petite anglaise

August 24, 2006

one lunch, or two?

Filed under: city of light, miam — petiteanglaiseparis @ 8:22 pm

I am woken by a text message and realise that

beer + ill advised gin based cocktail because it was cheap in happy hour + beer + beer + beer + ?

is a disastrous equation which can only = feelings of nausea and throbbing pains behind the eye sockets.

The text message invites me to lunch. At 2pm. At the “Zéphyr”. It is 10am. The idea of eating food, even drinking water, is uninviting at this juncture, but I dare to hope that things may feel a little different in four hours’ time. And the message clearly reads “buy you lunch”. <a href="Le Zéphyr is rather nice, in that artfully shabby, old fashioned sort of way which Paris does so well. It’s even within walking distance of my house, which is a thoughtful touch. Such an offer cannot be refused. I text back “ok”, hoping my inability to type anything further will not be construed as rude.

Shortly before 2, I make a triumphant dive for the one available table on the raised decking outdoors. The sky is making a respectable attempt at blue, although experience over the past two weeks has proved that caution should be exercised. I inspect the awning overhead: it wouldn’t protect us from one of the bibilical style deluges Paris has been subjected to of late, but is better than nothing.

I take out my book and find my page. The fact that I have reached a section written in a sonnet sequence does not make it ideal hangover reading, but I perservere, wishing I had brought a Voici from the stack Mr Frog’s mother so thoughtfully brought to Paris. My friend calls to announce his lateness and I hunker down in my seat, unperturbed. It’s a nice spot, the sun is (almost) shining and I am determined to savour my well-deserved screen break. I don’t have a clue I have been waiting for almost three quarters of an hour until the waiter comes over to warn me that his lunch shift is almost over.

I panic and call my friend, and after some confusion – the menu seems to have changed since he last ate there – I order us both a steak and he promises to appear in time to eat it.

Ten minutes later he phones back (apparently not for the first time, but my phone is vibrating quietly in the depths of my bag, the sound indistinguishable above the grumble of passing traffic.)

“Hi, where are you? I can’t see you anywhere.”

“In Le Zéphyr, sitting out front!” I reply, craning my neck, seeing no sign of him on the pavement. In any case, the terrasse is now almost empty, I really shouldn’t be too difficult to spot.

Suddenly I realise what has happened here, and suppress a violent urge to bang my head against the window. Repeatedly.

“I’m guessing that there is more than one Zéphyr in Paris, am I right?” I sigh.

Indeed I am. My friend is at the Café Zéphyr, halfway across town, at Bonne Nouvelle. He doesn’t have his motorbike with him today. He could never manage to get here in time to eat his steak warm. This is officially A Fiasco.

As I reassure him, through gritted teeth, not to worry, that it will be fine, I’ll cancel his order, the waiter appears, bearing two plates.

The phrase “there’s no such thing as a free lunch” springs cruelly to mind, as I start to wish I’d never crawled out of bed in the first place.

August 18, 2006


Filed under: city of light — petiteanglaiseparis @ 11:14 am

I wait for the downpour to finish, craning my head out of Tadpole’s window to see if there is any forked lightening to accompany the ricochets of thunder. It’s a good job she’s not here with me. Last time we witnessed a storm she pressed anxious hands to her ears and begged me to make it go away, testing my omnipotence to the limits.

“Mummy, tell the clouds to stop bumping!”

I realise I should probably start reading up on a few things I have forgotten since GCSE science, now that we have entered “why?” territory.

There is no sign of a taxi at the junction, so I plunge down into the bowels of the métro instead. I am struck by how natural this feels, after my awkward experience in the London Underground. My hips instinctively know the height of the turnstile barrier and precisely how hard it must be nudged. My feet lead me to the optimum position on the platform, aligned with the exit I need when I get off. I feel the familiar bumps of the podotactile through the thin soles of my shoes.

With the KLF roaring in my earbuds, I sit back and close my eyes. I know how many stops there are before I reach my destination; I know the quartier (Bastille) better than the village where I grew up.

As the train pulls into the station, I raise the handle so that the double doors glide open while the carriage is still in motion, allowing me to alight, gracefully, at the precise moment it reaches a standstill. I walk along the platform, springing steps in time with the music in my head.

Sometimes, just sometimes, I feel like I own this city.

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

August 6, 2006


Filed under: city of light, missing blighty — petiteanglaiseparis @ 1:36 pm

London is one long ride on an interminable escalator, mopping my brow and frowning at the chunky A-Z, wondering how it is possible for many of my destinations to be so very far removed from metro tube stations.

It is struggling to remember to “KEEP LEFT” in corridors and on staircases which are neatly divided into two halves. Keeping my expensive travelcard handy for when I leave every station to avoid awkward, embarrassing fumbling; a wave of homesickness for my Navigo card and its comforting “DRIINNG!” welling up as the alien “PIINNG!” of Oyster cards echoes in my ears.

In Paris, leaning over the edge of a platform to squint along the tunnel, I can often spy the lights of the next station, and sometimes make out the next one after that. A station is never more than a short stroll away.

I drag my overnight bag along residential streets, plastic wheels rumbling noisily over uneven paving slabs, glancing at my watch periodically to see if I am late enough to warrant making a breathless, apologetic phone call.

I am pathetically grateful to whoever had the foresight to paint helpful hints on the tarmac at every pedestrian crossing, prompting me to “LOOK RIGHT!” or “LOOK LEFT!”, rather than trusting my (apparently continental) instincts and stepping out into the path of a rapidly approaching black cab.

It is in my native land that I am truly a fish out of water: panting, helplessly disorientated, yearning for the familiarity of my French home.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Later, back in the village where I grew up, I creep into my daughter’s bedroom, craving the familiar scent of her warm curls, her damp scalp.

She is unexpectedly awake, sitting up in bed with a welcoming smile. I cover her cheeks with kisses.

“Mummy,” she asks, “are you going to sleep in your bed today?”

“Yes my love,” I reply, “so you can come and fetch me when you wake up in the morning.”

She pauses for a moment; I can almost see her thinking.

“Mummy? Have you got a sleeping bag like mine?”

“No. Mummies don’t usually wear sleeping bags.”

“When I will be a mummy and you will be a little girl, I can lend you this one,” she says generously, gesturing down at her pink gingham pod.

I find this notion of role reversal strangely comforting.

Later, against my better judgement, I slip into the single bed, beside her oblivious sleeping form and let the regularity of her breathing slow my rapidly thumping heart.

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