Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Is the French cafe on its way out?

"The bar of a cafe is the parliament of the people,” Honoré de Balzac once wrote. First it was the outdoor smoking ban, and now this: The New York Times is reporting that "Across France, Cafe Owners are Suffering." According to the New Times, had 200,000 cafes in 1960 and now it has fewer than 41,500, with an average of two closing every day. The economic downturn - and changing attitudes, to be sure - are hurting traditional cafes. What is to become of the Paris I know?
Since my first trip to Paris at the age of 12, then as a rebellious backpacker at 18, then as an optimistic university student in London at 21 then as a married woman years later, to me the iconic cafe has epitomized everything that is good about Paris -- a refuge for artistic souls, a hangout for chain smokers, a clandestine rendezvous for the amorous, a spot to watch the world walk by.
Whether you want to linger over your salty frites, or swallow your espresso in one shot at the counter, the cafe is the city hall, school, bar, and town square in one.
When I visited Paris earlier this year, I made a stop at the hustling and bustling tourist trap Les Deux Magots, once the rendezvous for philosophers-cum-lovebirds Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre.
For the first time though, I got a seat in the front "row" and watched Parisians smirk at les idiotes who were forking over a fortune for a cafe creme. I didn't care, I was breathing the same air Hemingway breathed.
But that wasn't the case when we had our morning coffee at the neighbourhood cafe in the Marais district, where we stayed. At best, one-third of the seats were ever filled and that was during the morning rush. When cafes close down, what will replace them?

2 comments:

Hester L. Riches said...

What will replace them? Not these?
http://www.starbucks.fr/fr/store_locator.htm

Mary said...

If that happens, I sure hope the French mount one of their famous cross-country protests.