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SEARCHERS AFTER THRILLS
FUNCTION OF THE CAFÉ
CAFÉ ETIQUETTE FOR THE FRENCHWOMAN
CAFÉS OF THE PARIS BOULEVARDS
AMERICAN FAMILY AND PARIS CAFÉ
PARIS CAFÉS AND BRASSERIES
PEEP AT BOHEMIA
CAFÉS OF THE LATIN QUARTER
GIRL ART STUDENTS
ART AND THE CAFE
CAFÉS OF THE FRENCH TOWNS
SMALL CAFÉS OF THE PROVINCES
FRENCHWOMAN "EN TOUR"
CAFÉ FOR THE WOMAN TRAVELLER
USEFULNESS OF THE FRENCH CAFÉ
FRENCH CUP OF COFFEE
ICE AND ICES
MISUSE OF THE WORD CAFÉ
COFFEE AND ROLLS
THE WOMAN TRAVELLER AND THE FRENCH CAFÉ
AN American woman once asked a woman friend, confidentially, as to what she might do, now that she was in Paris, that would be "real daring and unconventional." She was acting on the general delusion that one goes to Paris for the most attractive form of high-class bohemianism as one goes to Brussels for lace and Geneva for furs!
Her sophisticated friend answered her by telling her to go to a café at eleven o'clock at night and drink an absinthe!
Neither of these searchers after thrills realised that the only part of the programme that would really shock the habitués of any Paris café would be the wooing of the "Green Fairy" of the hour of the apéritif (which is a before-dinner function) so late in the day.
This fairly illustrates the common feminine viewpoint of the ofttimes useful and always attractive French café. As a matter of fact, the French café (for while its counterpart exists in all Continental Europe, its origin is French, and it there fulfils best its functions) is neither an eating house, a bar-parlour, or a saloon, as is often imagined; and certainly the average well-kept French café is far from being an objectionable resting-place for the weary traveller, man or woman. It might be better described as a meeting-place where the Frenchman goes to take his after déjeuner cup of coffee, or his apéritif before dinner. Here he reads his daily paper, writes a letter, perhaps, and, bon père de famille though he is, often has a quiet game of dominoes or backgammon with a friend.
The rules governing the sobriety and propriety of the café in France are strict and usually enforced, and the conventional café and its clientèle is in general most orthodox. This, though, is not a defence of the café habit as it is unfortunately frequently practised by many Frenchmen and strangers alike, but a few notes and hints as to how and when it may be made useful, within limits, to the woman traveller abroad.
Taking the cafés of France as the most perfect exponents of that useful institution, it is to be remarked that their etiquette changes as does the topography and climate of their environment, but it almost universally is to be remarked that no Frenchwoman of repute, regardless of her standing in the social scale, enters a café unless attended by some male member of her family, or with friends, but still under the protecting wing of some man belonging to the party. There may be times and occasions which make justifiable exceptions to rules: at a café in a railway station, perhaps, or at some watering place, or ville d'eau; but in a general way the edict may be taken as absolute, and its observance taken to strict account save in those exceptional conditions that one has to deal with as they come up.
In Paris, the female portion of the café clientele is largely made up from the gay underworld, and it is this fact which is largely responsible for the stigma which has been attached to the café idea. But there are cafés and cafés; it is not especially of the grand cafes of the capital that this article deals. The cafés of the Grands Boulevards are frequented also by the tourists who go because they think, as did the American woman, that it gives the naughty zest needed to accentuate their trip abroad, but more often for the better reason that from the wicker chairs grouped around the little tables on the terrasse of such establishments as the Grande Café, the Café de la Paix, the Café Royale or Pousset's, they have the best viewpoint of the brilliantly moving pageant of Paris life. These are the orchestra seats at the passing show.
To the Parisian café the American man confidently brings all the members of his family, from the schoolgirl in short dresses to the young lady whose coming out is put down for that autumn, when they have all returned and settled down in Oshkosh or Oskaloosa. They order one of the many sweet, coloured drinks which the café supplies in any chromatic combination or taste that one's fancy may suggest, and which they don't like overmuch after they get them. All this joyous family laugh and talk together as if they were at a garden party at home, meanwhile casting envious glances at the resplendent world of Paris as it passes by. It is all a part of the Paris game, and the mere man pays the bill and tips the garçon overplus and they all move on contented enough with the first act of the piece, perhaps to do the same thing over again a few doors away, where the stage is similarly set, quite unconscious of the character of the crowd with whom they have rubbed elbows, the furtive-eyed women and the boulevardiers.
The English family party may be seen there too, but in no such numbers, nor are they so oblivious to their surroundings; their attitude is one of recognition, but indifference. They are away from home, among foreigners, so what difference can it make? Besides, the English family is not so apt to be burdened with the "young person," and they are pleased to be able to relax from a traditional prudery in the genial atmosphere of Paris, a city which asks nothing from the strangers within her gates, but that they shall make as sleek an appearance as do the inhabitants themselves, and dispense money with an open hand.
There are certain of the higher class café and brasseries of the Paris boulevards where more or less elaborate musical programmes are given each evening, or on certain evenings during the week. It is understood that the brasserie, in this case, means an establishment which makes a specialty of serving beer, more or less after the German manner, though it also purveys all of the varied assortment of drinks to be had in the conventional café.
Here in these brilliantly lighted café, brasseries and "tavernes" – another English word which has crept insiduously into French – one occasionally sees a French family entire taking a peep into what they fondly consider a by-path of Bohemia under the guise of a musical evening. Young girls may be of the party, but invariably strongly and discreetly flanked by a solid and substantial brace of parents, besides, more often than not, a grandparent or two as well, or at least an uncle or an aunt. All in all they are a most decorous and orthodox party. They sip innocent, sweet drinks, listen attentively to the very good music and leave early, at the hour when others are just beginning to warm up and have a good time. About the only café in Paris that the English-speaking woman is to be seen at alone are certain of those in the Latin Quarter, or in the vicinity of the Gare Montparnasse. And these are the very ones that they should not frequent, certainly not without a male escort.
These cafes of the "Rive Gauche" particularly fascinate the youthful girl art students who flock to them in droves when the day's work is over, principally on account of their real, or supposed, celebrity, of which they have read in some highly coloured account of the real student world of Paris. They flatter themselves at this stage of their careers, if they have not already done so before, that they are floating glorywards in the true ethereal atmosphere of art. These young aspirants of the cafes of the Rue de Rennes and the Boulevard Montparnasse all carry note-books, in which they peck away at little sub-rosa sketches of the people around them, as they understand is the cafe-habit of those really great in the art world. They will stare some assuming young, or old, painter, who may have come to the café for some good and sufficient reason, out of countenance at a vain attempt at hero-worship, for the majority of them are young girls and know no better than to be seen alone, or in bunches, amid surroundings more or less questionable because of their geographical location.
Occasionally a young girl of this class is to be seen showing some older and more staid maiden relative the sights of the neighbourhood. She has only been in Paris for a week, and leaves again on the following Saturday, and is thus so impressed by "Mamie's" or "Carrie's" strides in art-lore and worldly wisdom that she neglects to pass judgment upon the surroundings, or even question their propriety, even were she fitted to do so.
There is one well-known more or less bohemian café of this same neighbourhood whose regular clientele has been absolutely driven away by these hoards of stranger women and girls. And now the aspirants are driven to sketching themselves, since no celebrity willingly puts in an appearance until after this element has left.
Young girls, or any unconducted woman, will do well to keep away from cafes of this type altogether, for they will get no stimulus for either art or morals therefrom, beside subjecting themselves to criticism they would shrink from if they comprehended its full significance.
In some of the larger provincial capitals, such as Rouen, Lyons or Bordeaux, it is quite the thing for a section of the local society element to patronise certain of the larger cafes. Here family groups will be seen between the hours of four and six in the afternoon taking an ice, or even tea, or "le five o'clock," as the French call it. The café then becomes a rendezvous for friends and acquaintances, and assumes somewhat the air of a legitimate social function.
It is in the small towns, however, that one finds the typical café functioning in its best and most legitimate sense, in the chefs-lieux, or county towns, and in the Sous-Préfectures. The etiquette to be observed by the resident of the small French town is something remarkably stringent. It is here that the café is more nearly a man's club, and no woman resident would dream of setting a foot inside of it save on certain very special open-house occasions, such as a general, or local, fête-day, the jour de l'an, or the Fête Nationale on the fourteenth of July, and then is only allowed as a great concession to the cause of liberty by an indulgent husband or brother, or in company of a party of relatives or friends.
Curiously enough, away from home, en voyage, the Frenchwoman avails herself of the privileges and the accommodations of the café as suits her fancy, though in most cases she will even then be found protected by some male relative who has come to the station to see her off or to meet her. For such a simple want as a cup of coffee, an ice, or any slight refreshment, she is thus well catered for, though it would never occur to her to apply to the same source in her own town. When she travels the thing becomes "comme il faut," though a Frenchwoman travelling alone is almost as rare a sight as would be that of the dodo. If Frenchwomen are encountered alone, even in a country town, it may be safely assumed that the protecting male missed connections somewhere along the line, and that the journey is more or less lengthy away from home. It may be set down, however, that the Frenchwoman rarely avails herself of this concession to her needs, usually preferring to load herself down with a big lunch basket in which she can carry a bottle of wine, or water, for her refreshment. The Frenchwoman's wants are simple whilst travelling, and easily satisfied, and though she may have to wait three hours for a train in correspondence at some junction point, she would much prefer to spend her time in the waiting-room of a station, or in the draughty train-shed of some of the great gare, rather than seek the comfort and shelter of a nearby café. Travel, for the Frenchwoman, is an uncomfortable procedure at best, and all its inconveniences she has made up her mind to suffer stoically before she started out.
Such a condition would never exist for the American girl with a thirst bred of the drinking of much iced water, or for her English cousin who counts the day lost that does not begin and end with tea. To them the café will fill a long-felt want.
What, though, is the English-speaking woman traveller to do who has not a male escort by her, and probably two-thirds of those who travel are without that useful adjunct?
The answer is simple: make use of the latitude given the woman traveller, notwithstanding French etiquette, and patronise the respectable, modest-looking café on the corner opposite. Nothing will be amiss in your so doing, so do not be dismayed.
It is quite possible for the woman tourist, with or without a male escort, to go to a café in any part of France and order what she may wish within the limits of what they can supply. This may indeed be a breach of French etiquette as it is practised, but the fact that she is a foreigner, one of those étrangères whose goings and comings are not to be measured by French feminine standards, will amply excuse the action in the eyes of the occupants of the café, and should justify one's presence to herself and to the world.
If one is sometimes stared at in a café it is not likely to be so much out of rudeness, nor familiarity, as from curiosity. The men are usually so absorbed in their backgammon, dominoes, picquet or boston, or engrossed in discussions of local affairs over their mazagrans and their petits verres as to usually be indifferent, utterly, to the feminine intruder. The average provincial Frenchman is much more decorous than our traditions have led us to suppose; this one may put down for an indisputable fact.
It is difficult to see how the woman en tour in the picturesque provinces of old France, in the little towns off the beaten tracks, can avoid the café, even should her instincts be against it. Whether attended or not, it is but natural that her tastes should demand a cup of black coffee after déjeuner or dinner; and if her habits are such that she is perfectly miserable without a refreshing cup of tea in the afternoon, she surely ought to have a chance to gratify these simple wants.
Outside the cities and the resorts it is almost impossible to get a cup of coffee that is drinkable in France, the supposed land of good coffee; and the tea is of a more debatable quality even. This comes undoubtedly from the fact that the hotels are not in the habit of supplying these two articles of consumption, and indeed the proprietor expects his clientele to patronise the neighbouring café for them, where, for a fact, he goes himself often enough for his after-dinner coffee.
To be sure, if pressed, he will make a shift and turn out something that goes under the name of tea or coffee, but it will not only be undrinkable, but cost more than a better, fresher infusion to be had at a café.
Do not hesitate, then, to patronise the local café of the small French town where you may be "doing'' a cathedral or a chateau. Its general aspect may be lowly, but it may possess a grimness coming of many generations of smokers, but its tiled, or, perhaps, sawdust strewn floor is probably cleaner than it looks, and one will find compensating amusement in the study of the local types to be seen there, as well as the opportunity of partaking of the refreshment one desires.
One fares best at the French café in the warm season, when all the world sits outside under the awnings on the terrasse, which may be even a real terrace shaded with vines and screened from inquisitive passersby by evergreens in tubs, or, more frequently, merely a part of the sidewalk for which the proprietor pays a tax or a rental to the municipality for the privilege of putting out his tables and chairs.
Here is another problem solved – after a fashion – for the woman traveller. A sitting-room of any description is practically unknown in the French country hotel, and even in many of those of the larger towns where tourists of convention do sometimes happen along. What is the indefatigable woman sight-seer to do, then, when she wants to gather strength for another round? Stay in her bedroom? Shades of Saint-Hubert – the patron saint of hotel-keepers – forbid. Fancy the tired traveller resting or writing in the bare, chilly, bedroom of the average French country hotel, with never an easy-chair of any kind. Writing on one's knees may be feminine, but it isn't comfortable.
There is really nothing left but to do. as the French do; use the café for a sitting, reading or writing-room, according to one's needs; and one can do this for as long a time as they choose for the price of a cup of coffee or tea, or a glass of milk (hot or cold), if tastes are more simple.
Often there will be a café attached to the hotel, but conducted quite as a separate establishment; if not, the hotel proprietor will direct you to the one you should patronise, considering that what you may want is a certain recognition as to its propriety. Anyway, when in doubt, fall back on common sense, and use your best judgment, which will soon become trained and able to scent the café best suited to your needs as far as you can see its name on the sign over the door.
To the woman traveller with scruples, who thinks she will be obliged to drink only alcoholic beverages if she goes to a cafe, the following may tend to relieve her mind.
There will always be coffee on tap, black, black as strong coffee can be, and blacker yet sometimes when an undue amount of chickory has been added. It will be served either in a cup or a tall glass, as you prefer, the latter, known as a mazagran, being its most acceptable form. To women, the custom seems to be to serve it without question in a small cup, this seemingly being a spontaneous concession to the presence of the fair sex and their desire to drink coffee any way, which, indeed, many Frenchwomen do not, except in the early morning. Whether one takes it in a glass or in a cup, the quantity and the price are the same.
If coffee with milk is wanted, you should ask for café-crême, and not for café-au-lait. In either case it is the same thing, save that in the former instance it is generally served in the tall glass, and in the latter it will generally be accompanied by another glass in which reposes a jauntily rolled serviette, or doily, for which adornment you will perhaps pay double the regular price for the same coffee and the same milk – not crême, though it be called such.
One finds good tea now at almost any important café in any French town of eight or ten thousand inhabitants. The French, within the past few years, have become quite confirmed tea drinkers, and while the English afternoon tea habit is only an adjunct of the" high-life "whose members ape foreign ways, the provincial Frenchman often takes a cup of tea after meals instead of coffee.
Tea ordered in a French café is always served "nature," without milk. If milk is wanted it must be asked for, and in addition, an increased price is paid usually, the combination costing perhaps fifty centimes, whereas otherwise it may be but thirty or thirty-five.
One can also get hot or cold milk at a cafe, though the latter will most likely have previously been boiled, and thus in warm weather will lack a certain freshness of taste which will not be agreeable to everybody.
All café serve a remarkable assortment of "tizanes" on order, infusions of most of the leaves and blossoms of the herborists' encyclopedia. They taste, all of them, like the medicines at which we used to revolt in our youth, but are supposed to be beneficial for real or imaginary nerves or other slight indispositions. And they probably are; or at least they are probably harmless.
The most frequently called for of these "tizanes" is that made of tilleul, the leaves and blossoms of the linden tree. Verveine is made from what is popularly called the lemon verbena, and so on down the list. There is cammomile, mint and many more, which truth to tell often do not look inviting, whatever may be their virtues. They are served in the same manner as tea, always in a cup, and boiling hot.
Lemonade, the kind you really want, in a French café is known as citron pressé, or citronnade, never as limonade. In the former case you are brought a cut lemon, a glass scraper, or pressoir, and the other accessories necessary to make the lemonade yourself; and in the latter, you are served a horrible abomination out of a bottle, made probably of a solution of citric acid, and not in the least related to lemonade, save as the name appears on the label on the bottle.
You may not always be able to get real lemonade, and the American girl must not as a regular thing count on ice, though if ice (glace à refraicher) can be had anywhere in town it is at the café, though usually only in the heated term.
In summer, the cafés of the cities and large towns make a specialty of ices – creams and sorbets. They are small in quantity, and large in price, and rather thin for the American girl's taste. They are served in single flavours, or as a mélange or panachée, that is, two or more kinds to a portion, but must be so ordered, unless indeed you order one of each flavour, as many an American girl has done before now, to the astonishment of the usually placid French garçon.
All the celebrated French mineral waters can be had at any café with any pretence whatever, though you will be forced to order a bottle, or in some cases, half a bottle; though recently the tiny quarter bottles of Vichy have appeared, and the drinking of them as an apéritif by the supposedly blasé Frenchman has become quite a fad. Prices are usually marked on a saucer, which accompanies the article ordered, and range from thirty centimes to seventy-five centimes as a rule.
The misuse of the word "café" in our own country as applied to an eating place often misleads the traveller into the belief that the café abroad is also a restaurant; but this is only the case when the sign reads "Café-Restaurant," otherwise nothing eatable is to be had in the usual café. The one exception being, that in the larger towns, if one wishes to take their morning café-au-lait or chocolate at a café (which is frequently preferable to taking it at the hotel), it is possible to order a roll or a brioche with it, which the garçon will bring in from the nearby pastry shop, or boulangerie; but beware of complicating the order by a demand for butter – you may have to wait half the morning for it to arrive, but more often it is not forthcoming at all.
The café of the great resorts, like Aix-les-Bains, Trouville, Nice or Biarritz, are got up principally for their strange clientèle, and consequently provide for all tastes, with perhaps less that is French about them than any other café in France. Here women are expected, and are usually to be found in as large numbers as the men. Their tastes are especially catered for, and here one can get afternoon tea, à l'Anglais, with cut bread and butter and all the rest, jam if you like it, and plum-cake, which they know as "peekfreen," after the name of its maker. A word at the end: as our French friends say. The usefulness of the French café for the woman traveller will be greatly enhanced by a discreet manner and an unobtrusive one in the part she is playing as a globe-trotter.
The American girl will do well to observe and copy closely the feminine manners and customs of the country in which she may be touring. Then when she must defy convention it will be with as little foreign cachet as possible. This will go far to smooth the way.
Much is forgiven the étrangère to be sure, and her presence at the French café is the least of the "shockings" that will be remembered by her French critics long after her radiance has passed away. "Les dames étrangères sont toujours gentiles," has come to be a commonplace with the French. Whatever else they may think depends entirely upon the acts of the individual.