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Travel Flashback: Snapshot of a Café Regular

Somewhere in that square, sits an old gentleman… (Sancerre, France)

I had him pegged for an old sea captain, though in this region of France he was more likely an old vintner. He was thin but not quite gaunt, and what I could see of his face beneath his full gray beard was tanned and leathered. He wore a gray billed cap, sandals, and an off-white turtleneck sweater that looked hand-knit and that was, incongruously, tucked into purple sweatpants. Purple pants notwithstanding, he fit the image of the stereotypical country Frenchman so well, I could imagine him being placed there by the Tourism Office to complete the scene of the small-town square.

He sat in the chair just outside the open doors of the café, sheltered by the awning from the morning’s rain. From my seat just inside, I could watch him surreptitiously. He smoked a thin cigarette and drank a glass of Stella Artois as he watched, not at all surreptitiously, the people passing through the square in front of him. He seemed to be a regular, but he didn’t speak to anyone. Clearly practiced in this routine, he finished his cigarette and his last sips of beer at almost the same moment and immediately rose from his seat. A flurry of questions spun through my head. Where was he off to in such a hurry? What did the rest of his day’s schedule hold? Is beer a breakfast beverage if you make wine for a living? Unaware of his curious audience, he tottered briskly away down a cobbled side street, leaving behind a few coins on the tabletop and the remaining wisps of his cigarette smoke in the air.

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