I’m finding it somewhat tricky to keep up with all the notes I’ve already made, if only I could sit down at a computer without having to worry about the countdown! This post goes back to Paris.
Aux cérises de lutèce is not your average Parisian eatery; not a brasserie where people come to have a predictably satisfying lunch, or to socially drink un café at the bar or on the terrasse. It’s not a dark little restaurant that specialises in fare of a certain region, and where you have to squeeze yourself into the sides of other people’s tables just to get out. These places are great but this one seems to have another purpose.
It is a café of well-loved kitsch, offering hot drinks, desserts, and a small number of low maintenance light meals. One thing I have always admired in the French is how well they shut out the bustling outside world with their eateries. There is an obvious relationship between this arrangement and their savoir-faire at taking time out to unwind. Once you have entered, whether it’s to eat (I kept being surprised by the question “you’re here to eat?”) or to have a drink, that time is yours and the restaurant might as well be your living room. Though I have yet to see if I could get away with leaving my socks on the floor. So to me, restaurants and cafés were sanctuaries in Paris. Cérises de lutèce went a bit beyond that however, it not only shut out the outside world but made you feel like you were in a whole other world.
What does this world look like? In keeping with the name, the image of the cherry (cérise) is everywhere. The lamps hung from the ceiling are draped with red napkins and white napkins with cherry and blossom print. There are cupboards and shelves holding cups, saucers and jugs painted with cherries, flowers, or else with some country English scene or an ancient Greek scene. A few of the shelves are simply crates that would have been used to transport bottles of wine stuck onto the wall. Antique and ethnic-looking jewellery is laid out on the shanton-covered shelves along the café windows, or else draped on the garden trelice that serves as a sort of screen between the windows and the patrons’ olde cherry world. Other knick-knacks like a colour-intense abstract painting, faux fabergé egg and big shiny mirror sit about in the room as if they’ve lived there for many comfortable years. All the tables and the chairs are different but share the same traits of being wooden and old. All the water jugs are different too, either ceramic jugs or clear pitchers, and these sit on every table at the ready for the next person who sits down.
The walls have been made to look like faux crumbly old limestone, except for one smooth, modern wall upon which a fake open window has been painted. Looking out through it you see a sailboat heading out into a channel. It’s not the most realistic depiction and yet illusions have such great power over the mind, every now and then I couldn’t help but return to staring out the “window”. The floor is a mosaic of speckled stone, the primary colour of which is a light brown but with aquamarine, orange and yellow pieces introduced in some places.
When I was there I had a chocolat viennois while two german men sat in the corner by the “window”. One was in his 30s, the other in his 60/70s. I wished I could have been in their conversation, it sounded so meaningful, considered and intelligent. Particularly with how carefully and intently the younger man was paying attention to his elder. The former sat with the tips of his first 2 fingers of the right hand balanced just so on the side of his jaw, while the latter had his head slightly dipped and gently prodded the knuckle of his index finger into his temple. They talked without pause in the flow since the moment I entered cérises, in low soft tones, with equal attention to each other and at a calm, certain pace. Listening to their sounds was like sitting on the banks of the Avon river on a quiet summer’s afternoon.
Before I left all I could think about was how Aux cérises de lutèce would be the perfect place for a spy’s rendez-vous. I would without hesitation become a spy if it meant having conversations like they were having in funny little places like this. Well, that and as long as I didn’t have to engage in anything evil-serving. You know, I’d never particularly wanted to learn German. Until that day.