An ashtray? Who even smokes anymore? And those few folks who do still smoke, don’t do it sitting inside, where an ashtray is there to catch that ever growing length of ash. No, today people smoke outside, hovering just beyond the posted limit (“No smoking within 50 feet of this entrance”), and they most definitely do not have dainty ashtrays.

This ashtray was stolen. Not by me. My hunch is La Closerie des Lilas doesn’t have such fancy ashtrays to be stolen anymore for this very reason. No, this was stolen for my grandfather.

My grandfather read voraciously. He loved those writers from the 1920s (otherwise known to him as “contemporary authors”): Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Samuel Beckett. And all those writers he loved, plus many more—Henry Miller, Oscar Wilde, Sartre, in addition to the legends of the art world such as Man Ray, Amedeo Modigliani, Picasso—spent a great deal of time at La Closerie des Lilas, which is in Paris in Montparnasse.

My grandfather had a fear of heights, which translated into a fear of flying. He didn’t travel much. Later in life, my grandmother became so frustrated with this that she began taking trips all over the world with her best friend, merely sending postcards home to my grandfather, who seemed to be content playing tennis and doing his crossword puzzles at their condo in South Florida. One of my grandfather’s closest friends, Bill, traveled to Paris and, knowing how my grandfather adored Hemingway, visited the cafe and brought this souvenir home. After my grandfather passed away, the ashtray—which I shall never let a cigarette near—came to me. I am thinking of this now, as yesterday morning my father was telling me stories about my grandfather and his friend Bill. I reminded my father of the tale of the pilfered ashtray.

Almost five years ago, my husband and I took the kids to Paris. On our last day there, I told everyone I wanted to visit the cafe. I would sit where F. Scott Fitzgerald sat (as I’m not as big a fan of Hemingway), and sip a coffee as he would have. Give a toast to my grandfather who never got to see it himself.

Alas, the cafe was closed. I took a couple of pictures, then moved on to the little place next door, where we had absolutely delightful cafe au laits and chocolat chaud. We’ll have to discover the magic of La Closerie des Lilas on another trip.