petite anglaise

March 3, 2006


Filed under: navel gazing — petiteanglaiseparis @ 4:55 pm

I am subjected to nightmares involving lifts on a disturbingly regular basis.

In last night’s episode, I found myself alone in an unfamiliar lift cabin, when suddenly, without warning, it began to plummet downwards, picking up speed, the air whistling past my ears as the cabin lurched towards the bottom of the shaft. Bracing myself for an imminent impact, back pressed against the wall, I almost wept with relief when inexplicably the cabin ground to a halt, a hair’s breadth away from the bottom, and a woman’s arm appeared through a trap door in the ceiling, beckoning me to safety.

At this point, I awoke and burrowed deep into the sanctuary of Lover’s armpit, heart still racing.

Unsettling experiences involving lifts abound in my mind’s nocturnal meanderings. Cabins which dangle precariously from a single frayed cable, rocking from side to side as I hold my breath and silently pray. Cabins which have no walls, little more than unstable metal platforms, which lurch drunkenly from side to side in cavernously wide shafts as I press myself to the floor, attempting to cling on. Lifts which shoot off in unlikely directions at high speed, or stop at a great distance from the exit door so that I have to jump over a yawning chasm to reach safety.

Bizzarely, in my waking life, I don’t suffer from claustrophobia or vertigo. And taking lifts does not perturb me in the slightest: I should know, I take four of them every single day.

The first is cramped, carpet-lined, and coffin-like and conveys Tadpole and me to the ground floor of our apartment building. I should probably be suspicious of this lift in particular, as I’ve read countless horror stories about the appallingly slack maintenance of lifts in privately owned accommodation in France, and to anyone peering through the lattice work of the lift shaft, it is plain to see that the cables are furry. But, thus far, it has never been out of order for a single day.

The second is in the nanny’s state-owned tower block, which got an honourable mention in a recent post on account of the pervasive odour of urine often to be found inside the cabin.

The third is in the Buttes Chaumont métro station, one of the few Parisian stations which boasts a large capacity lift, on account of how far underground the tunnels run, in the bowels of the earth, beneath a former gypsym quarry. Stairs do exist, but taking them is a fool’s entreprise.

The fourth and final lift which I take every weekday is a modern, marble and mirrored lift which propels my reluctant self to the office every morning.

I have never been trapped in any of the above, nor have I experienced any mishaps while travelling in them, so I can see no logical reason for my brain’s uncanny fixation. But no doubt a psychoanalyst would find interpreting these anxiety dreams childsplay: a powerless petite, watching her life rush past her, spiralling out of control, paralysed by The Fear.

Whatever the reason, what I did not need was for lift n° 1 to utter a deafening groan as it made its descent early this morning, jolting me instantly into a vivid flashback of the previous night’s dream.

“WHAT WAS THAT?” shouted Tadpole, nervously, pupils widening.

“Oh, don’t worry, it’s just a silly noise,” I countered, with artificial joviality, trying not to communicate my disquiet to my daughter, lest we end up having to take the stairs up to the fifth floor on a daily basis if, god forbid, she develops a lift phobia.

Thankfully, the lift arrived at the ground floor without making any further vocal protests, the folding door drawing back to release us only moments later.

“QUICK MUMMY! GET OUT!” shrieked Tadpole, leading me to believe I may not have managed to play it quite as cool as I had hoped.

I stepped out of the lift, on shaking legs, and we went on our way. One down, three to go.


  1. from what i understand, most nightmares involve your mind acting out fears of lack of control, and this sounds like one of those. not to suggest that you are a controlling person, petite — just that it’s a common human desire to be in control at all times, to be secure. it sounds like your dreamscape is quite normal!

    Comment by franko — March 3, 2006 @ 5:01 pm

  2. The mystery remains: who is Lover?! You could drop clues here and there – a bit like a Nancy Drew novel. ;) (for the more sophisticated: an Agatha Christie novel….)
    We used to read Lover’s comments and we probably still are, so the suspense is killing some of us…

    Comment by Eastern Butterfly — March 3, 2006 @ 6:01 pm

  3. ooh, my friend told me a story about some people trapped in an elevator. it started falling to the ground, and when it landed, they all broke their ankles from the impact! so remember to sit down if that ever happens, although you might break your butt instead of your ankles… :)

    Comment by sarah — March 3, 2006 @ 6:11 pm

  4. I used to have those scary elevator dreams (also without any fear of real elevators) often during times of anxious transition.

    Good to know you’ve got a comforting armpit in which to burrow. :-)

    Comment by Theresa — March 3, 2006 @ 6:18 pm

  5. The lift in a place I stayed at on Ave de Tourville was actually nice – small but not too old (only the building was old). I’m aware some of lifts in Paris can be old, old as the building itself.

    I got used to the office high rise elevators, but apparently one woman I worked w. did not – she quit right after she had got stuck on an elevator that stopped mid- floor.

    Comment by Terry — March 3, 2006 @ 7:31 pm

  6. Yipes! When I was at school a chappy was playing in the lift and was caught in the doors. When the lift went up, he was cut in half longways. I didn’t know him, but I did know his girlfriend who was stuck in the lift with half of him for 45 minutes while she awaited the emergency crew to come and get her out.—On the other hand, many more people get hurt on the stairs than on lifts. New lifts don’t even have the escape hatches any more. Lots more people got hurt trying to save themselves than would have had they stayed inside.

    Comment by Ben — March 3, 2006 @ 8:33 pm

  7. Too much exposure to Roald Dahl as a child?

    Comment by prawn cocktail crisps — March 3, 2006 @ 8:54 pm

  8. My husband has developped lift phobia since watching an episode of “Six Feet Under” where someone tries to get out of a lift that was stopped in between 2 floors. The man crawls out, gets his torso out of the lift, but his legs are still inside, when the lift suddenly drops and the poor man is cut in half.

    Since then my husband doesn’t have a problem actually being inside lifts, but shudders while going in or out.

    Comment by Amélie — March 3, 2006 @ 8:54 pm

  9. Help … I’ve become you again! There’s no option to edit comments so I can’t change back to Prawn Coctail Crisps! I’m scared! I don’t want to be Petite! I like me! I like my life! I don’t take lifts! I drink Yorkshire Tea and have year round access to mushy peas! I know where I am with English dog poo versus the poodle pavement variety! Please help!

    Comment by prawn cocktail crisps — March 3, 2006 @ 8:59 pm

  10. I always EXPECT lifts to lurch and groan, since I used to visit my grandfather in his Marylebone flat as a child, where the lift was very small, very old and very hot. I always thought of it as a French lift, even then.
    My nightmares were, and are, always of tsunamis, either I was in the wave, towering over the beach, or on the beach, looking up in horror. Though I haven’t had that one recently….

    Comment by Ruth — March 3, 2006 @ 9:55 pm

  11. I don’t have nightmares where lifts are even envolved – even after I was trapped in our lift for about an hour the other week.
    My nightmares include vertigo. On bad days, I can’t even look down from my own balcony – I live at the 11th floor.
    And if I see any action movie where they chase each other on skyscrapers – like for instance “First Strike” with Jackie Chan – I almost faint from just watching.
    But, strange enough, when I fly, I always sit next to the window, and I love it to look down – no problem to me whatsoever.

    Comment by adventurertobe — March 3, 2006 @ 11:17 pm

  12. Er, it conveys Tadpole and me, not Tadpole and I. You say, “The elevator conveys Tadpole,” and “The elevator conveys me.” You don’t say, “The elevator conveys I.”

    Sorry. Grammar geek.

    Comment by Postmodern Sass — March 4, 2006 @ 12:00 am

  13. I got trapped in a lift once – my bike wheel got caught in the door as it was closing. It was boring rather than scary, although I did wonder if I’d be there all night as it turns out the “alarm” was just a bell designed to attract the attention of the college porters, who happened to be out.

    Comment by katie — March 4, 2006 @ 1:05 am

  14. A dream experiment: Next time you have the lift dream, try jumping UP (!) just before the plunging lift crashes into the ground and then … land! … And exhale. This is the sort of experiment one must only carry out in one’s dreams, of course; the insurance, the liability and so forth.

    I am an insomniac whose friend asked her to attend a weekly dream-group and to whom I answered, OK, as it was only for 4 times. So, an insomniac at a dream group; clearly nothing I say is worth the comment-box I type it in, so please don’t even attempt the above dreamjumpinlift thing. Even in your dreams you can end up going to dream-hospital or even the dream-morgue.

    What happens if a person really dreams that they die? Ulp!

    Love your writing, Petite!

    Comment by Sami — March 4, 2006 @ 2:12 am

  15. Whoops! Should’ve posted the comment I posted for “Saturday” here….
    Well, here it is again:
    Dreaming that you are ascending in an elevator means that you will quickly rise to status and wealth. You may have risen to a higher level of consciousness and are looking at the world from an elevated viewpoint. Descending in an elevator indicates that misfortunes will crush and discourage you. The up and down action of the elevator may represent the ups and downs of your life go emerging out of and submerging into your subconscious. Dreaming that the elevator is out of order or that it is not letting you off, symbolizes that your emotions have gotten out of control.

    Comment by Kiora — March 4, 2006 @ 2:39 am

  16. I do suffer from elevator dreams quite a lot myself. However they often move sideways! Now what is that supposed to mean? Stagnation in life? Lack of direction?

    Comment by karst de jong — March 4, 2006 @ 9:49 am

  17. Your daughter’s right to grab a hold of your isntincts. Don’t punish yourself. She’s your best mate and your feelings are understandable. I read this with interest and fascination as the lifts were a real fear for me, when I was living in France, and for good reason, I eventually concluded. I too experienced lifts (and planes) on nightmare level when I was a single Mum in France. Once , the very sight of the hideous, huge ugly fearful thing in a state related place actualy upset me so much I couldn’t go round it, on the stairwell. I couldn’t move, it was just staring me in the face, the huge, transparent, una shamed and unattended killer machine that was pretending to assist people in attaining new heights and had the ghastly jail-like, furry electrical potential to plument them to hades. I stood in the corner of the stairwell and wept. Then I seized a hold of myself and walked up the stairs. This sort of fearful distress was happenning on airoplanes on occasion so I went to see a lovely private counsellor chappie, who told me that immigrating to a new country , ie France, with the little babe and being in a vulnerable situation, induced extreme fear of not being in control of a circumstance, of not being the one controlling the pulleys, or being in the cockpit. Not only that, he said, but French lifts are hideous and dangerous and phobia inducing. Those were his words. ” Phobia Inducing.” he then had a good rant about French provision generally and I felt alot better.
    If you feel this way there’s nothing wrong with talking to someone especially. I also had a lovely mate, Vanessa, who’d tell me ” Somtimes you get a really bumpy landing”, or, light heartedly ” Sometimes it jolts when the pulleys move”, and I’d hear her gentle words the next time I was travelling, or in the lift. That is a huge help.
    I hate indolent French Council authorities and their backward ugly lifts.

    Comment by fjl — March 4, 2006 @ 9:58 am

  18. You will probably be concerned about greater things than lifts at the moment – but did you never have to get on one of those continually-moving open-sided lifts that are meant to proceed at such a speed that you can step on as they pass? Now they ARE scary – you feel as if you’re stepping from the Titanic on to a lifeboat, or vice versa. They have a strange biblical-sounding name that I forget: Gomorrah or some such.

    Comment by Hilary Temple — March 4, 2006 @ 2:58 pm

  19. I have to say that, with hindsight, that lift dream is starting to look like an omen.

    Comment by petite — March 4, 2006 @ 6:54 pm

  20. Never mind sweetie, there’s so many fish in Paris’ sea.. xx Sometimes you get a really bumpy landing. xx

    Comment by fjl — March 4, 2006 @ 8:22 pm

  21. There is nothing that anyone can say that will make it better now. It is just knowing that it will get better helps get there faster.

    All my paranoid cat and I can do is send warm thoughts – which we do.

    Comment by Simon — March 4, 2006 @ 10:07 pm

  22. Dear Hilary Temple
    It’s called a paternoster. There’s a scene in The Omen where Damian’s father is talking to a nun in a Roman convent. Then the nun turns around and nimbly steps onto one of the moving platforms of the paternoster and rises slowly heaven-wards. Brilliant.

    Comment by Mancunian Lass — March 4, 2006 @ 10:16 pm

  23. I was thinking the same thing about your dream and your latest post — some kind of omen? Be well.

    Comment by ~Tim — March 4, 2006 @ 11:10 pm

  24. I’m so sorry petite, and while my words may not lessen any of your pain, you know your readers, lurkers and fans are here for you.

    Comment by jenn — March 4, 2006 @ 11:10 pm

  25. *hugs*

    Comment by AlieMalie — March 4, 2006 @ 11:12 pm

  26. I am really sorry for what’s happenned. It really is a shock. I hope you will recover quickly, for your daughter’s sake. Time heals everything, I guess.

    Comment by CherryFlower — March 4, 2006 @ 11:15 pm

  27. I’m so sorry Petite.

    Comment by Lyn — March 5, 2006 @ 1:10 am

  28. I am very sorry indeed to hear of your latest sad news. What more can I say, except you’re not alone. We all go through this. We love, we leave or we get left. Its bloody awful and it hurts like hell. You can’t eat or sleep properly for a while. You will over-drink and stay in bed all day, yet no drug will nullify the pain. In time, we recover to an extent. And we will love again, risking everything once more.

    Comment by Tom Tyler — March 5, 2006 @ 5:51 am

  29. I said what I wanted to say to you in my email today…I thought about you all day long. Now in MN, it’s 23.28 and I had to check to see if you’d added anything else to your blog before I went to bed. Lo and behold, I notice you added a comment re dream = omen. We are such sensitive creatures and we “know” things subconsciously. On that level, you seemed to feel something would happen as it turned out…
    Again, I feel so bad for you. {{{Warmest hugs}}}

    Comment by Kiora — March 5, 2006 @ 6:30 am

  30. Damn….

    Comment by meredic — March 5, 2006 @ 8:39 am

  31. Your little “inner voice” came through loud and clear in several of your past posts… way before your nightmare of “the lift”. Little by little your posts were saying “something was amiss” although you couldn’t quite put your finger on it…or just hoping against hope things would all come together again.Such pain.Glad you hadn’t already gone ahead and made “the move”.Better days are ahead…hang on to that thought for yourself and for Tadpole (who had gotten so attached to Jim ).Not easy on anyone involved..never is…But you now know to trust that “little inner voice”.It doesn’t lie.Good thoughts are with you.

    Comment by Beth — March 5, 2006 @ 10:00 am

  32. Dear Petite, I’m so sorry, but keep it together, do. Focus on work and other stuff…sorry, such feeble suggestions. I was separated recently (only temporarily, thank god) and I found that working very hard not to think about it was the only thing that kept me sane.

    Comment by dan — March 5, 2006 @ 10:07 am

  33. Hey Petite,

    I discovered your blog recently, quite by accident (typing “funny english” in google – go figure) and have since felt compulsed to read through all the archives.

    Never thought there would be any need for me to leave a comment, but hey, this is really tough. Wanted to let you know there is one more person adding her warm thoughts to the rest of the crowd. Keep it up.

    Comment by V. — March 5, 2006 @ 10:58 am

  34. Beth, I have re-read some posts, Limbo and Rollercoaster in particular, which did betray some of my feelings (although only the tip of the iceberg, I never tell all). I was panicking inside, and whether that panic caused him to panic too, or whether I was picking up, subconsciously, on a feeling of malaise he was experiencing, but hiding, I’ll never really know.

    Thank you to everyone who has sent me email. I really, really appreciate your thoughts right now. I was afraid if I left comments open there would be some “I told you so” comments or some Jim bashing, but I’m glad to see you are all above that kind of thing.

    Comment by petite — March 5, 2006 @ 11:10 am

  35. Dear Petite – your last entry shows you are making that big effort to carry on inspite of what you are going through. Good for you. Keep your chin up and try to smile. What a blessing it happened now rather than later – such as after uprooting yourself and Tadpole. You will get over this in time and you have loads of support from your readers. Sympathetic thoughts and big hugs

    Comment by Sandy — March 5, 2006 @ 11:34 am

  36. My first comment (above) was added before you posted your last two posts, which I’ve just read.

    I’m sorry. That is tough stuff to deal with. I hope things will look better to you very soon. Sending you good thoughts and wishing you well,

    Comment by Sami — March 5, 2006 @ 11:54 am

  37. I’m working on the web as usual so I popped over again.
    I get dreams about looking for people I’ve lost high and low, looking everywhere, and waking without having found them, with a sense of deep sorrow. In one or two relationships I wasn’t the easiest person to understand, and deep down I interpreted consequences of these crucial misunderstandings as much more serious and sad than I perceived them to be, when they happened. I think our unconscious does that. We get hurt more badly than we think, and it comes in our dreams. ( This was a while back now.)
    I think some of the horror you felt was shock at finding that he just isn’t there for you in the way he made out he was going to be. The sickness he was coughing represented the status of the relationship. It’s as if your inner mind has given you the toughest possible analogy of the situation.
    You’re not the first woman to feel that horror by a long, long way. But we are no longer in Victorian times.
    I’d like to see you have all your confidence back! Do you need this? ;-) xx You need someone who treats you as an equal and loves you and does not deceive you.

    Comment by fjl — March 5, 2006 @ 12:11 pm

  38. I am sorry, Petite.
    I hope that you put it all behind you quickly.
    It is time that heals all.
    Just give yourself time.

    Comment by Pumpkin Pie — March 5, 2006 @ 12:46 pm

  39. I’ve been reading this blog for years and never commented, but now I have to. I’m so sorry. I feel as shocked as though it had happened to my best friend.

    Comment by Tiggi — March 5, 2006 @ 1:22 pm

  40. Hi Petite, I too have been reading your blog for quite a while, several months, and have not yet commented, and when I read your post last night I also felt shocked and sad, as though it were happening to a friend of mine. I am sorry to read about all of this, and my thoughts are with you as well. I have no doubt that in time you will find love again.
    Your blog is very touching, funny, insightful and inspiring, and I look forward to each new post. Thank you for sharing your writing with the rest of us…

    Comment by thefrenchpage — March 5, 2006 @ 2:50 pm

  41. Just wanted to add a word of encouragement during this time of transition.

    Remember that just because a story ends doesn’t mean that it was a failure or a mistake. I’m sure you both gave and received many wonderful things and your lives have been enriched by your relationship. You experienced the joy of falling in love, and nothing can take that away from you.

    Here’s hoping you will both fall in love many more times!

    Comment by anon — March 5, 2006 @ 3:08 pm

  42. Hi there. I have never posted a comment here before, but I read your blog semi-regularily, and even have a link to it from my one, in the spirit of expat fellowship :-). I just wanted to say that I feel sorry about the latest development in your life. Stiff upper lip and all that. To cheer you up, here’s a little link.

    It’s a link to this blog , but run through Google Translate. Definitely worth a look, if you haven’t already tried it.
    Oh and next time you are nervous in a lift, do something to take your mind off it. Like trying to unscrew something. Preferably in a crowded lift. After all, if you are nervous, there’s no reason all the other people shouldn’t be. :-D
    Be cool
    Bobbles out

    Comment by Bobbles — March 5, 2006 @ 3:48 pm

  43. Chin up, petite.

    Comment by KW — March 5, 2006 @ 3:50 pm

  44. I am a regular reader of your blog… rarely comment. I enjoy your posts and writing style. I admire your courage in sharing your life with all of us. You are an inspiration to me…

    I just wanted to say… no matter how it feels right now, the sun will shine again in your life!

    Comment by Chanda — March 5, 2006 @ 3:52 pm

  45. Oh dear. I’m so sorry, petite. How very, very sad.

    Comment by christina — March 5, 2006 @ 4:09 pm

  46. Bon courage, petite. Some may have judgments (pas moi, bien sûr) but as you can see, many care and are with you in spirit. Use your gift and write your way through it, whether privately or with us as your “mirror”. Peace!

    Comment by The Bold Soul — March 5, 2006 @ 7:01 pm

  47. Took me awhile to figure things out…You take good care, your fans love you.

    Comment by Terry — March 5, 2006 @ 7:11 pm

  48. you’re so amazing, petite, that you can keep writing … i can’t handle it in public …

    stay strong, and yes, the sun will shine again …


    Comment by J — March 5, 2006 @ 7:34 pm

  49. Amazing, I doubt it. But writing my way through things is the only way I know how to deal with them. And believe me, you are only seeing the tip of the iceberg on the site at the moment!

    Comment by petite — March 5, 2006 @ 7:37 pm

  50. sorry. don’t cry no more. it’s time for change. it is good this way. smile for what the next day brings.

    Comment by grind — March 5, 2006 @ 8:21 pm

  51. So very sorry. Cold comfort right now, glacial even, but next year, with hindsight, better before the move than resenting being stuck in the sticks with little or no independent income/life. ‘Even a gilded cage…’If you can, take a long weekend in the mountains. Something about having to look up at the scenery is inherently uplifting. Above all don’t beat yourself up for caution : you’re a Mum: you HAVE to be sure.

    Comment by J — March 5, 2006 @ 8:35 pm

  52. I’m so sorry, Petite. I know it’s just the tip of the iceberg – big pain, little internets, and all that.

    When my sister’s heart was broken, I made her good cocoa, and supplied xanax, trashy books and chick-flicks. I send the virtual version of the same to you, and hope there’s a real life friend that can do better than virtual.

    Comment by Ingrid — March 5, 2006 @ 9:22 pm

  53. Heartbreaking to read of your deep pain … wish it could be fixed with a hot chocolate; a hug; or a ‘he was a jerk’ comment; but really, all this lurker can offer is ‘This too shall pass…’

    Take care of yourself petite.

    Comment by Kerry — March 5, 2006 @ 9:36 pm

  54. I have exactly the same kind of dreams and this may involve the lift going in all directions but mostly up and sideways.

    I have many other very vivid and wierd dreams including one in which I pull an endless amount of brown sticky gooh out of my mouth…probably about me talking a load of shite no doubt!

    So sorry about the lover. Much as it hurts now, I’m sure you’ll meet someone much better as a result.

    Comment by Mary — March 6, 2006 @ 7:01 am

  55. holy merde, petite — i’m so sorry for you both. i have been reading your blog for a year, maybe more, and this comes as quite the shock. nothing i can type will convey the solace i hope you both find.

    Comment by franko — March 7, 2006 @ 3:29 am

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