You can't help but notice it. There is no urinal and so men pee into the toilet. The picture hangs there at eye level, a framed print produced by whatever process is used to make the type of picture sold to restaurants and hotels. It's a cafe scene, chosen, I always assumed, to create a generic French ambiance. For atmosphere they also play French language tapes in the restrooms, although I have never heard the lesson get beyond counting to five.
The scene is the interior of an elegant cafe with upholstered chairs and white tablecloths. An attractive young couple, dressed for the evening, sits at a window table, looking out onto a street that seems to be glowing in sunshine after a rain. I'm not good with cars, but parked on the street is an very grand Mercedes or something of that ilk. Although the car is an older model, there is nothing to suggest the couple is not more or less contemporary with our own time. She wears a evening dress with deep decolletage, and he is in a black suit and a white shirt, possibly a tux. The white shirt may have a foofy collar.
Certainment, we are a Paris. The couple is enjoying a glass of wine before they continue their evening. Or thinking again about the light, it could be dawn. Parisians probably drink red wine at dawn if the occasion calls for it.
It took several months of periodic visits to this picture to realize things are not as they seem here. The couple looks onto a deserted city street, but two shadowy figures stand under a street light at the end of the block. It is this pair that holds the couple's attention. And then --this is really weird -- in the lower left corner is the edge of another round table. We see a coffee cup with steam rising from it and what may be a small stack of menus. The cup is turned so that a left-handed person could be drinking it, but there is no chair on that side of the other table, The only free chair in the picture is a third chair from the couple's table that has been pushed slightly away toward the viewer. Or maybe it does face the other table. This is not a finely done work of realist art.
So what is going on here. Is this couple having an affair? Are the men on the corner detectives sent by one or the other's spouse. Or perhaps both spouses have hired detectives and the two man have become friends and look forward to their little chats on street corners and behind hedges. Or perhaps this man and woman are glamorous international spies. Or jewel thieves. But none of this gets us any closer to understanding that steaming cup of coffee.
AREAS FOR FURTHER INVESTIGATION
1) What picture hangs in the women's room? The restrooms are discouragingly close to the kitchen entrance. I have not doubt that some one would walk out just as I was walking in. I have no doubt. So I have to weigh the possible embarrassment of being discovered entering or exiting the women's restroom by a dishwasher in a beret with the awkwardness of explaining to the manager why I would like to take a look in there in the first place.
2) What pictures hang in the men's rooms of other La Madeleines? This is more easily found out.