ELEGANCE is hard to find in a city of over 1.4 million people. It’s harder to find on a Sunday morning, bleary from the night before’s festivities (or, in my case, bleary from working till 2AM). But elegance is exactly what Dan and I found, tucked quietly into a small cafe on South Street, awash in the sunny glow that seemed to fill the entire city with joy and a sense of spring-like satisfaction.
What happened, February? I woke up this morning to the sound of water sloughing off the roof; I stepped outside into a brave new city, resplendent in sunlight and proud of its amazingly brilliant buildings. Today was a gift; it sparkled and sang, and it reminded me of how much I love this city and how much I love this year. This is the year of hope, of personal change, of stepping up and realizing dreams and taking those opportunities and turning them into something larger and wilder than you ever could have imagined.
Already, 2009 is shaping up into something spectacular. I’m writing again, small poems that don’t delve too deeply but that make my breath come just a bit quicker, my voice thicken as I move the words around in the air. I’m taking Italian at Temple, as part of their non-credit “personal enrichment” program. Am I ever going to get to use this Italian? I have no idea! But I feel as though my mind is coming alive again, and that’s what I was aching for. My library card for the Free Library of Philadelphia finally came in, and I’ve already put about a dozen books on reserve and brought Henry Miller‘s Tropic of Cancer home with me. I’m only about 20 pages in, but I can feel the first faint stirrings: there’s another poem, a few pages of prose, something in me that’s itching to get out. I’ve reconnected with some of my far-flung friends (California seems to be claiming more than wanderers these days), made new friends, and have settled into a routine of Thursday night quizo.
All of which, taken separately, don’t indicate very much. But together, as one unit, all of these collected little bits (and the dozens of other little moments too small to name, but too important to overlook) add up to a swell, swell spring, if not year. That’s my personal manifesto for 2009: I am going to make it spectacular.
And what better way to usher in this new regime of living than brunch? Because of the College’s winter break, Dan and I hadn’t seen each other in, oh, something horrendous like a month and a half. A meal seemed like the perfect way to catch up, to lay down plans, and to wax poetic on our current projects. (His are much more poetic than mine.)
And the city of Philadelphia gave us its blessing, melting the snow and gilding the morning with such auspicious brilliance. Today was a day for dreams–how could one not be inspired in today’s sunlight? Everything was new; every street was an enchanted safe haven; every passing block seemed somehow more alive, more vibrant. I forgot how much of a spring person I am, how the way light falls on a building can reduce me to raptures; how the lengthened shadows between buildings can inspire my imagination.
Cafe L’Aube is the perfect place to go when the city has captured your fancy. L’aube means dawn in French, and the cafe itself is painted in the bright colors of a dawning new world. According to the website, Cafe L’Aube‘s mantra is “Every day should be fresh and full of promise,” which is an accurate (uncanny?) reflection of my current state of mind. As Sabrina Fairchild wrote to her father, “Paris is for … throwing open the windows and letting in la vie en rose” –and that is the aesthetic that Cafe L’Aube holds to, offering gorgeous crepes, French sandwiches, fair trade coffee and sumptuous hot chocolate. It’s the aesthetic reflected not only in the logo of the cafe, but also in the French music that sifts through the air and creates an atmosphere of quiet finesse.
Dan and I began with the savory crepes, but found that the longer we sat, the more we had to say–and the more we had to say, the more we desired to eat. So savory crepe became crepe à sucre; from “ham, egg and cheese” crepe to the “nutella and strawberries” crepe for Dan, and from “mozarella, tomatoes, and fresh basil” to “nutella and bananas” for me. Each bite was a surprise, a gift; and when the nutella crepes arrived, I nearly swooned from pure pleasure–not from just the lovely scent of lingering chocolate warmth, but also the presentation and delicate wash of confectioner’s sugar.
This, this shall be my new home within the city; I thought Beau Monde was the central hub for crepes in Philadelphia, but I was misinformed. Here, at Cafe L’Aube, you are invited to sit, to sip, to experience. You are invited to dream among the amber and green walls, to concoct plans and whisper recipes for new adventures. It’s quiet and casual, with minimal distractions and the lovely sense of being at once in the world and of the world. Balancing mugs and glasses and plates on round cafe tables, you are invited to partake of a small moment of elegance in an otherwise inelegant world.