A Poor Student In Paris
It would be impossible to tell of all the good these years brought to me. Undistracted by any outside occupation, I was entirely absorbed in the joy of learning and understanding. Yet, all the while, my living conditions were far from easy, my own funds being small and my family not having the means to aid me as they would have liked to do. However, my situation was not exceptional; it was the familiar experience of many of the Polish students whom I knew. The room I lived in was in a garret, very cold in winter, for it was insufficiently heated by a small stove which often lacked coal. During a particularly rigorous winter, it was not unusual for the water to freeze in the basin in the night; to be able to sleep I was obliged to pile all my clothes on the bedcovers. In the same room I prepared my meals with the aid of an alcohol lamp and a few kitchen utensils. These meals were often reduced to bread with a cup of chocolate, eggs or fruit. I had no help in housekeeping and I myself carried the little coal I used up the six flights.
This life, painful from certain points of view, had, for all that, a real charm for me. It gave me a very precious sense of liberty and independence. Unknown in Paris, I was lost in the great city, but the feeling of living there alone, taking care of myself without any aid, did not at all depress me. If sometimes I felt lonesome, my usual state of mind was one of calm and great moral satisfaction.
All my mind was centered on my studies, which, especially at the beginning, were difficult. In fact, I was insufficiently prepared to follow the physical science course at the Sorbonne, for, despite all my efforts, I had not succeeded in acquiring in Poland a preparation as complete as that of the French students following the same course. So I was obliged to supply this deficiency, especially in mathematics. I divided my time between courses, experimental work, and study in the library. In the evening I worked in my room, sometimes very late into the night. All that I saw and learned that was new delighted me. It was like a new world opened to me, the world of science, which I was at last permitted to know in all liberty.
from Autobiographical Notes pp. 170-171.