Much ado was made last week about the iconic baguette being granted UNESCO World Heritage status. La baguette, c’est la France!
Still, one can live without a daily baguette, in France or abroad. I know this because I survived for more than two decades in the United States.
“Les terrasses” are another story.
They popped up over 150 years ago on the wide sidewalks dreamed by Napoleon III and the “incontournable” (inescapable) Baron Haussmann. They’ve been part of Parisian (and French) life since then for better and for worse.
“Les terrasses” remained open during the German Occupation.
Just a few days after the horrific November 2015 terror attacks, they filled up again. Better yet, the hashtag #enterrasse was ubiquitous for weeks on social media as a giant “Allez vous faire voir!” to the cowards who had assaulted the French way of life.
Through 2020 and 2021, we all lived between lockdowns and realized what a luxury sitting “en terrasse” had become. Even as Covid still lurked and restaurants and cafés stopped welcoming customers indoors, makeshift “terrasses” popped up all over French cities along sidewalks, and even “dans le caniveau” (in the gutter.)
Nobody seemed to mind.
If this was indeed a new war like the French president claimed, we would not go down without a fight.
Then all cafés, restaurants, pubs and bars shut down for months, including “les terrasses.” Du jamais vu. Unheard of.
We still fought, the best we could.
By May 2021 (I had just moved to Tours into one of the liveliest streets in the city, la rue Colbert, i.e. “Restaurant Row,”) the interminable wait ended. we all rushed outside and claimed our chair “en terrasse.” Rattan or not: It didn’t matter.
The weather did not always cooperate. Smokers were there too. Pas de problème. “Les terrasses” were back. So.were.we!
Of course, France is not the only country where folks enjoy life “en terrasse.” Still, French “terrasses” are unique: We enjoy them year round no matter what the weather is like outside, even in the tiniest space. They are a priority. They can take up entire sidewalks, chairs and tables strategically laid out to see and be seen.
La baguette? Sure, a French icon, like le jambon-beurre or le pain au chocolat…
But les terrasses, ah, les terrasses!
I am willing to bet that after losing them for a while, we all (no matter where we hail from) realize what they mean to us: a sense of freedom available every day, a place to relax, regroup, read a book, or socialize — in short a place where even the most finicky of “French râleurs” (grumps) will let go for a while and find their “Joie de Vivre” once again.
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