samedi 18 février 2012

To each season a beverage

I recently met a friend for coffee down at Le Rostand. I love Le Rostand; it has everything a Parisian café should have: good location (next to the Luxembourg gardens so I can go check on the beehives when I feel the need), extended hours (I've never once encountered the doors shut in all the years and all the odd hours I've been going there), an interesting assortment of clients ranging from tourists to les habitués, the latter including dogs, and--most importantly--a perfect café crème.

The interior décor of the café has long intrigued me. To my knowledge, Rostand never set foot outside of France. He was born in Marseilles, did his major work up in Paris, and then retired to the Basque country for reasons of ill health. (He had pleurisy, but he was also made quite uncomfortable with the fame garnered from Cyrano de Bergerac and felt the need to get out of Paris after the play opened.) Yet the entire cafe is a temple to French colonialism. The flooring, a gorgeous mosaic, is done in the muted colors of orientalists' tableaux. The walls host bas-reliefs of palm fronds. The artwork features scenes of colonial conquest. All the furniture is rattan (at each table there is even a little rattan stool upon which ladies can pose their purses) and potted palms are placed as strategic space dividers throughout the (now) enclosed terrace. I half-expect to see Stanley peeking out from behind one of them, binoculars in hand.

There is a protocol to drinking in cafés. You can spot a tourist by listening to his order. No "café au lait" after the breakfast hour. ("Un crème" is what the French call this--"grand" or "petit". And although "crème" is a feminine noun, it takes a masculine article in this case, since the "un" is referring to the coffee, not the cream.) Post noon, you want to be ordering "un express" or "un déca" but nothing with milk in it. You wouldn't order a "coca" or a "limonade" before lunch, either. Women alone do not order "un ballon de rouge" up at the bar, yet it is perfectly acceptable for them to order red wine while seated at a table.

A perfect crème is reason to cross the city

There are also seasons to café drinks. I am looking forward to being able to order--without breaking seasonal protocol-- "un citron pressé", a drink one should only consume during warm-weather months. Pastis is another beverage limited to the summertime. I wonder where absinthe fits in on the calendar?

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