Thursday, October 24, 2013

climbing over obstacles usually pays off

Tonight I entered more deeply into the mysterious bowels of the tabac/café that mesmerizes me more each time I visit it.

For a year I've passed it regularly but never stopped. The localness of it intimidated me. Perhaps I and my halting French wouldn't be welcome there. For all my adventurousness, it is still often an act of will for me to push myself over the threshold of places that look like they contain unwritten rules I won't understand immediately. I can cross national borders with ease, but doorways to unknown-to-me eating establishments in Nashville or Aix, n'importe où, rise up before me as tall as climbing walls without handholds.

I suppose we all have our quirks.

This is one of mine.

But this tabac, with its small terrasse (terrace) tucked into the folds of the cathedral's outer ramparts and underneath the shade of an average-size tree, has always seemed a bit mysterious to me. Through its doorway, the long, narrow shop with a counter running perpendicular to the street looks more like a liquor shop or cigarette counter than a place to get coffee. Various brands of cigarettes line the wood shelves behind, followed by tall liquor bottles and clear glasses. All reflecting light off their surfaces.

But my French friend Hélène helped me over the first barrier when we chose this terrasse a couple months ago for one of our weekly chats. More quiet than the larger cafés on the nearby Place de la Mairie, it's as though the walls of the cathedral provide warm arms that contradict the slight gloominess suggested by the near constant shadows that cover the protected terrasse.

We've since returned to these cool shadows a few times. The server, an older woman with a short haircut and wide shoulders framing her comfortably plump-ish figure, is warmly unintrusive each time.

Today, at twilight, it was too cool to claim an outdoor spot for my reading time. So with a "bonsoir" to the server-woman/proprietress and another taking a smoke break with her at the door, I thrust myself over the threshold into the heretofore unknown inner sanctum, the warm seats in the back that you can't see from the street.

My companions back here have since exited, leaving me alone with my empty cappuccino cup, my pen, my paper, my book, and my certainty that I must return to this sanctuary. The warmest of conversational buzzes floats back to me from the few tables near the counter. I can just glimpse the two women exchanging bisous with a few favored customers across the counter.

On a street lined with tourist-attracting shops, I feel like I've entered a gem where family lives. There's certainly something to be said for thrusting oneself across thresholds.