12 October 2013

Fondest travel memories: Coffee in Paris

So there I was seated alone at this lovely sidewalk cafe on the 7th arrondissement in Paris, just round the corner from Musée Rodin.  This was in May 2005.  Oi Len and her siblings were at the museum which I'd opted out from visiting.  Somehow, sculptures aren't really my thing.  I could've sat myself inside the cafe but I was made up to enjoying the nippy spring morning to the fullest out-side.  Furthermore, my table (if you can call it that; it was so small) was situated near a bus stop; good spot to watch people go by, I thought to myself.

Then came the burly barista whom I swear couldn't manage the faintest of smiles even if he tried.  Algerian, I guessed. 

"Bonjour", I stuttered; trying hard to impress, "Uhh... une petite cappuccino avec, uhmm... triple expresso s'il vous plaît".  Hope I  got that right, I told myself.
 "Petite?... Triple expresso?", he asked with a raised eyebrow (what's the matter?).
 "Oui", I replied; pretty certain by now that I'd screwed up my order with my flawed French.
 "D'accord", he remarked and left.

Aaaah... I was gonna enjoy this moment, no doubt.  I mean, there's nothing like the stereotypical quiet coffee at a sidewalk cafe on a lovely spring morning in Paris, don't you think?  So after watching a couple of turquoise and white buses come and go in quick succession and a well-groomed canine doing his thing at the bus stop pole, my cappuccino finally arrived.

Disappointment.  Being a barista myself, let's just say I wasn't exactly thrilled by this... this... thing served to me.  The foam was too loose and coarse; not at all like the fine foam I make back home.  I mean this was like cotton floss!  For €6.50, I felt well-conned.  Oh what the heck, I thought; I don't even speak French, much less start an argument in central Paris.

"Pas sucre, merci", I told the waiter; returning to him the three packets of brown sugar on this beautiful little plate (may I keep it?).  Now I was the one who couldn't manage a smile.

So I took a sip.  And another.  Hey... this thing isn't too bad at all.  As a matter of fact, it was pretty darn good.  The triple espresso and silky-smooth fresh milk beneath that horrid-looking foam topping was one of the best coffee fixes I've had, I must admit.

They don't know what they're missing, I thought - in reference to Oi Len and my in-laws.  One can't really compare coffee and sculptures I know but, if I had to, certainly this was better than "The Thinker" or the "Nude of Balzac" at Musée Rodin.  Having said that, I must confess I'm hardly an art enthusiast and I find no joy in seeing sculptures of nude homo sapiens.  So, there you go.

Anyway, I had to have another one and quickly downed my cappuccino.  Then came that dreaded time again.  Time for French.  I knocked on the double-glazed window and quickly drew the attention of the barista who took my order earlier.

Now how do I say "another one please"?

"Uhhh...", I was lost for words.  The phrasebook was with Oi Len.
"Oui, monsieur?", the unsmiling barista asked.
"Uhhh...", I was totally stuck.

Then he spoke them... those magical words... "Parlez-vous anglais, monsieur?".  Thank God!

Things moved quickly from there and I went on to consume a third cappuccino but not before having a chat with the barista whom I'd invited to sit down with me.  As it turned out, he was indeed Algerian and told me his name was Khalil.  However, after having worked in France for some years, he preferred to be called by his adopted French name of Jori.

We spoke a fair bit about our common vocation, i.e. coffee-making, and shared ideas/recipes with one another.  He also pointed out that I've already had nine shots of espresso - somewhat admiring my tolerance towards caffeine.  Jori's a great guy and that short time spent chatting with him at that little cafe on that splendid spring Parisian morning has created one of my fondest travel memories.

On meeting up later with Oi Len and the gang at the Musée Rodin, I recall my brother-in-law telling me, "You don't know what you've missed, bro".  I merely smiled and thought to myself, no, you don't know what YOU'VE missed!
Thank you, Jori for volunteering  to speak in English, for the great coffee and, above all, for being a friend for an hour.  Good luck and my best wishes to you wherever you may be.

What is your fondest travel memory?  Do share.

1 comment:

  1. Yes, its memories like those that make a holiday. Good example of what you see is not always the same as what you get.