Thursday, February 19, 2009


Au Chien Qui Fume

On Tuesdays Agnes, our housekeeper, comes at one and spends three hours doing what has sometimes taken me days to do myself… if I even do it at all… because I hate it! Dusting, mirror and toilet cleaning, kitchen scouring and heavy duty vacuuming, the occasional ironing. Whew! What a load off. She doesn’t have a key so I usually stay home when she comes. We move around each other in the small apartment, maybe I help her stretch the sheets across the bed or gather up the dirty laundry scattered about, but the late lunch hour is perfect for café sitting, and it's got me thinking...

Every writer needs a café, right? Someplace she can go, away from the laundry and email, and the same old walls. But it has to be someplace particular. Someplace she only recognizes after a few visits but which suddenly becomes familiar… a place where she can sit and forget certain things, remember others. And because I want this to be a routine, I am writing my intentions here so as to be accountable for sticking to it.

So this past Tuesday, I let Agnes in and Filou and I went to a restaurant that I know is very dog friendly... Le Chien Qui Fume—The Smoking Dog is a chain, but the only one to which I’ve ever been is here in Châtelet. In warmer weather the patio is divine, looking out on Les Halles and its sage green trellises, and inside the ambiance is classy without being pretentious. There are pictures of celebrities hung just below the ceilings and little dog statues perched above the bench seats that line the well-partitioned spaces. All this is only part of the reason why I’ve settled on this place.

When we arrived, lunch hour was nearly over. An older woman seated near our table with a matching older man gave us the usual disapproving glances, top to bottom. He didn’t of course. The men rarely do. Plus, he was seated with his back to us. But they were already having desert and Filou settled in at my feet right away, so quiet, so well behaved that it didn’t take long for her to forget me. No sooner had my wine arrived than I found myself privy to the most beautiful conversation I have ever overheard in this beautiful city.

Maybe it was the chocolate, but her face had turned to mush and her eyes were sparkling from wells of almost tears. She was actually smiling… the sweetest smile, truly, and she reached across the table to hold what I can only hope was her husband’s hand. (She spoke with such sincerity and compassion that I thought it might have been her lover.) “When I do things for you, when I show you how much I care, I do it because I want to, not because I have to. Sure, affection is a basic human need, but it’s not about that.” I couldn’t hear his responses, but I could see that he was looking into her eyes, and even from the side of his face, I could tell that he, too, had been moved close to tears.

This is what I wrote in my little notebook: “I don’t think I’ve ever felt this manic happy. I’ve just overheard the most amazing conversation—am still hearing it, in fact. The previously snooty couple across the aisle has been having one of those tell-all talks about their love and life. I could cry… fighting back the tears. I’ll blame the Sancerre.”

So we're all nearly crying, and they were speaking French, of course, so I began writing in French but have translated it here: “Among the most beautiful moments of my whole life. At first, I didn’t want to strain to listen, but I couldn’t help myself... ‘You’ve brought me so much… I think we've succeeded at making a nice life for ourselves, and that’s no small thing.’” She went on to say that yes, they had had their difficulties, but that they had surmounted all of it to arrive at this place today.

And that’s how I chose Le Chien Qui Fume. Their soup de poisson—fish soup with croutons, aioli, and shredded cheese is the best I’ve tasted, but if you’re not careful, they’ll sell you the most expensive wine to go with it. I’ll blame the Sancerre again for what happened next. I gushed to my server about the afternoon I had passed and how I wanted to come back again and again. Then I asked him where I might find my favorite dog statue—they move them around—gauche-ly calling it “le chien qui pisse.”

I love the statue because when he sits on the deck behind the bench seat, it looks like he’s piddling on the head of whoever is sitting there, their back to him, probably completely unaware. Apparently, there is only one pissing dog in the place because the server knew exactly what I was asking for. He laughed while clearing the couple’s table and said he thought it was upstairs, even insisted on bringing it down for me in lieu of my searching.

I took my picture (for you!) and headed for the door with my Filou, and the server said “à la prochaine, alors—see you next time then!” Maybe one day when I’m famous and dead—because I would have to be both!—this place will become lovingly known as Le Chien Qui Pisse. I think it has a certain ring!

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