Clive and I had a joyful reunion this week at our local café.
I wrote my first post about the cafe in 2008, when it still had one of the traditional red awnings I adore around the city, along with its neon-lit, diamond-shaped ‘TABAC’ sign.
Clive nicknamed ‘our’ waiter ‘Vlad’ in light of a remarkable resemblance to Vladimir Putin. Paris Vlad seemed to like Clive. At some point, Vlad starting greeting Clive with a handshake and a friendly-sounding babble of French. This thrilled me no end, signalling a connection and familiarity, that we were not only recognised but also welcomed back.
One winter night we arrived in Paris, laden with backpacks, and looked across the street to the café. Vlad happened to see us trudging along.
To our delight, he waved his arm high and gave us a huge welcoming wave. I was so excited about this I immediately wrote a blog post, ‘A Wave that Meant the World’.
Only days after following the wave, we awoke on a Sunday morning and to great shock discovered the café closed and emptied.
Quelle horreur! This too warranted a blog post, about the mystery, as did a visit in March when we found our little café behind scaffolding and no hope of a kir. On the day we left, a dark-coloured façade appeared to be in the works.
‘Il est parti’
Finally, several months later, the café reopened. Its new look included the dark façade along with black-and-white awnings, as seen in the header photo of this post.
Naturally we immediately checked it out. Everything inside seemed fine – the same owners, the white-haired father and lanky son behind the zinc bar, their wife/mother working the tabac counter, new tables and comfortable seating – with one alarming exception: NO VLAD.
We realised there were several new staff including a couple younger waiters looking rather ‘spiffed up’ in their smart uniforms. No more rather casual, comfortable Vlad though he too always wore a white shirt and black vest.
We asked the owner’s son about Vlad.
‘Il est parti,’ he said. He left. He is gone.
The response couldn’t have been stated any faster or any more bluntly, or with greater finality. The message and body language seemed to be, ‘Il est parti’ and don’t ask me any more questions about him.
So we did not, though I always wanted to ask, ‘Where did he go? Is he working at some other café? What’s the name of it?’
Though we continued to stop by the café from time to time, we didn’t find ourselves there quite as often. The waiters seemed to change a lot (though the nice owners were a positive presence) and without Vlad it wasn’t quite the same.
We looked for Vlad when we passed by the café but from what we could tell, he was never there. One dark-haired waiter bears a slight resemblance to Vlad but we hadn’t yet established a special connection with him.
This week in Paris
Two days ago we stopped into the café around midday.
And there he was, standing in the middle of the lunchtime buzz, looking straight at us and smiling and indicating an available table.
VLAD!!! I hope we didn’t embarrass him too much as we kind of lurched between the little tables and gave him the most hearty handshakes (and I believe Clive stood there patting Vlad’s shoulder a couple times). We were so overjoyed to see him we didn’t ask where he’s been the past three years. I squeaked out some French about what a great pleasure it was to see him again.
It’s hard to explain how absurdly happy this made us and how wonderful it was to have this unassuming Frenchman back in the café.
The day after seeing Vlad again, we departed Paris to see my mother, son and belle-fille in the U.S. Life has been hectic for the past few days but I still smile when I think of Vlad standing in the middle of the café and smiling at us.
Following our family time in New Jersey, we’ll return to Paris. Perhaps I’ll ask Vlad if I may take his photo. I think once again we’ll be spending more time at the café.
Cheers and thanks for reading. Next week’s letter will be from Paris.
Filed under: Paris |