The 'Sense of Silence'

photo: cafe des phares

Sun-worshipers out front - philosophers in the rear.

Some Sunday Philosophy On the Speedway

Paris:- Sunday, 22. August 1999:- If the sun is shining, it looks like Sunday is going to be my regular excursion day; to go out and see what people who have the day off are doing.

I have been invited by a new reader to take a sample of the Sunday philosophy session at the Café des Phares at Bastille. For this reason, and because it is warmer outside than in, I am on the métro listening to passengers speaking Italian before 11:00 today.

There is a lot of sun at Bastille when I arrive. There are a fair number of people basking in it on the sidewalk in front of the Café des Phares, but there are many more on the covered terrace and the inside of the café is full up.

The 'philosophers' have put a bunch of little tables together in a line, parallel to the bar and all the seats at it are taken. The waiters are having a hard time getting around and I owait until the moderator - 'chief philosopher? - starts the ball rolling at about ten minutes after eleven.

He has a microphone, but is still hard to hear because some customers at other tables are already philosophizing. After anphoto: ils saint louis & notre dame announcement that the latest issue of the 'Cafés Philosophes' magazine is available, discussion points are called for. Another microphone is passed around.

Brave souls find silence by the Seine, not far from the Café des Phares.

I do not see my 'reader' and her husband so I wander outside, dodging waiters. Nobody fits the description of the two; so I find a table on the sidewalk, where I can hear the amplified 'debate' and sit in the sun at the same time.

A few minutes later the couple arrives and we make the usual mis-timed handshakes and sketchy introductions. By the time we've all been settled with three flavors of large cafés, the philosophers are trying to get to the essentials of the 'sense of silence.'

Various speakers propose different uses of silence and its possible benefits, in philosophical ways. The traffic in the Place de la Bastille is light, but there is some. The discussion's amplification is very good too, and the sound of the traffic mixed with it is anything else but silence.

This is why I propose we walk down the Boulevard Henri IV to the Quai des Célestins, to sample the Sunday silence of the right bank's Voie Georges Pompidou speedway - which is populated with rollers, bicycles and simple strollers like us.

It is quiet and brightly sunny and it is much better for thinking about the 'sense of silence' where there is some. We don't have to pay attention to the faster traffic as it quietly dodges us.

Across the Seine a small group is being silent - at this distance - near the downstream tip of the Ile Saint-Louis. The Batobus goes past - a new model, slightly morephoto: new type bateau mouche like a 'bateau mouche.' An ambulance comes along, making a racket, to pick up a fallen rollerist. This is quickly out of hearing range.

This is a 'bateau mouche?' It looks like it was made for landings in Normandy.

From under another bridge - the Pont Royal? - a new model bateau mouche emerges. It actually looks like some sort of boat, rather than the usual type of glass barge without oars. The Musée d'Orsay dozes across the river.

This is a really good philosophical stretch and I can recommend it to anybody who is not worrying about driving a bike or tumbling off their rollers. In fact, a whole gang of both of them is sitting alongside the motorway, doing neither.

We are halted in our westward slow-motion wander by the construction of the new footbridge, spanning the Seine between the left bank's Rue de Solférino and the Tuileries on the right bank. On the Quai des Tuileries I see that the new bridge will be surfaced with wood, like the Pont des Arts.

Since the gate of the Tuileries garden is closed here, we move eastward on the sidewalk. This is not so philosophical because the sidewalk is narrow and all the Sunday traffic normally on the speedway is passing by; seemingly making more noise than usual.

At the Rue de l'Amiral de Coligny we cross over to the café La Coronaphoto: batobus stop at louvre on the corner and take a table on the terrace, facing the quieter, eastern end of the Louvre.

The Louvre's 'Batobus' stop; where you can also get cotton candy.

It used to be that common drinks like beer came in one flavor and two sizes: a 'demi' or a 'formidable,' which were respectively a quarter and a half-litre. Now many cafés have four or six flavors of beer, and La Corona has them in three sizes - none of which are called either 'demi' or 'formidable.'

This is how we end up with half-litres - they are called 'moyen' - of beer and orange juice. Madame gets a standard-sized glass of Martini Rosso, which she is happy with.

The couple have lived in the United States a long time, so we philosophize about mezzanine-floor ceiling heights in Paris and the lack of coin-laundries in certain quarters, and the paradise of the hardware department in the basement of the BHV. We talk about heating too, but not for long as there is enough of it around today.

The time is up far too soon and we walk to the métro at Louvre-Rivoli and we just get time to make the handshakes before I bolt from the wagon for the change at Châtelet.

Back in my apartment, I put on the radio to add a little random something to the 'sense of silence' while I select the photos and write this. In many ways, another valuable Sunday passed in Paris.

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