There's been a lot written about the café in France, about the cafés of Paris, even about individual cafés of particular significance. My goal is not to add to this literature by articulating some never-before-expressed insight into the world of the café. I have probably sat down at no more cafés in Paris than the average Parisian has or will in the course of a lifetime. However, in the little less than two years of living in that city, I kept a running log of every café I stopped in at, and in the two months before I left, I rode my bike around the city capturing each and every one of these places on film. The perspective I offer, then, has less to do with the quality of my experience with the cafés of Paris than with the quantity of those experiences – a relentless and often indiscriminate exploration of the many ways and circumstances in which to sit down for a drink.

Although names and locations are given, this chronicle is not presented as a traditional guidebook. There are no "reviews" of the cafés and their offerrings per se, nor is there any particular emphasis on trendy or majestic or "classic" cafés, on cafés that caputre a certain je ne sais quoi, on cafés that reflect all there is or isn't to experience about Paris. I don't try (too often) to wax philosophical on the nature of it all, what these places could mean to the French or to the average, above-average, or below-average North American in France. Instead, these cafés - the good, the bad, and the ugly - serve as the backdrop to almost two years of trying to make something of a life in Paris, with all the adoption, adaptation, and frustration that accompanies it. There were jobs, friends, phases taken up by this or that activity, and there was always a café to be sat at. What I hope is that by letting these cafés serve as the weave in the narrative of my two years there, the reader will experience some of what it's like to go about one's business in a place as dense with distraction as Paris.

intro - ch. 1 - ch. 2 - ch. 3 - ch. 4 - ch. 5

*** The 1999 Schwartz Guide to Paris ***


What the critics are saying:

"I recognized many places I know, street corners, vistas, the special texture and composition of facades, balconies, etc. - while [the] photographs, of course, as old Walter Benjamin noted long ago, brought out the "optical unconscious" of these familiar places . . . it reminded my nostalgic self of a different way to experience life."
    - Christophe, actual French guy

". . . a wide set of vivid memory rushes, in 3-d and cinemascope, that I fully enjoyed . . . brought plenty gushing up (or out or forth, gushing anyway, like an uncontrollable acid flashback that takes hold of the senses, a hyperaesthetic trip that becomes a kind of physical transport, a magic carpet ride, a trip Id like to truly take)."
    - James, actual Canadian guy

"It looks FABULOUS!"
    - Sara, actual French Studies Ph.D.