They are often a ritual meeting place for well-known, or aspiring to be, intellectuals, politicians, musicians, artists, actors, students, ‘’bohemians’’ of all kinds, and generally speaking ‘’noctambules’’, meaning people who loved going out at night. The most popular was and still is, Les Deux Magots, with its great terrace facing the church where people, including tourists from the world over would fight at lunch time and after 5:00 PM to get a table and chairs where they could drink a whisky, a café, or a ‘’coupe de Champagne’’, eat a light but elegant meal, and look at people walking around.
Next door, to the left, on the boulevard at the corner of the small Rue Saint Benoit, was Le Café de Flore, which attracted famous writers, artists, composers, film makers,and stage actors. In the very early part of the 20th century many intellectuals from the right such as disciples of Charles Maurras who had his office there, members of the Action Française movement etc. would congregate in this café. But from 1917 to the end of the 1930s the Café reached a tremendous notoriety among the literary and artistic community. Well-known writers and artists such as Apollinaire, Hemingway, Aragon, Sartre, Camus, Simone De Beauvoir, Picasso, Zadkine, Giacometti, would meet their friends there and have long and passionate discussions. This is here that the first member of the Surrealist movement met around their leader André Breton.
My favorite little spot though was located at the end of the main dining room, near the kitchen. It was, and still is, a marvelous wooden chest of 99 tiny drawers, each with its own number on white enamel tags, where regulars who came for lunch almost every weekday would store their own napkin.
It was essentially what we used to call “cuisine bourgeoise” or “cuisine de ménage’’, with traditional dishes such as poireaux (boiled leeks) vinaigrette, pâté de campagne, oeufs durs (hard-boiled eggs) mayonnaise, assiette de crudités (julienned raw vegetables), harengs (herrings) with pommes de terre tièdes, Boeuf Bourguignon, épaule d’agneau rotie (roasted lamb shoulder), côte de porc (pork chop) , andouillette grillée (grilled chitterlings), hachis parmentier (oven-baked gound meat mixed with mashed potatoes) and rice pudding in a milk sauce, crème au caramel, or tarte aux pommes. Nothing fancy, but everything looked tasty when I spied on what the guests had in their plates.
Soon, as I could expect, a young lady came and asked me if I minded her seating at the table next to mine, and soon afterwards she was joined by an older woman who proved to be her mother, with whom she engaged in a very intense conversation. Obviously she did not see her mother very often and had numerous subjects of disagreement with her. They were discussed during the whole meal without even lowering their voice to prevent me to listen to some very intimate details of their tumultuous past relationship. At one point the mother who was sitting next to me and was smoking an electronic cigarette between each dish, noticed my coughing, and offered to switch chairs with her daughter so that the smoke would not affect me. I accepted her kind offer of course.
Photos: Alain Maes