petite anglaise

September 15, 2006


Filed under: city of light, working girl — petiteanglaiseparis @ 1:34 pm

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.

September 12, 2006

Mr Mania

Filed under: Tadpole rearing — petiteanglaiseparis @ 2:09 pm

Ever since I picked Tadpole up from school, crying, this time, because a classmate had tried to remove one of her Hello Kitty hair clips in the playground using brute force , I have had to remain in character. Or characters. It’s difficult to keep track, as Tadpole keeps changing her mind about who I am supposed to be.

“… would you like some Kiri on your pasta, Mr Happy?” I say in an exaggerated stage whisper as I pour the steaming contents of the pan into a colander.

“Yes, Kiri on my pastas. And sweetcorns,” she replies. There is no “please”, but I decide to let that one slide, for now.

“Baby tomatoes?” I continue, at normal volume.

“Mummy! I sayded that you were Mr Quiet!” shouts Tadpole, indignantly. Past tenses have taken an odd turn recently. Where previously they were correct, my daughter has started inventing new, arguably more logical forms, sayded, growded and cryded being the most common.

“Oh, sorry…I forgot you said that…” I whisper, battling to appear suitably contrite.

“You being just like Mr Forgetful, mummy.”

I perk up at the prospect of a change of character, tired of having to lower my voice. We move into Tadpole’s bedroom, where the Miffy table now has pride of place in front of the window. It’s less than ideal, but I don’t really have a dining area in the new flat, so for the time being I make do with this dolls house type arrangement, even when I dine alone.

This overwhelming obsession with the Mr Men began one fine July day when Tadpole spied the boxed set of books I had been saving until she was older as I unpacked our belongings in what she still refers to as “mummy’s new house”. I suppose I should be grateful for any Dora displacement activity. But now, every day, we have to talk like Mr Topsy Turvy (“Night good, mummmy!”), I am called upon to impersonate Mr Tickle on a regular basis and I spend a great deal of time sticking errant pages back in with “ruban daddyseive”. Clearly there was a good reason why this boxed set was so cheap.

“Oh calamity!” cries Tadpole, the next morning, quaking in front of her breakfast cereal, “jus’ like Mr Jelly”, because it is making a “sound noise”.

Drama school beckons, and, quite frankly, the prospect terrifies me.

September 10, 2006


Filed under: city of light, single life — petiteanglaiseparis @ 10:19 pm

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.

September 9, 2006

one more thing…

Filed under: misc, Tadpole sings — petiteanglaiseparis @ 10:16 am

Something tells me 34 is going to be the perfect age…

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