petite anglaise

August 16, 2006


Filed under: city of light, miam — petiteanglaiseparis @ 10:52 pm

I glance down at my watch, startled to see it is already way past two. Time for a change of scenery; an hour or two outside my own head. I grab a book, at random, from the teetering tower by my bedside, find my purse, and, noting the ominous colour of the sky, arm myself with an umbrella.

The rue de Belleville is a wasteland of shuttered shops and extinguished lights. Welcome to Paris in August. A whole city to myself, with the exception of the most obvious tourist traps, but much of it closed for business.

I hesitate outside a shabby looking Thai joint with a seven euro lunch menu which I have never eaten at before, usually favouring the flashier Thai further down the hill, which pulls in the crowds on the strength of a favourable review in the ’98 Routard.

A little girl with sleek black pigtails, presumably the proprietor’s granddaughter, captures my attention. She darts among the empty tables with her older sister, shrieking in a language I do not understand. She must be Tadpole’s age, give or take a few months. Momentarily overcome by a rush of tenderness for my own absent daughter, I picture her sleeping on her belly, fingers curled into a fist in front of her face.

I choose a window table, amused to see I am seated directly opposite the famous trompe l’oeil advertising hoarding. A perfect reading spot.

Opening my book I plunge into the first short story and am slowly but surely reeled in, the sound of the girls playing receding as I become increasingly indifferent to my surroundings. When my food arrives, I am brought back to reality with a jolt, but luckily have the presence of mind to request cutlery, so I can keep one hand free to turn the pages as I bring forkfulls of beef and lemongrass salad to my lips.

An hour later I tip the owner and set off back home, resolving to eat out alone more often. With regular practice, maybe I’ll be able to master book in one hand, chopsticks in the other.

There’s something worthwhile to aspire to.

se mefier.jpg


  1. I think you are marvellous…please don’t ever stop what yu’re doing.

    Comment by Jon — August 16, 2006 @ 11:17 pm

  2. What an elegant story. I was thinking today that I’ve had nothing to blog about (since work is now off topic!!) for two days, you’ve kind of given me faith that i can just tell a short story and have it more enjoyable than my usual antics…



    Comment by Billygean — August 16, 2006 @ 11:20 pm

  3. Oh, Tim Winton’s wonderful – the perfect antidote to Richard & Judy! Watched them for the first time yesterday – congratulations on not picking them up on their confident announcement that your blog’s called “La Petite Anglaise” … why has everyone put that “La” in?
    Love this post, conjuring up Paris in August – thanks.

    Comment by Pippa — August 16, 2006 @ 11:25 pm

  4. I once blogged about reading my water meter. It was one of my most popular posts…

    Comment by petite — August 16, 2006 @ 11:32 pm

  5. The only translation of the blackboard text I could find was “It is necessary to distrust the words” (and that took more effort than it should have.) :)

    Whose words, yours, ours, theirs? Or do I sense a hint of lonliness creeping in?

    Your life is out of kilter, your anchor is with her father and sadly we’re not enough to offset that. Pamper yourself a little (if you can), don’t get too caught up inside your own head and don’t listen too much to advice from eedjits like me! :)

    God I’m beginning to sound like my mother!

    Comment by Tattieheid — August 16, 2006 @ 11:38 pm

  6. Chopsticks are great. I’ve ended up eating so many meals with them (not just the asian kind), since they allow me to indulge my book passion at the same time. Although I must look rather strange eating salmon and salad with chopsticks!

    It really is a skill worth learning. I was taught by sharing chinese food with my dad. The rule was ‘chopsticks only’. The first time he ate so much more than his fair share – but I soon learnt. It was that or starve. Perhaps you just need someone to steal your food from you whilst armed only with chopsticks? Any takers?

    Une Fille

    Comment by Une Fille — August 16, 2006 @ 11:43 pm

  7. I love the location of this sign: look around you when you’re facing it, and all you see are chinese characters on the windows of the stores, or on an add written on a piece of paper, randomly sticked to a wall. I don’t read chinese, therefore I don’t have a clue what all these words are about.
    This is what I like about Belleville: words and languages don’t really matter, yet all these cultures are what make this area a special one that make you feel at ease.

    Comment by pardonmyfrench — August 16, 2006 @ 11:53 pm

  8. words like moments musicale and tendresse come to mind. it’s living in the now.
    Nice to have people to share it with (both ways).

    Comment by Andrew — August 17, 2006 @ 12:19 am

  9. Water meter… ha! I know what you mean; isn’t it funny how writing about some of the most mundane daily realities can become the best entertainment, when written with a certain touch. People tend to find other people’s lives fascinating, which probably explains the popularity of reality TV shows. Everyone’s a voyeur at heart.

    Comment by The Bold Soul — August 17, 2006 @ 12:25 am

  10. At bit more thought out research tells me it’s a work of art by Benjamin Vautier and that the men that appear to be installing it are puppets. Best translation I can find “Beware of Words”.

    Thank you for the picture, it must be wonderful to be able to see it in real life!

    Very coincidental though, maybe I’ve been seeing too many therapists recently! :)

    Always trying to read between the lines, when will I learn!

    Comment by Tattieheid — August 17, 2006 @ 12:29 am

  11. Using chopsticks works fine for all things……except rice. There is no way to avoid not using two hands for that as you need to get the rice bowl to your mout and shovel it in.

    Comment by Dave of the Lake — August 17, 2006 @ 12:34 am

  12. Whoops! That should read “mouth.”

    Comment by Dave of the Lake — August 17, 2006 @ 12:41 am

  13. If you have a chance (if not already). Try Tims Book “Dirt Music”. There is also a cd available of music relevant to it. Really has all the flavours of the Western Australian Coast.

    AS for Chopsticks. One of my most enjoyable moments was eating Korean, in Paris, with a dear dance friend. She took me there and I thought “geez I have travel 1/2 way around the world for this?… but it was really great. thanks for the post. :o)

    Comment by simon — August 17, 2006 @ 12:59 am

  14. try tim winton’s dirt music, it’s a good read


    Comment by kezz — August 17, 2006 @ 1:17 am

  15. Empty cities are the best. In Athens, everything is dead in August and there’s nothing more amazing then having a coffee under the Parthenon, minus the excessive air and noise pollution. I always thought it was just the Greeks who vanished in thin air during the summer months but when I was in Paris even a few weeks ago it seemed like a ghost town. Alas, you never get that feeling of being the only soul in town in New York – something I believe is necessary, even if it’s just once a year.

    Comment by la vie en grec — August 17, 2006 @ 1:24 am

  16. I have found Paris to be one of the best places to dine alone, with or without book, there is always something exciting to see.

    Or that could be just me.

    Comment by Mad William — August 17, 2006 @ 1:32 am

  17. So could we have the link to the popular water meter post?

    Comment by Passante — August 17, 2006 @ 1:49 am

  18. If that top pic is your place, it looks surprisingly like mine, in another large city many miles away, since embracing my newly single status. Right down to the metal and hard plastic portable furniture.

    Who needs bookshelves when books pile so well aesthetically?

    Comment by survivalmode.scribbler — August 17, 2006 @ 2:28 am

  19. Good luck.
    Bonne chance.
    Buona fortuna.
    Boa sorte.
    Buena suerte.
    Viel glueck.
    حظا سعيدا


    Comment by Martin — August 17, 2006 @ 2:41 am

  20. I can’t do chopsticks without a book even. Ok, I’ll admit I can’t even use a fork and read. I always end up poking myself in the face.

    Nice to know that Paris is as dead in August as Thessaloniki. I thought I was the only one strolling alone in the city this August.

    Comment by melusina — August 17, 2006 @ 2:54 am

  21. I love going somewhere on my own – a cafe, the park, the beach – and just reading or writing stories. I don’t do it enough. I’ve heard going to the movies solo is pretty liberating as well . . .

    Comment by Clare — August 17, 2006 @ 3:18 am

  22. I became a mistress of the chopsticks at a young age. In the days when Chinese food was the only “foreign” and exciting thing in a New Zealand town, my parents would take us to the local restaurant when mum was fed up with cooking. They’d slap down sliced white buttered bread on the table and serve the food on a lazy suzy. My hatred of peas, but love of fried rice made me adept at picking out each green globe with clunky plastic chopsticks.

    However, here in Melbourne where Asian food is the real deal, chopsticks tend to mean the owners aren’t Thai and the food isn’t authentic. Thankfully there is no need for the buttered bread any more too :)

    Comment by another outspoken female — August 17, 2006 @ 5:25 am

  23. “Momentarily overcome by a rush of tenderness for my own absent daughter, I picture her sleeping on her belly, fingers curled into a fist in front of her face.”


    Overwrought much?

    Comment by yank — August 17, 2006 @ 6:22 am

  24. I’ve been a reader for several months now and only now have I worked up the courage to comment. There is a certain enigma, a certain usaid underlying pain in all your posts that is hard to ignore. I wish I had a tadpole. I wish I could have a tadpole. I cant and I will always live with it.

    Good Luck,

    Comment by LR — August 17, 2006 @ 8:18 am

  25. Eating out alone is an activity everyone should partake in at least once. It’s fun to observe those around you (or get lost in a book) and amusing to see people that find it odd that you’re all by yourself.

    Comment by BlondebutBright — August 17, 2006 @ 9:01 am

  26. I love Ben quotes, like those of the billboard, although mine are ususally on my socks. I like reading outside of my apartment, as well, but am not nimble enough to handle a meal with a book in the other hand. More often, I read in cafés.

    Comment by Lost in France — August 17, 2006 @ 9:45 am

  27. I read that book yesterday in one sitting. I loved it. When I got about half way through I kept having to re-read when I met the characters in later guises. He writes so well.

    Comment by Ash — August 17, 2006 @ 10:40 am

  28. very poignant,
    “tis a consumation devoutly to be wished: To be “reeled in” by Winton as I was by you.
    a la prochaine

    Comment by rel — August 17, 2006 @ 10:41 am

  29. I’m amazed with so many semiotic interpretations of chopsticks. This can only happen in France.

    Comment by Banana — August 17, 2006 @ 11:06 am

  30. I am in London and have a day alone: your post has made me want to do something similar, eating alone is a real skill.

    Comment by lilacstripe — August 17, 2006 @ 11:25 am

  31. Any two-handed fool can manage a book in one hand and chopsticks in the other.

    Comment by Trevor — August 17, 2006 @ 12:56 pm

  32. I second and third the Dirt Music proposals – it really gives you a feel for the sense of space in Western Australia. I thought I was used to big spaces and driving long distances by virtue of being Australian, but Western Australian distances are another thing entirely.

    I love eating alone. When I first moved out of home I was conscious of the potential for loneliness. I knew I had mastered it when I went out one evening for dinner and a movie by myself, and didn’t even notice I was alone until I was walking home.

    Good luck with the chopsticks, but remember: for Thai and other SE Asian food, chopsticks are only for noodles, noodly salads and soups like laksa. Spoon and fork for everything else. (I once offended a Malaysian friend by offering her chopsticks. She thought I was being patronising when it was actually because I think that stirfrys taste better with Chopsticks.)

    Comment by Damian — August 17, 2006 @ 1:23 pm

  33. Anything written by Tim Winton is a great read.

    Comment by Gil — August 17, 2006 @ 1:36 pm

  34. A soup is not a soup if it can be eaten with chopsticks.

    Comment by Trevor — August 17, 2006 @ 1:38 pm

  35. I must say that I admire anyone who enjoys eating out or going to a movie alone, I think you must have to feel very at ease with yourself and it’s something I would feel uncomfortable with. Although, conversely I’m very fond of my own company when I am at home, it’s all a bit of a paradox really.

    I loved your description of Tadpole asleep on her tummy with fingers curled into a fist in front of her face, it reminded me of the little “Tadpole” I used to have…she’s grown up now but she’s still just as gorgeous, having a daughter is wonderful.

    Comment by Susannah — August 17, 2006 @ 1:55 pm

  36. Bonjour Petite, Lisa ( here. You describe one of those magical moments not indulged often enough by parents.

    Taking time with good food, a fine read and for me a glass of rich red wine, pure joy….. Just escaping….Heavenly….

    Sadly one of my darling sons usually escape from the attic and break the reverie but hey c’est la vie. Snatched moments are often best!

    Comment by Lisa — August 17, 2006 @ 2:01 pm

  37. isn’t that the greatest though sometimes to just be by yourself, and feel like you have the world to yourself? granted, it’s nice for a little while. i wouldn’t trade my family and friends for that life, but it’s nice to think sometimes that the world is there just for you.

    Comment by Hammers — August 17, 2006 @ 2:11 pm

  38. Spent ages looking up semiotic, at one point coming close to thinking it might be appropriate if it was short for semi-automatic, then I could shoot myself in the foot or the head depending on what stress I wanted to give the term. :)

    Although France was a “cauldron” for a multitude of theories on Literacy Criticism, there were many others, e.g the odd American and more than one “Odd” Brit. ( I’m an “odd” Scot but no claims to literary knowledge or understanding!)

    France is a wonderful (and in it’s own way unique) culture but Petite’s audience comes from around the world.

    At the end of the day (to me) none of it matters. Good authors write from the soul about very mundane things and a wide audience draw a myriad of of conclusions that have relevance to them. We’s happy!:)

    Good literature is something that gives all readers an unique picture they can have to themselves. Sometimes it might bear no relation to the original intention but the affect can be amazing nonetheless!

    You are a good writer and I suspect through your blogsite you have learned how to attract, satisfy, keep and otherwise amuse your audience!
    Power to your pen! :)

    Please don’t take offense, I know you are both caring and incredibly intelligent, a blend I admire, I’m just on one of my “tangents”! :)

    I’m off to bed, I’ve just spent 36 hours cruising blogsites and realised
    A) I’m hooked’
    B) I’m Mad
    C) It doesn’t matter!

    Been mad for years, something to do and I LOVE IT!


    Comment by Tattieheid — August 17, 2006 @ 2:16 pm

  39. “Sadly one of my darling sons usually escape from the attic and break the reverie but hey c’est la vie. Snatched moments are often best!” – Lisa

    Lisa, that is funny, I am sitting here reading the posts and come accross that line and laugh out loud – :) :) Now that’s funny :)

    Petite, Consider yourself lucky to have good Chinese food – After moving from New York, I cannot find any place in my new town that makes it quite the same :(

    Once again, Petite, it was like I was there with you…
    Also, I know others have been asking, but can anyone direct me to an online video of the Richard & Judy stint.

    Comment by Eric — August 17, 2006 @ 3:08 pm

  40. I never have been able to manage eating and reading at the same time… but I find a book a good cover for eavesdropping and observing the other patrons– much like having my iPod stuffed in my ears with no sound. It’s like you’re invisible to the people around you.

    Comment by Broady — August 17, 2006 @ 3:16 pm

  41. i remember the water meter story! i love your meditations on the seemingly mundane. it’s one of the things that keeps me coming back to read more.

    and thai food sound totally yummy about now.
    : )

    Comment by franko — August 17, 2006 @ 3:22 pm

  42. sadly, I haven’t seen R&J myself yet, but I live in hope that someone will send it to me electronically so I can post a link here…

    the meter maid post is here if anyone is interested.

    Comment by petite — August 17, 2006 @ 3:26 pm

  43. I just noticed that you write mostly, but not always, in the present tense. I don’t know if it’s a conscious decision on your part, but I do know that I have a hard time reading novels, in French or in English, written in the present tense. Something just does’nt seem right. At the same time, I love your writing…

    Faut croire que chu pas à une contradiction près…

    Comment by Gilles — August 17, 2006 @ 3:36 pm

  44. I think you can only get away with the present tense for small slices of life, it wouldn’t be sustainable easily in a whole book, were I ever to write such a thing.

    But you are right, it’s a technique I stole from the divine JonnyB (see sidebar, for link to Jonny, see paypal Jonny, for expression of link gratitude) and grew rather fond of.

    Comment by petite — August 17, 2006 @ 4:05 pm

  45. Re mtere maid, now I’ve seen the French Domestic Goddess position described in such ungodly detail I can understand how you got so many hits on the clap-o-meter. That and your audience’s filthy encouragement.
    Why do the French install these impossible kitchens? Mine has two electric hobs and NO OVEN! The fridge sits under the hob and the cabinet/worktop is on wheels (!) forgodssake. Inside it, is the water heater…
    But the mountains and climate and people make up for it (except when its cold).

    Comment by Andrew — August 17, 2006 @ 4:10 pm

  46. Try chopsticks and a fried egg with runny yolk at breakfast whilst suffering from horrendous jet-lag and in front of the whole Japanese family who were curious enough about the English visitor to produce the camcorder. I don’t speak any Japanese. They didn’t own any forks. Luckily none of the random video internet sites existed then or I would definitely have found myself on one. After a month in Japan, I quickly taught myself how to use the things to avoid future mortification.
    Must see if I still have the skills next time I eat stir-fry by getting chopsticks and book out.

    Comment by Loopy — August 17, 2006 @ 4:44 pm

  47. mmmm…. thai food! i enjoy my solitude as well. observing and recharging with the world truly going on, revolving (lterally) around me.

    if you are going to read and eat, make sure you have an unrelenting supply of stain remover for those spills you encounter.


    Comment by m. — August 17, 2006 @ 4:50 pm

  48. I waited tables at a swank ‘country french’ place in London. A ‘famous’ movie producer used to frequent us. He always requested an extra knife to lay across and keep open his book. It was smart. I copy him.

    xx, e

    Comment by ellie — August 17, 2006 @ 5:11 pm

  49. Hey, stopping in finally after a long time away to say I HAVE been following things very closely here, Petite, I’ve been relaying info to all my family and friends both here in France and home in the U.S…

    Ironically enough, my older brother in the U.S. sent me a link to an article about your recent situation asking me if I had heard about you — and I was like, HEARD about her? I read her every day!

    Anyway, I just wanted to say here as an aside, I noticed you have Melissa Banks’ The Wonder Spot on the top of your “to-read” pile (if I understood correctly from your post, these are books not yet read?)… I just finished it while on vacation, and it was WONDERFUL. I really wanted to talk to this gal, to say that finally someone understands who I am and where I’m coming from… It’s a GREAT read!

    Comment by Always Ace — August 17, 2006 @ 5:23 pm

  50. Paypal?!? I’ll buy you another Pimms.

    The present tense rocks. But you’re right – it’s exhausting to write and exhausting to read for all but small doses. Otherwise you have to keep including loads of sentences like:

    ‘Later, I am…’

    Wouldn’t work in a book. I have that on the authority of several major London publishers.

    Comment by JonnyB — August 17, 2006 @ 5:28 pm

  51. If you are going to display piles of books shouldn’t you ad a revenue-raising Amazon link ?

    Comment by Rick — August 17, 2006 @ 7:21 pm

  52. “Wouldn’t work in a book. I have that on the authority of several major London publishers.”

    Patricia Cornwell has written one of her latest books in the present tense. I managed to get to the end, but it is, as you say, an exhausting read. Even if I like forensic intrigues, I won’t repeat the experience, should she decide to continue in this vein. I’ll just stick to Kathy Reichs for my periodic dose of techno-criminal investigations.

    But you’re right, petite. It seems to work well for short stories.

    Comment by Gilles — August 17, 2006 @ 7:49 pm

  53. Rick – my reading links are subtle amazon links.

    Comment by petite — August 17, 2006 @ 8:02 pm

  54. Well, JonnyB and Petite, I’m reading Vanishing Acts by Jodi Picoult, it’s all written in the present tense and it works very well indeed. It’s a 400-page novel and I don’t see myself ever tire of it (shame it will end soon). Her style is amazing. Try it! I found myself starting writing a short story the other day…using the present tense! Must be in the air…

    Comment by Lotus Flower — August 17, 2006 @ 8:04 pm

  55. I learned to love eating out alone many years ago when I traveled frequently in the service of MississippiRiverLand Airlines (not its real name). It sounds quite lovely, although I’m sure your flat is too lonely without the little one around. We still need to hear about the interview you mentioned in your last post. So, are those books the ones lined up to be read next, or are you reading them all at the same time?

    Comment by Sophmom — August 17, 2006 @ 8:29 pm

  56. I like the word subtle – it is feline and slinky

    Comment by Rick — August 17, 2006 @ 8:41 pm

  57. Dear Petite,
    Thank you for your blog. It’s great!


    Comment by Jonathan — August 17, 2006 @ 9:25 pm

  58. Yank, why do you keep coming here if you don’t like it?

    Get a life.

    Comment by Claire — August 17, 2006 @ 9:47 pm

  59. Well, setting up a new kitchen, get a tefal alumni wok, that’s a marvel to cook any asian food, and even things like great curries(search camella panjabi on amazon, get the “50 best…” and run to passage braddy(down bd sebastopol(small passage between sebastopol and rue st-denis(what brackets?!))), and spend time enjoying just flavors while cooking, worth it! just reading it is worth it!)

    Comment by Aymardo — August 17, 2006 @ 10:46 pm

  60. Dave of the Lake needs more chopstick practice!
    I recommend microwave popcorn for learning chopsticks – they keep your keyboard from getting greasy. and stick with Chinese + bamboo; the pointed Japanese laquered ones are pretty, but too slippery for the real world

    Comment by Alice — August 17, 2006 @ 11:50 pm

  61. Thinks maybe you should include a few subttle links to the cookery book section on Amazon! :)

    Sometimes, I wish I lived in France – good food, good wine, and ocasionally good company. What more could one ask for? – Sigh!


    Comment by Tattieheid — August 18, 2006 @ 12:30 am

  62. Never was Subtle! Can’t spell it either!


    Comment by Tattieheid — August 18, 2006 @ 12:33 am

  63. Playing with your search function I typed in ‘exacerbate’ and it came up with that lovely piece ‘name calling’ which initiated much discussion. Does one ever actually solve that problem (except by not needing to introduce an ex, obv)?
    Funny how quickly people get their proper names and titles back when they become an ex (provided they behave reasonably).
    Don’t know what this has got to do with chopsticks.

    Comment by Andrew — August 18, 2006 @ 1:32 am

  64. Yummy, Thai! I wouldn’t know what to do without a book in my pocket or hand. One travels with me wherever I go. Now that I’m an ex I need them more than ever–I can stack them as I please where I please without the harangue :-) To become lost in a really good book is to be blessed IMO. However I do need book shelves badly and will have to acquire them soon or not be able to get to the door. Agreed about the rice: shovel it in as one must two hands are needed, unfortunately. Your writing is lovely and appealing–keep on dear girl, keep on writing :-)

    Comment by Frank — August 18, 2006 @ 1:36 am

  65. ‘Words don’t come easy to me’.. (that was a nice one! )

    Comment by fjl — August 18, 2006 @ 9:14 am

  66. “Dave of the Lake needs more chopstick practice!”

    Nah! I just prefer the traditional way of eating rice, as this is considered what is acceptable in China and Japan……..

    Comment by Dave of the Lake — August 18, 2006 @ 3:19 pm

  67. What a coincidence – I’ve just finished ‘The Turning’. Tim Winton is an excellent writer; I thought the world in the book came alive. Have you read ‘Cloudstreet’? It’s also fantastic.

    Comment by susie — August 18, 2006 @ 6:33 pm

  68. what i like about your blog is the prominence of food. I mean, a girl has to eat right? thai food overseas just does not compare to thai food here. you must try som tam (green papaya salad) one of these days. tongue will be on fire but well worth it

    Comment by jo — August 21, 2006 @ 1:10 pm

  69. Oh,I adore green papaya salad already…

    Comment by petite — August 21, 2006 @ 1:27 pm

  70. Dear Petite,

    Is it a book from Marion Zimmer Bradley that I see on the top of the pile?

    just curious

    All the best,


    by the way, can you imagine introducing yourself with a name like mine in England?

    Comment by Sylvain — August 21, 2006 @ 7:27 pm

  71. If I may,

    The Shadow of the Wind‘ is a pure beauty.
    If you get a chance, it’s a winner!

    Comment by Karen — August 22, 2006 @ 10:25 pm

  72. Oh ! Une chaise à trous Ikea ! :)

    Comment by KaRiNe_Fr — August 23, 2006 @ 12:36 am

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