travail,” (lots of work). He had to have heard me, there wasn't anyone else to speak to, but he didn't respond.

 

I didn't expect him to. I bent to my work.

 

When I looked up he was walking towards me with an espresso and a glass of water, which he placed in front of me with care.

 

I worked, was brave and spoke to some American men of a certain age who'd sat outside, finished my writing, went upstairs to see the Art Deco"salle" (room) and over to the bar to pay.

 

He had just gone outside to smoke, and I didn't want to make him extinguish his cigarette to ring me up, so I went downstairs to see the toilettes. 1930s Art Deco, the in-between style of two world wars, a blending of beauty, sinuousness in time of upheaval. Sensuality in times of uncertainty.

 

When I came back upstairs, he was waiting at the computer for me. I handed him a five before he had a chance to give me the bill.

 

He placed the change in my hand, looked me in the eyes,

and smiled. 

 

 

 

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