On the Hunt for the Daily Chillin’ Out Spot, Part 1

I don’t know exactly what we were looking for, but I thought we’d know when we found it. Some place with heavy wooden tables, exposed masonry, and a reasonable number of caffeine addicts feng shui’ed around the room, maybe.

In the normal run of things the establishment of a regular coffee spot is an organic process: You pass by cafés you think you should check out, you hit it off with the proprietors, and you come back again and again. With less time – we have five months – the process has to be more deliberate. You’re no longer dating around – you’re thinking about the long haul on the first date, asking if this establishement could be marriage material. In a manner of speaking.

On our first day in Nantes, we tried a place that definitely wasn’t. It had promise, a local café just down the street from our apartment with an ancient church adjacent. They did “PMU” there. I still don’t know what PMU stands for, but I know what it means… horse racing.  Betting… crude jokes told in loud voices. Men reveling in the congregation of fellow merry gamblers in a place devoted to serving vice in its various and sundry forms.

This place, though… There was a certain stale desperation about the place, a listless and distracted hunger that no win would satiate, however long the odds and rich the payoff. Rebecca and I were the youngest in the place by… years. Our lifetimes, probably. She was the only girl in the place. The interior was thick with smoke, or with the smell of smoke still clinging to the clothing and the hair of the regulars. Coffees in hand and owner paid, we stepped outside and took a table by an elderly gentleman in white trousers and a light blue shirt. Down we sat wordlessly as he asked us if were on vacation.

“No. Well, yes. But we’re going to be studying at the University of Nantes soon.” We’re not tourists (tans, flip flops, and bright shirts notwithstanding).

We had a nice long chat with the man, a baker like his father before him and his children after. We talked about languages, traveling, the war, and post-war Germany where he’d worked without knowing much German, his coworkers not knowing much French, and a young African boy who didn’t know that much of either translating. He told us about his concurrent wives and girlfriends, saying that although he spent a fair amount of time with each of them, they’d never had the pleasure of meeting each other. Different times, and all that.

We took our leave, and left that café for the last time, probably. It was… alright. Maybe we didn’t give it enough of a chance.

***

A brasserie in the center of town was a little more promising. It was across from the cathedral, so the view was hard to beat. The servers were about our age, and friendly. One was rail-thin with a high-pitched voice, the other looked like a regular jogger, rower, biker, something. The coffee was fine but the décor was a little too slick and new. We’d be back, but this wasn’t really the spot. The location was impeccable, but location isn’t everything. In real estate, maybe, but not on the hunt for the daily chillin’ out spot.

***

We found the spot a week in. Definitely. Maybe… Rebecca had seen it on one of our long ballades into town, and had been determined to check it out.  It was right on the walk into town, or 6 minutes on bus from the stop near our house. It occupied the space at the point of a triangular building at the spot where two streets joined a main street. The interior was well-kept and old fashioned, with solid wooden tables. The serveuse was friendly and ready with advice about where a stranger in this town might buy a smallish wallet at a reasonable price. When we went back a week later, she asked if I’d found my wallet.

Great place. Large windows, plenty of natural light, light-colored wooden trim. Exposed masonry? Check.

The first date with the new spot went really well. The second went as well as the first. Casual, cordial, but with obvious warmth and mutual interest… We’re not making long-range plans yet – it’s kind of out of the way vis à vis our commute to campus, but… I’ll let you know how it goes!

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