I first came upon La Caféothèque (52 Rue de l’Hôtel de Ville, 75004) in summer 2011 when researching for places to show my family around when they were in Paris. While we never made it there, something kept it at the back of my mind and I’ve been meaning to visit since… perhaps it was the sound of its name La Caféothèque or David Lebovitz’s post about the coffee shop.

I finally made my way there on a sunny afternoon last month while walking around Paris trying out AB’s Voigtlander Bessa rangefinder with a roll of Solaris 400 film. While I seldom drink coffee, I was sleepy and wanted to rest my legs after having walked a few kilometres: from Belleville to Négatif+ at rue Lafayette before stopping at rue Ste. Anne in Opéra for Japanese food. La Caféothèque was probably around 15 minutes on foot from Opéra and the walk was worth it.img024 - La CaféothèqueThe café + coffee shop is quite spacious with four salons where you can sit and enjoy a cup of coffee, have a snack, read and relax. I also like its cosy ambience, especially the room that I was in – which had a wall covered with lush green plants. How pretty.img026 - La CaféothèqueI had a cappuccino made with La Convéncion coffee beans from Cuzou in Pérou, which apparently evokes the feeling of fresh mountain air (sensation d’air frais de haute mountains)! Coffee purists may insist that good coffee should be drank on its own and not mixed with milk, or even sugar. I don’t care as long as it tastes good, makes me happy and clears my blocked nose. img025 - La Caféothèque - La Convéncion, Cuzou, PérouAs I sipped the warm milky coffee, I returned to the remarkable One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenitsyn where the protagonist and his fellow prisoners in a Gulag camp were slogging through a bitterly cold winter in Siberia. Somewhere in the middle, while waiting in line in the cold, Ivan Denisovich remarks, “How can you expect a man who’s warm to understand one who’s cold?” when he sees a fellow prisoner who receives preferential treatment step out of a sheltered room.

Published in 1962 in Russia, the slim novel depicts an ordinary day in the life of a prisoner in a Stalin concentration camp where every detail – such as how to get the most satisfaction from each morsel of food, the all-consuming need to smoke, the honed instinct for survival and the thought process behind building a stone wall with concrete in the middle of winter – is carefully and thoughtfully described. Such a well-written, raw and powerful story. If you have the chance, do take the time to read it.

To finish, here’s a quote from Ivan Denisovich on the last page of the book:

The end of an unclouded day. Almost a happy one.

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5 replies on “La Caféothèque + One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich

    1. Thanks Lisa! I learnt about this book while reading about another novel (Garlic Ballads by Mo Yan) that I had recently finished. Both stories are fictional but based on true-life events in history. Great reads too : )

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