Through a Glass, Brightly

cafe manYesterday was my first foray into a Parisian eating establishment since the new no-smoking regulations have been in effect. It was an odd sensation. The air seemed so pure and crystal-clear, as if suddenly the restaurant had moved to the Alps. No haze, no gauzy, filtered view across the dining room. It was like taking a Monet or a Toulouse-Lautrec painting and sharpening it into a bright digital photo of the real spot. Pure ozone and clarity. It was not unpleasant by a long shot, and I'm happy for the greater health of residents of France. But it was emotionally unsettling. I felt depaysée, as if I were visiting a different city.

I love the subtle quality of the soft gray in Paris. Last winter I gray Paris daywanted to write an ode to gray, to capture all of the myriad grays that we witness on a daily basis. Last winter we had uncharacteristically sunny weather, and I was out of luck. (Summer was rainy and gloomy, and by the time August reared its cold, gray head in Paris, I didn't want to write about gray any more.) But now the habitual interior gray of public Paris has vanished, forever, overnight.

Today, in an afternoon walk along rue Monge and then returning along rue Mouffetard in the 5e arrondissement, the change was startling. With the briefest glance cafe windowI could see all the denizens inside the cafés remarkably clearly as I strolled down the sidewalk. I felt uncomfortable, as if I were intruding on their intimacy. Then it dawned on me. Paris has become a fishbowl! It was as if Mr. Clean had polished every window of every café to let us see inside. Whereas before there was a smoky haze swirling around, giving some vague notion of discreet privacy to the café dwellers, there is certainly none any more. Just like that. People holding hands, having little tête-à-têtes at tables, jump right out at passersby.

Mark my words, I'm willing to bet that pretty soon the café owners will start putting some frosted glass or other screens along the lower front windows of their establishments. No privacy any more!

Polly is a Boston born Baby Boomer living on the Left Bank in Paris and blogging about it at Polly-Vous Francais. © 2006-2008, Polly-Vous Francais, all rights reserved.

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