In the second installment of our series, “My Favorite Café Is…” bestselling author and artist Janice MacLeod shares her perfect place with us.
For the first two years in Paris, I was like Goldilocks, traipsing all over the city in search of the best café. A place I could call my own. One café would have a cozy atmosphere but terrible coffee. Another would have great coffee but terrible food. Then I came upon the café that was just right: Café TournBride in the 5th arrondissement.
It had it all—great coffee, cozy atmosphere and delicious traditional French cuisine. Plus, it’s location on the pedestrian-friendly rue Mouffetard makes it the perfect perch for people catching. Being here makes me feel like I’m in a timeless Paris—the version you see on all those postcards. People still sit and write letters, read the paper, and catch up on the latest gossip. I often linger here with my journal—sipping, dreaming and listening to French words flutter by on the breeze.
I plan on putting in plenty of time here, and at the end of my days I’ll likely haunt it ever after. We all must find our place in this world. Here in Paris, I believe I have found mine.
[Trouvez ci-dessous la version française] There are cafés in Paris where the mere sound of the name evokes an emotion before you’ve even taken a sip of your coffee. On a cold, rainy Sunday morning in May, I was desperately searching for an open café when I stumbled upon Le Castiglione just near the chic place Vendôme. Since I didn’t want to go broke for the price of a coffee, I decided to drink mine at the bar, which is usually less expensive. Comfortably seated at one of the plush red velvet stools, I mused about the name of the café. Castiglione, of course, takes its name from the nearby street, rue de Castiglione, which was named in honor of the battle won by a then young and dashing Napoléon during his military campaign in Italy.
But there is another Castiglione. Not the name of the besieged city this time, but of a beautiful, young Italian woman. Bonaparte may have won Castiglione the city in the name of France, but Castiglione, the woman, won Napoléon in the name of her own homeland, Italy. This was during the second empire of Napoléon III, nephew of the first Napoléon. Virginia Oldoini, Countess of Castiglione was much adored by all the men of Paris, and vanquished the heart of Napoléon III. Many say her influence over the emperor helped establish the Kingdom of Italy in 1861. Such was the power of her beauty.
Like Narcissus, Castiglione was likewise obsessed with her own beauty, and had many hundreds of portraits taken of herself in various costumes and scenarios by court photographers Mayer and Pierson, photos which still survive today. But her beauty lost its own battle with time, and she lost her joie de vivre as a result. She would only go out at night, afraid people might recognize her, and veiled all her mirrors in black, so she would not have to witness her fading beauty and advancing age. She ended her years in a lonely basement apartment with her many dogs at 26 Place Vendôme, succumbing to madness in the end. Outward beauty is nothing it seems without inner beauty—that is to say a minimum of culture, an appreciation of the deeper things of life.
That brings to mind a third Castiglione: Balthazar Castiglione. He codified the “beauty inside/out” principle, and it was he who wrote the guide of the perfect gentleman, a bestseller in Europe in the 16th Century. He even had his portrait painted by Rafael, the artist whose many Madonnas defined beauty for the era.
This elegant café, awash in red, is the ideal place to think about the importance of beauty in your life. And speaking of the perfect gentlemen, Thierry my waiter is the real thing. Everything here is a notch above; there is even a “Happy Coffee Hour” where, if you take your coffee at the bar before noon, you’ll pay only 1.60 euros instead of 1.80 euros.
As I sipped my coffee, I was suddenly seized by a desire to say hello to Mr. Balthazar Castiglione. So, I quickly paid and dashed under the raindrops towards the Louvre museum, where his Raphael portrait hangs. Café Castiglione must be like a magic filter through which beauty shines and draws you in, because one minute I’m sipping an ordinary coffee, and the next, I’m strolling in one of the biggest museums in the world, surrounded by the most beautiful art in the world. That’s one special café! —Edith de Belleville
Where? 235 Rue Saint-Honoré, 1st arr.
When? Open 7 days; 7am-11 :30pm
How to go? Métro Tuileries, Concorde line 1 or 12
When? from 7 to 2 oclock in the morning
What do drink/what to eat? Happy Coffee Hour: Coffee before noon at the bar is only 1.60 euros. View the menu.
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Il y a des cafés à Paris dont le nom seul vous donne déjà à réfléchir avant même d’avoir bu votre café. Un dimanche en mai alors qu’il pleuvait et qu’il faisait froid comme en hiver, je cherchais désespérément un café encore ouvert. Le café Castiglione se trouve juste au coin de la chic place Vendôme. Ne voulant pas me ruiner pour un café, je décidai donc de m’installer au comptoir. Assise confortablement sur mon tabouret recouvert de velours rouge, je me mis alors à rêver au nom de ce café. Castiglione, bien sûr, c’est le nom de la rue juste à coté. La rue Castiglione fut baptisée en l’honneur de la bataille gagnée par Napoléon Bonaparte lors de sa campagne militaire d’Italie quand il était jeune et beau.
Mais il y a une autre Castiglione. Elle est également italienne et ce n’est pas le nom d’une ville assiégée mais d’une femme jeune et belle dont le corps sculptural faisait fantasmer tous les mâles de Paris. Bonaparte a conquis la ville de Castiglione mais la Castiglione elle, a conquis Napoléon au nom de sa patrie, l’Italie.
C’était au temps du second Empire et l’empereur c’était Napoléon III, le neveu de Napoléon premier. Comme Narcisse, Virginia di Castiglione était folle de son corps et s’est fait prendre en photo des centaines de fois. Et puis elle a perdu sa bataille et s’est avouée vaincu quand sa beauté s’est flétrie. Elle est devenue vieille, pauvre et abandonné de tous. Enfin, abandonnée des humains car elle fini sa vie dans un soupirail avec ses nombreux chiens au 26 place Vendôme. Elle ne sortait que la nuit de peur qu’on la reconnaisse. Elle a recouvert tous ses miroirs d’un voile noir pour ne plus se voir. Elle est devenue véritablement folle. La beauté extérieure c’est bien mais cela n’est rien si on n’a pas aussi la beauté intérieure c’est à dire un minimum de culture.
Ce café rouge et élégant est vraiment le lieu idéal pour rêver de l’importance de la beauté dans votre vie. Thierry qui tient le bar lui aussi est un vrai gentleman. Il y a même un « happy coffee hour » et vous paierez seulement 1,60 euros votre café au bar au lieu de 1,80 euros si vous le buvez avant midi. Mais comment sont les toilettes me direz-vous ? Elle sont à l’image de ce café chic et elles ne vous décevront pas.
Et tout d’un coup un troisième Castiglione me vient à l’esprit: Balthazar Castiglione. Il fut le premier à codifier le principe “être beau à l’intérieur et à l’extérieur”. Castiglione a écrit le manuel du parfait gentleman et son livre est devenu un best seller au XVIème siècle dans toute l’Europe. Le peintre Rafael a même fait son portrait.
Et si j’allais dire bonjour à Monsieur Castiglione ? Sitôt mon café bu, d’un pas alerte et sous la pluie, je me dirige vers le musée du Louvre pour admirer le tableau de Rafael. La vie a Paris est vraiment extraordinaire. Le café ici est un philtre magique. Grâce à un simple café, vous vous retrouvez à déambuler dans le plus grand musée du monde. C’est ça l’effet fantastique des cafés de Paris ! —Edith de Belleville
Où ? 235, rue Saint-Honoré 75001 Paris
Quand ? 7 jours sur 7 ; 12h00 à 23h30 (petit-déjeuner : 7h à 11h30)
Comment y aller ? Métro Tuileries, Concorde line 1 or 12
Que manger, que boire ? Happy Coffee Hour : 1,60 euros votre café au bar avant midi. Voir la carte.
When people ask me what they should be sure to do while they’re in Paris, I always say the same thing: “Just be sure you leave some time to simply wander—walk, sit in a park or café, and take some time to just watch the world go by.”
I say this even if the person asking me is only going to be in Paris for a day or two. It seems to me to be even more important if you only have a little bit of time in Paris to have this very Parisian, and most wonderful experience—that is, to take the time to do “nothing” and just enjoy the beauty and the inherent interest of the world surrounding you.
The French have a word for this kind of thing: flâner is the verb, and it is variously translated. Most often it is translated as “to stroll,” with secondary definitions including to lounge, dawdle, wander, or loiter. Harriet Welty Rochefort, in her book, Joie de Vivre: Secrets of Wining, Dining, and Romancing Like the French, has a chapter called “Hanging Out Without Feeling Guilty.” It seems to me that this is the best way to describe what it means to flâner that I have ever heard.
Each summer, I assign the American students in my literature class in Paris to find a café that looks sympa to them, and then to spend at least half an hour there. (“Longer is better,” I say.) I tell them they don’t have to order more than a cup of coffee, or a glass of wine if they don’t want to, or can’t afford to. Then they are to spend at least some of their time there writing about what they see, hear, observe, or think about. I give them this assignment fairly early in their month-long stay in Paris because I want them to know that this is something they can do in Paris even if they are there on a very tight budget. And I want them to understand through personal experience that it is indeed one of the most wonderful things Paris has to offer them—and everyone.
That is, to have a place to go where you can be alone with your thoughts, but surrounded by the interesting display of humanity around you. A place where you can take the time to relax—read, write, think, and watch the passing parade. Perhaps most importantly of all, to not be hurried away by anyone, but to feel truly welcome.
A café doesn’t have to be old in order to be a very pleasant place to pass the time, but sometimes that is part of the charm. My own favorite café in Paris is the Café Bullier, on the corner of Boulevard Montparnasse and Avenue de l’Observatoire. This café has been there for a long time: Hemingway referred to it in A Moveable Feast (as the “Bal Bullier”). When I sit in the Café Bullier, I like to find a seat from which I can look across the boulevard to the Closeries des Lilas, now famous as one of the cafés in which Hemingway liked to work. But what I like most about the Café Bullier is the warm accueil I always experience when I am there, whether I’ve come for a leisurely cup of coffee or glass of wine, or a meal. (The service is always both professional and friendly, and the food is always good too.)
Because of my love for Parisian cafés, as well as cafés elsewhere in France, I avoid going to Starbucks when I am in France. I have nothing against Starbucks in general, but I do feel like there are plenty of Starbucks in the world, and that when in France, it’s better to support local, independently owned cafés.
After all, they have played such an important social function for such a long time—and to me, this being able to be both alone and surrounded by people, to do your work in peace and calm, and to not feel rushed about leaving is truly one of the greatest things about Paris.
Of course one of the reasons Parisian café owners are able to allow us this wonderful luxury is that there are so many of them—so many cafés, so many tables, so much space in which to do this. There is not the need to “turn tables” as there is in other places that are both more crowded and—let’s face it—more mercenary.
But Parisian café owners have to be able to earn a living too. So shouldn’t we all be helping them do that?
Because Paris just wouldn’t be the same without them.