This isn’t going to be a story about some random place I worked in, or a place where something particularly memorable happened. Quite on the contrary, my following impressions describe a restaurant that slowly became a background for my life in Paris.
I moved to France on September 2 three years ago. The very first apartment I rented in Paris was quite lovely, even if pocket-sized and gloomy (I would rarely see any proper daylight due to the window facing inner yard). It was situated between two streets, especially well known to fellow habitants of the 7th arrondissement: Rue de Grenelle and Rue Saint-Dominique. My building faced directly the Embassy of Romania. As soon as I stepped out, I would take two left turns and in two minutes I would see the tip of the Eiffel tower, standing directly behind tall Parisian buildings.
Living in such proximity to Champ de Mars might sound cliché and all, but for a newcomer like me it was a dream come true. Needless to say I would often stroll here after lectures or at the weekends just to remind myself I get to live in this city for real.
During my first days, I was eager to get familiar with new places. At that time, in spite of my first visit back in 2013, Paris was still a blank map, devoid of any particular experiences or memories. Without giving it much thought, I decided to start with cafés and museums.
Just like many others, I was persuaded that Paris is a capital of gastronomy wonders. That explains why at the beginning I wasn’t very picky when it came to choosing where to spend my time. Oh, little did I know! The abundance of bistros on every corner, so compelling for tourists who failed to do their research, only meant getting charged fifteen euros for an average omelette, not pleasing my stomach in groundbreaking, unheard-of ways.
I stepped over the threshold of La Terrase out of convenience, really – it just happened to be right beside the École Militaire metro station, the nearest one to my home. I have no recollection whatsoever of what I ate or drank on my very first time, but what I do remember is how the restaurant’s manager (he was wearing a suit rather than a waiter uniform than the others), eyed me curiously after taking my order and asked politely where I was coming from. I know my French accent was horrible back then and it always gave me away.
I became to be known as Monika de Lituanie.
Even if I kept coming back to the restaurant out of convenience whenever I wanted to eat out (food was delicious too), there was another reason as well. I felt genuinely happy every time I entered La Terrasse, even if for a cup of tea – miraculously, all the waiters knew my name, even the new ones. Maybe it had something to do with the manager pronouncing my name joyfully (with a strong accent on the last ‘A’) as soon as he saw me waiting patiently to be seated.
I used to hear stories about Parisians going to their local boulangeries or cafés where staff knows everything about them and their eating habits, but I never knew I could have such a place for myself. I don’t really know if such a thing exists in my home country. Not only I started feeling like a local, I enjoyed the fact that I could exchange a word or two with waiters, especially if I was absent for some time. “Were you on holidays?” one of tem would always ask me.
Even if the restaurant was a place to work or reflect on what was going at that time in my life, I made some memories there as well.
I remember being treated to an ice cream with a cute, mood-cheering note. I didn’t even know they had ice cream.
I remember getting to know a very friendly waiter from Poland who could relate to many of my newcomer experiences here. I haven’t seen him much lately, though.
I remember the manager introducing me to another manager, referring to me as notre Monika (“our Monika”).
I remember sitting nearby an elderly lady (if I was to believe the waiter, she was more than 90 years old!) who had several different newspapers spread widely on her table – Le Monde, Figaro… We exchanged some glances, followed by a short conversation. Madame told me how glad she was to be able to go out and ‘breathe freely’ again, obviously referencing the atmosphere after the November 2015 terrorist attacks.
Once a waiter asked me out and I told him I had a boyfriend, to which he replied “And why would that be an obstacle? We can be friends”. His mischievous smile didn’t exactly spell ‘friends’, and even if I didn’t sugarcoat my refusals, I was having a hard time making him understand that. That was until the manager shamed him for not leaving me alone and told me a piece advice I would never forget: “Darling, if you want French men to leave you in peace, you should tell them you are married. They should respect that”. I found the tactics a little bit extreme, but I can confirm that he was right.
Even though I never really paid much attention to the other people at La Terrasse, I remember scanning the place once, trying to understand what kind of people gather there. There is always a huge distinction between tourists, who will probably never enter La Terrasse again, and Parisians. I was (and still am) fascinated to watch how these two antagonistic categories of people mingle, never finding common grounds. And here I am, seemingly in the middle – never confused for a tourist because I do not look like one, yet without any hope to ever pretend to be taken for a Parisian, well, because I do not look like one either. To tell the truth, it might be the best position for a curious spectator to observe the world that’s surrounding him or her, especially for a writer.
During three years, I changed three apartments; moved from the 7th arrondissement to the 5th one and École Militaire is now far from convenient, but I still keep coming back regularly. I saw many changes in staff, yet somehow managed to have a conversation with so many of them who came and left. Curiously, all these changes became a certain way to measure passing time and my personal growth. I cannot promise I will visit this place for many years to come, yet I know it will always remain special for me.
I guess I should tell the manager thanks the next time I pass by.