It just finished raining when the waiter took us to our table. I took the chair facing the cafe and she took the chair facing the street. I let out a soft "merci", it was barely audible because I'm embarrassed of my French. Before our trip I studied audio books and memorized a few phrases. But after a no-nonsense waiter let it be known that broken French will always be answered in English, I decided to keep to English. At that moment I was embarrassed that I wasn't from France. I felt like a trespasser not a visitor. But time heals most egos. Sydney never reacts like me. Things that bother and offend me usually don't phase her whatsoever. It's very American, "this is who I am, and who gives a damn about your opinion?" I admire that about her. A better companion in Paris, there was none.
Sydney started to look at the menu. She scanned it with her big eyes. Normally they're hazel but the menu and table were pulling out the green. She already knew what she was going to order but liked the "experience" of finding it I suppose. She wanted the hot chocolate. She told me so at least a dozen times since we arrived in Paris a few days before. It was "real hot chocolate, actual melted chocolate."
"Well then, I'm glad we're going to Café de Flore too." I said.
But I wasn't after anything on the menu. What I wanted wasn't there anymore. It's gone to time and aged with a glow like most of the things we admire from the past but never experienced. I know Hemingway went there. Frequently or not, I wanted my shoes where he put his. I wanted to watch the people at the cafe. I wanted to start a conversation with a stranger.
I looked at the tables around me. Instead of a girl taking a photo of her drink from multiple angles I imagined Hemingway figuring out where his next meal would come from. Instead of an interview happening to my left, I imagined Hemingway contemplating the combination of words that would strike a harmonious rhythm to a reader's eye. I thought about "A Moveable Feast." But from the moment we were seated at our table I couldn't stop glancing at the man to our right. He was in all black: combat boots, a long skirt and a mesh football jersey over a sweater. His glasses were large and covered most of his face. He was an exemplary figure of Fashion Week in Paris. I had never seen someone dressed like that. I doubt Hemingway had seen someone dressed like that too.
Sydney excused herself to find the restroom, public restrooms were hard to find in Paris. While I waited I continued to discreetly assess the man in black. I saw he was waiting for someone or someone had just left him before we got there. He was sitting relaxed. He owned the space he occupied with a cool carelessness that’s hard for anyone with less life experience to emulate. I figured he had an interesting story. Usually I would leave it at that. Leave it as a thought. But not this time. Not in Paris. Be like Hemingway I thought, be bold.
I figured he was in Paris for fashion week and asked him as much. He confirmed my suspicions but said he doesn't bother with the shows anymore, he had staff for that. He actually had an apartment around the corner from the cafe. He also had a place in Spain, his home country. He told me he was a freelance creative director of sorts, and that most of his clients were in China now. China was the future of fashion. I told him I liked his outfit. I didn't– but I admired him for wearing it. He was comfortable and that's what I've been told style is about. I told him I was from Texas, and with a bit of indifference he mentioned he had worked in Dallas many years ago. He said he couldn't wear his current outfit there. It would be too much for Texans. He wasn't wrong. But we were not there. And I was happy that this conversation had happened here.
Sydney returned and I introduced her to my new acquaintance. I think we asked him for a restaurant recommendation but I can't remember. We paid our check then walked on Saint Germain as it started to rain again.