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Agora

July 15, 2013

You are convinced that all French cafés evince a single pattern. The coffee costs the same at this place as at another across the way. The same menu items are available. There is only a name and the familiarity of a much frequented table that sets them apart. Upon further reflection, you muse that this is precisely what it is to be a café or bar or park or anything general. Categories qua categories have an internal set of patterns and logic proper to themselves under which you group a set of discrete entities. Could you speak of cafés at all if there were no similarities between them? Or would naming a place then entail enumerating all the particulars that comprise it?

Regardless, Place St. Jacques is no exception to the above rule. Rue des Clercs and Rue Serpenoise bound the square’s western and eastern limits respectively where a few shops, a cinema and a bank face the Place. Numerous cafés, brasseries, bars, and eateries line its northern and southern sides. You find a place outdoors at Café des Arts and order a coffee. A single column, topped by the Madonna and the Infant, stands at the center of the Place. The stone is fluted and divided into a number of sections by tarnished metalwork, alternating circles and vegetation. On a previous visit, you copied the inscriptions. There are two: one on the western face and its eastern counterpart.

West: “A la très Sainte Vierge Marie – la ville de Metz reconnaissante, 1914-1918.”

East: “15 août 1940 – esperance – Nos cum proie pia benedicae Virgo Maria – 15 août 1945 reconnaissance.”

As before, you wonder who is recognizing whom or, more precisely, in what this recognition or gratitude consists. Perhaps recognition is not quite the right word for the relation between two parties, long dead, but ever present, a relation that is perhaps closer to an ahistorical concomitance or the coalescence of disparate identities, histories and myths. The stiff pose of the Madonna, cloaked and hooded, echoes the stilted manner of the inscriptions.

Your coffee arrives. You ignore the sugar and lay thumb and forefinger on either side of the small handle. Applying a gentle pressure, you raise the cup to your lips. It tastes fine, much as does the coffee at every other café in the city.

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