I can't tell if the three old men sitting next to me are speaking in French or have made up some new language. Part of the time, at least, they are speaking French, but it is with a strange accent and part of the time what they are saying is completely unrecognizeable. Maybe they're drunk on espresso. The one nearest me reached over and took the maroon tube of powdered sugar off of my espresso saucer -- with no complaints from me. My espresso was already long gone and the days are past when I used to hoard free sugar (it doesn't really make any sense, I realized, especially since I never use sugar at home).
I know, this is the third Indiana restaurant I've written at this year, but I was hungry and I hadn't tried the vegetarian chimichanga here yet. I think I must have pronounced "chimichanga" wrong when I ordered, because the waitress used the opportunity to start speaking in English, which seems to be her native language. The chimichanga is not bad. It's not very good, either, and it's definitely not Mexican food or Tex-Mex or Indian-Mex or whatever they're trying to pass it off as, but it's not bad. A flour tortilla wrapped around corn, carrots, kidney beans and the occasional mushroom and topped with guacamole and crême fraiche and a black olive. It's surrounded by red sauce, with rice and some lettuce and tomato on the side. I can at least say I'm not hungry anymore, which is something. I probably could say something more positive and have more money left in my pocket if I had lunched somewhere else, but it's good to try new things once in a while. Even new things at uncomfortably familiar old places that have never given anyone a reason to suspect that a meal there will rise above tolerable mediocrity. Oh well, we all have our weaknesses.
I'm not even angled right to watch the MTV monitors, but I do have a good view of the street, and the variety of people crossing the busy intersection here is rather amazing. The variety of people in this crowded restaurant is amazing as well. The place is nearly packed. Earlier, a couple who had been sitting at one of the awning-shaded tables got up and displayed the fact that they were both wearing black shirts and bright red pants. At the crosswalk, the man started to do imitations of the red and green crosswalk icons while his companion patiently waited for him to stop.
My table is round, brown, with an Indiana Café logo (an Indian head) in the middle. There's also an Indian head on my empty water carafe and an Indian head on the yellow postcard sitting underneath the bill in the shallow corrugated metal check tray.
This is apparently a favorite hangout of the old men, some of which leave and are replaced like members of the band Menudo. It's probably not due to the pop music playing here; they seem to enjoy looking out at the people walking by and making occasional comments (I assume, not knowing their language) about the more striking pretty girls in view. Now the old men have dwindled down to a party of one, and he twiddles his thumbs waiting for more of his compatriots to arrive. Above the gentle din of the crowd a newly-remixed Elvis is singing "A Little Less Conversation," and behind me on the TV screen people in boxes are doing little dances in honor of the King, who probably had a little more than his fair share of Cherokee blood in him, the son of a gun.
1, Place de la République
Phone: 01 48 87 82 35
Sugar: tube of powdered sugar
Price of a vegetarian chimichanga: 12 euros
Copyright © 2002 David Sadegh.
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