petite anglaise

November 30, 2006


Filed under: Tadpole rearing — petiteanglaiseparis @ 9:32 pm

I haul Tadpole out of the bath, wrapped in not one, but two towels (one large bath towel to swaddle her adequately, and one baby sized one which she still is rather attached to because it has a hood with ladybirds on). Sitting on the toilet seat, I cradle her in my arms, savouring the moment.

“Mummy, can I be the petit chaperon rouge?” says Tadpole.

“If you’re little red riding hood, who am I?” I ask, knowing full well what the answer will be.

“You be the wolf, and I ask you the questions.”

I thought as much. I growl, although I think the sound I make is more bear than wolf. Not that I’ve ever met either, of course. The only wildlife I have seen in Belleville are pigeons, cockroaches and dogs.

“What big ears you’ve got,” says Tadpole, stepping into character.

“All the better for hearing you with!” My gruff voice (usually reserved for Gruffalo’s and Wild Things) makes Tadpole giggle.

“What a big nose you’ve got!”

I rub my nose against hers. “All the better for sniffing you with!”

“What big eyes you’ve got!”

“All the better for seeing you with,” I say, rolling my eyes.

I gnash my teeth, certain I know what is coming next. Tadpole looks up at me, a mischievous smile on her face.

“What big spots you’ve got!”

I stop, mid-gnash, the wind abruptly knocked out of my sails, and put a finger up to the small pimple on my chin, to see if it has grown since I last consulted the mirror. Tadpole’s smile falters for a moment as she waits to see how I will react.

“I’m not a leopard,” I reply, eventually, with forced joviality. “I’m a wolf. Wolves don’t have spots!”

This evening I have been mostly turning my flat upside down looking for the referral my doctor gave me for a dermatologist when I came off the pill. Over-sensitive, moi?

November 27, 2006

uptown girl

Filed under: good time girl — petiteanglaiseparis @ 11:53 pm

We alight from the taxi on avenue Matignon, our destination a trendy fusion restaurant called Market. It’s not somewhere it would ever have occurred to me to go, being more of an East end, quartiers populaires kind of girl, but I’ve been invited to join a group of people, two of whom are former colleagues of mine, and I’m tagging along purely for the pleasure of their company tonight.

The girls wear gauzy dresses and high heels, the men wear designer jeans and expensive-looking shirts. I have thrown on my patterned wrap dress (TopShop) and favourite brown boots and pray I don’t look too out of place.

I had been scheming to use this outing as an excuse to buy something new, with a half-formed plan to venture over to the Comptoir des Cotonniers, but in the end I spent the day with Tadpole, and it didn’t seem fair to drag her out foraging for clothes. I’m sure the day will come when shopping will be her favourite pastime, but right now she would rather we played with her new dominos and ate chicken fried rice in our regular haunt where the waiting staff don’t seem to mind if she draws on the paper tablecloths with felt tipped pens.

Market is beautiful: the lighting is soft and flattering, the table booked for our party of eight is set in a discreet oval alcove overlooking a courtyard. It manages to feel private and intimate, yet achieves this without cutting us off from our fellow diners. In the impeccable toilets, individual cloth serviettes are piled up in neat towers by the sink. I study a menu nervously, forcing myself not to look too closely at the prices, telling myself through gritted teeth that this is a treat; I deserve it. But solvent or insolvent, there is a part of me that will always shy away from spending € 120 on a single meal. It’s the way I’m wired, and I’m far from sure that it’s something I want to change.

I sip a kumquat mojito, then sample warm foie gras and wild mushrooms, velvety soft deer with quince purée and some sort of vegetable and cheese “emulsion”. I have no idea what the wine is that I am drinking, chosen by a connoisseur at the other end of the table, but it is heavenly. I finish with a fig tart served with peanut ice cream (although I confess I wish I’d plumped for the chestnut soufflé with caramel ice cream instead, a masterpiece).

We stagger out of the restaurant at around 1am, fed, watered and tipsy and begin to cast around for a reasonable bar in which to have a final drink, or two, before we go home. But this part of town is a wasteland of wide sterile avenues and closed luxury goods emporiums. The only watering holes whose names I recognise are the sort of places with door policies, merchant bankers and queues. They are places one goes to be seen. Nothing could be further from my definition of a fun place to kick back and have a drink.

After a spot of futile wandering and a watery, overpriced cocktail in a bar tragically mis-named “Success”, I wend my way home in a taxi, dropping a fellow diner off at the Ile St Louis on the way. I can’t help feeling that I have spent an evening on a different planet, instead of a mere fifteen minute taxi ride from chez moi. Dogged by a gnawing feeling of disquiet, unsettled somehow. I don’t belong: not in that place, not in that arrondissement.

At the familiar sight of Bastille, my body starts to relax. The taxi speeds along the Boulevard Richard Lenoir, above the concealed Canal St Martin, and my lips begin to curve upwards in a smile. Weaving through narrow, dimly lit backstreets we emerge onto the boulevard de la Villette and I feel gnarly knots of tension unravelling in my shoulders.

Belleville: shabby, dirty, teeming with life, ablaze with garish neon signs. As the taxi labours up the hill I make a silent vow. No more trying to be someone I’m not, no more frequenting exquisite, over-priced places that make me feel like I don’t and never will fit in. This is my neighbourhood, my world. As I hand the fare to the driver, the smell of my local kebab shop teases my nostrils and I breathe deeply.

I’m home.

November 23, 2006

a room with a view

Filed under: misc — petiteanglaiseparis @ 1:19 pm

The agent immobilier motions me through the tiled entrance hall and out into a paved yard with a balcony, which looks out onto the back of a nearby school of architecture, which is slightly downhill. The courtyard is bathed in light, even on this rather grey, uninspiring day, with its small droplets of rain which mist my glasses and make the whole world look foggy. The residents have decorated the courtyard with a ramshackle assortment of potted plants. Perfect.

Beckoning me through a door onto a narrow staircase, we climb two flights of stairs and he throws open the door.

I fall in love.

The main room is freshly painted, with a wooden floor and exposed beams across the ceiling. It is filled with light and the window looks across the courtyard we just crossed. There is a brand new kitchenette, with two hobs and a mini-bar sized fridge, just like in my first ever Parisian apartment. A tiny shower room and toilet (and it’s not even a chemical toilet, the estate agents is at pains to point out) open off the kitchen, in a room the size of a cupboard.

Of the three studios I have visited this week, this is the one. I want it, desperately. I can picture a spacious desk placed just so, by the window. A sofa bed in the corner, a large leafy plant. An uncluttered, bright, empty space where there is nothing to distract me (possibly not even the internet!) It will be my retreat, my writing place, but also the hotel petite anglaise, where good friends can come and stay at weekends. The home I share with Tadpole will become just that, the place where I relax. Where the computer once dominated my living room/bedroom/office, there will now be space for an adult sized dining table.

And so I go back to the agency, and take out all my paperwork: contract from publishers (in English), the compulsory electricity bill (why this document is so sacred I do not know, because the EDF never ask for proof of identity before opening an account), a photocopy of my carte de séjour. I explain that renting makes perfect sense for me, right now, as I can expense it, and add that I will obtain a bank guarantee, in order to reassure the proprietor, lest he throw up his hands in despair at the lack of the usual payslips. I hope that I will be seen as an attractive tenant, a stable, quiet individual who won’t even sleep there, who won’t mess up their freshly painted walls or really do much “living”.

Now I sit beside the phone and pray that I will get the call to say it is mine, and soon.

November 21, 2006


Filed under: good time girl, navel gazing — petiteanglaiseparis @ 12:47 am

“So, what do you do in Paris?” says the friend of a friend I’ve just been introduced to.

“Oh, I’ve been here for eleven years now, and I was a secretary for most of that time,” I say. “And now, I’m, um, writing this memoir…” I let my voice trail off in a way that will make it sound like I’ve just said the most boring thing in the world, hoping to nip any further questions in the bud.

“You’re slowly getting better at this, see?” whispers my girlfriend, with a wink.

“Well, maybe, but I’m still blushing, you just can’t see it in this light,” I reply doubtfully.

I live in constant dread of having to tell people just what it is that I do for a living.

Since April, the question has been one king-sized can of worms. (Can one buy cans of worms? Aren’t they maggots? For fishing?) Because “I’m between jobs right now” or “I got fired” usually snowballs into more questions, and yet more, until the whole grisly truth comes out. It’s long, it’s involved, and I end up feeling oddly like I’m being interviewed rather than actually making conversation.

Ever since contracts were exchanged and it all became terrifyingly official, I have no longer been able to truthfully play the chômeur card, and so now I have to admit, bashfully, that I am writing to earn my bread and butter. “Admit” probably isn’t the right word, but the only other phrase which springs to mind right now is “own up to”, which isn’t much of an improvement, I’m sure you’ll agree.

Of course if I mention writing, the questions come even thicker and faster. And although I’m going to be a writer, one day, when I’m published, I don’t feel like I own that title yet. So I play it coy, hide behind my hair a lot (at least until that fifth drink, when my alter ego takes over and I probably say something along the lines of “I’m a little bit famous, can I grope your bottom?”) and attempt to keep everything as vague as I can.

Because book leads inevitably to blog. And my name is now connected to this blog in every conceivable search engine. Nasty pictures taken by photographers in the pay of tabloids who were clearly given the brief that they should attempt to look down my top, or up my skirt, are on display. Anonymity, however relative and fragile a concept that was, is no longer an option. And that is not always a good thing.

Twice recently I received worried emails the day after meeting someone new, the senders fretting about whether they were about to find themselves the subject of a forthcoming blog post (they won’t, I don’t cross those boundaries without permission of sorts). And those are the ones who knew what a blog was before we met. Those people who don’t know must undoubtedly think I am some sort of narcissistic self-centred weirdo when they hear that I share slices of my personal life with the internet at large.

And yes, those people were boys. And yes, what I’m really concerned about here, is whether it will hamper my chances of success on the dating market, my chances of finding someone a bit special once I’ve got my current teenage phase well and truly out of my system. Because you’ve got to admit that things are a little unequal, not to say unbalanced, if menfolk that I meet are able to read about my whole life on the internet before our second date, a state of affairs that leaves me feeling at something of a disadvantage.

So, it will have to be a blogger. Apparently there are currently three million blogs in France, so hopefully at least a handful are not written by teenagers and girls.

I’ll keep you, ahem, posted.

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