One of my favorite cafes in the world to sit in and while away hours reading and day-dreaming lies steps away from "la Grande Mosquee de Paris". You walk through the doors into a secret garden generously shaded by an olive and a fig tree. I remember how my heart fluttered when I first found out that this quaint lovely courtyard garden was created in tribute to a lovely Surah/chapter in the Quran where God Swears by the fig and the olive tree and God Swears only by what is precious. Sitting there makes my heart feel the kind of presence it feels when hearing a Quran recitation.
I also have a connection to the olive tree that my Palestinian roots call for. The fig tree is right after the olive tree in my affections as it takes me back to the two fig trees in my grandfather's garden in Amman, one bore firm-to the-touch aubergine-colored figs and the other honey-to-the-taste green-colored ones. My sister would climb the tree and I would be waiting excitedly with the basket to catch what she sent in my direction.
I was told by the gracious and warm manager that this cafe was built with the mosque, which was founded in 1926 after World War I, as thanks by the French government for the North African soldiers that served France as part of its army, and of whom, some 100,000 died fighting against Germany. It was built in the 5th arrondissement in the heart of the Algerian Muslim neighborhood. There is also a Moroccan restaurant and Hammam attached to the cafe but I have never tried either. It just rounded the picture of North African hospitality and charm. The architects had Tunisian, Algerian and Moroccan craftsmen do the decorative work on the walls and the doors. You walk through and feel the old world traditional touch throughout so rich and colorful in this case.
Over the past 3 years, since I have discovered this cafe, I have gone in all manners of weather, sun and rain, hot and cold, and sat in just the right spot to enjoy it’s beauty. It has become a ritual of mine to go to “l’Institut du monde arabe” to pay a visit to its gorgeous informative exhibits and fabulously stocked gift shop, then to walk to the cafe of "la Mosquee de Paris", passing through the Avicenna bookshop to say hello to my friend Hashem and invariably to buy a book that captures my heart and imagination to read. More often than not that book happens to be on top of his desk! (This bookshop is the subject of another post coming soon) What adds to the sweetness of this tucked-away cafe is that you get to have a tea for 2 euros and a small North African sweet for another 2!! The simple and complete pleasure of an afternoon out for 4 euros. Sigh. How welcoming is that! If you ever come by on a spring or early fall day, look for me, as I may very well be there sipping on a glass of tea.