Have you noticed the profusion of cafe tables that have sprung up on our city’s sidewalks? Does anyone besides me see a problem here? Sidewalk cafes were all the rage in Paris in the 1860s when Charles Baudelaire sat and watched the passing spectacle writing down his melancholic impressions for what would become his collection of prose poems Paris Spleen [i.e., “One should never offer [the public] a delicate perfume. It exasperates them. Give them only carefully selected garbage.”]. He didn’t have to contend with the cacophony of noises, smells, and distractions available today. Don’t get me wrong. Paris was not without its street senses in those days. There were horse smells, rich and dense. There were construction noises, loud and sharp. There was the passing aristocratic carriage, theatrical enough to pull one away from one’s thoughts. Yet, these were nothing compared to the onslaught that is the modern urban street. Ordinarily, I love these street senses: diesel exhaust, broken mufflers, horns, bass woofers, dog excrement, garbage dumpsters, and asphalt heated to a vapor in the summer sun, as well as the cloud of scent that follows a stylish Fräulein, burger grease from a nearby restaurant, or flowers in a street planter. This cacophony of sense and sound conspires to distract the sidewalk cafe patron from his food, his conversation and his appreciation of the passing parade. It’s all too much. And still the cafe tables multiply! Do people actually find this pleasurable? Or do they find the idea of sidewalk dining enthralling, even if the experience is less so? Is one [insert one of the following: intrepid enough; romantic enough; brazen enough; callous enough; insensitive enough; or stupid enough] to sit at an outside table on a busy city street?
As for me, I’ll be frequenting the restaurants that offer a quaint table on the side of the building away from the street. A table in a garden where the Mediterranean dining experience can be matched with Mediterranean temperatures and humidity. I relish letting crumbs from a crusty bagette flit to the stone floor beneath my table for passing sparrows to enjoy. Wine always seems brighter when sipped with outside air. My fellow diners will be lost in the intimacy of quiet conversation, uninterrupted by the screaming of brakes or the boisterousness of passing crowds, their murmurings providing the ambience for my own thoughts. It is the atmosphere that Baudelaire would have sought out, I’m sure, though I doubt we would have much to say to each other.