PARIS — Nothing during the 11-week coronavirus lockdown could replace the ritual: a table in the sun with a tiny cup of black coffee on it. On Tuesday, Parisians rediscovered their favorite moment of sociability — coming together, while remaining apart.

Cafes throughout France were allowed to reopen and the relief was universal, if dispersed.

Many kept tables resolutely piled indoors. In Paris, still officially classified as a virus risk zone, cafes were not allowed to serve inside. No downing the petit noir — the little cup of coffee — at the bar. On the outdoor terraces that did open, tables had to be three feet apart. And they were not overflowing with customers. This liberation is too new.

Still, Tuesday brought a welcome hint of the life before. From luxurious carriage-trade establishments like the mirrored Left Bank Café de Flore to everybody’s grimy neighborhood “zinc” (argot for bar), Paris reconnected Tuesday with a key element of its urban life.

Parisians could once again sit down with one another, separately. They could be convivial without getting too close to one another, a French ideal. They could be in roughly the same space together, without ever having to talk to one another (only tourists talk across neighboring tables to strangers, a strict Parisian no-no). They could linger for hours if they needed to: the essential difference between the French cafe and its trans-Atlantic cousin.

On a brilliant spring day, the moment could be savored, even if with reserve, restraint and logic.

ImageCafes were not yet overflowing with customers.
Cafes were not yet overflowing with customers.Credit…Martin Bureau/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

“It’s obviously the most important turning point for returning to true Parisian life,” said Michel Wattebault.

A retired employee of the nearby Bank of France, he was sitting at one of the handful of outdoor tables at L’Avant-Première, just behind the Palais Royal. “We’ve been waiting for this moment with impatience,” said his friend, Amélie Juste-Thomas, a translator.

It helped that, with the total absence of tourists, the street was as “quiet as a Sunday in August,” Ms. Juste-Thomas said.

Behind them, lingering over his coffee in the sunshine, sat a curator from the grand establishment across the Rue des Petits-Champs, the National Heritage Institute. Farhad Kazemi was planning to find another outdoor terrace at noon, for lunch. It was only about an hour away.

“It is a super pleasure,” said Mr. Kazemi, smiling. “I’ve been waiting for this moment.”

The relief Tuesday was all the greater as Parisians, cooped up in small apartments, are used to treating cafes as an extended living space, a release they have been deprived of for nearly three months.

“It’s my second living room,” said Mathieu Nogueira, settling in at last at Les Quatre Saisons, in western Paris. “Mine is too little. Less light, and less beer,” he said.

Café owners and managers spoke Tuesday of a moment of release after weeks of being cooped up and cut off — from customers, cash and commerce. At L’Avant-Première, Sébastien Fumel was in no doubt that the moment was long overdue.

On the outdoor terraces that did open, tables had to be three feet apart.Credit…Yoan Valat/EPA, via Shutterstock

“Oh, yeah, it was necessary,” he said. “Mental reasons. Personal reasons. Professional reasons. Human reasons. Just a mix of things, you know? This is all about the human. About exchanging,” said Mr. Fumel, as he tended to a customer’s demand for an ‘‘express,’’ or espresso.

At the delightful, wood-paneled Bar du Moulin, in the nearby Place des Petits-Pères, the manager, Alex Cardao, had taken over the tiny side street, setting down tables with the required distancing. He was beaming as he ferried out round trays of steaming ‘‘express’’ to the customers basking in the sunshine, and could barely stop to talk.

“This does me such good! Two months sitting at home, doing nothing!” he said.

The area around Les Halles — the old Paris market, gone for a half-century — is normally buzzing with cafes, tables, customers and activity. It was quiet Tuesday. The reopening was muted, as if the shock of such a long closure had not worn off yet.

On the Rue Montorgueil, owners and managers were still setting up their tables Tuesday morning. The Café du Centre was open, but Paulo Vieira, the manager, was busy counting up what was missing.

“Having to shut down for so long, it’s been a huge economic loss,” he said. The cafe has had to furlough one third of its employees, and has lost about 600,000 euros in revenue, or about $670,000. Mr. Vieira said that he had halved the number of tables available on his outdoor terrace.


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  • Frequently Asked Questions and Advice

    Updated June 2, 2020

    • Will protests set off a second viral wave of coronavirus?

      Mass protests against police brutality that have brought thousands of people onto the streets in cities across America are raising the specter of new coronavirus outbreaks, prompting political leaders, physicians and public health experts to warn that the crowds could cause a surge in cases. While many political leaders affirmed the right of protesters to express themselves, they urged the demonstrators to wear face masks and maintain social distancing, both to protect themselves and to prevent further community spread of the virus. Some infectious disease experts were reassured by the fact that the protests were held outdoors, saying the open air settings could mitigate the risk of transmission.

    • How do we start exercising again without hurting ourselves after months of lockdown?

      Exercise researchers and physicians have some blunt advice for those of us aiming to return to regular exercise now: Start slowly and then rev up your workouts, also slowly. American adults tended to be about 12 percent less active after the stay-at-home mandates began in March than they were in January. But there are steps you can take to ease your way back into regular exercise safely. First, “start at no more than 50 percent of the exercise you were doing before Covid,” says Dr. Monica Rho, the chief of musculoskeletal medicine at the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab in Chicago. Thread in some preparatory squats, too, she advises. “When you haven’t been exercising, you lose muscle mass.” Expect some muscle twinges after these preliminary, post-lockdown sessions, especially a day or two later. But sudden or increasing pain during exercise is a clarion call to stop and return home.

    • My state is reopening. Is it safe to go out?

      States are reopening bit by bit. This means that more public spaces are available for use and more and more businesses are being allowed to open again. The federal government is largely leaving the decision up to states, and some state leaders are leaving the decision up to local authorities. Even if you aren’t being told to stay at home, it’s still a good idea to limit trips outside and your interaction with other people.

    • What’s the risk of catching coronavirus from a surface?

      Touching contaminated objects and then infecting ourselves with the germs is not typically how the virus spreads. But it can happen. A number of studies of flu, rhinovirus, coronavirus and other microbes have shown that respiratory illnesses, including the new coronavirus, can spread by touching contaminated surfaces, particularly in places like day care centers, offices and hospitals. But a long chain of events has to happen for the disease to spread that way. The best way to protect yourself from coronavirus — whether it’s surface transmission or close human contact — is still social distancing, washing your hands, not touching your face and wearing masks.

    • What are the symptoms of coronavirus?

      Common symptoms include fever, a dry cough, fatigue and difficulty breathing or shortness of breath. Some of these symptoms overlap with those of the flu, making detection difficult, but runny noses and stuffy sinuses are less common. The C.D.C. has also added chills, muscle pain, sore throat, headache and a new loss of the sense of taste or smell as symptoms to look out for. Most people fall ill five to seven days after exposure, but symptoms may appear in as few as two days or as many as 14 days.

    • How can I protect myself while flying?

      If air travel is unavoidable, there are some steps you can take to protect yourself. Most important: Wash your hands often, and stop touching your face. If possible, choose a window seat. A study from Emory University found that during flu season, the safest place to sit on a plane is by a window, as people sitting in window seats had less contact with potentially sick people. Disinfect hard surfaces. When you get to your seat and your hands are clean, use disinfecting wipes to clean the hard surfaces at your seat like the head and arm rest, the seatbelt buckle, the remote, screen, seat back pocket and the tray table. If the seat is hard and nonporous or leather or pleather, you can wipe that down, too. (Using wipes on upholstered seats could lead to a wet seat and spreading of germs rather than killing them.)

    • How many people have lost their jobs due to coronavirus in the U.S.?

      More than 40 million people — the equivalent of 1 in 4 U.S. workers — have filed for unemployment benefits since the pandemic took hold. One in five who were working in February reported losing a job or being furloughed in March or the beginning of April, data from a Federal Reserve survey released on May 14 showed, and that pain was highly concentrated among low earners. Fully 39 percent of former workers living in a household earning $40,000 or less lost work, compared with 13 percent in those making more than $100,000, a Fed official said.

    • Should I wear a mask?

      The C.D.C. has recommended that all Americans wear cloth masks if they go out in public. This is a shift in federal guidance reflecting new concerns that the coronavirus is being spread by infected people who have no symptoms. Until now, the C.D.C., like the W.H.O., has advised that ordinary people don’t need to wear masks unless they are sick and coughing. Part of the reason was to preserve medical-grade masks for health care workers who desperately need them at a time when they are in continuously short supply. Masks don’t replace hand washing and social distancing.

    • What should I do if I feel sick?

      If you’ve been exposed to the coronavirus or think you have, and have a fever or symptoms like a cough or difficulty breathing, call a doctor. They should give you advice on whether you should be tested, how to get tested, and how to seek medical treatment without potentially infecting or exposing others.


“We are going to have to muddle along for a bit” before things return to normal, said Vincent Bielhy, the manager at Chinchin, next to the Parc Montsouris, in southern Paris. The clientele was still sparse: fewer than half a dozen people.

Arranging tables to reopen a cafe.Credit…Philippe Lopez/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

In provincial France, the cafe is dying. Some 7,000 close each year; in 1960 there were some 600,000 cafes in France; now the figure is around 30,000.

In Paris, though, they are vital to the city, places where people go to read, study and flirt. The poet Verlaine drew dissipated inspiration from Le Procope, Apollinaire and Jean-Paul Sartre from Flore, Hemingway from La Closeries des Lilas. All of them are still in existence.

On Tuesday, Julie Cholley, 20, a student wearing earbuds and sunglasses, had her math books and her scribbled equations strewn in front of her at Chinchin. “So nice,” she said. “That we were deprived of it makes it all the more desirable.”

On Rue Montorgueil, the cafe as a source of inspiration was on the mind of Jean-Claude Haag, settling in Tuesday morning at the Bianco. “Ideas, projects were born on these terraces,” Mr. Haag said. “Paris without its terraces would not be Paris.”

Constant Meheut, Theophile Larcher and Aurelien Breeden contributed reporting.

Orignially published in NYT.

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