La pluie dans Paris sans parapluie! (The rain in Paris without an umbrella)

Today, rain is falling over the city creating a coziness in cafes that is often portrayed in romantic movies. Taxis rush by on the wet streets splashing pedestrians as they pass; pedestrians march down the sidewalk–an army of umbrellas. Waiters step outside periodically to poke the canvas awnings with broomsticks disgorging the water collecting overhead.

Les Deux Magots in Rain


NLEH (no longer estranged husband) and I head out to a late lunch at Les Deux Magots, the famous literary café and find it packed with Parisians and tourists. Seats are hard to come by because what is there to do on a rainy day besides eat, drink, and chat with friends over a café or vin? We squeeze into a back corner next to an older French woman dining alone. She orders a melon salad followed by Carpaccio but when it comes she isn’t pleased so she sends it back for a house salad.

my favorite umbrella


Beneath the table, I carefully stash my red polka dotted umbrella which has been very handy today. When the waiter arrives, I order a glass of “pink wine” popular and a Deux Magots Salade similar to a cobb salad with boiled egg, ham and chicken. NLEH orders an omelet and a glass of fume blanc. As we wait, I translate the story of the restaurant from the back of the menu to him: the restaurant was built on the site of a store called Deux Magots—named for the two wooden statues of Chinese commercial agents (magots) that adorn one of the pillars. It is one of the most famous literary cafes in Paris known for patrons like Ernest Hemingway, Jean Paul Sarte, Albert Camus and Pablo Picasso.

Statues of Le Deux Magots


When our food arrives, we marvel at the creations on the table. Simple lettuce, eggs, ham and chicken yet so fresh and delicious it tastes much different from many chef salads. NLEH’s omelet of herbs, ham and cheese is so flavorful that he stops eating periodically to say, “Yum.”

The woman next to us finishes her lunch, stands and grabs the table for support, prying herself out of the tiny booth. Her balance is shaky as she puts on her coat and NLEH smiles at her and moves our table over to make it easier to pass. She smiles back and says to us, ‘La vieillesse quell naufrage.” Charles De Gaulle.” She asks in French if we understand.

“Old age is like …” I begin and stop. I don’t know the word “naufrage.”

She motions up and down with her hands like waves and then makes sounds like waves crashing and says “un bateau.” A boat. But I’m still not sure…
She stops and writes it down on our place mat and tells us to ask the waiter what it means. We wish her a “bon journee” and she goes on her way.

The waiter can’t read her writing so I bring the placemat with me to translate back at the apartment. And NLEH in one swell swoop, pinches a menu for a souvenir to bring back to the room. (He is not the sort of person who steals salt and pepper shakers, shot glasses, or soap—so I’m impressed that he would do this as a gift for me even if some readers may perceive this as wrong.)
Menu from Les Deux Magots
When we get back to the apartment I realize I’ve left my umbrella in the cab—that will teach me for being vain about an umbrella. I walk the four flights to our apartment, or 62 steps at NLEH reminds me, and flop on the bed tired from the steep stairs. Opening the French English dictionary I translate the quote:
Old age is a shipwreck, Charles De Gaulle.

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