Time out: Fitting your own oxygen mask before assisting others

I’m sitting in a cafe in Montmartre.

I’m taking time out from a hectic travel schedule. From my table at the window I look out at a Sunday market in the tiny Place Lino Ventura. A full length mirror is placed outside a clothes stall directly in my line of vision. A middle aged woman trying on a leopardskin coat transforms before my eyes. She swings it this way and that, coming alive in front of the looking glass. She isn’t thinking about the shopping, the cooking or the week ahead. Suddenly radiant in the light Parisian drizzle, I imagine she is thinking about where such a coat might take her.

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My vantage point is KB Cafeshop.

It’s a hangout for Australian travellers hanging-out for a decent coffee. The wifi password is KooBoo – short for Kooka Boora – French for kookaburra. Wifi is free, the sandwiches are really sandwiches and I’m about to get stuck into a dark chocolate brownie straight from the oven. Warm and gooey in the centre, pecan studded and intensely chocolatey on the outside, it is easily the most delicious brownie I have ever tasted. I take a photo to send through to my friend Loulou. We exchange cafe porn.

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It started when I was living in France three years ago. At first it was all one-way traffic. Loulou was a quietly appreciative audience of my late-blooming gap year antics. Her delight in my good fortune has never been tinged with jealousy. Or not much.

Her life hasn’t been an easy ride.

As my responsibilities begin to wind down, hers are increasing. Her new job is stimulating, challenging and rewarding. As the demands on her grow, her ability to wind down reduces. She tells me she has cancelled a knee operation, fearing her overactive conscience will lead her to take a taxi to work during the recuperation period.

I extract a promise from her to take time out at least once a week to sit in a cafe and enjoy a coffee on her own. I demand photographic evidence. Now we exchange cafe porn once a week. My friend Dee is trying to do the same. She is younger than I am, with attendant responsibilities of schoolchildren, work and study that occasionally threaten to overwhelm her. Finding an hour to herself in a frantic week seems almost impossible, but she’s up for the challenge.

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Photo by Pedro Mamoré on Unsplash

We engage with ourselves and the world in a completely different way when we are on our own. Taking time out helps remind us who we are: so much more than someone’s partner, mother, employee, daughter, grandmother. We can’t always make it happen. But we can try.

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