Winter is now in full swing in the city and being from the very deep south of the united states where on Christmas day the standard uniform is shorts and a hawian shirt I am almost sure that I will freeze to death. The day after my birthday though the weather changed and I must say I’m doing very well and I’m not having to bundle-up like the little brother in The Christmas Story. (“I can’t put my arms down”)
I love the Winter but I am lamenting the loss of one of my favorite warm-weathered activities: Le terrasse.
The cliche of the French people sipping coffees and smoking cigarettes is more than an image that has been created by artists, writers, and photographers over the decades. When the weather is beautiful outside the interiors of cafés are empty and on your quest to find a place on a terrace you will soon realise that not even one of thoes distinctive straw chairs is empty in any part of the city and for a good reason!
The French love their cafés but this adoration goes deeper than a simple cup of coffee or a beer. In the 19th century the café was where you went to do any sort if correspondence. The cafés had telephones, telegraphs and you could get envelopes and paper to write your letters (or revolutionary poems whatever is your fancy). Voltaire wrote all his letters ( lengthly and heavy) from the back room of la Café Procope, where his writing desk still sits today. During WWII the cafés were the only places that had heat in Paris. In order to stay warm writers took up the habit of writing in cafés. After the war writers like Simon de Beauvoir had become so use to the noise and the hustle and bustle that even when heat was once again pumping through Parisian flats they stayed in the cafés.
The terrace of a café is a great place for inspiration. Something really unique about the Parisian café is the way that chairs are placed. In the mornings the openers would bring out the chairs and line them up in rows side-by-side facing the street. This started out as just being the fastest way to put out the chairs but what occurred was that the customers would never turn the chairs to face each-other; sitting shoulder to shoulder looking out at the street. Now the position of the chairs has become an iconic element of the terrasse. This curious arrangement provides the perfect terrain for the sport of people watching. For a writer this is perfect motivation for characters and happenings for their text. But the people watching is also just plain fun for two girlfriends getting coffee and gossiping.
The autumn winds and showers have not stopped all Parisians from sitting out in the cold over there little espresso cups. Some establishments even have a closed in glass perimeter around their once open and sun-shinning terraces. But even with that, this little southern girl wants a little shelter from the cold at least until spring time.