The greatest show on earth.

I went inside. A small square table right in the center of the mirrored wall. Well, all walls were mirrored but I mean the one facing the Boulevard de Saint Germain-des-Prés.

Paris, Café de Flore. I’m chasing the footsteps and memory of Hemingway. Whenever I go to a place he went I feel some sort of personal connection. Unexplainable I guess. He’s not there anymore and I am too young to have been his lover. If I could have been I probably would have been. Anyway, Café de Flore in the Parisian center of literature and philosophy. Simone de Beauvoir sat here too. Maybe just like me but probably not alone but with Sartre sharing one of these small tables. And a café creme or more likely a glass of wine.

cafe de florePhoto: ‘Café de Flore’ © 2013 Alice Anna Verheij

Hemingway wrote that people who do not allow themselves the hugely overpriced coffee at Café de Flore are missing out on probably the greatest show on earth. I happen to agree. Because this café certainly is an ongoing show. More than it’s equally interesting neighbour Les Deux Magots, which I tried out the day before. One simply has to go in and sit at one of the tables and watch. Watch the waiters moving around. The place is lively even when only a handful of the 40 tables on the gournd floor are occupied and the rest of the guest are outside enjoying the terrace and the spring. The real show is inside. Through the open doors just before lunchtime you will find no less than 20 waiters running in and out with filled and emptied trays. Outside the peak hours their number deminishes to ‘just’ 12 and even they are sometimes pausing to chat with each other lively. But never for long. The waiter flirt with the women, the have a good eye for beauty looking at how the respond when challenged. The Amrican girls don’t notice it. The interior of the café is very art nouveau-ish. Light, lots of glass, squared shapes and ornaments and those little tables placed in an invisible grid in such a manner that it’s possible to travel full speed in between them with filled trays. The chairs are Thonet chairs in the variety with the 6 bars in a waiver shape at the back in between the elongated back legs. Little arcs in between the legs give them enough strength to withstand long term use by gravitational people.

A napkin is draped over the left arm and the tray rests on the right hand. The skirt is whiten and long ending just above the well polished shoes covering black trousers. The vest is as black as the trousers are and the shirt is toothpaste white. A black bow-tie is standard. Waiters really are waiters here. Their smile is tempting and inviting and has just about the same color as their shirts, independent of their age. Interesting. Although there’s the 20 of them running around they form a group of 50 on the café’s payroll. They accept tips with a slight nod and a smile, but tips are rarely given. I suppose the prices prevent people to give tips. In their wallet the waiters seem to have enough change to prevent them from unneeded walks to the cash register inside. Their walking route is twofold. The ones from the side terrace follow a high speed trail with a double wave making them zigzagging in the café, the ones from the Boulevard terrace have just one corner to handle. Both streams end at the right side of the mirrored fake wall behind which the kitchen is located. The connect with the line of waiting waiters who are emptying their trays, passing the orders and refilling their trays with earlier orders to deliver them to the guests after another high speed wave walk to the terrace or inside the café. The cutomers inside the café are left alone. There are just a few of us sitting at a few of the tables. The others are reading a newspaper or a book. I am writing, it’s quiet and I realize that there’s no music distracting us. A stranger stares outside with his mind wandering of to a place unknown.

The café creme is delivered on a silver platter. The cup and saucer, coffejug, milk jug and glass filled with water are all imprinted with ‘Café de Flore’. I guess they’re some sort of collectors item and I presume that because of that they are renewed very frequently. They look brandnew. The whole café is a time machine. From my table position I imagine that the view hasn’t changed much in the past eight or nine decades. There’s an unmatched level of perfection in displaying the past in a beautiful manner, even better then in that other time machine opposite the church. The mosaic of the tiled floor with the little waiver shaped in yellow and brown tints, the dark wooden chairs and tables, the tomato red seats, the mirrored walls divided by marble elements, the copper of theframes around the mirrors and off the illumination and the creamwhhite of the ceiling and the two lonely pillars in the middle of the café split the space in a darkish but interesting underworld and a light upper world. The murmur of talking people is everywhere all the time. Some people are silent.

Around lunchtime the number of inside customers quickly rises to the level that most of the little tables get occupied with cups, saucers, plates, glasses and cutlery. The noise level rises equivalently. The waiters still smile, no matter how hard they have to work. In retrospect I agree with Hemingway’s words. Visiting Paris without having coffee at the Café de Flore is worse than not seeing the Eiffeltower in Paris’ skyline when looking down from the Sacre Coeur. The patron at the door never smiles but shows a presidential expression overseeing his world of customers and waiters. His hands are almost permanently folded in front of him. When I finally leave we greet. A bientôt. I will come back soon I hope.

© 2013 Anna Ros