Paris, Day 6: A Matter of Time
The bells of Notre-Dame slowly chiming out the hour as the reflection of streetlights twinkle like stars on the surface of the darkened Seine.
An hour spent sitting amidst hedges and roses in silent contemplation of Rodin’s Gates of Hell.
The impossibility of making a connection in the Metro quickly, thanks to the long, meandering, maze-like tunnel-walks between lines.
Today, Paris made me take note of time. If I wasn’t confronted with literal time in the form of the many enormous and beautiful time pieces that grace the interior and exterior of once-train-station Musée d’Orsay, I encountered moments that wrinkled my sense of time — specifically its relentless forward motion.
It all started with coffee.
As I did yesterday before my morning entry to the Louvre, I stopped today to grab one last jolt of caffeine before dedicating myself to art appreciation. And as I did yesterday, I made the mistake of asking that my coffee be “pour emporter” — to go. I figured I’d sip as I walked the last few blocks to the museum, plotting my navigation of Impressionism. And just like yesterday, that proved nearly impossible. Because my coffee “to go” came in one of those plastic cups you get at university residence parties: cheap, flimsy, no lid.
As it turns out, the French do not do take-away coffee. Drink coffee from a paper container lidded with plastic while walking? How gauche. In France, you take the time — even if it’s only a few minutes to drain a small espresso — to sit (stand at the bar if you must) and drink your coffee from a real cup perched atop a real saucer. It tastes better that way. Mostly because you’re motionless and actually focused on the task at hand rather than walking, checking the calendar on your cell phone, and thinking of a million things that have nothing to do with the beverage you’re supposed to be enjoying.
So there I stood in the middle of the café, holding my plastic cup and looking at all the people around me who were seated and drinking their coffees like civilized human beings. I felt too sheepish to find a table once I realized, so I took my sad cup of grand crème and found the nearest the park bench. I sat quietly for five minutes and drank it in peaceful meditation.
That simple act adjusted my relationship to time for the rest of the day. Mostly, I let it be. I didn’t fight it, and I didn’t resent it when it slipped away from me in ways I didn’t anticipate. And I tried earnestly to feel its fullness in the moments when it slowed to a near stop.
I wondered if that is something I can bring home from France with me: The ritual of the seated coffee. Weekday mornings are such a whirlwind. I’m up early either to run or to walk with Tilda. My commute to work takes over an hour, so by the time we get in, it’s a mad dash through showering, dressing, packing up, and racing to catch transit. Some mornings I manage to make myself a coffee at home, which I’ll down while making a to-do list for the day. But more often than not, I’m carrying one of those dreaded paper cups with plastic lid on my way to the streetcar.
But what if I found five minutes each morning to drink a small coffee chez moi? No phone, no notebook, no news. Just me and a coffee. And time. All peacefully coexisting. How would my day change? How would I change?
It would seem a trip back to that charming antique shop in Montmartre might be in order. I’m in the market for a souvenir cup and saucer.