Over the years I’ve dined alone from time to time, at restaurants with beautiful views, or quaint interiors, or interesting menus. No matter what age I was at the time, I rarely got the chance to enjoy my meal without feeling that my sole presence as a woman dining alone was a disturbance. In a Greek restaurant in Chicago, the waiter asked me three times if I wasn’t expecting someone else before finally bringing me a menu, and then served me with a kind of quiet fury. In a fish restaurant in Tofino, Canada, on a short break from teaching, I asked for a table by the window. I was shown a table in a dark corner, where all I could do was admire the wood paneling. I sat down obediently and stared at the white tablecloth. I was early. The place was empty. They didn't take reservations. Strangely, what I felt was shame.
A few months ago, I found myself in beautiful Rennes, Brittany. I had just returned to Europe after thirty years of living in the States, and I was looking for the right place to have my first meal out. I had bought a French diary, still wrapped in cellophane, and a brand-new French pen, and wanted to enjoy a glass of French wine together with a delicious French meal. I found a little bistro that seemed to promise all that. Two men, tall, lean, fashionably unshaven, stood smoking on the steps. “Ah bah oui,” they were serving dinner. Was I expecting someone else? Non? I was shown a table right behind the open door, squeezed into a corner so tight I had to keep my elbows close in order not to hit wall or glass. I asked for another table. The place was empty, after all. I was early. “Non,” all reserved. Not even a “désolé.” Service was perfunctory, the bread dry, the wine they recommended, terrible. I ordered fish. The waiters stood at the bar, looking in my direction, sneering. Did they know they were crushing my French dream? I used the breadknife to slash open the cellophane wrapping of my diary. They snickered more loudly. I screwed the cap off my new pen. I looked at them, leaning against the bar, looking back at me. I glanced up at the board listing the specials of the evening and wrote the name of the dish I had ordered. I looked at the wine list next to the specials and wrote down the name of the terrible wine. I swirled my glass, took another sip, closed my eyes for a moment before writing something in my diary that had nothing do with wine. I noticed they weren’t sneering any more. I took out my phone and snapped a few pictures of the menu, of the place, of my food, writing in between snapshot and snapshot. They looked worried. One came over and asked me if I had enjoyed my food. The other recommended a different, much better wine. I got fresh bread. They had become the polite French waiters I had pictured. When I left, the place was still almost empty. The pen felt warm in my hand.
I paint and write and live mostly in a country of my own making. I've shown my work at cafés and galleries in the US, Spain, France and Germany. Among my children's books are El Loro Tico Tango (The Parrot Tico Tango), El Fandango de Lola (Lola's Fandango), both published by Barefoot Books, and the stories for the Tikitiklip Precolombino series of children's videos (Producciones Ojitos, Santiago de Chile).