Je Suis en Terrasse (I’m on the Terrace)
I have to admit, it was really a pleasure to feel like a human being again yesterday — to get up, get dressed, put on full make-up, coif my hair, grab my laptop and head out the door directly toward Café Charlot for lunch for the first time since confinement was legislated on March 17th. By my count, that’s 77 days without having eaten in a restaurant once, or even sat at an outdoor café table. And that’s 21 percent of the year 2020, if you want to look at it statistically. Whoa!
At about 12 noon I strolled into Café Charlot grinning broadly, waving my hand to give a big hello to the waiters who have treated me so well in the past, only to discover that sadly, the restaurant wasn’t ready yet for the onslaught of patrons, except for their ability to serve drinks. I vowed to come back the next day for lunch when the chef was fully ready to lay it on, but decided to also stop in for an “apéro” (pre-dinner drink) Tuesday evening with a friend and pay my respects.
For my first lunch without Charlot’s magic chef, I dared not go too far down the street without being able to score a table, so I grabbed one at Suan Thaï Le Marais (1 rue de Bretagne). Once I settled in with the menu, I opened my laptop and enjoyed the warm air, watched the stream of people flowing by, then slowly filling the seats at the tables, both there and at Le Progrès, a popular corner café just adjacent. Everyone was eating it up, just like I was, until a guy sitting at a nearby table lit a cigarette. That’s when I remembered what I didn’t like about dining “en terrasse.” “Tant pis” (too bad), such a small thing was not getting in the way of my pleasure.
Meanwhile, Patty Sadauskas was sending me photos the entire time I was having lunch from the five different cafés she visited, one after another, in Nîmes, where she has been since confinement. “2 coffees, 1 Perrier, 3 glasses of rosé and lunch,” she texted. “It was wonderful going to 5 cafes. It was so much fun! Ready to do it again!” I’ll bet she is!
After our apéro at Cafe Charlot, my friend and I wandered over to Caffé Soprano (2 Rue Dupetit-Thouars) where “la terrasse” is expansive and extremely popular. It was packed to the gills, but shocking to score “une petite table” immediately upon arrival. It must have had our names on it. It was there we enjoyed dinner out among the hordes of “freed people.”
Almost no one was wearing a mask. Even our waitress was wearing her mask under her chin. In an effort to spread the tables apart, Café Charlot had positioned a table on the opposite corner of the street in front of a travel agency. A group of friends at that table were not phased by being so far from the others. You could sense that everyone felt liberated and truly alive, to finally enjoy the beautiful summer weather during these long days (sundown is now at 10 p.m.). The big question remains as to whether we’ll be paying for the freedom later when the cases of Covid-19 increase again…if they do. Let us pray.
In the mornings, while exercising (Qigong breathing exercises, yoga and hula hooping), I watch the news on France 24 and CNN. Tuesday morning I literally cried watching the unrest in the United States and the way it’s being handled by the administration without compassion, but with disdain and military force. It’s as if the president is at war with his own people. What frightens me most is how quickly a public militia could be called up — all those gun-toting, right-wing, racist Trump supporters who would bear arms at the breath of a whisper from the president. He has the power to start a civil war in a matter of moments and I wouldn’t put it past him to do such a thing to show the world who’s boss. If I were there, I’d be among the protestors and just as angry. But, I’m not. I’m happily ensconced in France where dining al fresco is now the norm once again, peacefully, happily, over a glass of wine or a “Perroquet” (pastis, mint syrop, water and ice), the drink I chose with which it celebrate my first apéro out on the town. I feel the pain for my American compatriots, but I don’t wish I were there.
Tomorrow I’m headed down to Nice on the TGV to spend a few weeks in the sun and on the surf. It’s in the Green Zone so it will be even more open and free than Paris. Being at the sea will bring even more of the normalcy back to life and I am willing to risk a six-hour ride on the train to get there. As of Monday, Parler Paris will become Parler Nice and I’ll be writing all about life post Coronavirus on the Riviera.
One thing I have yet to accomplish here in France, but which has been on my “to-do” list literally for years, is get French citizenship. The quest started when Donald Trump was elected and there was a chance Marine Le Pen would be France’s next president. I was concerned that if right-wing Marine Le Pen cracked down on immigration in France, that I’d be kicked out and facing life on the streets of the U.S. once again. But, the paperwork was daunting and time to accomplish it was left to more pressing matters.
Now I know that I shouldn’t have waited so long, because just recently, France removed the exemption for people over the age of 60 to take a language test to satisfy their application to obtain citizenship. Until now I had no worries about passing such a test…if it wasn’t administered at all. But, from August 11th of this year, applicants will have to take a written exam as well as speaking and listening tests. The level to which we must prove is “B1″ — the ability to handle day-to-day matters that arise in work or play or education. This includes a basic level of written French as well.
The only way out of this is if one can prove poor health or disabilities, but an interview at the Préfecture is still in the cards. If you’re a refugee over the age of 70 and have lived in France for 15 years or more, that gets you a reprieve. Or if you have a diploma from another country where French is spoken. That gets you off the hook, too. Now, you might think that after more than 25 years in France my French would be pretty proficient, but I hate to admit that it’s not…at least not at the level I think it should be. It’s easy to avoid, when one works in English, writes in English, goes about most conversations with friends and clients in English and hardly even needs French anymore when communicating with the French in public situations. Twenty-five years ago that was less true than it is now, now that so many of the French are fluent in English and want to practice when they have a chance.
Oh well. Looks as if I better brush up on my French and get crackin’ on the paperwork because with the way things look in the U.S., I am here to stay…”en terrasse.”
A la prochaine…
Adrian Leeds Group
(at Suan Thai)