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Dinner at Les Deux Magots
by Bernie Brown
Christine and Jerry grinned like little kids. “Well, we’re here,” Jerry said.
Christine bobbed her head up and down and tried not to look like a happy idiot. It would probably have been enough just to be in Paris. That alone thrilled Christine, but to be right here in Les Deux Magots on the Place Saint Germain des Pres made her giddy. She was sure her whole body grinned. “I know. Right here where Hemingway maybe sat. Or Picasso. My fanny might be touching the same seat that Picasso’s behind touched.” Christine knew she was gushing, but she didn’t care.
Jerry’s brow furrowed. “Hmm, should I be jealous?”
The waiter broke their conversation as he brought their wine and took their order. Christine knew what she wanted, something to make her feel French. She ordered a plain omelet. She imagined the most perfect omelet that ever occupied a plate placed before her. Jerry ordered a croque monsieur.
Christine looked up at les deux magots, the two statues for which the café was named, and said, “Think what stories those two could tell. They’ve seen it all and they just look down with indifference, day after day, year after year. Supposing we could ask them, what do you think they’d say?”
After a pause, Jerry said, “Well, the one facing this direction,” he turned and pointed, “that one – let’s call him Alfred – he would probably say, ‘That Hemingway guy was a jerk. He talked too loud, drank too much, and was always starting fights. I’m glad when he stopped coming around.’ That’s what old Alfred would say.”
Christine gave him a look because she knew he was trying to get a rise out of her. She liked Hemingway. Her competitive spirit came to life. She took a breath, “Well, our friend here – the one facing the door – his name is Humphrey,” she laughed at the unlikelihood of that, “Humphrey thinks Alfred is overly critical. ‘The ladies loved Hemingway. He was so’,” she searched for a better word but only came up with the overworked “ ‘macho.’ That’s what our friend Humphrey would say.”
Turning back into themselves, Jerry shared his curiosity with Christine. “All that is okay, but Hemingway and Picasso are dead. I wonder if anybody famous now ever comes in here. Hollywood stars, maybe.”
“I think French actresses would be more likely,” Christine said.
Jerry appeared to melt. “You mean like Catherine Deneuve?” Jerry loved Catherine Deneuve.
Christine liked her, too. “I wonder what she would have thought of Hemingway. Or he of her, for that matter.”
At just that moment a beautiful woman did sit down at the table next to them. A tiny dog snuggled in her oversize handbag. She talked to the dog, calming it and saying sweet French things. Because she faced Jerry, he caught a good look at her. He whispered to Christine, “Look who just sat down.”
He slid his eyes to the side to indicate the woman. Quarters were too close to risk pointing.
“Who? Catherine Deneuve?” Christine whispered. She wanted to know.
“No.” Jerry shook his head. Christine sensed irritation that she didn’t catch on right away, even though there was no way she could have.
“Somebody younger,” he said.
“Who then?” Christine kept at him. Was he playing a game?
“I can’t remember her name.” That was it. He wasn’t playing a game. He didn’t know.
Christine rolled her eyes at Jerry, then feigned a casual glance in the diner’s direction. She turned back to Jerry, her eyes shining with the thrill of it, and whispered, “Oh! That’s Audrey TuTu – or however you pronounce it.”
Jerry’s face fell. She could tell he didn’t recognize the name, “Who’s that?” he asked.
“Oh, you big goof. The one from Amelie.”
Jerry still looked clueless. He shrugged.
Christine was determined he should appreciate the woman, too. She tried to think of a film Jerry would know. “Oh, what else has she been in?” Christine asked herself. She snapped her fingers, “The Da Vinci Code.” She forgot to talk in a whisper. No way the actress wouldn’t have heard. Christine blushed.
Gracious and beautiful, Ms. Tautou turned and gave them a warm smile.
It pleased Christine to see Jerry muster his courage and speak before the moment passed. “You were wonderful in it,” he said.
“Merci.” She nodded and went back to studying her dog and the wine list.
The waiter set their plates before them and they returned to the purpose of their visit. Christine picked up her fork and cut a small bite. She closed her eyes, anticipating ecstasy, and began to eat “the most perfect omelet ever to occupy a plate.” Bit by bit, she allowed the fork into her mouth. Then, with complete concentration, she closed her lips around the bite. Her eyes flew open. A frown settled on her brow. “The most perfect omelet to occupy a plate” was stone cold. Worse yet, it was rubbery. She tried to catch Jerry’s eye, only he was looking down at his plate with distaste. Then he looked up.
“My omelet’s cold,” Christine said.
Jerry poked at the congealed gruyere with his fork. “So’s this.” In unison, they set their forks down with a little clang and sighed. The sigh signaled both disappointment and doubt. Should they complain? They hated to look like ugly Americans. Maybe they should just eat the food and be philosophical about it.
With the sensitive antennae of a talented actress, Ms. Tautou looked in their direction. “Is your food not right?”
“It’s cold.” Now they spoke in unison.
Her face showed scorn in the way that only a Frenchwoman’s can. She raised a pretty arm and called, “M’ssr.” The waiter hurried to her table. She spoke in rapid French, glancing once or twice at their plates. Then she smiled at the waiter and batted her long eyelashes. The waiter stepped to their table and removed the offending food, but they sensed a haughtiness that kept him from apologizing or looking at them.
The diminutive actress noticed the waiter’s behavior. With a twinkle in her eye and a flat American accent in her voice, she pronounced, “These French have such an attitude.” With that remark, uttered in just that way, she managed to make fun of both Americans and Frenchmen. She laughed a merry laugh that would have turned Hemingway to jelly.
Ms. Tautou’s joke caught Christine by surprise. Beautiful, gracious, and witty. She thought perhaps Catherine Deneuve might get replaced in Jerry’s adoring eyes. After that, the three made small talk. Or at least Ms. Tautou tried to. Christine and Jerry turned shy in her presence. The actress pretended not to notice.
Before long, the waiter swooped in with steaming food to satisfy their, by now, growling stomachs. Ms. Tautou appraised the plates and nodded her approval both to them and to the waiter.
Christine and Jerry picked up their forks anew and began to eat. Blissed out on their meal, they failed to notice their young champion finish her wine and leave. Gone – just like that – her exit as quiet as her entrance. But she left a little bit of her delicate aura hovering there.
Christine and Jerry drew out the pleasure in the meal they had waited for twice. When they finished, they ordered cups of strong French coffee.
Nursing his coffee, Jerry looked back up at les deux magots. He said to Christine, “What do you think they’d say to future diners about what just happened here tonight?”
“Well,” Christine gave herself a moment to get into Humphrey’s character, “the amiable Humphrey would say, ‘Audrey Tautou was a real lady. Beautiful. Charming. And generous in spirit. I wish she would come in more often.’
“And crabby old Alfred, he would complain ‘Well, she shouldn’t have had anything to do with those common Americans. She should have let them eat cold food. Americans think the world owes them everything.’”
Jerry appeared to consider Alfred’s – well, his own – words. “I’m glad she did help us common Americans. That was just about the best meal I’ve ever eaten,” and then he turned gallant, “of course, what man wouldn’t think that, having enjoyed the company of two beautiful women?” He took Christine’s hand across the table.
Christine rolled her eyes at his clichéd romanticism; but, in reality, it pleased her. And then, showing that boy-like mischief that endeared Jerry to Christine, he dropped her hand and moved to sit on the chair that Ms. Tautou had occupied. “Just think,” he said, “my fanny is sitting on the very same chair that her delicious little bottom graced.” And then he wriggled his behind around as if he could mop up the pleasure of Ms. Tautou’s presence.
Jerry looked so silly, yet so appealing, that Christine laughed right out loud – maybe a little too loud. Hearing her, their haughty waiter gave her a stern French look. As soon as he looked away again, Christine stuck her tongue out at him and did that shoulder wiggle thing little kids do to mock snooty people. And then she said to Jerry, in her best Audrey Tautou imitation (which was terrible), “These French have such an attitude.”
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