My First Job: Lisa Appignanesi, president of PEN, was a waitress in Paris

'I made coffee in an urn and added chicory'

"The perpetual smell of Gitanes and urine and disinfectant: I thought it was absolutely wonderful!" Yes, the novelist Lisa Appignanesi remembers it well, the smell of the hotels during the summer in Paris when she studied French literature at the Sorbonne and helped to fund herself by working as a "breakfast waitress".

Usually based in the clean Canadian city of Montreal, she was enthralled by the smells of the French capital. Her family had lived in Paris for a time, and during her four-year course at McGill University she revisited the place where she had spent her early childhood.

Lisa Appignanesi is the new president of English PEN, the campaigning writers' organisation that boasts H G Wells and Antonia Fraser as former presidents. Her current campaign is against the law of blasphemy, "a relic from the past". Paris features in her novels, and also in Mad, Bad and Sad: The History of Women and the Mind Doctors from 1800 to the Present (published today by Virago, £20).

In 1964, she was just a short walk away from the Salpêtrière, the vast asylum where demonstrations of hypnosis were conducted on patients by the trailblazing French doctor Jean-Martin Charcot, famous as the "Napoleon of neuroses". (Previously the site of a gunpowder factory, it is the hospital where Diana, Princess of Wales died.)

Staying at the Hôtel Minerve (Minerva is the Roman name for Athene, goddess of wisdom) in the rue des Ecoles, near the Sorbonne, she paid for her room partly in francs and partly by serving breakfast.

It was not exactly the Ritz. "The kitchen was a tiny room behind the reception area. The job consisted of making the coffee in a vast, industrial-sized urn and pouring in chicory – actually, a very good brew. This was served with tartines – baguettes sliced in half." She was one of two waitresses who took the breakfast trays up to the hotel guests sitting at Formica tables. These were mainly Americans.

One of them asked her what she wanted to do with herself when she grew up. When she in turn asked this ancient fellow – he was at least 30 – the same question, he replied, "I want to be a philosopher". He had certainly come to the right city: Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir were to be glimpsed at the time, though sadly not by Lisa, being existential in local cafés. Lisa also sat in cafés, pretending to read.

Many of the people who actually worked in those cafés seemed to be Portuguese, and the Minerve's night receptionist also hailed from Portugal: "The hotel was wonderful for him, a place to half-sleep. My feeling of alliance was with the people who had to do this work for a living. I was aware that I was only a temporary worker."

Later, Appignanesi returned to Paris and wrote a book about Simone de Beauvoir. Hard work, too.

Sport
formula oneLive lap-by-lap coverage of championship decider
News
Lily Allen performs on stage at Splendour In the Grass 2014 on 27 July, 2014, in Byron Bay, Australia
people
News
Boxing promoter Kellie Maloney, formerly known as Frank Maloney, entered the 2014 Celebrity Big Brother house
people
Arts and Entertainment
tvStrictly presenter returns to screens after Halloween accident
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
video
Arts and Entertainment
Jerry Hall (Hand out press photograph provided by jackstanley@theambassadors.com)
theatre
News
peopleFormer civil rights activist who was jailed for smoking crack cocaine has died aged 78
Sport
Manny Pacquiao lands a blow on Chris Algieri
Pacquiao retains WBO welterweight title – and says he wants Mayweather next
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
News
i100
Sport
premier leagueMatch report: Arsenal 1 Man United 2
Arts and Entertainment
Kirk Cameron is begging his Facebook fans to give him positive reviews
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Commercial Property Surveyor

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the leading firms of Cha...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - Central London, Bank

£26000 - £28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A truly exciting opportunity has ari...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Structural Engineer

£22500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A keen Graduate Structural Engineer with...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Data & Delivery Guru

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Graduate Data & Delivery Guru is required to...

Day In a Page

Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

Flogging vlogging

First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

US channels wage comedy star wars
When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible
Look what's mushrooming now! Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector

Look what's mushrooming now!

Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
Neil Findlay is more a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

More a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

The vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Tenderstem broccoli omelette; Fried eggs with Mexican-style tomato and chilli sauce; Pan-fried cavolo nero with soft-boiled egg

Oeuf quake

Bill Granger's cracking egg recipes
Terry Venables: Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back

Terry Venables column

Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back
Michael Calvin: Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Those at the top are allowing the same issues to go unchallenged, says Michael Calvin