petite anglaise

April 14, 2008


Filed under: city of light, misc, Tadpole sings — petiteanglaiseparis @ 10:07 am

‘Look at my big nichons mummy,’ Tadpole shrieks, fingering her (papier mâché) breasts.

It is 10.30 am on Saturday morning and Mr Frog and I have come to watch Tadpole’s annual school carnival, while The Boy, not wishing to step over any invisible lines, remains at home. This year the children are all dressed up as works of art and the overall effect is a joyous riot of colour. The costumes, made out of stiff paper, are worn like pinafores, covering the children’s clothes and turning them into walking sandwich boards. As we stand at the edge of the school playground, behind improvised police-tape style barriers, rubbing sleep from our eyes, the children file past hand in hand.

Tadpole, unable to keep a secret, had whispered to me weeks earlier that the costume she was making was a Niki de Saint Phalle sculpture. I’d recognised most of the names she’d been bandying about over the past few weeks – ‘we did a painting just like Pollock mummy, we put the paint on the paintbrush and then did throw it in splodges onto the paper’ or ‘I did a picture of a lady with a very wide face, just like Fernando Bottero’ – but Saint Phalle was not a name I was familiar with. ‘I’m going to be a sculpture,’ explained Tadpole helpfully, as I waited for the relevant page to power up on Wikipedia. ‘A sculpture of a lady with great big nipples and a big fat bottom wearing a swimming costume.’

It was The Boy who, at the mention of Niki de Saint Phalle, pointed out that the fountains in place Igor Stravinsky, in the shadow of the Centre Pompidou are Saint Phalle sculptures. I knew them well, but never would have put two and two together.

‘Shall we go on the métro on an adventure?’ I suggest to Tadpole on Sunday afternoon.

‘Ooh yes, I love the métro,’ she replies, darting across the room to fetch her shoes. If only everyone were so easy to please.

When we reach our destination, Tadpole shrieks with delight and I catch The Boy’s eye, silently thanking him for coming up with the idea. We make several tours of the huge rectangular bassin, Tadpole racing on ahead, examining each sculpture in turn, trying to decide which one she likes best. My personal favourite is the reclining mermaid with water squirting out of one huge, multicoloured breast, but Tadpole is just as amused by the huge pair of lips, the spinning bowler hat, the Elmer-like Elephant and the majestic crowned bird, wings spread, reminiscent of a Mayan condor god. We take a few snaps of Tadpole, posing by the sculptures, squinting into the sun and grinning like the Cheshire cat.

When the skies darken and the first raindrops fall, we hurry into the Marais to find a restaurant where we can grab a bite to eat. Tadpole doodles on the back of a napkin with a biro unearthed from the bottom of my handbag.

Elbows on the table, chin cupped in my hands, I look from The Boy to Tadpole and back again, marvelling at how simple and how right everything feels.


For Gonzales (aka fella?).


  1. :) that is absolutely quite lovely!

    tadpole sounds so adorable

    your blogs are my favourite xx

    Comment by georgia — April 14, 2008 @ 11:30 am

  2. I actually had a picture of those sculptures hanging on the wall in my student room for years – but I had no idea who designed them! Thanks for the link :)

    Comment by Marjolein — April 14, 2008 @ 11:43 am

  3. Gosh, Tadpole sounds soooo grown-up suddenly! Her words are so clear, her voice so ‘juste’! I think she’ll be an actress – she definitely has the talent!

    Comment by Lotus Flower — April 14, 2008 @ 11:49 am

  4. loved that story! hadn’t heard it in ages, poumpa poumpa poumpadère, it’s great. btw tadpole has an amazing accent in both French and English! v. impressive.

    Comment by est — April 14, 2008 @ 11:52 am

  5. Excellent stuff. Life is simple sometimes, isn’t it.

    Comment by Jonathan — April 14, 2008 @ 12:52 pm

  6. This post is so joyful, very uplifting.
    Looks like you’ve arrived at a lovely place! :)

    Comment by happyforyou — April 14, 2008 @ 1:27 pm

  7. What a brilliant piece and I agree with #5 Jonathan #5 simplicity is great fun.

    I’m glad your Tadpole likes adventures, my daughters still phone me up to ask if I fancy going on “a mission”. Missions with them can be searching for a wedding outfit, or a visit to a spa, or a trip to the Doll’s House Emporium, much more fun than buying on line and I’m the one with the doll’s house!

    But for a mission like your’s I rely on my friends Malc and Roxy (artist x 2).

    Is Tadpole at a French state funded school or is it a fee paying school? Why? The annual school carnival sounds much more electic and exciting than a typical English first school’s effort.

    This sounds so negative but I can’t imagine the average 5 yr old in the UK knowing what an artist was let alone name any.

    Comment by ookymooky — April 14, 2008 @ 1:59 pm

  8. Tadpole is in a very multi-cultural state school in Bas-Belleville, which added to the fun, seeing her hand in hand with a Chinese classmate on one side, and an African classmate, with beaded hair, on the other.

    Last year’s carnival was themed according to countries – Tadpole’s class were dressed as Mexicans, with paper ponchos and sombreros.

    They have limited means, but a lot of enthusiasm and the atmosphere is lovely.

    Sadly, once they leave Maternelle, her teacher was telling me that there is next to no time in the curriculum for music and art. Such a pity.

    Comment by petite — April 14, 2008 @ 2:30 pm

  9. #8 Petite thanks for that insight into Parisien pre-school. I expect Tadpole will continue to expand her knowledge of music and art when she moves up a level thanks to you, The Boy, Mr Frog and the artistic delights of Paris – lucky girl.

    Comment by ookymooky — April 14, 2008 @ 3:12 pm

  10. Such a nice stuff about Art! Tadpole is very lucky. Here in England my little Albions are struggling with the ‘targets’in maths and english which their school is commited to achieve!They would love to have more crafts and art…

    Comment by penelope — April 14, 2008 @ 3:35 pm

  11. Petite my son is now in CM1 (that’s 9 and 10 years olds) and I can assure you that the curriculum includes art, music, sport etc . . . so need to worry. They seem to have a far more diversified school year than I remember ever having at that age when I was a child in the UK.

    Obviously there is not nearly as much of these activities as in Maternelle as they need to leave space for the fun things like the grammar “les dictées” and the times tables. Normally there is even English and if Tadpole is lucky the teacher will stick her in a corner with a book while the other learn to count to ten and the difference between red and yellow.

    Comment by Pauline — April 14, 2008 @ 4:49 pm

  12. This is lovely, I love those fountains! Very impressed with Tadpole’s knowledge of artists, sound like a very progressive school. It is really sad that it seems later on in the French system they don’t do much art, music or sports – my husband’s French cousins are always running to music classes before or after school which must be so tiring!

    Comment by Marianne — April 14, 2008 @ 5:24 pm

  13. Pauline – yes but it’s so *cursory*, and not taken as seriously as the rest of the curriculum, sadly. It is one of my great laments about school in France.

    And yes, Marianne it *is* exhausting running children to and from sports/music/art classes, for me and for them. But necessary if they are to get enjoyment from being good at something other than schoolwork.

    Comment by Susan — April 14, 2008 @ 6:08 pm

  14. I’ve never heard of St Phalle. Is it anything like Beryl Cook’s work? ‘Big nipples – fat bottoms’?

    Comment by Pat — April 14, 2008 @ 6:22 pm

  15. She is so eloquent – you should hire her out as a professional storyteller. You could retire in no time.

    Comment by Sher — April 14, 2008 @ 7:34 pm

  16. Starting them young on culture. Fantastique.

    Have my hands on The Book now. Page 36 and loving it. Congrats, Petite.

    Comment by clarissa — April 14, 2008 @ 7:37 pm

  17. It makes school sound like fun. Nice to hear you had one of those moments where everything feels good.

    Comment by Babycakes — April 14, 2008 @ 7:39 pm

  18. I am currently reading your book that I bought totally by chance (as I liked the name) as I too am a ‘Petite Anglaise’, livng in France, married to a Frog & have a ‘Tadpole’ of my own. So I am loving reading the book and imagining how my little one will turn out living a bi-cultural life.
    I did not realise your book was a true story when I first started to read it, so love the fact that I really can read your blog and that it is not just fiction as I can relate to so many aspects of it.
    I look forward to reading more of your blog.

    Comment by LOL — April 14, 2008 @ 8:14 pm

  19. Sounds like you have got a very grown-up and clever little thing on your hands, there Petite!

    Comment by girlwiththemask — April 14, 2008 @ 8:21 pm

  20. Fans of the Yale University-sponsored “French in Action” French-language learning series will recognized the lips at that fountain because they were included in the opening credits of every episode. I loved seeing it for the first time when I arrived in Paris. I also quite like the mermaid but often wonder about the French artists and their seeming obsession with breasts; you see large-breasted women in sculptures, on the facades of apartment buildings, nearly everywhere you look. And actually most French women appear to be rather moderately-sized… or maybe that explains it?

    Comment by The Bold Soul — April 14, 2008 @ 8:27 pm

  21. I truly miss the big productions from the time my kids were in école bilingue here in the states. Two per year and weeks of agonizing preparations … but what fun in the end! Berkeley doesn’t sound that far off from Paris after all…

    nice story.

    Comment by Kimberlee — April 14, 2008 @ 8:44 pm

  22. I was doubled over with laughter listening to this – had no idea what she was saying but it was hilarious!

    Comment by Susie — April 14, 2008 @ 9:29 pm

  23. For anyone in the UK and interested in Nikki de St Phalle there is an exhibition at Tate Liverpool with a great selection of her art work and sculpture.It runs to May 5th.

    Comment by Jaq — April 14, 2008 @ 9:36 pm

  24. This makes me long to raise my future children in the city. I was raised in the sticks of Florida and didn’t go to a museum until I was in college.

    What a lovely story.

    Comment by The Window Seat — April 14, 2008 @ 9:53 pm

  25. “Sadly, once they leave Maternelle, her teacher was telling me that there is next to no time in the curriculum for music and art. Such a pity.”

    Sadly, that sounds like far too many American schools these days……It’s good that Tadpole can enjoy these moments while she can……

    Comment by Dave of the Lake — April 14, 2008 @ 11:54 pm

  26. Sounds like your daughter is definitely on the right side of the Channel when it comes to education… I loathed it when I went through it as the curriculum was so heavy, but in comparison to what was/is offered in the UK, it was a thousand times better. In addition to art, she also has philosophy to look forward to when she gets older…

    Comment by Ariel — April 15, 2008 @ 1:31 am

  27. Aww most adorable thing ive heard in ages! Shes so clever petite, i cant even imagine how bursting with pride you must be. I can remember your blogs from when she was so small, now she sounds so grown up!

    I enjoyed this one lots:)

    Comment by Maxi — April 15, 2008 @ 1:51 am

  28. What a talented young minx. Keep up the art practice!

    Comment by another outspoken female — April 15, 2008 @ 6:20 am

  29. What a good idea! Tadpole seems to grown up and so bilingual! :)

    When I was little, as there wasn’t yet video cameras, my parents used to record me each year singing a song or reading a poem or a story, the tape is like a little time travelling machine, it’s so nice to hear it years later!

    She must have been lovely with her “big body parts” costume! :D

    Comment by Mae — April 15, 2008 @ 7:02 am

  30. There are a few places to eat right by the fountain. Cheap and good for lunch , I’m sure you know. But in the Maria’s I would probably have some Chinese :-)) YUMMY ..


    Comment by ==Alaska — April 15, 2008 @ 8:51 am

  31. Absolutely wonderful. Tadple’s story was delightful but just for the hard of hearing like me can you tell us what animals the family were please? At first, because of the big ears I thought they were elephants but then when they ran away from the tiger I didn’t think that was very likely.

    Comment by sablonneuse — April 15, 2008 @ 8:56 am

  32. @ sablonneuse #31
    Yes it is a family of heffalumps, but I don’t understand where the tigers fit in?

    @ pauline #11

    Or if she’s unlucky will get detention for correcting the teachers abysmal pronunciation – a friends son quite tactfully raised his hand, and when given permission to speak said “Maitresse, je ne sais pas comment le mot four se prononce aux Etats-Unis, mais en Angleterre ça se prononce uvun, non pas Ohvehn”.
    Mind you being bilingual really helps the dreaded moyenne (average marks). My courteous daughter gets 20/20 in Anglais and Vie Scolaire which bumps her moyenne up to a just about acceptable 13.5, without that she would fail her year as the moyenne drops to 11.5. Yes life’s too short for worrying about such things, and I hate having to become pushy parent, but to get a OBI place at the Lycée (Bacalaureat Internationale) she needs a moyenne of 14. Wouldn’t mind but she’s bright as the proverbial button, just lazy and away with the fairies.

    Comment by j — April 15, 2008 @ 11:09 am

  33. I stumbled across your blog only a few weeks ago but it fills me with both nostalgia and envy as I lived in Paris many years ago when I was 24. I am Aussie. Would so love to still live there, if it wasn’t so far away.

    Comment by onadrought — April 15, 2008 @ 11:23 am

  34. Any Niki de Saint Phalle fans in the vicinity of Liverpool might like to visit the exhibition of her work at Tate Liverpool – it’s v. good, on until 5th May.
    She also designed an amazing garden in Capalbio, Italy. Somewhere for Petite & tadpole’s summer hols?!

    Comment by Clare — April 15, 2008 @ 12:35 pm

  35. So sweet! It reminds me of my daughter when she was in Maternelle. French maternelle is the best in the world in my opinion… French school is so serious the rest of the time. I went to an English primary which I adored and which had lots of fun, productions, music and drama, before moving to France and the Lycée International in Paris at age 11 which was a huge shock: nothing but grammar, conjugaisons, maths, science etc. When my Tadpole got to “La grande école” at age 6 she had a huge shock herself, and then we moved back to the UK when she was 8. She was in 7th heaven when her first piece of homework was “do a project on…” instead of “conjugate these verbs” LOL!

    Comment by Jen — April 15, 2008 @ 12:46 pm

  36. Jaq: thanks. Alas I’m stuck in the South West.

    Comment by Pat — April 15, 2008 @ 12:52 pm

  37. Ah bless, that was great! :)

    Er, and your blog entry was good too!! :-P

    But seriously, at first, I was quietly disappointed that the Boy couldn’t be included in the family outing (but logic tells me it was right) but loved the ending! :)


    PS Finished the book and loved it. Thanks!

    Comment by Australian Emma [was in London, now] in Paris — April 15, 2008 @ 3:37 pm

  38. The Bold Soul wrote: Fans of the Yale University-sponsored “French in Action” French-language learning series will recognized the lips at that fountain because they were included in the opening credits of every episode.

    I was going to post the same thing! “French in Action” is an educational French soap opera program filmed on location in Paris in the 1980s and has been almost ubiquitous in American French classes ever since. I’m not sure if it has ever made its way to the UK or other countries. The lips fountain is actually not in the intro, it’s the “écoutez, répétez, prononcez” part that comes in the middle of each episode. (Yes, I am a French in Action nerd)

    Comment by Sakoro — April 15, 2008 @ 3:44 pm

  39. Saw you on breakfast TV, looked at your blog and read your book. Must visit Paris again rather than spending time at chaumiere bretonne.

    Interesting to hear about modern school life in France. The maternelle sounds fantastic, but after that……! I remember my sister-in-law in the 60s learning by rote for her bac.

    In UK primary school my bilingual daughter in the 70s was criticised for her french accented English pronunciation, eg “muzzer”. At the age of 16 and attending a very strict private school in Bedford and on the point of being expelled, she visited the school of her French pen friend. On returning to UK she stated that she had seen how “decontractee” a school could be and immediately went off to choose herself another school.

    Comment by franglais tyke — April 15, 2008 @ 4:34 pm

  40. @ 31 & 32: it is an elephants family than run away from a tiger (“tigre”) at the end ;)

    Comment by Mae — April 15, 2008 @ 4:35 pm

  41. Petite, I have been reading your blog from back to front (from your very firsts posts forward) – how delightful and addictive. And poignant, too. I lived in Paris for a year, and the expat newspaper I wrote for covered the story of petiteanglaise. I returned to my Boy in South Africa, but I think daily (for example) of a restaurant in the Marais in the rain. Thank you.

    Comment by Paige — April 15, 2008 @ 5:02 pm

  42. We had a St Phalle sculpture in San Diego, her ‘Firebird’. They are quite interesting.

    Comment by JoeInVegas — April 15, 2008 @ 5:44 pm

  43. The simplest things bring the greatest rewards … like the smile on Tadpole’s face … and yours too, I suspect.
    Hold on to these precious moments.

    Comment by running thread — April 16, 2008 @ 6:00 am

  44. Sadly I just can’t imagine my son coming home with similar tales here in the UK, although I’d love to be proved wrong, and to be fair there is a school down the road which has a giant modern art sculpture in the entrance hall which was done by the kids in collaboration with a local artist. It’s the boobs though. I just don’t think any UK school would dare to bring those boobs into school. Shame.

    Those sculptures are gorgeous.

    Comment by Clare — April 16, 2008 @ 10:38 am

  45. Wow, just listened to Tadpole’s story. She’d definitely get gigs on the British storytelling scene. She’s quite a kid.

    Comment by Clare — April 16, 2008 @ 10:41 am

  46. How is Mr Frog these days? It’s been a while since we heard any news! Does he have a significant other as well? What’s he saying to the wedding news? After reading your book — along with many others, I’m sure — we’d love to have an update on Mr Frog as well! (Provided he consents, of course…).


    Comment by Teaperson — April 16, 2008 @ 12:55 pm

  47. oh. my. god. that made my day. she’s SO adorable! poumpa poumpa poumpadere..i think i’ll be saying that the rest of the day (in the three varying pitches of course)!

    Comment by Rachel — April 16, 2008 @ 11:26 pm

  48. Merci pour “poom pah doom.” This made my day, and I have played it more than once.

    My husband, whose French works on the emergency level only (when his spectacles were broken on a business trip, he stopped in at a Parisian optometrist and said, “Ma lunette est malade,” and the lovely Frenchman at the counter fixed his eye glasses with a kind smile and no charge.) He tells this story to everybody, in praise of the French.

    But what I really wanted to say is that upon hearing Tadpole on my speakers, husband asked, “Is that Petite’s little girl, and what is she singing?”

    I found this exciting, since I have tried to infect him with my enthusiam for la France and le francais for, um ok, let us just say exty years. Thank you Petite and Tadpole!

    Hibou and chouette? who knew?

    “Dans la foret lointaine, entends tu le cukoo, du haut de son grand chene, il repond au hibou. Cukoo, cukoo, cukoo, cukoo, cukoo, etc.

    I learned that little song from my Flemish French teacher very long ago. Guess she neglected to mention “chouette” or more likely, I forgot it. She remains one of my favorite teachers after all these years because she was so genuine in her love for her culture.

    Ok, I’m babbling now.

    Did you, The Boy, M. Frog or Tadpole learn the “hibou” song along the way, or was Madame Dore just passing along one of her personal favorites?

    Oh, yes, and p.s. I saw a picture of the Pope on his visit to Bush, and he wore a white robe and … wait for it … red shoes! I could only think of you and Dorothy in Oz.


    Comment by PJ Carz — April 17, 2008 @ 4:21 am

  49. As a future bride you might be interested to see Nikki de Saint Phalle’s sculture “La Mariée” at the Pompidou.
    I snapped it with some other nana here.

    Comment by parkin pig — April 17, 2008 @ 8:52 am

  50. Tadpole is clearly ahead of her time again as Woman’s Hour chose to cover Niki de St Phalle yesterday

    Comment by Sorbonnite — April 17, 2008 @ 12:21 pm

  51. so when’s tadpole’s show? lol like a happening, with art and music and libre interprétation…

    Comment by magillicuddy — April 20, 2008 @ 3:08 pm

  52. The Modern Art Museum in Nice has got a Nikki de St-Phalle foutain made up exclusively of boobs – Tadpole might be impressed ! ;)

    Comment by Thierry — April 22, 2008 @ 6:05 pm

  53. She sounds so lovely in French and Yorkshire(ish.)

    Comment by Danna — April 27, 2008 @ 1:37 am

  54. That fountain is truly my favorite in Paris. It must be the Tadpole in me ….

    Comment by Lost in France — April 29, 2008 @ 5:19 pm

  55. I am amazed by Tadpole’s storytelling talent! It’s… great, simply great.
    And so nice to listen to.

    Comment by Adrienhb — May 26, 2008 @ 3:12 am

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