petite anglaise

April 14, 2008


Filed under: city of light, misc, Tadpole sings — petiteanglaise @ 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?).

March 2, 2008

Sunday papers

Filed under: book stuff, city of light — petiteanglaise @ 9:53 am
escape-cover.jpg  observer2.jpg

You can find me here, here and also podcasting (with accompanying slideshow in which a shopping trolley plays a starring role?!) here.

I do hope no one is reading one in my carriage on the Eurostar today.

January 21, 2008


Filed under: city of light — petiteanglaise @ 4:00 pm

When I whisked The Boy away to London for his birthday last autumn, I remember wandering around Soho amazed at how all the pubs were so full that many of the drinkers had to resort to nursing their pints outside on the pavement. The penny only dropped when we pushed our way through the crowds to venture inside to order drinks of our own. As soon as we were through the door we realised that outward appearances had been deceptive. Indoors, all was silent as the tomb. The smoking ban had literally turned the pubs inside out, and the odour of cigarettes had been replaced with the (arguably more unpleasant) tang of stale beer and sweat.

France followed suit on January 1st and since The Boy is a hardened smoker, never to be found without a packet of Lucky Strike about his person, I shivered at the prospect of sitting outside our favourite bars in the bleak mid-winter. It was either that, I reasoned, or sit indoors, but regularly find myself alone, tapping my fingers impatiently on the table, while the smokers (almost everyone but me) took themselves off outside for a nicotine fix.

So far, I’m pleased to say, we seem to have managed to find a happy medium: bars and restaurants with heated terrasses and clear plastic awnings which effectively mean we are seated almost indoors. Granted, the patio heaters usually leave me pink-cheeked and frosty-toed, so I should probably start wearing an extra pair of socks if I want to be spared chilblains this year (yes, I know, they went out with the ark, no one gets chilblains any more – try telling that to my feet). I’m also well aware that heating the outdoors is an exercise which is unlikely to have a positive impact on the environment.

Hearing The Boy making arrangements to meet his mum for a drink this weekend – suggesting first Aux Folies, then saying “Eh merde, ils ont pas de terrasse chauffée….. Va falloir que je la rappelle pour donner rendez-vous au Zèbre…” it occurred to me that if I had an ounce of spare time, I should probably write a handy little guide called “Paris, la Clope au Bec” and pitch it to Parigramme, where it would nestle comfortably among the other titles in their collection.

I currently own “Bien naître à Paris“, “SOS Jeune maman parisienne” (I think it was the word “young” which clinched that deal) and “Les Mercredis des petits parisiens” (which despite all my resolutions, I have yet to open). Today, having browsed the full list of publications, I’d be curious to read “Comment devenir une vraie parisienne“.

I suspect that my own favoured solution – find myself a real, bona-fide Parisian, born only a couple of kilometres from where he now lives, and regularly exchange bodily fluids in the hope that some of his Parisien-ness will rub off on me – may be a little, um, unconventional…

January 9, 2007

tapage nocturne

Filed under: city of light — petiteanglaise @ 7:45 pm

“Scrape scrape clatter SCRAPE!”

This is the sound my upstairs neighbours’ clogs make as they grate against the hardwood floor like giant fingernails on a blackboard, at a volume loud enough to actually wake me from a deep, dreamless slumber. At least I imagine their feet clad in clogs. What else could possibly make that unforgivable noise? Although why anyone would slip on a pair of clogs at 2am, I am at an utter loss to understand. Ditto how anyone can stomp around for half an hour at 2am and then begin again, bright eyed and bushy tailed, at 6.30am. I’m beginning to suspect that there may be more than one culprit. Two clog wearers in the same household working different shifts. Statistically unlikely, I know, but I can furnish no other convincing explanation.

Naturally I was not treated to my first clog concerto until the ink was drying on the deeds to the apartment.

“Whhhhhiiiiiiiirrrrrrrrrr. Grrrrrrrrr. Ding!” growls the microwave five centimetres away from my pillow at 7 am every morning, part of my elderly neighbour’s morning ritual, no doubt warming milk for a steaming bowl of café crème or a chocolat chaud. I try to look on the bright side. At least I don’t have to shell out for an alarm clock, as it would be superfluous, to say the least.

Tadpole’s side of the apartment shares a wall with the kitchen/dining room belonging to the old lady who often smells of urine and affectionately calls me “ma fille” in her sandpaper voice. She also appears to be hard of hearing, as we are regularly treated to bursts of cheerful North African music played at full blast on the radio. Thankfully she is reasonably quiet in the evenings.

But by far the worst noise pollution I have experienced so far were the shenanigans I overheard on Christmas day, when I fell gratefully into the warm embrace of my duck-down duvet after mainlining champagne and foie gras from noon until midnight. The culprits were, once again, the upstairs neighbours. This time the clogs were off, as, I imagine, were most of their garments. And evidently they had discovered a new pastime: sex. With what I can only describe as noisy abandon and great gusto Mr Clogs serviced his good lady wife from midnight until a little after 4 am.

Since I’ve been living here since late July, and this was both the first and the only time I’ve overheard so much as a moan of pleasure, I can only conclude that this was an annual lovemaking session and will consequently not be repeated before the evening of 25 December 2007. Call me an optimist, but I live in hope (but with emergency waxy earplugs at the ready).

I have never met my upstairs neighbours, but I am told they own their apartment. But in today’s post I received the convocation to the (also) annual assemblée générale des copropriétaires for my building which will take place next week. Nothing could keep me away. I need to know what a woman who brays like a donkey during coitus and is capable of upwards of ten orgasms in one single night looks like.

Whether I will feel able to look my neighbours in the eye, or be sufficiently bold to humbly request that they might consider wearing less offensive nocturnal footwear in the future, is another matter entirely. I can imagine the conversation already.

Les murs sont comme du carton ici, n’est ce pas?”

Ah, on vous dérange, mademoiselle?”

Non, non, pas du tout…”

Sometimes I hate my British side.

September 15, 2006


Filed under: city of light, working girl — petiteanglaise @ 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 10, 2006


Filed under: city of light, single life — petiteanglaise @ 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.

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