Why Paris? Reason #6

July 19, 2011 at 10:37 pm 9 comments

Sandwich Jambon, Vin Ordinaire

Sandwich Jambon, Vin Ordinaire

Today I would like to write about the healing power of the French café.

Today I was on the verge of breaking down and acting out, and knew I needed healing. (It had to do with an incompatibility between me and my computer, exacerbated by bureaucratic annoyances, the kind that can make you feel like throwing computers out windows. That’s all you need to know: you get the picture.)

If it were a sunny day in Paris I would have much earlier removed myself from the situation and gone to cool off in a park. But it was a rainy day, so I did the only sensible thing for someone in my situation to do.

I walked down the street–not very far–and found the first sympathetic café where I could spend an hour or two regaining my sanity and my sense of balance.

I am living in a neighborhood I’ve never lived in before, and this is the first time since I’ve been here that I’ve had the chance to look for my nearest café, my place of refuge in a moment like this.

I wasn’t disappointed.

I walked into the café I had chosen, trying to figure out first of all whether I wanted to be inside or out. Not an automatic decision on such a cool and rainy day. The young waiter behind the counter greeted me with a warm, slightly flirtatious grin and said “Vous désirez, Madame?” “Un verre de vin,” I answered. “What kind?” he replied, in English, continuing to display a disarming, and charming, smile. “What kind of what?” I replied, surprised and confused by the sudden switch of languages. He in turn, confronted with my American accent and with the unexpected counter-question, scurried back into the comfort (and beauty) of his own language, where we remained.

I wanted a white wine, le moins chèr. He recommended a Sauvignon (“very feminine” he said). I went outside and chose my table. The Sauvignon arrived, along with a few thinly sliced pieces of saucisson elegantly arranged on a tiny plate. The wine was perfectly chilled, the Sauvignon the perfect choice. I was happy already, with the first sip, and the knowledge that I could be here for as long as I wanted, free to enjoy my solitude in the company of strangers.

I sat there and read some of my students’ work. I wrote a haiku for my son. I tried to fill in the blanks in a story unfolding between the Frenchwoman sitting next me and the African man who was courting her. I listened to the conversation of the German couple on the other side of me, listened to the sound of their words only since comprehension of what they were saying was beyond me. I drank my wine slowly and savored the saucisson. I enjoyed the play of the late afternoon summer light on the Hausmannian buildings at the end of the street. And gradually I felt peace coming back into my soul.

I actually assign my students to go into a French café, alone, and spend at least half an hour there, writing about what they see and hear. I think it is an experience no one visiting Paris should miss. To me it is far more central to the experience of being in Paris than a visit to any one of its wonderful monuments or museums.

In a Parisian café you are surrounded by people, and by human stories. The people-watching and eavesdropping are superb, but so is the bubble of privacy that surrounds you, broken only if you want it to be, because of the respect for and maintenance of privacy the French are so famous for.

It really is a wonderful thing, to be in a Parisian café.

An hour and a half after I arrived there, I reluctantly folded my papers and packed up my bag. I paid l’addition, 3.70 euros–a small price to pay for the restoration of one’s sanityand strolled back to my room, a calmer, happier person, a person ready to once again embrace life in a spirit of joie de vivre, no matter what petty annoyances were thrown in my way.

Just one more reason why I love Paris.

There are many others: stay tuned!

Janet Hulstrand is a writer, editor and teacher of writing and literature who divides her time between France and the United States. She is the author of Demystifying the French: How to Love Them, and Makes Them Love You. She teaches literature courses in Paris for the City University of New York, and t offers Writing from the Heart workshops in a beautiful little village in the Champagne region of France.

Entry filed under: About Paris. Tags: , , , , , , , .

My Lovely Little Village in the Heart of France A few quotes about love, dreams, perseverance, and joy

9 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Loretta Messer  |  July 20, 2011 at 5:07 am

    Thank you for your wonderful story. I enjoyed it and felt like I was there with you. It made me think of the times that I’d like to chuck my computer through a window—usually when it freezes on me—and cup of joe in quiet area, usually does the trick. Thanks for reminding me to smell the coffee. It seems like life gets so busy and hectic that we forget to take a few moment and just be quiet.

  • 2. Janet Hulstrand  |  July 20, 2011 at 10:34 am

    Thank you so much for your kind words, Loretta. I’m glad you enjoyed the piece!

  • 3. Simone  |  July 24, 2011 at 9:27 pm

    I am so inspired by your story. Going to Paris is definitely at the top of my “Bucket List”, but do achieve that while being able to indulge in one of my passions (writing) would be as close to nirvana for me as I could get. Thank you so much for sharing.

  • 4. Janet Hulstrand  |  July 28, 2011 at 2:33 pm

    Thanks, Simone. I hope you get to Paris sooner rather than later! It’s a wonderful place to write, indeed.

  • 5. Saideh Pakravan  |  September 17, 2011 at 1:04 pm

    Love it! Indeed, there’s Paris and then there’s the rest of the world. The eternally quotable Jefferson said that every man has two countries: his own and France. (That goes for women too).

  • 6. Mary Kay  |  September 26, 2011 at 1:43 pm

    What a blessing to discover your website and this particular post because I’ve been having my own annoying encounters with technology today. Now that the problem is solved, I’m going to the nearest Parisian cafe to enjoy life. Thanks for the reminder!

  • 7. Dee van Veen  |  October 13, 2011 at 8:43 pm

    Going back to Paris this week and looking forward already to doing just this!

  • 8. A Place to Be Alone, with Others | SAVE THE PARIS CAFÉ  |  July 31, 2019 at 11:11 am

    […] JANET HULSTRAND is a writer, editor, writing coach, and teacher who divides her time between France and the United States. She is the author of Demystifying the French: How to Love Them, and Make Them Love You, and she writes frequently for Bonjour Paris, France Today, France Revisited, as well as for her blog Writing from the Heart, Reading for the Road. […]

  • 9. A Place to Be Alone, with Others – Out My Window  |  September 12, 2019 at 9:34 am

    […] JANET HULSTRAND is a writer, editor, writing coach, and teacher who divides her time between France and the United States. She is the author of Demystifying the French: How to Love Them, and Make Them Love You, and she writes frequently for Bonjour Paris, France Today, France Revisited, as well as for her blog Writing from the Heart, Reading for the Road. […]


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