We take a seat at an outdoor table in front of Le Panier – a quirky little café on the Place St Marthe – and a contented sigh escapes me. What bliss to take some time away from the computer, which dominates my living room, my bedroom, my life. The Place St Marthe is a perfect place for playing “spot the bobo” and basking in the last rays of the summer.
The proprietor sets down a carafe of water, two glasses and a menu, taking a seat by my side. My mouth twitches with suppressed mirth. I have been here before and I know from experience that he is a rather larger than life character, who often pauses to sit by his bemused patrons talking surreal nonsense until he gets bored, moves on in search of new prey. Today he is dressed in white and blue striped cotton pyjama bottoms and a scruffy t-shirt. I wonder idly whether he is going commando and peer discreetly down to see what footwear he has chosen to accessorise this charming ensemble.
“The specials today are blanquette de veau with mascarpone, sauté d’agneau and a mushroom tart,” he says, giving me an odd sidelong glance which I find impossible to read. “Personally I don’t recommend the mushroom tart, it’s not up to much…” I wonder whether this is a skillful reverse advertising strategy. If not, my overwhelming desire to order the tart is simply a reflection of my own perverse nature. In the end though, I decide against it, as I scan down the menu and something else takes my fancy.
My friend – so traumatised by our last near miss that he insisted upon picking me up today on his scooter to avoid a repeat performance – quizzes me about all the surreal things which have been going on of late and then we fall silent for a while, savouring the tender souris d’agneau (I’m very vague about cuts of meat, in French, but I’m reliably informed that no mice were involved in the preparation of this meal) which falls away from the bone and melts in my mouth.
We order dessert, coffee, a beer, whiling away the afternoon until it is time for me to collect Tadpole from school. As I draw close to the throng of waiting mothers around the doorway, I reflect on how privileged I feel, right now. If things had been different, I would still be scurrying to the office every morning, never sure what kind of atmosphere would reign. A stranger would pick up Tadpole from school in the afternoons, and mind her until I got home. I would brave the rush hour métro twice a day.
Instead, I pad through my apartment barefoot, clad in my favourite jeans and power up the computer. I take a break when I feel I’ve earned one, or when my head becomes dull and heavy and words no longer flow. Grabbing a book from the pile, I head for the Parc de Belleville, sit cross-legged in the grass, my hair ruffled by a gentle breeze.
Every day I pass the steps where a plaque reads:
“Sur les marches de cette maison, naquit dans le plus grand dénuement celle dont la voix, plus tard, allait bouleverser le monde”
A song echoes in my head. I regret nothing.