One of the things I love most about Paris is that anytime I get restless chez moi I can run out the door, cross the street, and go sit in a nearby café. This is definitely something I did not do when growing up in a small town in Iowa (not exactly a café culture, although we did, believe it or not, have a real French restaurant run by real French people but that’s another story). Just watching other people, imagining their lives, gets my mind off my own preoccupations. But of course I don’t go to cafés solely for negative reasons: I go to meet friends, do some writing, see new faces, get new ideas.
People are always asking me what my favorite café is. I invariably answer their question with another question: What time of day are you talking about? Some cafés are perfect for early morning coffee and writing, others for afternoon tea with a friend, yet others for a relaxing end of the day drink. So many cafés (40,000 now down from 200,000 in the 60s but still…), so little time! One of my favorite cafés is right at the entrance to Les Jardins du Palais Royal near that unusual metro station entrance that looks like colorful glass balls (some people hate it, I like it). But strange phenomenon: I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve arranged to meet people there and can’t remember the name….ah, yes, it’s Le Nemours. Don’t say I didn’t tell you.
I don’t go to Le Flore or Les Deux Magots simply because I’m a reverse snob and avoid going where everyone else does. I admit, though, that it’s easier to meet people in a landmark café simply because you can remember the name and everyone knows where it is (the Café Marly at the Louvre is a case in point – I mean, how can anyone not find the Louvre?).
We’re gifted with a plethora of cafés near our apartment in the 20th. On the rue des Pyrenees there’s a popular one called “Les Ours” (The Bears). Very appropriate for the Pyrenees! There’s the Rendez-vous des Amis which I frequented assiduously until its charming owners retired and a new guy came in, installed a TV set, and kept it on all day. Au revoir, Rendez-Vous. I headed down the street to the Ramus (named after a sixteenth century French philosopher, no less) which doesn’t have a TV set, or at least one that’s turned on, for the good reason that it is located at the upper entrance to the Père Lachaise cemetery and is often the spot families and friends choose to repair to before or after funeral services. You know they’ve come from, or are going to, a funeral because they’re generally in large groups and dressed in black. Sometimes the people are very sad and silent, sometimes, like the other day, they’re drinking wine and exchanging banter and jokes (maybe they think the dear departed would not have appreciated long faces?).
Cafés are good for glad and sad and great for romance as well. The real reason I love cafés? I met Philippe in one – and yes, I can easily remember its name – Le Select on the Boulevard Montparnasse, the gathering place of writers and artists like Picasso and Hemingway. Très romantique!
Recently while having a drink there, we watched as a dark-haired young fellow made a play for an attractive sophisticated blond sitting alone. They chatted a few minutes before her boyfriend walked in the door. The disappointed suitor immediately returned to his seat and left shortly afterwards. So why do I think that wasn’t the end of the story?
Because that’s what Paris cafés are all about – the “what might happen” factor. Romance is in the air – and you never know. You might just meet your future partner in a Paris café….