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….
6 thoughts on “A love affair with Paris cafés”
I would love to sit in a Paris Cafe, maybe someday!! Thank you for writing.
I hope you will someday. Café sitting is one of the great joys of life in Paris!
I will be sitting in a Paris cafe this September 9th. Our son fell in love with a french girl in Lyon and they were
married in January of this year. So now we are going to France and meet her family! Ever since they were married, I have been reading books about Americans living in France. I have read your first 2 books and now I am going to start reading your newest book. I LOVE the way you write; what a joy you are! I also love
the interviews with your husband, Philippe. I can tell why you fell in love with him. You both have given me wonderful insight as to what life in France is like. Thank you so much!
Thanks so much, Ann Marie. I hope you will enjoy your stays in France with your son and French daughter-in-law. I’m sure you’ll see firsthand all the joie de vivre this country has to offer. Enjoy people watching in that French café you’ll be in on September 9th!
I love reading your comments! I’ve enjoyed your books. I can’t help but be astonished to learn that Shenandoah had a French restaurant. (I grew up in Atlantic…so when I read you were from Shen…it stuck with me…)
Parisian cafes are sublime. Merci!!!
I’m sure the Normandy Inn in Shenandoah and its French owners who were good friends of my parents prompted my interest in France and my love of sitting in Parisian cafés. As I wrote in Joie de Vivre, sitting in one particular French café changed my life: it’s where I met Philippe! Vive les cafés parisiens and thanks for writing.