I found a sweet little cafe in Paris yesterday, perfect for me. It took me some time, but I got it right. It calls itself "la salle a manger" all in lower case letters like that. It's modest, not very famous at all, not the classic French cafe style that knocks people out when they see them (cute bistro chairs, handsome waiters, cool decor, great croissants or coffee, cool wood paneling and decor).
I like this little cafe because of where it is. That is, near a lot of food in a genuine marketplace where a real community thrives. I can hear and see French ordinary life coming and going without a lot of traffic belching exhaust and kinetic energy everywhere.
I walk the route to the 5th Arrondissement every day this week, a distance that takes a solid 20 minutes of steady walking, a nice walk actually that can be varied quite a bit, and if I really lived here I would vary it. I live here only these five days though, so I stick to my usual path. The route ends on Rue Broca just a skip and a jump from the outdoor market at Rue Mouffetard.
This rue (street) is written about in the tourist books, so I dog-eared the page when I studied up for this trip. Outdoor markets are a big priority for me, but this is different. Well, first of all it's France. Beyond that - which you have to realize immediately means you are talking about terrific bread, zillions of cheeses, thousands of wines, a cuisine that inspires many visitors to rapturous exclamations about flavor, beauty and richness - you have at least a millenium of tradition to deal with.
So, with an eye for quality and a plan for a meal in mind, you walk slowly on this cobbled lane. It slants gently upward and is lined on both sides for a long city block with small speciality stores selling cheese, wine, meats, seafood, chocolates, pasta, outdoor stalls with vegetables and fruits, and a couple of bistros to break up all the gastronomic intensity.
Young women pushing strollers, older women dressed in their market and town clothes, market men in their overalls, aprons or jackets unloading trucks and tourists holding maps as they scan street signs and buildings for hints of where they are - all of them come to this little street to get a sense of what the day has to offer and how things are going. You can imagine your own destiny, remember lost loves, create a new existence for yourself, as I did, once I found my seat. It happens so easily.
At this little cafe, you sit outdoors or in. The waitress (unusual as far as I know) brings you a menu written in the language you need. You order and she brings you a serving tray set with the items just as soon as your coffee is made. Each cup is made fresh. If you wish some chocolate to drink in this city, you are given a small porcelain pitcher of hot chocolate and a foaming hot cup of milk. You pour the milk into your cup, add as much of the chocolate as you like, add sugar if that suits you, and stir. It's a fine treat to indulge in, to satisfy your soul.
The attendant brings you a small holder of four jars that contain cherry jam, apricot jam, honey and a nutella-like spread. You get a flaky croissant that probably is about, oh I dunno, forbidden on Weight Watchers, maybe about 400 calories, something like that and some other bread. You may have eggs or yogurt and other breakfast items. Yogurt comes in a small glass container with a foil cap pressed onto it. It's mild and semi-creamy, very satisfying.
You may sit and read or talk or dream or write or anything reasonable, for as long as you need to. There is some little something about this spot that suits me better than the few other cafes (out of hundreds and hundreds all over the city) that I've tried. Now that I've found my sweet spot in the world, I only have one other day to enjoy it. I hope the memory sustains me for a long time ahead.
Causes Christine Bottaro Supports
The Nature Conservancy, California State Parks, The United Way