strong coffee: ten belles, paris + the usual digressions

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According to Inuit culture in Greenland, a person possesses six or seven souls. The souls take the form of tiny people scattered throughout the body. Do you suffer what a French paleontologist called “the distress that makes human wills founder daily under the crushing number of living things and stars”? For the world is as glorious as ever, and exalting, but for credibility’s sake let’s start with the bad news.

An infant is a pucker of the earth’s thin skin; so are we. We arise like budding yeasts and break off; we forget our beginnings. A mammal swells and circles and lays him down. You and I have finished swelling; our circling periods are playing out, but we can still leave footprints in a trail whose end we do know.

Buddhism notes that it is always a mistake to think your soul can go it alone. — Anne Dillard’s For the Time Being

The stove doesn’t work. In a Paris apartment filled with buttons, words and ways of living that alude me, for some reason I can’t turn the stove on. It’s the simplest of dials, six numbers to denote increasing levels of heat, I suppose, and I turn and switch and palm the burner. Nothing. I play detective, sleuthing about the apartment looking for the mythic dial that will set my pot of water aflame. I suspect that my load of laundry has ruined the possibility of a home-cooked meal that does not include cream, butter, sugar or yeast. Watching my pants and unmentionables tremble on the balcony, a scowl forms, and my need for cleanliness has ruined everything.

Why won’t the stove work? I text the apartment owner, who no doubt is fingering a pack of smokes and thick in a second mojito. This is what it’s like here in the evening. Much like New York, everyone is in the business of sedation. The motley lot stand on cobblestone streets, squint at their phones, flick cigarettes into thoroughfares and have another. Aren’t we always having another? Aren’t we lulling ourselves into a quiet stupor, a sweet sensation that feels almost medicinal. Come spring time, we don’t marvel over the magnolia trees whose petals blanket morning grass, instead we court outdoor tables and order bottles of chilled wine. We love our local anesthesia, don’t we?

I turn off all the lights and stand in the blue of evening, and turn each knob. Slowly. Why won’t the stove work, I text a friend, to which she responds, GO OUTSIDE. YOU’RE IN PARIS.

How do I tell my friend that outside, right now, isn’t my bag? How the thought of being a spool of thread, of weaving in and out of conversations, practicing the delicate maneuvering that is happy hour? A street festooned with pretty people not yet drunk, but determined to get there. The boys huddle in their fitted jeans and practiced charm while the girls tug at their skirts and wave one another down. How do I tell my friend that this was my life ten years ago, and the thought of sitting down in a crowded restaurant, in the evening, while everyone goes under, unnerves me?

In a span of an hour, I’ve launched a full-on mental blitzkrieg on the wretched stove. Because it’s forced me to decide which one of these restaurants makes me least uncomfortable. In the end, I settle on a hot crepe and a banana and make my way home. Eager to slip in cotton and wake early for coffee.

Someone once asked me if I get lonely when I travel. I like being alone, I said. But don’t you get lonely? Shaking my head I replied, You don’t understand. Alone and lonely mean two different things. While many who know me slightly think of me as a person who is bombastic, who is unabashedly extrovert, I would posit that I’m often the anthesis of outgoing. Rather, I prefer to spend long stretches of time in solitude, in a quiet that’s constant. I take comfort in hearing my own footsteps on the pavement, seeing my footprints make an indelible mark in the sand. Especially now, as I feel as if I’ve found a new beginning that emerged from the ashes that was a brutal end.

Often I find the best moments are those spent when the drunk are still sleeping. Morning.

A few days ago, I woke with a start at six and couldn’t wait to try Ten Belles. It was a half-hour walk from my hotel but I took comfort in counting the steps and gazing up and around a city that is familiar, but not really.

Recommended by a post on Sous Style, Ten Belles is one of the smattering of coffee shops dotting Paris, offering artisanal coffee and great eats in an austere, yet sublime environment. These are a slew of coffee brewers who are focused on technique and product origin. They take great care in sourcing beans, in how they’re cultivated, grown and sold. They care about the machines they use and how such machines make the grind that makes the coffee we drink. It seems so simple — hot water, a filter, some grind — but for coffee connoisseurs like the crew at Ten Belles, it’s so much more.

I spent a few hours at Ten Belles, drinking filter coffee {incredible}, eating the best muesli I’ve ever consumed, sampling hot scones and chatting up the Brits behind the bar who had a love for all things Bowie. If you’re a coffee-lover, or someone who seeks some sublime time with a book, I recommend Ten Belles.

So while I do love my time alone, I know when this soul needs to laugh and talk and be with others.

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7 thoughts on “strong coffee: ten belles, paris + the usual digressions

  1. I enjoy mornings most of all too. There’s something sweet and innocent about the magic of the sunrise, the birds chirping, and the freshness of a new day. And good for you, for knowing when you need alone time and when you need company! It’s often hard to recognize that in ourselves — and even harder to act on it!

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  2. When I visited Paris many years, with a good friend from London, we would walk the streets all day, take time away from each other, meet up at dinner time and speak of our days. We were always, and I mean always back at the hotel by 8:00 (sometimes earlier). I lived in New York, did I really need to wander the streets and bars of Paris in those twilight hours to watch people get drunk,etc? i didn’t do that at home, so why on vacation?
    Some people think “you’re on vacation, live a little.:” But living a little (or a lot) is different to some folks. I totally hear you on this one. Also, I hope your stove starts working soon!

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    1. Barbara,

      I thought about your comment over the past few days, and you’re right. I never thought to travel New York like a tourist. I’m always bound for somewhere, focused, with a specific direction. True, I’ll “wander” around the West Village, but I’ve yet to rediscover the city as if it were the first time I’ve seen it. Something to consider when I return.

      Thank you for this.

      Warmly, f.

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  3. I love your posts from abroad, Felicia–the whole range of experiences you choose to share, from sublime to mundane to irksome. Like you, I enjoy traveling alone. In grad school I went to London and decided to blow my restaurant budget on theater tickets and books instead. Once during a conference trip I escaped for a few hours and stumbled upon a used book store and café inside an old public library and spent a memorable mid-afternoon break immersed in books, a sunny chair, and coffee and my own thoughts. Nothing puts me more inside my skin that traveling alone, unpacking “just so” in a hotel room, and time for reflection and taking in new views. I loved your post from Italy about baggage–both literal and metaphorical. Love your photos, too. Have you been to the Rodin museum in Paris? The garden in the back of this small museum is one of my favorite places in Paris.

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  4. I loved this post. I live in Chicago in a neighborhood that feels like this sometimes- pretty people not yet drunk but determined to all go under. Even ‘having fun’ must be turned up to 11.

    I love to get up before dawn, go for a run or just having solitary coffee and notebook time. Solitude is essential.

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