Does the beginning of the end start with a cup of coffee?
Call me old fashioned, but I’m always more fascinated by what was. I’ve always viewed my wonderful whirlwind of a few years in the Big Apple as a “beginning of the end” of sorts. When I arrived in Williamsburg, there were abandoned lots and half-finished buildings abound, bodegas where a beer cost $1, a murder on my block, and the most phenomenal underground warehouse raves that no one in Hoboken or at NYU had found out about yet.
Brooklyn was still the Brooklyn that it had been for several years prior, an oasis to the underfunded, the eccentrics and the creatives, and the best damn Puerto Rican food you could find for the money. And while I realize that the settlers of Gotham would be the first to tell me I’m contradicting myself, I think it’s fair to agree that Brooklyn is experiencing a rapid hyper-growth that is drastically shifting the culture and the aesthetic of the once unique and beloved town. Bedford Avenue is the poster-child for New York City gentrification, and the outcome has been favorable to some, but certainly not to all. I was personally outraged to see a Dunkin’ Donuts open on my subway corner, and upon hearing news of luxury high-rises, Whole Foods, and talks of an Apple Store, I had known our time together was coming to an end. During my most recent visit back, this was quickly confirmed upon finding a neighborhood saturated with bland luxury high-rises and more chain stores than local businesses.
People have asked me, “are you so sad to be leaving Williamsburg?” My response was always the same, “Williamsburg already has left us. I think I’m getting out at a good time.” And so this brings another topic to light, one that I think fits well in this blog: Does the integration of mainstream global culture come at a cost which is too high to be worth it? By gaining access to “iconic” and commonplace chains, stores and attractions, new people and a new economy are welcomed into various neighborhoods. But the important part to think about is, what are we pushing out? We’re not improving, we’re replacing. Local residents and businesses fade away, and a city’s revered, venerable cultures which are filled with flavor and beauty and innocence fade away with them. Williamsburg had become… generic.
New York coffee culture spreads like a virus, and with the force of a stampede, but what is it obliterating in its wake?
My question is; how do we find the balance between evolving beautifully and becoming modern–while still preserving our roots–rather than leaving behind our respect for what was, and what has been? I’ve thought a lot about this as I arrived in Paris, and I was happy to see two articles I wanted to write come together to become the catalyst for a much larger idea. Having been slightly scorned by my last few months in Brooklyn, I wanted to explore this idea in a much older city, one seemingly more grounded in its roots and committed to its infamously classic culture. I also, very simply, wanted to find the best cup of coffee in Paris. That’s when things got interesting.
Much research concluded, according to the world of bloggers and foodie culture, that two of the best cups of coffee could be found at Ten Belles and Holybelly, both in the 10th Arrondissement of Paris, and both clearly a product of recent gentrification. What I found was not unlike something I’d see in Brooklyn: Modern industrial visual aesthetic meets a hip quirkiness, lots of coffee gadgetry, inflated prices, and of course… blaring old-school hip-hop. And a photo of Macaulay Culkin, as the barista with the short-sided, combed-back hair, floral-printed Vans, and casual linen button-down was quick to point out to me. “Am I in Bushwick? Was the the flight through Iceland and over to Paris all a dream?”
The coffee was just alright. In Brooklyn, places like Oslo and Black Brick have been serving top-quality roasts for years, all at $2 for a 12-ounce cup. For an underwhelming 8-ounce coffee, I paid €4. Coffee in a French cafe costs one or two euro. So the search for the best cup continues: no big deal.
But I feel bothered by the cost, not of the coffee, but to the city. Is Paris headed down a path similar to New York? I’ve been in Paris for one year now, and I often forget I’ve even been in a new country. New York culture spreads like a virus, and with the force of a stampede, but what is it obliterating in its wake?
We are too quick to reconcile our loss of local cultures in the face of the passing, ordinary, common trend, and perhaps this could affect no city more than Paris; as she is renowned for her oldness, her ability to be so classic and distinctly Parisian. And I’m wagering that much of that starts with a simple cup of coffee…