When in Paris, it’s one of my strange habits to have the first coffee in the day in the Marais, don’t ask me why, there are perfectly fine alternative locations all over Paris, but no, it has to be the Marais, Paris’s oldest quarter, you won’t find much of Haussmann’s architecture here, it’s filled with beautiful hôtels particuliers, the residences of the aristocracy, erected hundreds of years ago, and still teaching us lessons about grandeur, in comparison, the front door of Mrs Kennedy’s lodging on Park Avenue appears to me like the back entrance to a dubious embassy of a totalitarian country with a laughable gross national product, sorry, New York, and don’t get me started on Trump and his golden tower, anyway, the Rohans and consorts had much better housing, one of those palaces, that’s what these hôtels particuliers really are, palaces, now houses the Picasso Museum. Then there’s Place des Vosges, a cliché, I know, but I have to pay it at least one visit each time I’m there, it actually looks nicest off season, in January, early in the year and in the morning, on a frosty day, void of people and tourists, under light snow, when only birds have left their prints, I like it in the rain, too, a little morbid, but I rather hate it when it’s full of people in summer, people with too much time on their hands ruin everything, loitering with intent, thirsty for a tan or whatever they do on a lawn – I do sound misanthropic, don’t I? Don’t get me wrong, I like people. Just not in places that look better without.
The best thing about my Zurich apartment was the coffee downstairs at Totò’s. Whenever I would leave the house and feel like taking it slowly, I’d sit down and order a double espresso before taking my tram, heavy stuff, bitter and strong, awfully good, and while I was sipping it, I’d watch my neighbourhood, that beautiful Seefeld scenery, from a different angle, not as usual from my third floor balcony, through my olive trees’ leaves, but at ground level, quite a change, it’s true what that teacher in Dead Poets Society says, you should change your perspective from time to time, it’s quite invigorating, and thanks to Totò’s, I didn’t need to climb on anything, I just had to make it three floors further down.
At first, I have to tell you that I am convinced that coffee’s a very healthy beverage. It’s really rich in flavonoids and these keep you safe from any antioxidants, even the French ones. So, the plural here is chosen quite deliberately, I always have to have more than just one coffee when I’m in Paris. I’ve had them in the sun, and in the rain. I’ve had coffees in high-toned places, and in places off the tracks. They’ve been served with the warmest of smiles, and in sheer disgust—which was quite amusing in a way, homophobia in the Marais, in a café on the corner of Rue des Francs-Bourgeois, because if you’re a waiter who happens to disapprove of gays, you really should reconsider working in their natural habitat. But I digress. I’ve had coffees that were just great, and coffees that tasted like way too strong a Nescafé. I’ve had coffees to go from Starbucks, and coffees in the presence of Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre at the Café de Flore, au Flore, that is if their spirits still haunt the place, I think they won’t approve of that Louis Vuitton store right next to it, some marketing idiot thought it appropriate to squeeze their bags in the tiny space between the Flore and the Deux Magots—although, who am I to complain, I always paid the bills with euros from my Louis Vuitton wallet, but at least I hadn’t bought it there, in the very middle of St.Germain-des-Prés, but on the right bank, that’s where you are supposed to buy such things. But back to my coffee sermon: I’ve had all these coffees in wonderful peace, next to Frenchmen and tourists, next to people in suits on their lunch-break and next to people in sneakers on their honeymoon, and there never were any gilets jaunes in sight, there was never any pseudo-revolutionary brutality going on, no places were ever set on fire, and so I have just one thing to say to these guys if they ever dare to disturb my peace and quiet in Paris: Get lost, you losers!
There are days when nothing goes right. Even though your favourite actress at the moment has won the Oscar for her part in The Favourite, a film that made you smile and laugh and sit in awe at the cinema, but still, that damn coffee machine keeps annoying you in the morning by spilling first water then coffee—never buy a Krups!— and the bus is late again and there’s another grey hair mocking your vanity and, well, you know what I’m getting at, don’t you? One of these days where really nothing bad happens and still you feel like life itself was a bit overrated—until you have dessert, that is. The moment you have some yummy and ever so spongy cake to be washed down with a Sauternes, bottled at a time when grey hairs were not yet an issue, then your day starts to be real’ fine. I mean, really!
This morning, I felt very French. Very, very French. So, instead of having my usual toasts with tea, I had to leave the house to get some Franzbrötchen at my local organic bakery. They are not really French like a croissant, but the Franz-part of the word comes from the time when Germany was occupied in the early 1800s, when Napoleon had just invaded the country, and he was definitely a Frenchman, a Franzos’. Nothing lasts forever, and the Russians made him go back to where he came from—later the French got sick of him, too, and sent him far off to St.Helena, an island so secluded nobody really knows where it is. Anyway, Franzbrötchen are part of the culinary leftovers of that time and I do enjoy them a great deal: a buttery, crispy, cinnamon flavoured delight to have with your coffee in the morning, and, in my case, François Truffaut’s masterpiece “The Last Metro”. As I’ve said, I felt very, very French this morning.
Quarkbällchen, curd balls, are best when dipped in hot coffee. They soak your morning blend all up, mine is an organic single origin from Ethiopia at the moment, and the sugar coat sweetens it ever so crispily. It’s really the best start in the day. Just make sure to be alone when you take your breakfast like that. Eating them like that, one tends to look like a toothless old caveman. It’s not very becoming. If you want to get rid of your partner though, you better start a curd-ball-coffee-dipping-diet right away…
The Flore. This is the place where Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre worked on their essays, plays and novels, literary milestones that made them rich and famous (well, not really rich, but very, very famous), all while having lots of coffee and even more cigarettes. As for the cigarettes, I cannot say which brand they were smoking and if I would have liked their taste, I’m a Dunhill kind of guy, the blue ones, but as far as the coffee is concerned, gee, no wonder they were so embittered about society. I hate that brew. It’s so nicely presented, the coffee is served in a jug, you got another one for your milk, hot milk on top, you pour and mix it yourself, according to your taste, you get an extra glass of water, so all in all one really can’t complain—but still, I do. This coffee is just awful, it‘s way too strong, it tastes like overdosed Nescafé, strangely bitter, brutal, a simultaneous attack on your taste buds and your stomach, you take one sip and you immediately have to light a cigarette to recover from it—and it takes a lot of time to recover. But that’s actually the only good thing about it, as a convalescent, you spend your time soaking up the atmosphere while watching the passers-by, just as long as it takes to let this wonderful spot called St.Germain-des-Prés sink in really deep. I can do this for hours at a time while that nasty coffee is getting cold. And if you should feel like re-reading “Les Mandarins” or “Les Mots“, there’s a bookshop just next door on Boulevard St.Germain, so you can start right away, right there where it was written.