One of the Higher Café Terraces

the terrace of Samaritaine
An airy oasis in the middle of the city, with birds for company.

In Paris, Some Good Things are Nearly Free

Paris:- Friday, 30. May 1997:- The 'stage' direction says, 'Later the same day.' If you were with me on the Champs-Elysées and followed me to the Batobus, then, if you are still in my tracks, I am still putting them one in front of the other after leaving the edge of the Seine.

The roar of traffic along the quai du Louvre is deafening, the stone underfoot is hard, but the bouquinistes are open, under their shade, in their light and rippling shadows.

This one young bouquiniste, is on roller skates. You don't see this often. I note that his stall has mostly movie stuff - old posters, photos, old magazines, and promotional photos - 'stills.' A 'click' goes off in my head. There's a fellow in Chicago looking for movie poster distributors in Paris.

I wait while the bouquiniste props up another one of the lids on his boxes, and then I ask him about the movie posters. He is good enough to tell me what he knows, and we have a good chat about other things too and I tell myself to come back and see this guy. He's just opening, so he's looking forward to the afternoon's business - while I am looking for someplace calm in the middle of Paris.

I run some more stone paving under my feet by moving on to the métro entrance just before the Pont Neuf, and pop down the stairs.

Try the toilet here - it started a couple of weeks ago at Madelaine - I started to notice these public ones have new proprietors, who keep the places very spiffy with a lot of Mr. Propre, and I have noticed for the first time they all have old-fashioned shoeshine chairs. Also, many of these underground toilets have glass tiles in the ceilings, letting in light, and these new ladies have green plants, making the places even more pleasant.

Turn left going out, and into the basement of Samaritaine, into the hardware department which is one of this 127-year-old department store's big features, filling 7,000 square metres of space. Almost makes me want to be a 'do-it-yourself' guy. But not at this time of day.

Just inside, I ask this tall fellow for the way to the terrace. For once I am in luck, because he says go straight, take first left and take the elevator there. Usually I search in vain through the other three buildings that make up this storethe department store before finding this particular elevator, but today it is right here, right now.

Do-It-Yourself in the basement, terrace on top - Samaritaine at Pont Neuf.

It zips me up to the ninth floor, where there is a good restaurant. I take the flight of stairs beside the elevator and on the tenth floor step back out into the sunlight of Samaritaine's terrace café.

Although there are no trees up here there are plenty of parasols - and there are no buses, cars, trucks, motorcycles, red men, green men - no - there's just an awful lot of clear sky and a lot of the Seine below, and the Ile de la Cité and the Pont Neuf crossing over to the Quartier Latin. If I look around the corner, there's Sacré Coeur up on Montmartre looking down too.

This is a café terrace, in the middle of Paris; high up on the tenth floor. Up a narrow spiral staircase to the 11th floor brings you to a circular lookout. It has a tiled rim, with all the principal sights marked on it, so you don't have to run down the stairs and ask frequently asked questions. The view from the lookout is 360 degrees of Paris.

The café terrace is roomy and I've never been when it is full, but it must be sometimes, because it is not a big secret. The café part serves simple salads, sandwiches and deserts, and it is sort of self-service - which means youview of Seine downriver can have a free ride up the elevator, ask for something like café or a lightly alcoholic drink or mineral water, and spend a peaceful time taking in the view, reading the paper or whatever you want.

One tiny, narrow angle, of the whole view - you can see to Issy on a clear day.

My feet, which have walked down the Champs-Elysées, crossed one big bridge and walked along a lot of Seine quais, are happy to be here. The rest of me doesn't mind it either.

I quit typing while I think about this.

Yeah, this terrace is an off-duty place. It is so off-duty it doesn't need a sign telling you not to do anything. I don't know anything about Zen, but I think maybe this is a Zen place. The café part is like an extra added luxo convenience; not a consumer thing at all. If I think too much more about this, I'll quit typing again.

This might be a good idea. I look at my watch and read the numbers without recording their significance. I can't add one and one together and only feel like it is time to go.

The street, the quai du Louvre, feels like a war zone. Burnt ozone and brake linings. It is warm for Paris for the end of May and it is the end of the day and the week and motors are hot. Going back into the métro is not cool either, and I can't read, and if I try, I'll fall asleep.

It isn't until after I switch to the train and it stops between stations that I finally figure out what the hands of my watch are telling me. I'm going to be late. It was worth it. Champs-Elysées, Seine cruise, terrace in the sky; all in Paris, today.


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