There’s a little café called the French Tarte. Some weekend mornings when Cygnet is with his Daddy I take my laptop and have breakfast in this café.
It is my chance to do something that is quite difficult to do with a one year old who currently has an aversion to sitting down. He just doesn’t seem to like bending at the hips, which can, on occasion, be a little inconvenient. It also enables me to live that romantic dream of sitting, wasting away the hours, with a coffee and just writing. Maybe this makes me a writer. Maybe it just makes me a pretentious coffee drinker.
The French Tarte also makes me a bit nostalgic for the time when I lived in Paris, many moons ago, one University summer. Moons ago in Paris, I never used to sit and drink coffee in cafés. I couldn’t afford it. I did used to walk past the Café de Flore in Paris (the café where Jean-Paul Sartre, the French existentialist used to spend hours chatting, writing and philosophising). I used to walk past Café de Flore and dream of going in to spend a morning just observing the clientele. Making up stories about them. I am glad I didn’t really. It is full of tourists now and wouldn’t have lived up to the romance in my imagination.
This morning in the French Tarte there is a Spanish speaking family with a small boy, who, at a guess, I would say is about two years old. He is being very well behaved and will actually sit on the seat for his mother. After a while, he starts to get a bit irritable and wants to get up and walk around. He does for a bit, but gets in the way of the waiter. The family realise it is time to go. There is a commotion as they leave: coats are put back on, along with matching hats, scarves and gloves. It is not that cold out, but matching winter wear has just arrived in the shops. Calm descends again once they leave.
This morning in the French Tarte there is a very attractive couple who appear to be planning a kids’ party of some description. They discuss the number of burger meals they are going to cook and how they plan to decorate the garden. Their food has just arrived. He is having egg on toast and she is having a croque Monsieur. He says ‘gracias’ (Spanish for thank you) to the waiter. The waiter isn’t Spanish, neither is he, this is a French café. This guy is a bit of a…
This morning in the French Tarte, there is a father with his teenage son. The likeness is staggering. The son is wearing a lumberjack shirt, chinos and trainers. So is his father. He doesn’t look like a rebellious teenager, he looks quite geeky, but also very bored to be sitting opposite his father eating breakfast on a Saturday morning. They both have the continental breakfast: croissant jam and butter with a coffee and orange juice for £4:20. This son will turn into his father.
This morning in the French Tarte, a couple of girls who are, at a guess, in their late twenties, arrive in their sports wear. Both are wearing tight black leggings and fluorescent trainers in many colours. They take medals out of their bags. The lady on the table next to them asks what they received their medals for: ‘a 5k run’. They are now here for a snack and a gossip. They both order the salad of the day: butternut squash with blue cheese and pine nut. They both order a skinny latté. They both sit on the same side of the table, on the soft seats next to the wall, so that they face in and can surveil the room.
This morning in the French Tarte, people flow in and out of the boulangerie and patisserie at the front of the French Tarte. They buy their baguettes, croissants, desserts for their Sunday evening dinner parties. Music plays gently in the background. The waiters whizz round. Everything is nice, everything is pleasant and everything is happy in this café. Nothing bad ever happens.
Except it does, because this is life, and in life bad stuff happens. In the French Tarte we are all just too polite to talk about it. In the French Tarte we hide the unpleasantness away. In the French Tarte we only permit sweetness and light, quaintness without plight.