When I finally took a peek out of my window, towards 2 pm, I was dazzled by unexpectedly bright sunlight. And yet, for some perverse reason, I decided it was a perfect day for an outing to the cinema. A perfect day for sitting in darkness, indoors, alone.
Once upon a time, there was a petite anglaise who lived on rue de la Roquette, and taught English part-time for twelve, maybe sixteen hours a week. She had a student card, and an MK2 cinema card (in those days, the chain of art house cinemas were called Les Cinemas 14 Juillet) and she went to the cinema three, maybe four times a week. Between classes, to kill time, she often went to the morning showing (25 francs). When her apartment refused to warm up in the middle of winter, she saw two films back to back while her toes gradually thawed.
In her time with Mr Frog she still went often, although this sometimes meant reaching a somewhat unsatisfactory compromise. She liked thoughtful, challenging, whimsical; he liked car chases, guns and mechanically working his way through a bucket of (salted) popcorn. Sunday afternoons were often spent zipping down to Bercy Village on the Vespa, munching on a Bresaola toasted sandwich and queuing up for the latest blockbuster. Then Tadpole was born, and suddenly the cinema became a prohibitively expensive outing: €21 in babysitting fees before any tickets (or popcorn) had even been factored in to the equation.
Nowadays, although I have a little more time to myself, I tend to want to spend my precious freedom wisely, preferring to see a friend for a leisurely brunch, or a few drinks, rather than sitting companiably in the dark.
But today I returned and got bitten by the cinema bug all over again.
I bought a ticket for the mid-afternoon showing of Michel Gondry’s The Science of Sleep, then retired to the outdoor terrasse, where I sipped a café crème and nibbled on a cannelé for half an hour, my nose in a book. At the appointed hour I chose the perfect seat (a third from the front, in the middle of the row) and kicked off my flip flops, tucking my feet up under my skirt. The room was sparsely populated and quiet. As the lights went down I felt a familiar tingle of anticipation.
The film was quirky, endearing and occasionally laugh out loud funny. Gael Garcia Bernal was rather delectable in his ill-fitting, large collared suit. Losing myself in a dreamscape filled with stuffed toys, cardboard toilet rolls and eggboxes for a couple of hours was glorious escapism.
As the credits drew to a close, I strolled out into the sunshine and stretched like a cat. Glancing at my watch, I was pleased to note I had a whole hour to kill before Tadpole o’clock. I stopped at a café I’d never even noticed before, on a whim. A table in the sun. The sound of djembé players drifting over from somewhere near the canal. An occasional métro aérien screeching across the metal bridge from Jaurès to Stalingrad. Scenes from the film replaying in my head. A crisp, cold pression. One of the best croque monsieur‘s I have sampled in years (it’s all in the topping – and this one was oozing to perfection with thick coating of bechamel).
There was only one false note. From time to time I found myself missing a certain someone. It crossed my mind, fleetingly, that Mr Frog would have loved the film; that he would have adored the café. We would have sat in companiable silence (popcorn chewing excepted), conversation unnecessary.
Ironic, isn’t it, that I should find myself wishing I could spend a few hours of my precious freedom with the one person who can’t be there. Freedom, it seems, comes at a price. And situations are never quite as clear cut as they first appear.