La cuisine Chinoise


Paris in the summer was beautiful. Paris was life after oppression. Paris was food, except I barely ate any. But I smelled it, and I saw it, and in Paris that amounts to a lot.
Fresh out of Cuba, broke and with only a temporary residence permit, I could afford neither hotel nor restaurant. I didn’t have to worry about the hotel: my ex’s grandmother had lent me a small studio in the 7th Arrondissement. But food was a different matter.
I skipped breakfast my first day in Paris. I was too worried about money. The second day I discovered an electric kettle and tea bags in a drawer in the nightstand, so I made myself a cup of tea.  That was my breakfast every day I spent in Paris—a far cry from my usual coffee and toast and jam.
For the rest of my meals, I drank a lot of water and ate once a day, at around five, at a Chinese cafeteria not two blocks away from the studio. Sometimes, when I’d trekked too many kilometres, the hunger became unbearable and I had to eat earlier. I tried to avoid that, though, because it meant the hunger would return in the early evening, not to let go until I finally fell asleep.
In the Chinese cafeteria I never quite knew what I was eating. The owner spoke French with such a heavy Chinese accent (or perhaps it was Chinese with a French accent) that I had to resort to pointing to the mounds of steaming noodles and chopped something or the other that lay behind the glass counter. Chinese food may not the first the first thing to pop in peoples minds when they think about eating in the City of Lights, but it was cheap and filling and tasted alright, so I didnt mind. At least not initially,  not when I was tasting the sweet taste of freedom and roaming the cobbled Parisian streets, ogling at women who knew how to be both sexy and classy, smiling every time I caught a glimpse of the Eiffel tower, and wondering, with a mix of hope and fear, whether I could one day become that elegant man wearing a driving cap, sitting at a table in a café, dribbling away in a notebook, much like Hemingway must have done in the 1920s as he wrote A Moveable Feast.
But in Paris it was hard to resist the food. When it came to food, temptation lurked everywhere. It lurked in the patios brimming with Parisians and tourists feasting upon crispy roast chicken or charred steak and drinking wine and shoving their spoons into their crême brûlée, amid the clatter of cutlery and dishes and the waiters gliding around. It lurked in the cafés where people sipped beer and citron pressé and café au lait, and it lurked in the small boulangeries where early risers stood in line every morning before breakfast, patiently waiting for the fresh warm baguettes and croissants whose aroma spread for blocks like the ocean breeze. This city told you, every single step of the way, that it was the perfect place to rediscover the pleasure of food, money be damned. Eat only Chinese food in Paris, I promptly discovered, and you might as well not have gone to Paris.
And so it was that one sunny afternoon I found myself standing in front of a busy restaurant a few blocks away from the studio. Id walked past this restaurant every day, and after reading the menu du jour scribbled with chalk onto a blackboard, a  studied casual air on my face, I knew it was—barely—within my limits.
I counted, once again, the bills in my pocket—a sad amount. I conveniently forgot about my family, who waited for me in Spain, and about the rent that I knew Id have to pay if I returned to them. I forgot about the astronomic tuition fees that Id have to fork over if I was granted the visa for UTM, and I felt myself march into the  busy restaurant, where I startled the first waiter  I saw with an energetic, Une table pour un, sil vous plaît.
A table for one.