When I commuted to work in Glasgow I’d often squeeze my way through the hundreds of people spilling off the trains onto the platforms and make my way to one of the coffee outlets, joining a pretty fast moving queue to buy a coffee in a disposable cup with a plastic lid and sip it as I continued down the stairs to catch my second train. By the time I reached my workplace I’d be ready to drop the empty container into one of the bins on the platform, or, sometimes, I’d finish it as I walked up the path to hospital door and discard it in a bin at reception.
That’s one way to have a coffee. Here’s another.
In France, you choose a seat at one of the tables in front of the cafe. You can sit at one of the sunny ones, or go for a bit of shade. Settle yourself down and look around. You’ll likely have time to take in the blue sky, the architecture of the old buildings around you and start to notice the passers-by. Or you might get out the book you’re reading, the morning paper you just bought, or the notebook or diary you write in.
There’s an interval between sitting down at one of the tables and someone coming to take your order. I don’t know what determines the length of that interval but at first it felt a lot longer than I was used to. Is it longer than the time taken to get to the front of the queue in Queen Street Station? I don’t know, but when I first experienced this different coffee experience I’d start to feel impatient or irritated. I could even convince myself I was being ignored. But you know what? Those feelings have melted away. I don’t feel that any more. I’ve adjusted, or adapted. Now I sit and enjoy the moments until someone takes my order.
“Un café” – in France, “a coffee” is an expresso. You can make other choices, but the default is an expresso.
There’s another interval until the coffee arrives, easily filled by chatting to your partner, your friends, or your colleagues, by reading your book or newspaper, or jotting down your ideas or lists in your notebook.
Look at this little coffee. Look at the little porcelain cup. I love the feel of it between my fingers. I love the weight of it in my hand. Look at this little saucer, with its dimple in the middle comfortably waiting to receive the cup so that they sit perfectly together. Look at the blue writing, “Caffe Diemme”. Caffe Diemme is the name of a coffee company. The French love to play with words. You can’t see that without hearing “Carpe diem” (“seize the day”) in you head, can you?
The taste is intense and express. A couple of sips and it’s gone. Look around. There’s a young woman reading a novel. There’s a couple talking intimately, delighting in each other’s company. There’s the business man with his laptop. There’s an old man taking in the ebb and flow of people.
You leave your coins on the table or on the little plastic tray with the bill folded onto it, which the waiter left with the coffee.
You get up, gather your belongings, and continue off into your day.
All this can take only a few minutes…..or several. You choose. Nobody is going to hurry you.
I’m not a great fan of seizing or grabbing, but I do believe life is better when you consciously savour it.
Savour the day.