At Eenmaal, a temporary restaurant opened by Marina van Goor in Amsterdam in 2013, each table sat only one. Guests were encouraged to disconnect; to read, sketch, write, or simply enjoy the food. “At Eenmaal,” Ms. van Goor said in a talk for the lecture series CreativeMornings Amsterdam, “you are your own company.” Her words echoed those uttered centuries ago by the composer Franz Joseph Haydn, who once told a waiter to serve him a dinner that some contended could have fed five. The waiter, according to the Boston Daily Globe in 1889, said, “But, sir, the company is not come.”
Haydn replied: “Pooh! de gompany! I am de gompany!”
Paris is among the most appealing places to be your own company. It was there that The New Yorker food writer A.J. Liebling said he learned the art of eating. “I was often alone, but seldom lonely,” he wrote in “Between Meals,” his memoir of his days in Paris, “I enjoyed the newspapers and books that were my usual companions at the table, the exchanges with waiters.”
Under the red awnings of Comptoir Turenne, the men on either side of me lit after-breakfast cigarettes. Tourists wandered by in the direction of the Picasso Museum, art galleries and Merci, where shoppers line up in an industrial warehouse to buy the necessities of modern life, like pink computer glasses and soap made from tomato leaves.
To sit outside a Paris cafe at breakfast is to observe the city as it wipes the sleep from its eyes: the soft clink of a cup and saucer, the turning of newspaper pages, the passer-by with a cigarette who asks for a light — and me, at my little round table, nibbling a speculoos, sipping my café crème.
This article is adapted from “Alone Time: Four Seasons, Four Cities, and the Pleasures of Solitude,” by Stephanie Rosenbloom, a reporter for the Travel section. It will be published by Viking on June 5.