Lassitude

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Lassitude
I don’t know if orchids would grow in here, but it’s warm enough to take my jacket off on a day that’s too chilly for this time of year.  The owners of this old café—nothing more than ordinary, sitting thigh to thigh with its companionably unimpressive Eleventh Arrondissement neighbors near the middle of the block—closed in the terrace with glass and wood panels for cool weather long before roll-up wind curtains made it possible to go from battened down to free as the breeze with a couple of swipes of the zippers.  Comes the good weather—and how does anyone ever know it’s here to stay?—the panels are taken down, screw by screw and section by section, and carted off to… ah, no one’s telling, maybe to the same undisclosed location harboring the palms from Paris Plage and Dick Cheney and the swan boats from the Boston Public Garden, an international if temporary black hole.  Limbo, neither here nor there, not eternal, nor over in a flash, not quite endlessly in between, somewhere, nowhere that’s my business or yours either. But it’s not yet time to strike the set, and with the sun pouring in directly from the south, the terrace has the air of a hothouse if not the humidity.  As a mercy to the customers, the manager has turned on a small oscillating fan perched up on shelf near the top of the enclosure.  I time its full sweep and return, two laps of maybe one hundred sixty degrees each, left then right, at sixteen seconds, giving any spot it touches a whiff of wind every eight seconds, on average.  Sitting off center, I have to wait nearly thirteen seconds to feel it, but only three or so on the return trip. At past two in the afternoon, there are only five people sitting here, a family from la France profonde, outnumbered and surely outweighed by their luggage, a man reading a book beyond them who has taken over two tables with his bag, coat, books, and a few loose papers, and me.  He is sitting just barely past the middle of the terrace, measured from side to side.  The little zéphyrs from the fan sweep past him four times a minute with the quiet discipline of a metronome, each time raising the end of a paper hanging off the edge of his table three or four centimetres above the tabletop, then lowering it back down gently, leaving it flopped as languid as a kitten over the arm of a chair. He does not notice, and I am transfixed by the rise and fall of the paper.  It’s not that I am hypnotized, just simply unable not to look at the paper, distracted from the distraction of more interesting, or anyway more eccentric, thoughts that I had been pursuing: I can’t remember what I was thinking about. It may have been the card players in the crummy Italian restaurant down the street to the left then left at the corner.  Going out to the right, there’s a much better Italian bistrot—but there the cook and his plongeur don’t play cards.  This was something new.  I wandered in a few days ago, with nothing in the house to cook for dinner, no inclination to go the greengrocer and the butcher or the fish store—all of which I had to walk by to come here—to find the makings, and nothing but a desire to be fed and left alone: a bad foot will do that to a flâneur. This restaurant, I think, will do.  I order Chianti, as likely to have come from a chemical factory as a vineyard, and, perhaps, a vegetable lasagna: it is not memorable, nor was as I ate it, and for all I know it had pig snouts.  While I contend with the wine—an uneven fight—I look up toward the high counter that separates the kitchen from the dining room and is used to place the dishes waiting to be served.  The cook and his helper are playing cards, engrossed by the game, as intense as gamblers playing for high stakes or at least winning back their original poke—or just the ante.  The waiter, who is watching less intently, looks over at me, and I gesture for him to come over. What are they playing?  He is, he explains a little later, a Turk who had gone to Italy first and is working in an Italian restaurant for an owner and a cook who are from the southwest of France.  Fighting along in his third language, he tells me they are play lerámi, with the stress on the second syllable and what I take to be an Italian accent, but then what do I know about Turkish phonology?  I tell him I don’t understand, but hand him my notebook and he writes le ramy.  I stare for a while.  Oh, rummy?  With the accent in the French style on the last syllable, this makes sense to him.  So the cook is playing gin while he fries my lasagna.  He really does, and I send it back.  The game continues, but the waiter keeps his eye on the clock or the oven and brings it to me cooked more or less the way you would expect it, if maybe a little cooler than Mama Catrina or Papa Beppo back in the old neighborhood would have liked—or served it.  It is dinner for me, didn’t ask for anything more.  And the chef does not notice that I have sent the dish back or the waiter has brought me a second. The waiter brings me another glass of Castello Chimico on the house, gives me some of his history, takes my money, shakes my hand, and wishes my a polyglot good evening as I leave.  I pass behind the cook on the way out, see his hand, and mutter la dame de pique, quelle mauvaise chance, but the well-known curse of the queen of spades hasn’t moved him and neither…
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