The Café Where The World Meets

By J.D.Ratcliff

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The Café Where The World Meets 朗読

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Cafe de la Paix


Along the Via Veneto in Rome or the Champs Elysées in Paris, there may be more fashionable or pretentious restaurants. Still, the Café de la Paix, located on the Placed de l'Opéra, where seven principal streets of Paris come together, remains the world's best-known, best-loved café-restaurant. It advertises itself as the "meeting place of the world," and that is just about what it is. Each year millions tourists, from every country on earth, find their way there. At its sycamore-shaded side-walk "terrace" Greek meets Greek, Iranian bumps into Iranian and the American encounters a school classmate he hasn't seen since graduation.

This worldly crossroads is more than a pleasant place to eat a meal or sip an apéritif. Many people receive mail and telephone calls there. The Café offers telegraph and cable service, and his a theater-ticket agency. A newsstand supplies papers in Arabic, Swedish, Hebrew, Dutch, German and almost every other language. Despite its heterogeneous clientele, the Café is as much a symbol of Paris as the Eiffel Tower.

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The Café consists of a 450-seat sidewalk café ( the city of Paris collects 33,000 francs-a-year rent for the use of the sidewalks ), inside dining accommodations for 800, eight private dining rooms, three kitchens, a 40,000-bottle wine cellar. It has three restaurants, each catering to a particular clientele : one stresses elegance ( bouillabaisse at 20 francs a plate ) ; another, simpler meals ( cold cuts five francs ) ; the third has all the noisy informality of a U.S. drugstore, complete with super-hamburgers, milk shakes and hush puppies.

From the vantage of the terrace, and for the price of a cup of coffee, one may watch the greatest show on earth --- the passing human race. And the people who watch are as varied as the passing throng.

A British army colonel spends his annual one-month vacation there. Each day he strolls in from the adjoining Grand Hotel promptly at 10 a.m., has breakfast, stays for lunch and dinner, and leaves at midnight. For ten years this routine has continued without the colonel's so much as crossing the street. One day a waiter suggested that perhaps, for a change, he might like to see a movie. The colonel drew himself up stiffly. "I see no reason for altering an arrangement I find quite satisfactory," he said.

A Frenchwoman in her 70's also used to take up her station each day at 10 a.m. A taxi would pull up at the curb, two waiters would help her out and she would begin a denunciation of the management, the clumsiness of the waiters, the snail-like service. The stream of complaint would continue until 5 p.m. Then the grande dame would rise, leave a generous tip and vow never to return. There was general alarm one day when she didn't show up. Newspapers told why. She had died.

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Some customers do their work at the Café. A newspaper correspondent uses a rear table as an office, meeting people to be interviewed and writing his dispatches. A French author wrote several books there.

The Café's clientele has included a brilliant galaxy of the world's great and famous. Guy de Maupassant, Emile Zola and Oscar Wilde were steady customers. Enrico Caruso, an amateur artist, made sketches on napkins --- which promptly became collector's items for the waiters. Adolphe Menjou used to be a familiar sight with his red carnation; Marlene Dietrich causes a traffic jam whenever she arrives --- waiter traffic from service bars and kitchen has to be rerouted. On a European trip several years ago former U.S.President Harry Truman made a beeline for the Café, which he had first known as a young artillery captain on leave during World War I.

From the time of its founding in 1867 the Café has provided a vantage point from which to observe history in the making. It was in business at the time of the siege of Paris during the Franco-Prussian War. The strangest military movement of World War I rolled before its doors in September 1914, when wheezy little Paris taxis were commandeered to rush reinforcements to the front, only 40 kilometers away, where French lines were about to break under German pressure. (Incidentally, the taxi drivers kept their flags down, collecting from the government when they returned.) Four years later, from the windows of a private dining room, French Premier Georges Clemenceau witnessed the wild Armistice celebration.

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One of the oddest spectacles of World War II took place at the Café's doorstep. At 2:05 p.m. on August 25, 1944, the great Place de l'Opéra was completely empty. A lone French soldier carrying a submachine gun entered the Germans' Paris headquarters across the street. Wehrmacht staff officers came out, hands up. By 2:10 the square was jammed, and a gigantic celebration was under way --- Paris had been liberated. A French army jeep pulled up in front of the Café. Could dinner be prepared for Gen. Charles de Gaulle --- his first meal in liberated Paris? A German soldier, the management explained, had fired an incendiary shell into the Café. Fires had started and broken glass was everywhere. But a tray was prepared with the best they had to offer; cold ham, potatoes, salad.

After World War II the Café provided comfort for thousands of displaced persons who had lost all track of friends. A homeless Rumanian could spend hours there, sipping an inexpensive glass of mineral water, and be pretty confident of finding a familiar face, perhaps some friend who might help him with a new start in life.

5 speaker

About 40 percent of the Café's customers are French, 12 percent British, 18 percent American. The management tries to keep nationalities all happy with a menu that includes scaloppini and ravioli for Italians, Wiener schnitzel for Austrians and Germans, mixed grills for English, fried chicken for Americans. English is a basic requirement for all of the 200 waiters, and they are encouraged to learn other languages as well.

The Café has been under the same family management for 66 years. In 1870 Arthur Millon arrived in Paris from Burgundy to make his way as a headwaiter. He saved his money, invested wisely and by 1897 had enough to buy the Café. His son André eventually took over, and he in turn bestowed management of the Café on his daughter Denise. She married Paul Chapotin, and the Chapotins now run the enterprise. The oldest of their four children, Bertrand, 22, is currently learning the business.

Chapotin, who travels widely, always brings home ideas. In Chicago not long ago he bought an American ice-cream machine, waffle irons, pop-up toasters, ice-cube machines --- to help cater to the newer French eating habits as well as to American tastes. For Paris businessmen are drifting away from ritual two-hour lunches and taking to the idea of salad plates and chicken sandwiches. French secretaries are finding virtue in light lunches served in the Chapotins' Pam Pam restaurants, one of which is attached to the Café.

Thus, the Café is changing with the times. But its hold on the hearts of millions remains secure. A reporter sums it up: "Legally, one family owns the Café de la Paix, but actually the place belongs to the world."

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