“You do not need to be loved, not at the cost of yourself. The single relationship that is truly central and crucial in a life is the relationship to the self. Of all the people you will know in a lifetime, you are the only one you will never lose.” – Jo Coudert
I set my grocery bags down on the table in my little Parisian studio, open the window and let in the crisp evening air. It’s been a week full of noise and chaos. Tonight, all I want to do is have a quiet dinner by myself.
At home in Chicago I rarely cooked. Since college my habit has been to come home from work or class, shove some cold brown rice and chicken down my throat as I made my way to rehearsal for the evening. I ate enough, but I never gave it much thought. I approached food the way you fill up a gas tank; its required to keep going, but you don’t necessarily enjoy stopping at a gas station. Tonight however, I am eating in the way my host-family eats. Slowly, purposefully, and with great pleasure.
First I tidy my apartment and prepare to cook. I light candles as Ella Fitzgerlad, Billie Holiday and Louis Armstrong serenade me from my computer. My mind begins to unwind and my shoulders relax as a cut up a fresh baguette from the Boulangiere on the corner, letting is scent fill up my tiny room. Once the pasta is cooked, I add cheese, vegetables, drizzle oil and sprinkle pepper. My meal is simple but delicious. I have a single glass of wine. For once the goal isn’t to get tipsy, but to enhance my meal. Savoring every bite I listen to Cole Porter and watch the searchlight from the Eiffel Tower make its rotation over the rooftops outside my window.
The main course finished, I get a new plate for the cheese and fruit course. Fresh, fat Italian grapes sit in a glass bowl on my table. I slice a piece of Chabichou du Poitou and carefully cut away the rhine. Spreading it across the bread I spit out a seed from my juicy grapes. The cheese is delicious. I think it will keep for another day, so I wrap the rest in paper when I am done. Finally for dessert I open a cup of yogurt and add a spoonful of sugar. When it’s over, I am full and satisfied without feeling bloated. I wash my dishes and make myself a cup of herbal tea. There are letters to write home. I’ll probably read and play a bit of ukulele before bed tonight.
Before I came to Paris, I knew I would often be alone. I was worried isolation would oppress me. On the contrary, I find the silence peaceful and liberating. At home I have a habit of filling my life with noise. The noise helped me ignore the questions that were always lurking in my mind. “Why don’t I have a boyfriend?”, “Should I get a ‘real’ job and stop kidding myself about acting?”, “Am I falling behind everyone else?”.
The questions that hounded me at home don’t seem very important here. I find that I enjoy my own company. I don’t eat dinner wishing I had a boyfriend to share it with and wondering why I don’t. I just enjoy the abundance in front of me. I don’t worry about still not knowing what I want to be when I grow up. Instead of obsessing and comparing, I quietly work on memorizing new verb conjugations. I plan trips to beautiful new places. I get to know the extraordinary friends I’ve made since arriving.
In the two months I’ve been in Paris I’ve learned many things. Some conversational French. How to make ratatouille and pick out a good cheese. Which Metro lines to take and where the cheap cafés in my neighborhood are. How to cuff my pants and drape my scarf so that even Parisians stop me for directions, not realizing I’m American. The most important thing I’m learning is how to quiet my insecurities and be comfortable with myself. That life is unfolding as it should, and the best I can do is work on myself while the answers come in their own time.
While I wait, I’m going to enjoy this meal.