She Sat Here

On any day, from anywhere around the globe, if I hear a success story of a woman I get so excited and happy. Not because I doubt it is impossible but mainly because I come from the Middle East and things have been different there for women for so long. My mom and her generation of women were mostly home makers. Yet both my parents made sure that I receive a proper education and if I am anything today it’s because of them. And for that I am forever grateful.

Last week I was thrilled to hear Canadian writer Alice Munro win the Nobel prize for literature. Not only because she is a woman but also because she is a short story writer and as such she opens the door to many of us. I am in awe of writers. Not only do I love to read their work but I also like to read about them, listen to them talk, watch their interviews, find out everything I can about their writing life. How they work, how they write, where they write.


I remember in the summer of 1986 when my late husband and I traveled to Rome, Venice and Paris. We arrived in Paris in the afternoon. Early next morning my pilgrimage began in The Latin Quarters where Simone De Beauvoir spent her days writing her books, accounts of her life with Jean Paul Sartre.

So I started with Sorbonne, the university where Simone De Beauvoir studied. I walked through the halls of the university thinking this is where it all began, this is where she wrote;

“My place was neither in bars nor libraries: then where was it? I could see no other salvation than in books.”

Then from there we walked towards Boulevard St. Germain. As we drew closer my knees felt shaky. When at last I reached Café De Flore my heart was throbbing and I could hardly breathe. So this is where she spent most of her time. This is where she met her friends, where she sat for hours, writing. I sat at a table outside for a few minutes and then walked up the stairs to the second floor. I found what I thought and remembered from her memoirs to be her corner, her table and I sat down. I was literally shaking. I touched the desk, her desk, looked around me, visualized her there. In that corner, cigarette in hand, writing. Then I

“Day-dreamed about my own existence. It wouldn’t be a stormy life, nor even a startling one. All I wanted was to be in love, to write good books, to have children and friends to whom I can dedicate my books and who will show my children by personal experience what poetry and philosophy can be.” Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter

That early in the morning there was no one in the café. We had the whole place to ourselves. I looked around. So Simone and Jean Paul Sartre met Salvador Dali and Picasso and so many others, here in this small café at the corner of St. Germain Des Pres where Simone wrote;

“We belonged to no place or country, no class, profession, or generation. Our truth lay elsewhere. It was inscribed upon the face of eternity, and the future would reveal it: we were writers. Any other verdict was the merest false illusion.” The Prime of Life

My late husband took pictures of me which I later stuck on my writing desk in my bedroom in Dubai and which became my muse. All those years, whenever I looked at the photos it all came back to me, filling me with an incredible sensation that kept me writing.

In the café, my late husband watched me quietly and let me live the moment. I cannot describe what I felt then. I looked out the window and I remembered;

“This afternoon I’m upstairs at the Flore, near the window, I can see the wet street, the plane tree swaying in the sharp wind, there are a lot of people, and downstairs there’s a great hubbub. I don’t feel at ease here. Something tells me that I’ll never again work here as I used to for so many years.” Force of Circumstance

My dream had come true. I sighed and turned to my late husband and smiled. I got what I came for and for that I was forever grateful. But, as he pointed out, we still had to see Paris, and so, holding my hand, he led me down the stairs and back out into the street…


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