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The Shells of Things

Zuzu Tadeushuk

This is another slightly belated one, but here's and entry about last week:

The paper napkins at Le Deux Magots hurt my nose. They’re rough, and my skin is raw. Of course I had to get sick now, of all times— the night before a French Vogue shoot. I am in the glitzy 6th arrondissement of Paris on a cool, beautiful February night, and I am having dinner with my agents at one of the most illustrious restaurants in Paris. Le Deux Magots, built in 1885, was a popular rendezvous for the literary and artistic greats of the twentieth century-- before they were great. Here, on the very terrace where I now sit under a heat lamp and closed plastic awning, once sat Hemingway, Picasso, Simone de Beauvoir, and James Joyce, to name a few. Here, over drinks and cigars, some of Europe’s greatest intellectuals pondered and argued and imagined.

The place, however, does not live up to the legacy, and when I walked in the door I was startled by how unremarkable it was. Where I had imagined there might be some monument to or at least record of the writers who frequented its rooms, there is nothing inside but a standard Parisian brasserie: it's small round tables and wicker chairs are the same small round tables and wicker chairs found in every other brasserie in the city, and its menu is identical to those of neighboring establishments, displaying the same solid french dishes. Here you can find Croque Monsieur and Bief Tartar but no elixir of inspiration, no morsel of insight for a striving writer like myself.

I order the only vegetarian item on the menu— a vegetable plate— and get just that: a pile of plain steamed veggies, nothing more and nothing less. This cafe may have a formidable history, but at present it is just like all the joe shmoe cafes out there, I realize. Just like Hemingway and Joyce were joe shmoes when they sat here hammering out their private thoughts for a public audience who had yet to meet them. And here I am, trying to pull myself together for Vogue, and I’m most certainly just another joe shmoe trying to fight off a head cold and all the common anxieties about acceptance, about success and the future which those twentieth century luminaries must have felt too— if only I could fight as beautifully as they… Again, as I start out into the sparkling night, I am surprised by the impression that human existence does not so wildly differ from one being to the next— even from one century to the next!— as I tend to imagine it does. All of us contend with doubt and ambition, dysfunction and competition alike. The common cold as well! 

Back in my hotel room I take some cough syrup and bury myself in bed. My subway map and suitcase are ready by the door to go to my shoot and then fly home tomorrow, and I drop to sleep already dreaming of breakfast— something more than steamed carrots, I hope! Goodnight…

The Arc de Triomphe, a block or two from my apartment.