It's taken years but I've finally found the hands down, absolute best coffee shop in Paris. It's the Brulerie Daval, just off the Bastille in the idyllically pleasant and peaceful Passage Damoye. It translates to Daval Coffee Roasters.
When Madame's husband opened their shop here in 1947 the Passage was still home mainly to the vestiges of furniture craftsman who worked in the furniture shops that the neighborhood around the Bastille had come to be famous for. Real craftsman who turned out exceptional quality furniture, the kind that lasts generations.
She explained to me that all the flats in the buildings of the Passage were therefore cold water, workmen's flats with shared lavatories on the floor corridors. That was before Americans moved in a few years ago, starting in the early 2000s and with their swarm, apparently mostly young internet tycoons and techies from SF, they renovated the buildings and the flats and turned most of them into posh condos. Still, many of the buildings do not have elevators. Madame's is one of them.
I've often thought that Paris would not be the easiest of cities to grow old in. Any big city really. Places like Paris and Manhattan and San Francisco where everyone is rushing to get somewhere, literally and figuratively, raising young families, dealing with bills, and stress and jobs and carrying heavy bags of groceries up stairwells and the daily commutes on and off of buses and subways and trams and commuter trains.
Holiday seasons drive this point home. Wintry and lonely sometimes I observe the elderly of Paris and wonder where they find any comfort, if they do at all ? France is probably a bit better than, say, Manhattan, as the sense of family is still so strong here in this country. Family ties are solid. But you can never use that as a blanket statement. Because then we risk desensitizing ourselves to the exceptions, and there are always exceptions.
Chatting with Madame about her shop and the history of the quarter, while buying some Christmas Blend Tea from one of the hundreds of canisters of teas that line her shelves, just behind the stacks and stacks (oh, I'd say at least about 50) of whole roasted coffee beans in burlap sacks, I asked how often her children are able to help out in the shop. She told me she had none. Given the era she's from, already married in 1947 and her sort of Southern dark looks, it would have been altogether too easy to assume, indeed I did assume, that she would have several progeny. And even progeny of those progeny. But this widow has not one.
That's when she got to telling me about her trip a few years back to California – to Hollywood, to Beverly Hills and then even over to Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon. We mutually agreed that the Eiffel Tower in Vegas is nothing in comparison to the one here in Paris. She told me she loved driving past all the stars' homes in her tour bus with the 50 or so other elderly she'd taken the trip with. Of course I didn't ask her age but jusging from appearances she had to have been past 80 already when she did that trip.
This brief conversation, during which we each chattered away, a sure hint of two kindred city souls, has kept turning in my mind. And it's gotten me to resolve to be particularly kind and generous and thoughtful to the elderly this holiday season whose paths I cross. Lord knows the lives they've had and the struggles they face daily. Madame, for example, hurt her hip a couple years ago so now rather than going up the stairs to her kitchen for lunch each day – the stairs being too much to navigate more than once in a day – she relies on someone to bring her her lunch which she eats in the shop. That's a long day for anybody, 10 – 7 :30. And no comfy chairs to recline on, just a little old wooden table and a couple of rickety stools.
So this is my wish this Holiday Season (Santa are you listening ?) that all elderly people living alone and without family in big cities this Christmas and Hannukah and Kwanzaa, feel the warmth, joy and love of people's, young and old's, appreciation for who they are and the contribution they've made to our world during their years so far spent here on this Earth.
Peace Joy Love and Blessings to All. And don't forget to pick up your Christmas Blend coffee and tea at Brulerie Daval in Passage Damoye, Metro Bastille. In fact, pick up two or three packs and give them as gifts ! People will surely appreciate you for it.
12 rue Daval (Passage Damoye) 75011 Paris + 33 (0) 1 48 05 29 46