Monday, November 17, 2008

Lights, camera, 911

Late yesterday afternoon I was able to get a seat at Bonjour, where in the colder weather I like to watch darkness fall outdoors. It's a cozy, reassuring feeling to be warm indoors with people under bright lights when the darkness descends and the cold gets colder. I was writing, drinking coffee, and waiting for J.

Behind me was something I'd never seen there before—a wood screen with a painted floral design. Despite sleeping much of the day (a bad habit I thought I'd broken), I was still tired and too incurious to look into this phenomenon.

An older, ashen-faced man looked at me several times without focusing and then told a young man at the counter that he'd better call 911—he couldn't feel his legs, and he thought one had an area of discoloration.

The poised young man called and relayed questions and answers such as: "How old are you?" "He's 59." He told the man, who had the same emaciated, weather-beaten look as the late Jacques Cousteau, that he'd been advised not to give him anything to eat or drink. They decided to elevate the man's legs, and he arranged a chair for that purpose. The young man was willing to help but hesitated to touch the patron's bare, toothpick-thin legs or his socks, so he finally grabbed his shoes to heave up his legs.

The paramedics arrived within minutes and asked the man questions about his health breathing, medications, and so forth. They also wanted to know how he'd gotten there (walked) and how he'd felt when he'd left home. They took his blood pressure—100/70. He said something about going home, but the paramedics told him that he was going to the hospital. More showed up with a stretcher-chair, and away they went. All this took no more than 10 or 15 minutes.

J. showed up moments later and, after some discussion, was the first to realize that it was a fireplace screen. We watched as cake after cake was lifted carefully off its plate and doily and placed behind the screen, then J. spotted what I'd overlooked—a camera. A photo shoot! It turns out that they were taking photos for the Web site that is apparently in the works. Someday the rest of the world can drool over gâteau au chocolat from Bonjour.

While J. went in pursuit of yet more treats, a girl began hanging around behind me, trying to talk to Madame. "Comment ça-va?" Madame asked. "How are you?" I translated (loosely). The girl looked at me helplessly. "Tell her, 'Très bien,'" I suggested. She struggled. "Très bien," I repeated. She said in that fast, breathless way children have, "I'm learning Spanish at school," perhaps to explain her apparent deficiencies in French. Then she added, "I don't know any French." I told her that that is all right, as I don't speak Spanish. She failed to recognize my attempt, which I won't re-create here. Sigh.

Madame gave her two ornate, pastel-colored lollipops, but after running off for a few seconds with them, she returned and said, "I don't think my mom would want me to have these." I saw her with them later, so even her cautious mother knows better than to turn down a gift from Madame. Meanwhile, my mind had blanked on “merci.”

We stopped at Treasure Island and Borders and came out to tiny snowflakes sparking in the streetlights. With no wind blowing, the air was warm enough that it was hard to mind this precursor to winter.

Next we headed to Valois, where you can "see your food." I found myself puzzled by the juxtaposition of the Chicago skyline on one side with alpine mountains on the other—not exactly representative of downstate Illinois.

At the Flamingo, we watched as an experienced male bald eagle and his young bride successfully raised two offspring, despite the latter's rather stupid mistakes, such as turning tail to a 40 mph wind and stepping on the kids. As I told J., it was the old man eagle's fault for going after a young trophy wife. Almost on that note, he decided it was time to leave for work.

Au revoir.

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