On eating alone in Paris
|I mean, life could be worse.|
Unarmed save for a glass of chilled Chablis. Sunglasses the only armour against curious gazes. My leg tapping out the rhythm of my sped-up heartbeat as my thumping pulse echoed around the 4e arrondissement. I was about to have my first lunch alone in Paris and I was unsure if I would make it.
There aren’t too many places, or situations, in which if I found myself alone, I would slither to the floor in a mess of self-consciousness and tears. In fact, my own company is quite delightful, extremely dependable and has excellent taste in how to spend its time. Of course, like with any good thing, it can grate on the nerves by about the third hour which is when it’s time find the company of friend, foe, animal or television.
But I do like a challenge, so when an occasion arose where I found myself with time and money to have a mini-break, I decided I was about due for a bend in my comfort zone. I took aim at my ability to spend time alone and gave it a good shove. And so while I have travelled by myself before, I hadn’t done so in a country where English isn’t the dominant language. Challenge accepted. I allowed myself a small pass, however, and chose a destination I wasn’t completely unfamiliar with.
I could just see myself, as literally every creative person has, in a garret-style flat with a wrought iron balcony, writing furiously at a desk that had history etched into its soul. I would come up for air every now and again to walk the achingly Parisian streets that would be filled with the women I wanted to be, the men I wanted to bed, and, most importantly, the food I wanted to devour until there was no air left.
I counted down the minutes while on the Eurostar, my eyes staring out the window, watching for the industrial outskirts of London to give way to the blackness of the tunnel and then the beauty of the French countryside.
I managed to stay awake for a whole ten minutes.
When I awoke 2.5 hours later I was a little the worse for wear and wanting a baguette so badly I feared I would leave a trail of maimed bodies that would lead to the first boulangerie I came across.
But, I held it together. Just.
My first half day was exactly as it should have been. My hotel room did indeed have a wrought iron balcony – though if it had been able to fit a desk, it wouldn’t have been able to fit myself or my suitcase – I walked along the Seine and did my best impersonation of being French, and I filled my stomach with too many boulangerie treats, topped with a fallafel from L’as du fallafel. (For those in the know, you need to now wipe the drool from you lips.)
But none of these food pit stops had meant I’d had to sit alone. That was for day two.
And as the following day inevitably arrived, I took myself off to Notre Dame, Shakespeare & Co bookshop and then walked the streets until I could no longer ignore my growling stomach. My eyes darted around at the many, many restaurants on offer as I looked for the perfect Parisian-style bistro for my first proper lunch. Momentarily distracted by a fashion shoot (because of course), I finally found my destination.
It took two laps of the block for me to finally summon the confidence to seat myself at an outside table at Le Saint-Regis and motion to the waiter that I was now, officially, one of his lunchtime customers. He jovially waved the menu in front of me (French waiters aren't arseholes, people, they really aren't) and was back moments later to take my order, which I garbled to him in my best Duolingo/Year 12 French.
And then, I was alone.
Facing the streets of the city I wished I was more a part of, and watching those on their lunch break hurry by, I kept my emergency I'm-eating-alone-but-need-to-look-like-I-at-least-have-something-to-read magazine in my bag. I let myself be watched back. Besides, who were these people? Why would they care if I was eating lunch alone? I was delightful company.
A voice, that voice that’s always there, piped up. How come I couldn’t get anyone to sit down with me for a single meal? Would it always be this way and not just when travelling? Was I weird to like my own company? What exactly were the reasons I was alone?
So, I ordered a second glass of wine.
But the voice would only be quietened for so long. When those silently persistent questions started their assault again, I straightened my back, opened my bag, bypassed my magazine and pulled out the printed pages of my work-in-progress manuscript.
I began to re-read over the words I'd written. Mostly terrible, but the skeleton of something I knew I could make better. And so I did. I killed some darlings, I added new plot points and just, kept writing. It was like breathing oxygen after being under water for too, too long.
I was alone in Paris with wine, my writing and myself. And it was all I needed… for now.