This fountain is one of my childhood landmarks – and if I had to explain the concept of time this is the most poetic way I can think of.
The garden and the fountain are at the back of a humongous ‘hôtel particulier‘, in a street I skipped down every Wednesday to go to my weekly music lesson. Behind a dark green gate – so my only ticket to seeing the fountain was if the gate was open. Because aged 6, I was predictably too short to peer above the gate. I can’t tell you how many times I was crushed when I caught my breath in front of that damn closed gate… Arghhhh, so close!
Until I grew to a surprising 1.75m in height (maman and sister Sophie are both a little shorter) – and then, ha ha, could see the fountain whether the gate was closed or not, any time, any day. And I never got tired of looking at it. I always found it as magical and beautiful, and spared a thought back to my shorter, younger version who fumed in disappointment so many times being denied a peek…
This is a poor quality image taken with a disposable camera on an overcast day, but I am biding my time until I can take proper pictures with my good camera… Next trip…
Some quick orientation: the Music Conservatory that was for sale for 12 million euros? At the end of the street, same side as the garden and fountain. The Horseman on the Roof – shot a few metres down on the ‘Place des Quatre Dauphins‘ and adjoining streets in 1995. I used to walk down during my school lunch break to look at the set (my school, few streets up). There you have it.
It is one of my most vivid memories from school (apart from the 7:50AM starts): standing at the black board and reciting poetry by heart, in front of the whole class.
I have a theory about this: I think it cracks the teachers up to listen to a 6 year old’s rendition of French Romanticism. Or a 13 year old’s rendition of French classical theatre. Or a 15 year old’s rendition of a Renaissance sonnet (with some old French thrown in). Or a 17 year old’s rendition of Baudelaire describing his perving on the seamstress workshop next door. All of which, you guessed right, I had to render.
And doing quick maths albeit with a glass of wine on board, I can confirm it’s been decades since my Alfred de Musset performance – my first récitation ever. And I can still feel my little 6 year old body shaking as I was trying to remember one verse after another – all about the damn moon: ‘Ballade à la Lune‘.
I never got it at the time – for me the days when we would recite were like the worst type of lottery: the one you don’t want to win but that you’re entered into anyway. But I think I get it now. Because when I look at the moon, I start to recite Alfred de Musset in my head. And boy, is the ‘Ballade à la Lune‘ beautifully written and strikingly imaginative (the man isn’t my idol for nothing…) And my love for him started there, during récitation, and has only grown stronger.
This aside, I still maintain the exercise is intentionally designed to torture and mock little school children, and petrify them by demanding they speak publicly in old French…
(The image is my 1959 copy of Alfred de Musset’s ‘Premières Poésies‘, which belonged to my mother – and which she gave me when I moved to Melbourne. The pages have yellowed to perfection, and it smells respectable like an old book should.)
Last night I was lamenting the fact I have not drank any coffee for about 4 or 5 months. I love coffee – but it doesn’t love me back. Actually it pretty much hates me. Since this is clearly an abusive relationship it is logical for me to steer clear.
And as I was letting out a sad sigh imagining how much I would enjoy coffee at that very moment, the sigh became longer and more pronounced (probably audible in the Northern hemisphere by that point) when I thought of the delight that would also be making a duck in my coffee. I don’t know what the practice is called in other countries, but in France it is ‘Faire un canard‘ (don’t ask me: I just speak the language, I didn’t come up with it). And it’s as simple as taking a sugar cube, dipping it into coffee, and chomping on it.
The art of the perfect duck however not so simple: don’t dip in too long or the sugar cube will become saturated with coffee and begin to crumble – either in your cup, or even worse in your mouth when you are expecting a crisp chomp. Don’t dip in too little, or you won’t taste enough coffee and it will take a while to work your way through chewing a largish lump of dry sugar. This is speaking from years of practice: my parents let me make canards in their coffee as a child, long before I was allowed a cup all to myself.
Even though I swore off sugar more than a decade ago and I can’t handle coffee (you’re following right?), about now they both sound just like heaven. Especially if the sugar is shaped like a little ducky.
I found the little sugar ducky here. In case you want a box of 12, in which 11 are white sugar and 1 is raw.
Chapi Chapo are cheeky little children living in a magical world of colourful shapes, getting up to various cute-as-pie giggly adventures.
They always feel like busting a move at the end of each episode, a mixture of leg-shaking ballet and tap (did I say cute-as-pie?).
I personally hold Chapi responsible for making me want long flowey blond hair as a child – and for my appreciation of large brimmed hats.
More Chapi Chapo adventures here.
If I got a dollar every time someone asked me to say ‘Non monsieur, I deed not no zat Petit Miam ‘as a lot more calceeum zan meelk’, well, I would be rich.
I feel misunderstood and isolated sometimes – and it’s not because I’ve used the wrong word. It’s actually more vexing than that: I say something grammatically correct and intelligible, and I’m laughed at (rude!). Without any of my countrymen to back me up and confirm what I’m saying, it can sting.
Case in point: we were at the vet a few years back with our cat Astin and I joked about the weather – ‘It’s raining’ I said ‘because I caught him washing behind his ears yesterday.’ Both the vet and Christian looked at me with clear doubt about my sanity.
Trying to rehabilitate myself and explain further, I tried again: ‘Haven’t you ever heard this before? If you see a cat licking his paw and then going behind his ear, it means it’ll rain the day after.’ Same blank stares. Then the vet said ‘No, never heard this before. Sounds crazy!’. So I kept going (you have to hand it to me for not letting it go): ‘It’s a well accepted thing in my country! It’s even used as a plot device in a beloved children’s book*!’. Vet: ‘So back to Astin?’.
All right you close-minded veterinarian, have it your way. Your loss to miss out on the suspense of watching a grooming cat get closer and closer to his ear, pleading in your head he doesn’t go all the way behind, and having the opportunity to scream ‘Noooooo’ if he does.
No one better call me crazy in the comments.
*The book is ‘Les Contes du Chat Perché‘ by Marcel Aymé.
(Image is from here, the cat is called Spencer).
PS: nothing to do with feline forecasting, but an amusing fact nonetheless: when cats wash their business and stick their paw straight up in the air, in French it’s called ‘Playing the cello’ (‘Jouer du violoncelle‘). Cracks me up every time I think about it.
I am getting all the rare side effects of a medication I’m taking at the moment – and that includes violent (and I mean violent) motion sickness at the drop of a hat. And by drop of a hat, I mean turning my head – or looking up, or looking down – or turning too quickly in bed – or driving my car.
I was trying to remember if I’d ever felt this motion-sick before, and one memory imposed itself: a fateful car trip back from summer holidays in Italy when I was 6 or 7.
I grew up a serial vomiter in the back of our Peugeot 504. The little I remember about car trips is either, well, vomiting – or being passed out from strong anti nausea tablets distributed by our Maman.
That particular trip might as well have been called the perfect storm. There was a fire just off the freeway which caused huge delays – and my father to have to stop really suddenly. I woke up, vomited (and missed the bag). Which started a chain reaction and caused my siblings to follow suit. Nasty.
I can’t find any other way to describe how I’m feeling at the moment. As bad as during that ‘Return from holidays vomit fest’ – except I don’t have the pleasure of my sister’s and brother’s company (feeling sick in concert can be strangely comforting).
It also may or may not have been during the same trip that there was a small explosion under the hood of the 504 and a poof of smoke came out of the steering wheel – along with a strange mushroom smell (as described by my sister). I don’t remember, I was passed out. But according to her the look on my father’s face was priceless.
As for me, I can’t think of that car without feeling very very queasy – on current medication or off it.
(Image is from here – I ingested spectacular amounts of this as a child, apparently to no effect during that trip)
Every French child looks forward to 4PM as a treasured ritual (a daily mini Christmas if you will). That’s because typically you’re not handed an apple. Think cake, biscuits or chocolate and bread instead – ‘du pain et du chocolat’ (not to be confused with ‘pain au chocolat’ which you buy from a boulangerie – and while still a legitimate goûter, not an everyday thing).
When I was little I definitely didn’t have anything against chocolate, but I usually ate my bread first. Which meant I often didn’t have room for the chocolate after that. A lady from a day care centre I stayed at actually told my mum she’d never seen this before – or had to utter the words ‘Now eat your chocolate’. Ha!
I still have goûter everyday. And if 4PM comes around and I’m not hungry, I’m genuinely disappointed. And if by 3:30 my stomach is rumbling, I do a little victory dance in my head and start thinking about what I’ll be having.
Even if it’s not that exciting some days (yes, I do eat apples for goûter now) it still feels like a treat and it stirs some very strong memories.
In the gorgeous ‘Le goûter‘ blog (written in French), a lot of other people feel this way and share. Read about their goûters, you will see what I mean.
Le goûter, it’s not snacking between meals – it’s a way of life.
(Image from ‘Le goûter de Damien‘)
My mother doesn’t like to cook; this means as long as she sticks to a recipe it’s fine, but the second she tries to improvise bad things happen.
As far as baking is concerned, no one can touch her trusty gâteau au yaourt, but any forays into freehand baking tend to be disastrous. So my mother earned a bit of a reputation: ‘the Michelin baker’. Not intended to reference the number of stars (or absence thereof), but the resemblance of her pastries and cakes to the texture and weight of actual rubber tyres. Or as my sister would say: ‘throw one of her cakes against a window and it will break the glass’.
I on the other hand like to cook, and while I have produced my fair share of shapeless unidentifiable meals (What? It’s polenta and lentils!) overall my success rate tends to be higher than Maman’s. Except lately… On Friday I tried to bake some bread (and substituted/skipped some ingredients I didn’t have, thinking it would be totally fine…) – and I instead produced a Michelin loaf. Dense and rubbery, squeaky when you try to chew, with unmistakable glass-breaking potential. I have been eating little bits of it since then (taking a good 10 mn to work through a single bite), probably out of guilt to have teased her all these years.
Add to this my recently developed habit of falling asleep in front of a film, waking up to see the credits rolling and immediately asking ‘What did I miss? What happened?’ (and failing to see why it might be irritating) – I have to come to the following conclusion. I am becoming more and more like my mother. Next thing I know I’ll probably start dancing doing her stretching pussycat move. Help me…
(Image from here)
PS: I love my mother to bits, Michelin cakes, pussycat moves and all.
There are times when I say things Christian doesn’t understand. There are also times when I pronounce them ‘the normal way’ (as in, how they are pronounced in France) and it cracks him right up.
This, for example is a ‘shoope-ah-shoope’. That’s right: the ‘s’ is silent.
In my sugar eating days, my favourites were strawberry and cream, and caramel (because of the beautiful little flans on the wrapper).
Next time you go to France, remember: ‘shoope-ah-shoope’. Or you can point – that works too.
(Image is from here)