As part of my blog tour, I did this guest post for The Serpentine Library on Parisian cafes. Maria’s question was: Certain cities make me think of food: Rome, Florence, Paris, even Athens. I have this picture in my head of Paris – maybe I’ve read too many books or seen too many movies set there – of sitting at an outdoor cafe drinking coffee and eating a decadent dessert. For someone who has never been to Paris where would be the best places to this and do some people watching too?
And here is my answer:
You are absolutely right about Parisians sitting outside in cafés, drinking coffee and watching people. As for the decadent desserts, when I first moved to Paris, I too thought that was part of a Parisian’s daily routine. So every day, on my way home from work, I would pick up one of the amazing looking pastries at our neighborhood pastry shop. After gaining ten pounds in just a couple of months, I asked a local how everyone stayed so thin if they ate such amazing desserts all of the time. And the response was: they they don’t eat them all of the time. They eat them at the most once a week, usually for Sunday dinner. So there goes that stereotype down the drain. However, if you are visiting Paris as a tourist, I feel you are obliged to eat one of every pastry you see.
Some of my favorite cafés for people watching are along the Boulevard St. Germain. Like Les Deux Magots, where Vincent takes Kate for hot chocolate, which is super-touristy but still fun. There’s a little café looking out onto the Place Saint Sulpice, facing one of Paris’s most beautiful fountains (with lion sculptures around it), which makes for fun gazing. I like the Place Saint Catherine and the Place des Vosges in the Marais. But every neighborhood has its own character, and every neighborhood has a great café to sit and watch people. So wherever you go, if you find a place that is nicely decorated (for example, wooden or wicker chairs instead of plastic) and is near a Metro (subway), you will probably luck out with the good coffee and people watching!
And just to show you how right-on your question was regarding DIE FOR ME’s setting, here is an out-take from DIE FOR ME: a few paragraphs that were cut to avoid slowing down the pace with too much description. (Which is like pulling teeth for me because I LOVE descriptions!) This is from Kate’s point of view:
“I’ve always thought of Parisian cafés as their own universes: little islands of civility and warmth dotted throughout the big city. People go there for three main reasons: to eat, drink and gawk at other people. Besides an occasional glass of wine at dinner with Mom and Dad, I didn’t drink. But drinking in Paris isn’t like drinking in the States. American teenagers seem to drink with the express purpose of getting drunk. They don’t do that in France. “Drunk” is an extreme, and the French don’t like extremes. Nothing too cold or too hot – it ruins the taste, they say. Your Coke is served slightly chilled, but without ice. And you’ll never get a tongue-scalding cup of coffee.
So the typical café-goer will slowly sip a glass of wine or beer, ordering a second one if they decide to stay for a while. The coffee cups all look like they were stolen from a child’s tea-set, but people sit there and nurse them for an hour.
And then there’s the people-watching. It isn’t considered rude in France to stare. So people do. You can’t walk past a café without everyone sitting at the outside tables giving you at least a two-second looking-over. That’s why you never leave your front door dressed in a ratty old sweatsuit or anything else you mind being judged in.
My black jeans, green t-shirt and Converse tennis shoes guaranteed me invisibility in this land of beautiful people wearing stylish clothes. I passed the minimum level of appearance-acceptability, while simultaneously accomplishing inconspicuousness.”