Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Paris Journal VII: Le Bon Saint Pourcain

photograph by Hallie Cohen
At the intersection of the Rue Servandoni and the Rue du Canivet in Paris's 6th Arrondissement lies a green painted storefront that once housed a restaurant called Le Bon Saint Pourcain. The white lace curtains still cover the lower half of the windows, as the cursive signage on the exterior continues to identify an establishment offering “cuisine bourgeoise" and operated by "Cyrille and Francois Associes," but a sign on the window says “Ferme Pour Travaillez.” Le Bon Saint Pourcain was the vestige of another era.  It served home cooked meals in the same atmosphere that might have greeted an allied soldier during the liberation of Paris. Francois is a short man with thick black eyebrows which frame his ruddy complexion and give his face a perpetually quizzical expression. On a normal day, he stood out on the street in his white apron and took reservations from regulars who he was more likely to have known more by face than by name. He'd never heard of “OpenTable”. The meals were served by his daughter Fabienne, a large boned woman, whose sullen face was no indication of her feelings toward the customers. She was a little like the Mona Lisa to the extent that you didn’t know what she thought about you, no matter how many times you came. But what the service lacked in warmth was made up by the interior of the place and by the spirit of the crusty and loveable Francois which permeated the atmosphere. Le Bon Saint Pourcain served hearty dishes--beef bourguinon, cassoulet, boudin, chicken chasseur, tarte tatin-- that had no pretentions to greatness, but which made you feel great. You never feared going home hungry or with that empty feeling that sometimes occurs when you wonder if the Paris of yesterday only exists in the photos of Robert Doisneau or Henri Cartier-Bresson. When asked about that sign in the window Francois, who has a house in Brittany, confirmed that he’d sold the place and finally retired.

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