On a Visit to a Café

On a Visit to a Café

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The Man with the gray mustache in the purple hat
walks by. He stops at the newsstand, il regarde seulement…He is chased
away by the Old Woman’s poodle. The Poodle wears an Hermès scarf and
seems to be suffering from a psychological disorder that causes it to
cry a greater cacophony than a children’s orchestra, and jolt in every
which direction. The Old Woman buys a newspaper. The Poodle in the
scarf breaks from the leash and runs directly into the street. The Old
Woman screams. Six cars come to a screeching halt. The Man driving the
black Renault gets out to retrieve the Poodle in the scarf. The Old
Woman is on the ground, head tilted upward with hands in prayer
position, she pleads, “Take me! Take me!” I wonder, does she pray for
the dog or the scarf? The Young Woman next to me orders a café and
lights a cigarette.

I have recently moved into a small studio
located at the top of seven flights of stairs in the 16th
arrondissement of Paris from the sunny, smoggy streets of Los Angeles,
where poodles don’t wear Hermès scarves but little Jack Russels do
sport Burberry. However, in Los Angeles the dog would not have run into
the street. There would be no Old Woman to drop the leash and no Man
with a gray mustache in a purple hat at the newsstand, “Just looking.”
Well, this is not entirely true. Though these characters surely exist
in LA–and stranger ones at that–they often go unnoticed. Which brings
us back to the old philosophical debate, if a tree falls in a forest
and no one is around to hear it, does it make a noise? Does human life
exist outside of one’s self-absorbed world in La La Land?

In Los
Angeles when I go to a café–rather, Starbucks–I am always careful
that I bring something to pretend to read. This way, I can people-watch
without being accused of having a staring problem. In Paris I leave my
books behind and participate fully in perhaps the Parisians’ strongest
sport: observation. Parisians practice everywhere. They are perched in
every café on each corner smoking their cigarettes, sipping their
coffees and watching. Watching the couple in love who only yesterday
sat in the same place debating the responsibilities of pet ownership
from the points of view of Sartre and Descartes. Eavesdropping on the
two teenage boys who talk of drinking and the condition of human
morality. They know everything about everybody else’s business–so much
in fact, that they consider it their business. This appeals to me as a
young writer, because my business is other people. Or rather, exploring
the human experience.

It has just occurred to me as I sip my
café crème, that I too am being watched. That every person I’m
observing is in turn observing me. Yet, I am completely relaxed and
uninhibited. I am not concerned with what I look like, or what I appear
to be doing. Instead, I remain as I am, in stillness watching people
watch me. I am comfortable with my company because we have this
interest in common. I know that I am not being judged merely observed
and understood.

It has been said that a true friend is someone
who knows everything about you and still likes you. Maybe this is why
in Paris; I always feel like I’m in love and I’m the ingénue in an old
black-and-white movie, preferably starring Cary Grant. I am understood
here, when I’m wobbling down the cobblestone streets, or riding the
métro early in the morning crammed into the car like sandwich filling.
Unlike the guy at the bar on Sunset Blvd. peering down my blouse, Paris
listens to me; or surely the people at the next table do. But the
eavesdropping is not for Tuesday evening’s Bridge Club, just a
result of a pure curiosity for human life.

The world-renowned
sculptor Auguste Rodin said, “The most important thing for artists is
to feel, to love, to hope, to tremble, to live. It is to be before an
artist, a human being.” For me, there is nothing more interesting than
being human, nothing more intriguing, more watchable than the human
experience.

Put a camera on that and we begin to understand one and other.


Kirsten
joins Bonjour Paris from Los Angeles, California where she recently
graduated from the University of Southern California with a BFA in
Acting. Last year she co-wrote the book and lyrics to a new pop musical
which expects to open in Los Angeles next spring. Two years ago, while
studying at a conservatory in London, Kirsten fell in love with Paris
and decided that she was destined to return for some time. She’s
thrilled to experience this dream come true.

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