He’d been living in Paris for two months. In a small cheap hotel, two floor above the kitchen of a Chinese restaurant. He came to Paris to learn French, eventually get a job there where he could use the language, and to write. He smelled the food cooking in this kitchen from about 10 a.m. on. Smelled it when he read, studied, wrote or tried to nap, smelled it at night when he went to bed. He always wanted to eat in the restaurant and had checked the menu from its front window dozens of times. Would get hungry reading the things they served. He imagined many times sitting in the restaurant at a small table, ordering three dishes (appetizer, soup, main course) and a large carafe of red wine, eating and reading and looking around the room to see if he recognized anyone he knew and also to see what other people were eating. The restaurant was usually crowded for dinner and half-filled for lunch. Some weekend evenings, people waiting outside for twenty to thirty minutes for a table. The hotel was on rue de Sommerand, near the Musée de Cluny. There was a small park across the street from the hotel and he’d sit in it sometimes when he wanted to take a break from his work, and read and watch people go into the restaurant, often carrying souvenirs and books from the museum. There was always lots of chatter and laughing and noises from clinking dishes, glasses and silver coming from the dining room, when the tall front windows were folded open, and when he was in his room, even if his window wsa closed, the same kind of noises from the kitchen and what occasionally sounded like arguments and barking ordering in French and Chinese. A couple in the hotel said they’d been to the restaurant and that the food was very good. A married couple on the top floor, both artists and about ten years older than he, the man Australian and he wife Chinese. They said they’d held their wedding reception there three years ago for about thirty people — most of the restaurant was closed off for it — and since then they’d eaten there four or five times a year and always on their anniversary. For the reception, they said, the chefs prepared dishes that were indigenous to the wife’s region and never get on the menu. He aid he’d like to eat there at least once before he left the hotel but right now couldn’t afford it and didn’t see when he ever would. Moment he said that he knew he was fishing for an invitation to be their guest next time they went to the restaurant, but the husband said “Well, if you do hit it rich and I suppose you know the prices aren’t too steep there, make certain you have as your appetizer the marinated crispy fish twigs, as they call it, and for the main course the scallops and oysters in black bean sauce, and ask them not to stint on the garlic but to hold back a bit on the red peppers. Both are divine, and when they’re on the menu, we order them everytime.” He said “I’ll make it there some day, if I have to borrow the dough to go. For some reason I have this long-standing fantasy of walking downstairs from my room on an evening when it’s teeming outside, going through the hotel’s connecting entrance to the restaurant, so I won’t even have to carry an umbrella or raincoat, getting a small out-of-the-way table and reading a book I’m excited with while I eat and drink, and then going back to my room for a long peaceful sleep. That’s not asking too much, is it?” “Seems reasonable to me,” the wife said. “But it’s such a friendly, warm place that I hope you go with someone and leave your book behind.”
June 14, 2002
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