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Alain Ducasse
9 July 1999

There was a moment, just one moment, when the gray-coated sentry waiter left the room. The waiters, you see, lived by a strict rank and uniform, from the cropped-hair boys in black smoking jackets and bow ties who only took things away from the table to the short-haired waiters in soft gray suits with bow-ties who brought things to you — and there were a lot of both types, but only two that I saw of the Important Waiters, the ones in gray suits with straight ties and not-short hair and glasses.

There was that moment when the gray-coated, bow-tied sentry waiter by the door popped out of the room — not out of sight, but just into the hall beyond to whisper something in the ear of the gray-coated waiter who had brought me my wine list. (Presumably, he whispered something along the lines of "men with little black notebooks and little black pens are not to be trusted. Keep his wine as far away from him as possible.") At that moment, just for that moment, there were no waiters in the room at all.

Then the sentry water stepped back just inside the door to resume his post, which was next to my wine, which was across the room from me. There is, apparantly, a rule at Alain Ducasse about diners being within 30 feet of their respective bottles of wine, chilling in silver buckets, for upon observation I confirmed that each table was across the room from its own beverage. There was, indeed, a silver wine bucket on a stand close by my left elbow, but its contents belonged to that American couple over in the corner by the window. They were sitting at a round table below a curving corner wood molding painted to look like a bookcase — odd, since you'd think that a place like this could afford a few genuine leather-bound volumes with gold lettering stamped on the spines like the books painted on the wall above the American man in his black suit jacket, black shirt, and black tie with a red face and slicked back hair and a mole on his left jowl and the red skin of his neck making a straight line from what was once a chin to the knot in his black tie and who was sitting next to a wife who wore a thick gold torc at her throat above a plunging black neckline that revealed a tan-freckled cleavage that should probably be retired from public viewing while friends at cocktail parties could still hold a mental picture of her before the sun spots and before she started working on the beginnings of a second chin and the beginnings of frown wrinkles on her forehead between large hazel eyes like she'd spent too much time very angry or very pensive or both, and now she sat there under frizzy hair which was the sort that should never be teased (but was) and sipped copiously at the dark gold wine that came from the bottle that sat, next to me, across the room.

But aside from that brief moment when the gray-jacket sentry waiter stepped out — just after carrying over my own half-bottle of wine (a half bottle that cost as much as two and a half nights in my hotel room) to splash out into my glass a few gulps of the straw colored stuff that the waiter who had brought my wine list had said came from Bordeaux — except for that moment, the high-ceilinged salon with its rose wood and its 1920s prints and its painted-on bookshelves was thick with waiters. I kept track for a while, and averaged it at three to five waiters at any given time. Very often there would be eight, which is how many tables there were in the room (and all of them occupied, with couples or with a pair of French businessmen one of whom kept getting calls and a black-jacketed waiter would come get him and hold his elbow while whispering in his ear and he'd extract his belly from under the table and excuse himself from his business lunch-partner and waddle off into the hall to take the call, or with a Japanese couple who spoke excellent French to the waiters and Japanese to each other but to whom the waiters kept speaking English anyway).

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