One night last year I sat outside the Cafe des Deux Magots quietly ruminating on the romanticism of man and particularly of Americans. It was the tail end of winter and there was a distinct tinge of spring in the air, so naturally, I tried to concentrate on what being Paris, the streets and cafes were loaded with people pleasantly killing time.
As I sipped the coffee I had a nagging feeling that all of this reminded me of something I had known before, but I couldn't for the life of me put my finger on it. I tried to concentrate on what was being said by the guy who had steered me around town for the past couple of days. He was a Dane who had come to Paris six years before and now was a professional Bohemian with all the trimmings of the breed, including beard, black sweater, and heady aroma. He had the usual cata¬logue of inanities on how the Americans had not only bespoiled his beloved Paris but were re¬sponsible for all the human ills going back to the Punic Wars. Between tired clichés he kept bringing up the possibility- of me throwing around some weight in order to get him a rate on pas-sage to the States.
As he droned on and I nodded in the soft air of early evening, the tables around us began to fill with an odd assortment of thugs and priests, blooming teenage girls and withered ancients, causing the sullen waiter to step it up a bit as he edged from couple to couple with his round tray. He brought us a couple of drinks and handed over tin small paper receipt which is an inconcruous oddity of the place, picked up his tip, and went back inside without a word. The Dane prattled on and I began to understand why the whole texture of the place, the weather, and the people had seemed so irritatingly familiar and strangely, comforting at the same time.
We were sitting at a tiny round table to the right of the doorway leading into the café itself. The yellow light bulbs inside spilled out onto the sidewalk and gave everyone a sort of sallow parchment-paper look. It was too early in the year for suntans, especially on the Left Bank. Students stood about in groups or sat in cars parked along the curb a few feet from the outside ring of tables.
One guy in his late teens or early 20's drove up in front and made a flamboyant stop. He was driving a silver Mercedes 190 with the top down. A couple of minutes passed as he sat in the car and pretended to ignore the girls who ogled him listlessly. He started the car quickly and sped loudly away. Several minutes later he was back again arid the whole cycle started over. He kept it up for hours. The girls continued to watch, and from time to time another shift would take over as others tired of the game and left.
By now the Dane was hitting the Suez fiasco hard, and by 'a spectacular feat of tortuous illogic had tied in the distribution of American CARE packages with France's problems in the Middle East. His tirade had a nice beat to it and provided a restful counterpoint to the traffic. It rolled on and on without pause, as though he had run over his script so often that he no longer heard his own words.
A couple Of bearded Americans wheeled up on bicycles, glanced around, and left, obviously not finding something they were looking for. I noticed that the Mercedes was now talking to a chick who hung over the door while her ponytail stuck straight up in the air. She finally got in the car and they left. I felt relieved.
There It Is
It was that feeling that finally made me realize what about this spot in the world had been so damn familiar. I suddenly realized that the whole atmosphere was much the same as a dozen springtime drugstores I had known in the Midwest of my youth. This is a hell of a thing to say about the Café des Deux Magots, but nevertheless, there it is.
Somehow it didn't seem right to think such a thing, and I recognized why. It was the old Dream again, constantly battering itself against reality. Few people dream more than Americans. I paid for the Dane's drinks, set him up to a couple more, and walked back to my room alone to sleep.