It was the day Parisians had been waiting for. Cafés had been touting their reopening all week. “Ready to see us again Tuesday?” asked my local café on Instagram. Another café posted a photo of waiting terrace tables. “We’re ready for tomorrow.” I would feel a rush with each one that cropped up in my feed. Paris cafés are probably what I love most about living here—la vie de flaneur—and they are the center of Parisian social life. Their closure due to Covid-19 was a hard blow to café owners—and to customers who’d lost their usual refuge just when they needed it most.
But after three long months, restaurants and cafés in France were finally allowed to reopen this Tuesday—full service in “Green Zones” (areas with a low number of cases), terrace service only in “Orange Zones,” like Paris, where beds in intensive care units are still close to capacity. For all restaurants in both zones, social distancing rules need to be adhered to—but unlike the six-foot limit in the States, here, they are enforcing only a scant one meter (approx. 39 inches) between tables.
Some cafés took these measures very seriously. Café des Anges, another local favorite, posted a photo of the manager measuring the distance between their terraces tables, normally lined up tightly in a single row along the façade. “Only a few safety distancing measures left and we can welcome you at Anges tomorrow starting at 10 a.m.! We can’t wait to see you again!”
The whole city was feeling upbeat, and even Mother Nature seemed to smile on the day. I was eager to take part, and headed out after the lunch hour to document the reopenings for this blog, and my other project Save the Paris Café. It was too late to eat, and too early for wine, so I spent an hour making a large loop around the area, taking photos of all the different terraces that, just a week before, had been lonely and sad. But today, Paris felt like one big block party—especially because many cafés, in an effort to make up for the loss of inside seating, had annexed additional sidewalk space, parking spots, even part of the street. One café put an inviting table for four in front of a Métro station that is temporarily closed.
Restaurants that don’t normally have terrace space simply plunked tables on the sidewalk. It posed a challenge for anyone trying to keep their distance from others as they walked along, but I took it in my stride and moved into the street when I needed to. It was worth a little inconvenience just to see the cafés serving again.
Some terraces still had plenty of seats while others were packed, and still others seemed to have forgotten all about social distancing. Yikes, no thank you, I thought as I walked past one of my favorites on Rue de la Roquette that had set up the tables as if it were any other day. There were only two people sitting on the terrace, and they were far apart, but I thought if someone came to sit next to me, how would I deter them when the table was right there? I wasn’t in the mood for a conflict. So I moved on.
By now, it was 3:30 p.m. and that was about wine o’clock by my way of thinking—it certainly felt like a celebration—so I made my way back to my local café. There were plenty of available tables on the terrace, lots of distance, and I set myself down on the side street where there was several feet of space all around. The waitress spotted me and bounded over. “Hey!” she sang from under her mask. “So happy to see you!”
“Heeey!” I sang back. “Me, too!” More than I could say. I ordered my usual Chardonnay (for only 4€70).
She came back with my wine, and placed it on the table, placing my world back right-side-up. I lifted my mask and took a sip, the first time I’d gone mask-less outside since March. I sat, and sipped, and watch the world go by. Like before.
Two woman arrived and sat a few tables away. As they settled in their seats, one of them exclaimed, “Ah, to sit on a terrace!” Exactly. Sitting there at that familiar table, looking out that familiar view, my eyes started to well up.
When lockdown happened, I wasn’t sure when—or if—we’d ever be able to do this again. Now, here I was. I took out my phone to take a photo and it connected automatically to the café’s WiFi. We’re home.
Alfie Track Quiz Results
This Music Monday I asked the question: Who recorded the track “Alfie” for the U.S. release of the film of the same name? I got a lot of different responses from Dionne Warwick to Barbra to Dusty Springfield. While Barbra and Dionne may have recorded singles of the song, the correct answer, as you can see, is the one and only CHER, who was about 20 years old at the time, her star just starting to ascend. Assuming no one cheated (wink-wink), correct answers came in from Christine (first correct response), followed by J. Morales, and Debbie. Pamela finally landed it on it, too. Cher’s voice, to me, surpasses Cilla Black’s (who sang it for the U.K. release of the film). I love the simplicity and clarity of Cher’s voice in this song—its ringing tones and soulful sound. We forget how talented she is because her fame seems to have eclipsed her voice.
You can listen to Cher’s version—with its classic 1960s jingly-jangly pop-folk arrangement—set over the ending scene of the film Alfie, here. She released the song on her self-titled album,Chér (with accent aigu!) in October, ’66.
Cilla Black’s version, here, uses Bacharach’s original arrangement, which is what I also used. Personally, I don’t get the appeal of her voice, which is uneven—pretty enough when she sings softly but becomes really shrill and bright when she goes forte. Maybe that was the “it” sound back then, I dunno.
La vie en terrasse