So last week, when I found myself having to visit the café near my work several times a day (our water has been turned off which meant the WC was out of service), I got to use this as an excuse to catch up on some café time.
Cafés have a three-tier system of pricing. Ordering at the bar, or "le zinc" is the cheapest way to eat or drink; sitting down inside the place is a little more expensive, and you'll pay the premium price if you eat or drink at a sidewalk table. So to reduce the expense of my toilet trips, I took my coffee at the bar. One euro was the price to pay but it was better than trying to sneak down the steps to the basement toilettes and risk being yelled at by the owner. In France, you have to order something in order to use the facilities in a café.
The great thing about drinking standing up is that you can watch and listen to the personnel as they multi-task. There is an entire symphony of café music: the combination of pulling the coffees, setting the saucers and small cups on the zinc, sliding the sugar cubes and spoon into place...all this is background to the friendly barking of orders: un croissant pour le douze!!! un déca pour le sept!!! I was lucky enough to be standing there as the proprietor phoned in his meat order for the day. Yummmm veal stew.
I spent a lot of my students days here in cafés. People were allowed to smoke back then, a "right" that did not get outlawed until January 2007. That perfume of tobacco and coffee was My Smell of Paris; something that, should I have caught a whiff of that elsewhere, always brought me back to the City of Light. Thankfully, cafés are now smokefree but the lovely scent of coffee and whatever the cook is preparing as the plat du jour still prevails and reminds me that I do really need to spend more time in these places, relaxing, people watching, and being part of this iconic Parisian institution.