Café de Flore
A notebook entry.
In the summer and early fall of 2020, once the cafés re-oped, I started going to the Café de Flore every afternoon. I would arrive at about 4 and stay until 10pm. I ordered a hot chocolate and over-tipped. I don’t usually go to places like that, they are always so packed. Too many tourists and a line out the door. Now there were no tourists in Paris, even in August, and the famous cafés were deserted. People from the neighborhood still came to sit on the terraces, but they were never more than half full. Inside and upstairs, most of the tables were empty, even through the dinner hour.
I would park myself on a red banquette inside with a single hot drink to last six hours, and look around at the others who had come to do the same. In the absence of tourists, the old cafés had been given back to the writers. At the Flore, most were old men. One, perhaps 75 or 80 years old, was already there when I arrived most days. He wrote his pages on blank sheets of paper with a fountain pen, like letters you might find in an archive. I think it was a novel. Another man with a self-important air was working on a screenplay. Another worked from a stack of handwritten notes, color coded with highlighter. He would arrange the notes on the table before him and then type on his laptop, checking the notes often. When I peered over at them one night I saw that they were separated into sections: Chapitre 1, Chapitre 2, and so on. Sometimes up on his screen was a game of solitaire.
A South Asian man in a black cashmere sweater and crisp white collar came in one night and made handwritten notes on a printed manuscript. On another night, an American woman with a laptop open in front of her took a phone call right there at her table, at full volume, without stepping outside. The café plays no music. She did not stay long.
Sometimes I would look up from my work and see that the place was empty, the others gone home. Eight o’clock, and people should have been ordering dinner, but I guess they had all gone home for dinner.
I liked to sit in one of the booths beneath the large expensive flower arrangements the café still sprang for, with great big crabapple branches and sunflowers, smelling of fields and fallen apples. I wondered if the waiters missed the tourists or were glad to be rid of them. The desperate sellers of single roses prowled the twilight streets of Saint-Germain-de-Près outside, with few takers, in search of the visiting lovers from far away, but there were none. When I finally packed up to leave each evening, one of the younger waiters would twinkle at me over his mask and say "see you again madame, very soon." I would stay in the café doing my work until it was dark outside, and then walk through the deserted Latin Quarter, its empty restaurants blazing like ghost ships adrift in the night, back towards my own neighborhood.
This entry was adapted from a five things draft written in December 2020.
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