Living alone in a foreign city is great but it can get lonely. That’s why it’s important to have people that are part of your daily routine, people who don’t necessarily know your name but who know that you take your coffee with cream and sugar, and that you like your ribeye medium-rare, so that by the time you sit down and order a drink it’s already simmering on the grill. That way, you can spend time to yourself without feeling too disconnected from the world.
One of these people is Fanta, the waitress at a brasserie not far from my place. She is a normal looking girl. You wouldn’t stop and stare if you saw her passing in the street, but that’s only because you wouldn’t have seen her smile. She has one of those remarkable smiles that you can’t really describe. I usually come by about twenty minutes before the end of her shift, so after I’ve finished eating she will sit down for a bit and talk over a cigarette.
There’s a sweet couple from outside Shanghai that own the sushi restaurant in the first floor of my apartment building. When I take a seat at the table by the window, the wife will ask if I want the usual, and if it’s a slow day she will bring me a glass of rosé and ask me about America.
There’s also an ornery Iranian man with a pita shop nearby school. His kids have grown up and moved away and he calls me “my boy” in Farsi. When I was sick, he made me mint tea with lemon and honey.
But by far my favorite is the owner of the bookstore on Rue Monsieur-le-Prince, off of the boulevard St. Germain. His store is no bigger than a walk-in closet and the selection is quite small, which I like because it forces me to read things I wouldn’t ordinarily pick up. He buys back used books, so once I’ve finished reading something I can sell it back to him for half price and he’ll recommend something new. I don’t really like his taste in writers but I like that he cares enough to make suggestions. He’s a truly odd character. The first time I ever spoke to him, I asked him how long he’s owned the bookstore.
“I don’t own it,” he said.
“Nope. It owns me.”
It took some time for us to get comfortable with one another. He speaks almost hilariously accented French for someone who has been living here for seventeen years and he’ll criticize you if he doesn’t like the author you’ve chosen. Every week he says he will sell the bookstore, but he never does.
There is also the cat who lives in the basement of the Sciences Po building on Rue de l’Universite. If you make a kissing sound he’ll come sit on your lap while you read.
Of course I have friends who I will meet up with on the weekends or after class, but on the long days when I’m alone and walking around, these are the people that make Paris worth it. I wonder if I am as much a part of their daily routines as they are a part of mine.