Goucher Eats: Cafe Culture

Kathryn Walker
Staff Writer

The first day I arrived in Paris, a hot sticky scorcher in August six-and-a-half months ago, one of the first words of advice given to me was, “Find your cafe.  Go there, drink coffee, read “Le Monde”, savor everything around you.”  And of course, I went off and decided that cheese was more important and found my fromagerie instead, thinking at the time that coffee was disgusting and cheese was more life sustaining.

Flash-forward to the present, and I have now become somewhat of a coffee addict—as in zero brain or body function sans cafe in the morning—which has then in turn led me to start on my latest hunt: the quest to find My Cafe, and by extension, a place where I can go to fuel my addiction.

Cafes are an essential part of Parisian culture.  Everyone hangs out there; everyone perches, lolly-gags, or slumps in their seats over a coffee or a glass of wine.

Some cafes are filled with the lingering smell of cigarette smoke and old cronies cackling over a couple of beers, and others are chock-a-block full of hipsters preening on the sidewalks under the heat-lamps in a single layer of clothing despite the bitter cold.  They are places of come-togetherness, warmth, and caffeine-refueling in all types of weather, at all times of the day.

Towards the end of last semester, my friends from my dorm and I would head to a bakery called Sugarplum, home to the four-euro never-ending American-style drip coffee.  Aside from the snail-slow wifi on Sunday afternoons when everyone and their English-speaking mother was there, Sugarplum was more or less our cafe, the place where the barista recognized us and would give us some extra milk for our coffee without us asking.  As an added bonus, they sold mile-high slices of carrot cake with cream cheese frosting that made papers and devoirs so much less intimidating.

However, between last semester and this semester, I moved to the other side of the Seine and lugged all of my stuff down the rue, up the stairs, and 10 metro stops and two transfers away to my new dorm in the 11th arrondissement.  Consequently, Sugarplum is now a little hard to get to.

So imagine my surprise and delight when finally, finally, I found my cafe: a small little thing perched on the corner of a side-street, smushed between pre-Haussmanian apartment buildings and a Franprix supermarket.  One step too far, and it’s gone in a blink, missed in the everyday traipse from bed to work to home to bed.  Inside, everything glows with nostalgia, with the Paris that every American dreams of, thanks to Woody Allen and Walt Disney.  There’s soft lighting overhead, bottles of wine in the nook in the corner, an American guy attempting to seduce some French dame with his fast American English and too-suave hair gel.  And then there’s me, sitting across from them with my shot of espresso in an attempt to complete my homework while simultaneously tilting my ears towards the conversation between the couple across from me.

In the grand scheme of things, the conversation is pretty banal—so-and-so and what’s-his-face are working on some project or other—but for some reason it captures my attention, most likely due to the fact that I’m extremely over-caffeinated and have no desire to actually work on my homework at hand.

It is an aspect of Parisian life that sits well with me, that I have absorbed into my blood and my lifestyle.  There’s no rush to leave after the coffee, to leave a conversation half-way because you have to tip the waiter or go somewhere else.  It’s comme tu veux—as you like it—and if you want an added side of cheese because you, like me in the beginning, think that cheese is more nourishing than coffee, you can order that in a cafe as well.  The French do like food after all.

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