Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Trying to Be More Observant

Since I started blogging and working on a novel, I’ve become much more (consciously) aware of details of the people and things around me.

For example, as I write this, I’m in the Montreux Jazz Festival Café in the Gare Lyon train station in Paris. The man at a table a few feet in front of me is in a business suit, white shirt, no tie, high forehead, bald on the top back of his head (where guys can’t see it in a mirror); he’s got a 33cl glass of beer, and is reading a magazine with two more in a plastic see-through bag (can’t tell the name on the magazine but it has a red band across the top).

There are two women at the high-stool counter. One looks like a petite but older version of Shelley Long when she was opposite Ted Danson in Cheers – medium-length flip haircut, a Cindy Crawford mole on her left cheek just between the edge of the mouth and nose. Her friend has a boy’s cut hairstyle and is wearing black-rimmed glasses. She has on a long-sleeve white ‘dress’ tee-shirt with horizontal navy stripes and a wide vertical red stripe down the middle of her back.

The washroom attendant asked my name after I gave him a tip, so I asked his name in return.

Donna-Lane and her friend L do writing exercises in which, while seated at La Noisette in ASM, they observe a person (not someone they already know), then write a fictional story with that person as the central character. I should probably do something similar to practice my story writing. For now, the occasional heightened observation will do.

I love to people watch, sitting at La Noisette or some other café, watching the world go by. Observing facial features and wondering which person is a Brit, who is French, etc. Check out the way people dress – mostly casual for the market days, but the occasional classy dresser. Scarves really make a difference, we’ve noticed, even for the men. Feeling sympathy for the poor little dogs who are constantly dodging legs and the kids in strollers whose only view of the world is adult butts and an occasional glimpse of the kiosks when there’s a gap between people. (If it were me, I’d give up and go to sleep til the thing was over.)

I like to point out people who resemble celebrities: there’s one who looks like Candace Bergen, there’s one who looks like Jack Nicholson (whom D-L detests because he’s a Los Angeles Lakers basketball fan and she’s a diehard Boston Celtic). I hesitate to ever mention someone might look a little like George Clooney – if the real George ever walked by, D-L would dump me for him in a heartbeat. (Must be the Nespresso coffee that appeals to her. Yeah, I’ll go with that.)

The waiter reminds me of a bit character in some TV sitcom but I can’t place him just yet. Short, half bald, attentive, pleasant, but with a face that suggests he could turn sour fairly quickly. Too small for Danny Devito. More like a shorter version of the mother’s boyfriend on Mike & Molly (is that still on?) Can’t be easy being a waiter in an expensive city like Paris, though in Europe the wait staff is actually paid a living wage rather than an artificially and pitifully low rate (less than $3 hour) in the US where they have to make it up in tips (then get harassed by the IRS for allegedly underreporting cash receipts). All the waiters and waitresses in here are wearing pink ties, which reminds me of D-L’s successful battle with breast cancer three years ago. (Did I tell you she’s published a book about theexperience on Amazon Kindle?)

The lights are black and shaped like the end of a cucumber, hung from the ceiling, with a goldish pattern to diffuse the light and add that jazz festival ambiance. There’s a four-screen TV display on one wall, a large screen mounted on poles behind the reception counter.

Outside it appears the sun is just starting to head toward setting, abut 6h30 pm. There’s a stone building opposite with a mix of architectures, including what resembles the front end of a submarine complete with round porthole.

An outdoor café sprawls under square white umbrellas and light green sailcloth.

Both women are now on their cell phones, ignoring each other’s company, a practice called “phubbing,” according to one presenter at a multimedia festival we attended last year in Nyon, Switzerland. Interesting, at least to me, the woman in stripes has a red leather jacket across her lap, and the Shelley Long sort of look alike has a leather purse of almost identical red. Did they coordinate for the day?

The place has gotten much busier since I sat down and there was only one 30-something redhead at a table nearby. She’d gone by the time I returned from washing my hands, but I’m not going to take that personally.
On the front wall, above the rack of beer glasses and other wait staff items, there’s an art deco (I think) with white, black and brown ceramic tiles arranged in a somewhat orderly, somewhat random, completely hideous pattern. If I worked here, I might see that in my nightmares, but more likely I would almost never notice it. (At least, before I became more observant, I would probably have never noticed it.) Maybe I'll use the wall in my book.

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