Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Little Nothings

The Waitress Is New by Dominique Fabre

Oh yes! I hated Sundays,
Because that’s the day when I think
And count the days past and to come

Pierre Morhange

The desire to live in Paris for an extended period of time—a month, a season—has been growing steadily in me for years. I don’t want to live there and work, I don’t want to make myself useful, I don’t want to make my mark on the city at all. What I want is to live there and do nothing but live—that is, wander the city on foot each day, haunt the museums and bookshops, and sit for untold hours in humble cafes, sipping coffee and wine, reading eccentrically, and merely (merely!) watching the people go by. I have a hunch I’d be good at it.

Of course, who wouldn’t like to spend their time like that? Parisians themselves have been doing it for hundreds of years, in the course of which they’ve created a café culture unlike anything else in the world. “You start at a café table,” writes Irwin Shaw, “because everything in Paris starts at a café table.” Indeed one can hardly think of Paris without thinking of this distinctly French institution—of Café de Flore, Le Cépage, and Les Deux Magots, of such illustrious café-goers as Picasso, Beckett, Sartre, and de Beauvoir, of Baldwin, Hemingway, and Joyce. For the café tradition runs deep: the first café in Paris, Le Procope, was founded by a Sicilian in 1702. By the time of the Revolution, just eighty-seven years later, Paris had some 3,000 cafes, 4,500 in the late 1840’s, 22,000 in 1870, 42,000 in the mid-1880’s, and around 30,000 from the late 1880’s to the start of World War I. Even today, in this age of smartphones, the Internet, and flat screen TVs, the café culture of Paris is alive and—thankfully—quite well.

The Waitress Is New is in many ways a story of French café life as one might find it on the outskirts of Paris today. Set in a modest café called Le Cercle, far from the city center, this spare novel follows the moods and musings of a lonely veteran bartender named Pierre who spends his days observing his customers, wondering idly about himself, and gazing out the window at the dreary winter streets. When he learns one day that the café must close its doors for good, his life is suddenly thrown into stark relief, a change that triggers in him a fresh accounting of his wan and lonely days. 

At a time when even American literary fiction is increasingly hostage to glibness, sensationalism, and plot, to the Pyrrhic dictates of popular culture and rampant corporate greed, it is refreshing indeed to discover that there is still room—still a publisher, still an audience, still a need—for such fiction as this. One more reason to love small presses like Archipelago Books. One more reason to love the French.

Dominique Fabre has published nine works of fiction. The Waitress Is New, translated by Jordan Stump, is his first novel to appear in English. 

Note: I (and my fellow writer, George Ovitt) like this press so much I have just ordered five new titles from their list, which I hope to write about in coming posts. See it for yourself: .

Peter Adam Nash

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