The Big Café On the Avenue

photo: place dauphine

At the west end of the Ile de la Cité, the Place Dauphine.

With Photos of the Ile de la Cité

Paris:- Friday, 3. December 1999:- Yesterday I came out of the exit of the métro Cité to go to the main Paris Police Préfecture, to get a change-of-address for my Carte de Séjour.

This took less time than feared, so it allowed me a little island tour. The weather was half bright, but I knew the batteries in my camera were low. As expected they drooped pretty quickly.

The Ile de la Cité is dominated by Paris' Palais de Justice, the Hôtel Dieu de Cité hospital, the central police Préfecture and the headquarters of the Police Judiciaire on the famous Quai des Orfévres. Plus, of course, there is the Notre Dame cathedral, the Conciergerie and Sainte-Chapelle church.

Near both the upstream and downstream ends of the island there are also residential areas. The Ile de la Cité is at the centre of Paris and always has been, so it has at least some 2000 years or history.

On my short cruise yesterday, I decided to come back today to get a whole picture of the whole island. As far as pictures go, this I have done.

Today there is the minor edge of a storm that is battering northernphoto: rue ursins Europe and the winds are cool as they blow down certain streets from the northwest. With winter overcast, the photos will be dark, but will not have the excessive contrast they get from the winter sun.

I start at the Latin Quarter side of the Pont Neuf, go through the Place Dauphine, and then along the Quai des Orfévres, past the Judicial Police cop shop.

Looking down the very old Rue des Ursins, in the Cité's northeast corner.

At the Pont Saint-Michel, I turn left on the Boulevard du Palais and take a café in a bar across from the Palais. After this I continue north and turn right into the Quai de Corse and head upstream.

Along here I pass the trees and plants in the garden marché in the Place Lépine. I continue heading east on the quay, past the Hôtel Dieu, and into the Quai aux Fleurs, where there are no flowers. The island's other residential area is In this northeast corner.

It has its miniature mediaeval-residential part, which it shares with the park of the Square Jean XXIII, the area behind Notre Dame. After this tour, which takes a couple of hours and fills up the recharged camera with 51 exposures, I get on the bus 38 and go home.

I intend to look everything up later; all the history that will fit into 1500 words or more. Looking it up and writing it down will take from three to five hours. Then there will be the photos to do and finally, putting the page together.

Now, let's skip ahead to Sunday noon. From inside my apartment I suspect the sun may be out, and I can use a strong café before settling down to a 12-hour stint of Metropole production.

A lot of people are out and about on the sunlit avenue and even more are in the Monoprix and in the Rue Daguerre.

The trees on the avenue have lost most of their leaves, but there is one in the hospital grounds across thephoto: heloise & abelard lived here street that looks like its annual development stopped on October First - it still has a full complement of golden leaves, ready to fall.

George Washington did not sleep here, but two famous lovers did - a long time ago.

Another reason to go out for a café, is to be disengaged enough to think up an idea for the week's cartoon. The word 'clochard' comes from the time Les Halles was in full swing - in the '20's and '30's - a bell - 'la cloche' - would sound to announce the end of the market's daily activity and this was the signal for the needy to swoop in and pick up free food.

I am thinking of mutating Metropole's cartoon 'clochards' Charlie and Eddie into being artistic types. The avenue close to me has a colony of real clochards who I see all the time. I was in their shoes one time for several months so I know how it is - mostly monotonous, with a future counted in hours rather than days or weeks.

There are also a lot of working artists and artisans around here. I think if I promote Charlie and Eddie into this scenario there will be more scope for their adventures, plus they will be easier characters to deal with.

I am thinking this up in the big avenue café while I have my Sunday morning 'disengagement' double-express café. The sun is coming in the windows on the avenue side, almost turning the terrace into a wintergarden.

A fellow is sitting in the sun, warmed by it and the café's heating, and he is writing notes of some sort. Exceptphoto: cite wine dealer for a very old lady dressed entirely in black, at a table with one glass of rouge on it, there is no one else on the sunny terrace.

The old parts of the Ile de la Cité are not large, but they are old - like this wine dealer's shop.

The café is full of mirrors, so I can look at the terrace and everything else going on behind in the café, at the same time. A man in a raincoat is eating a big plate of very rare steak and green beans at the bar.

The waiters are dealing with customers who are mostly on the north, shady side of the café. When the writer of notes leaves, a waiter who I've spoken to before, says hello to me, with the 'I know you' handshake.

It is not an impersonal 'big-intersection' café. It has its own character, if a bit bourgeois, and there are always people in it because it has comfortable booths on its north side, and the service is good.

This is in the big city of Paris and this café, even in, or especially in, its mirror view, seems to be a rare thing. Do all big cities have places like this? It is not a bar, it is not a pub, it is not a gastatte.

With its high ceilings and windows, with all its mirrors, with its kitchen and all of its waiters, it is all of the above and more.

It is not like a train station, although its nearness to the major métro corner of Denfert must contribute to its seeming prosperity; to its life and its ebb and flow. People come into it and live in it for periods of time. Sort of like a living room with service.

Parisians live on the Ile de la Cité too, in cohabitation with the police, the hospital, thephoto: st chapelle & palais justice courts, plant dealers, churches; as well as its snack bars, souvenir and postcard shops, money-changers, hotels, cafés, bars and restaurants; and several million tourists.

On first view, it seems as if there would be no room for ordinary residents - but they are there, along with one of the cheapest hotels in Paris. Residents have two choices for shopping: the Right Bank or the Left Bank, and plenty of bridges to both.

Someday, instead of going to court, I'm going to look at Sainte-Chapelle.

Between my mini-tour on Thursday and the all-over tour on Friday - today's dateline above - and today, Sunday, I just don't feel like going into the books to find the nuggets of historical anecdotes about the Ile de la Cité.

Some of these have already appeared in past issues of Metropole. No, today is a Sunday. It was good having the café on the avenue and thinking about the café and the cartoon characters Charlie and Eddie and their possible future.

For these reasons, this is not about the Ile de la Cité. It is about nothing and everything for a micro-moment on a Sunday in December.

Only the photos here are about the Ile de la Cité. For today, you'll have to imagine how it looked a couple of hours ago in the big café on the avenue when I had a double-café and my editorial conference with myself.

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