Saturday, 27 April 2013

Paris: Slow mornings

After two weeks in France, which consisted of many small, but hair-risingly strong cups of coffee, loads of foreign soft-on-the-ear words, and plenty of people watching, I can safely say that most Parisians are not morning-people. 

On weekends the streets are quiet and empty before 8 am, and even the cafe's along the Champs-Élysées stand bare and desolate in the early-morning rays until people start to trickle in at 10 am. Of course, with the spring sun sailing in the sky until 9 pm, the streets are crowded until way past my bedtime and festive music usually drifts through my window until after midnight.

A Cafe on the Champs-Élysées at 9:30

In the mornings I need at least two cups of coffee and no labour-intensive activities for the first couple of hours, before I start to feel more like a human and less like a puppet without its strings. In Joburg, sitting in my car, sipping on my second cup of coffee and staring at the traffic that snaked into oblivion on the M1 South, was the perfect wake-me-up recipe.

In Paris, though, the coffee required to zap me to life is somewhat of a challenge. Or rather, the milk lacking from the coffee. You see, French coffee is amazingly aromatic, full of flavour and strong - quite surprisingly so, considering that you only get a drop in a cup the size of a thimble. But the French mostly drink their coffee without milk. Therefore, should you specifically ask for "café au lait", you often get "ne pas lait" or milk-powder, which is worse than no milk at all.

Because I cannot count on having my two cups of coffee before the start of the day, the slow-start lifestyle of the French suits me perfectly. 

Working hours at my new company are flexible, but everyone arrives between 9 am and 10 am and often only leaves the office after 6 pm. This seemed very late to me at first, because in Jozi I would rarely leave the office after 5 pm, unless there is a looming deadline. Then, of course, we would all leave before 5 pm the following day. However, if you take into account that the sun only drops from the Parisian sky at 9 pm during the spring, leaving the office at 6 pm is  relatively early and you can still catch plenty of sun-rays after a hard day indoors.

The past week I had to catch the RER to Lognes and when I boarded the train at 8 am, I relished in the silence that engulfed the passengers. Everyone boarded the train in silent respect for the "early hour" and peacefully peered out the windows, read the morning paper or stood with closed eyes (possibly praying that we arrive safely?) for the duration of the journey. I either (tried to) read the paper (i.e. looked at the pictures and tried to form sentences with the words I recognised) or watched the people in their sleep/pray mode.

On the RER

I even managed to find a little corner shop in Paris where I was offered coffee with (real) milk! With a hot cup of coffee, a chocolate croissant and the tranquility of the RER, I was wide awake and ready to face the day when the train pulled into the Lognes station 40 minutes later.

A good thing too, because I had forgotten to ask for directions the previous day and had no idea how to get to the office..

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