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Croissants and Hand Gel as Paris Cafes Reawaken

PARIS  — There are bottles of sanitizer gel in place of the salt and pepper pots, and glaring 1-meter (3-foot) gaps between tables.

But in Parisian restaurants and cafes, the mood is sunny. 

Locals are savoring their cafe au lait and croissants at the Left Bank's famed Cafe de Flore, or on the cobbled streets of the ancient Le Marais, for the first time in almost three months.

It's a far cry from the depressing sight of shuttered eateries, chairs piled up blocking the windows and doors, and empty sidewalks. Menus collected dust in windows as Parisians stayed home, sucking the lifeblood from the cafes that epitomize the city's lifestyle.

Gone was the morning ritual of stopping by the corner cafe for a shot of espresso, the midday three-course meal, the after-work aperitif with friends or lovers at an intimate bistro.

As coronavirus confinement measures were relaxed Tuesday, cafes around France were  allowed to reopen. In Paris, hard hit by COVID-19, only outdoor seating is allowed for now. Indoor tables remain closed to customers until at least June 22.

But sidewalk dining, sipping and people-watching is such an inherent part of the Paris way of life that the partial reopening was enthusiastically embraced. Outside cafe areas filled up fast.

Although masks are not obligatory for seated guests, the Parisians' beloved pastime of smoking seems to have fallen away. Far fewer smokers have been observed so far on the newly reopened terraces.

French President Emmanuel Macron struck a note of optimism about the small step.

"The reopening of cafes, hotels and restaurants marks the return of happy days!" he tweeted.

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