The music varies wildly in quality (there was an unfortunate Kylie Minogue song earlier), but now there's a Bob Marly album on, which is pleasant enough. Two women are playing chess at the table in front of me, and it's maddening because I can never find people to play chess with. They've been there quite a long time, smoking and drinking coffee and talking. The chess seems secondary, but it's there between them and I assume they move the pieces from time to time, though I don't want to stare.
They have games here. There are shelves full of them in the other room: chess and French versions of Trivial Pursuit and Pictionary, et cetera. Some friends and I tried to play the French version of Clue here once (it's called Cluedo), but there were too many key elements of the game missing to actually play. All the games have seen a lot of use and are more or less in a state of disrepair. It's quite impossible to play a game of chess without resorting to a mismatch of pieces from at least three different sets, but it's a great place to play.
The café is decorated and lit as though it were someone's home, and when you enter and see people playing games, you feel as though you've somehow stumbled into a private residence. On the walls are pleasant enough paintings of distorted faces and women, and there are numbers below them to indicate that there is a list somewhere with prices. In the other rooms are paintings that have been here as long as I can remember. Forlorn portraits of women that apparently someone's grandmother painted, since are of questionable quality and are dated from the 1950's.
The coffee here comes with a bowl of white and brown lumps of sugar mixed with little chocolate pieces. The water is served cold. My table is a tarnished metal octagon, and I'm sitting in a comfortable enough wooden armchair with brown seat and back cushions. There's a small red lamp affixed to the wall next to me on a swing metal arm. I've ordered the Cicciolina salad, which is one of my favorite meals in Paris. But please hold the anchovies. I've had a salad at Pizza Del Arte that has the same basic ingrediants (lettuce, tomatoes, and artichoke hearts, along with grilled tomatoes and eggplant), but it was not nearly as tasty. This one has generous helpings of parmesan and mozzarella cheeses, which is always a good thing.
The service is a bit sketchy sometimes, but other than a young waiter apparently suffering from Alzheimer's, this is a perfect café. When you are ready to leave, just pay on the way out -- they will never willingly bring you the bill. In other words, as in all good French cafés, you are free to stay as long as you like.
Metro: St-Sébastien Froissart
Sugar: bowl of brown and white lumps of sugar
Bonus: Little chocolate pieces
Price of a Cicciolina salad: 14 euros
Copyright © 2002 David Sadegh.
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