My hour in the café

The closest Starbucks to my apartment is a 20- minute walk away, as opposed to the closest café which, from my building, is two seconds down the street. While it’s silly that I’ve taken to Starbucks while abroad, the prospect of free seating and wifi feeds my college student appetite well. But as I’ve got an hour of free time until I am expected to be home for dinner, I’ve opted for the two second walk to the café on the corner of the street.

The café is an upgrade to Starbucks, seeing as I’ve been served a gleaming white, porcelain teapot, the steam of the water warming the exterior of the molding. The check too is an upgrade in price: five euros for a pot of tea. Slightly steep, yet in consideration, 5 euros is relatively little given:
a) the café provides me with a setting to pass the hour until I’m expected to be home for dinner and
b) Parisian price gauging guarantees that anything warm and drinkable this time of the year will undoubtedly be unreasonably expensive.

There’s an edgy feel to the atmosphere of the café, one created by the interior's dim lighting reflected onto the dark wood furnishing. The interior is narrow, offset by the room’s central staircase leading to an elevated second floor seating.There's an entrance outside as well, covered by the characteristically French red clothed roofing. A single woman sits outside reading the day’s newspaper, a tilted cigarette dangling between the barriers of her bent fingers. Inside, a few men linger by the bar, alone, all making casual banter with the bartender—a thin framed man bearing a thicket of hair alongside the edges of his receding hairline. The café’s host, a tall man with a grizzle of a five o’ clock shadow, paces back and forth. He’s made his way over to my table quite a few times, already asking if he could accompany me on my return to the states. (Return to the states? Not even sure where’s he getting that idea. As if I’m leaving.) It’s likely a good thing that the expanse of my vocabulary doesn’t include snide nor witty comments in return. I wouldn’t want the host to have the wrong impression.

It’s 6:15 pm here. The streets are alive with the bustle of the evening traffic, a stir of activity along the pavements as pedestrians rush along. The city changes in rhythm come evening time, a vibrant sense of character, of the continuation of the day past that of the work day, that emerges-- a strong sense of a renewed vivacity embedding the onset of the Parisian’s evening agenda. For the French, the workday is merely a part of the day. And the ending of the day’s responsibilities marks the opening for the day’s next chapter.

Which at 6:15 is tea time. Because dinner, in France, doesn’t commence until at least 8. Or 10. Here, dinner is an evening ordeal, a venue to socialize, a setting to enjoy the company of another, a manner of soaking in the movement, the character, the feel of the city.

I’ve yet to adapt to the prolonged European evening, still accustomed to the early and rushed dinners common to the American lifestyle. Yet I’m intrigued by the difference: the prolonged use of the day, the workday simply a part of the day rather than the day. I love the cafes (that is, excluding the elevated price of tea and hot chocolate). I love observing these people, noting the vibrancy of their ways. I love the energy and urgency of the city. And I love the touch of peace laced among the blur as life in Paris passes by. 

1 Response to My hour in the café

February 10, 2012 at 2:30 PM

My favorite part: the workday as a part of the day, not the day in entirety. So true but an analogy I never picked up on.

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