Yesterday, after making the trip across town to return library books at the Faidherbe-Chaligny branch (Paris isn't like San Francisco; you have to return your checked-out items to the exact location where you borrowed them), we made a trip to our favorite daily market, Marche d'Aligre, then rode over to Boulevard Beaumarchais to finally give Loving Hut a try. For those of you who don't know about Loving Hut, it's a global chain of vegan restaurants run by the Supreme Master Ching Hai folks. The name they chose is kind of awful, but the food is actually rather delicious.
We walked in and were told we could sit wherever we wanted. It was cold outside, but the front of the restaurant had lots of direct sun streaming through the windows, so I did like any cat-in-a-last-life would do and chose the sun-shiniest, warmest seat. (Jeff wore his sunglasses indoors throughout the meal.)
The cheerful waitress came and took our order, and right about the time our food arrived, three well-dressed teenage-ish boys came through the door and walked straight to the back of the restaurant. One of them was carrying a piece of paper slipped inside a plastic sheath. I didn't see what it said, but I'm sure it was something along the lines of "Would you please take pity on me and give me some free money? I REALLY need another pair of these designer shoes I'm wearing." I was glad they didn't visit our table. After all those years in San Francisco, I've definitely maxed out my compassion for panhandlers.
A moment later, the cheerful waitress, sounding less so, could be heard telling paperboy to move along on his merry way. "You can't do this in the restaurant," she insisted, before escorting him to the door. I watched him exit, a dejected look on his face, and walk westward before disappearing around a corner. A moment later, the other two young men followed in the same direction.
After this somewhat peculiar kerfuffle, we carried on chatting and eating our scrumptious meals--Jeff got the Feuillete aux legumes and I chose the Galette aux champignons (that's mine in the foreground above)--before the calm was again pierced by a rather loud and jarring voice, in English again, exclaiming, "Yes, I definitely saw a wallet in his hand. Oh, I should have said something!"
In a not-unusual scam conducted in cities around the world, the young man with the paper had spotted a wallet on the table of a man eating lunch, and as he approached, he set his "Please give me free money" sign over the wallet, and when the man declined, he simply lifted his paper--with wallet beneath--and walked on.
The "victim," a rather handsome, middle-aged Frenchman sporting a dapper suit and a surprisingly OK-looking sun-bleached bob, didn't seem too worried about it. He left, then the police came, then I put on my nosy hat and had a chat with the loud Canadian woman who saw the whole drama go down.
After getting the scoop, I went to the counter to check out the goods for sale, discovering several different varieties of vegan cheese, loads of Tartex, and some books, including Colleen Patrick- Goudreau's The Joy of Vegan Baking. As I paid for my dairy-free smoked cheddar, blond bob man came back in. Standing beside him at the counter, I looked up at him with the most sympathetic face I could muster and said "Je suis tres desolee. Quelle dommage."
He just winked at me and smiled as if to simply say "C'est la vie."