Friday, October 10, 2014

The Black Photo

'Guess what?' I said. 'On Thursday at school they're going to take your photo!'
'No!!' said Kiki, surprising me. 'I don't want them to!'
I stopped brushing her hair. Kiki loved being photographed more than anything. 'Why not?'
'It's mine!' she said.
I kept brushing. 'So, you'll all be in a group and they'll take your photo. We'll be able to send it to Grandmama and Eckie...'
'I don't want to!' she said with a desperate look. 'It's my black photo!'
The sun wasn't up yet. She was talking nonsense, with that other-worldly edge. At least that was what I told myself, because it was too early to allow the truth to occur to me which was that there was never a single shred of nonsense to a single word she had ever said. But, a 'black' photo? Her recent string of odd, esoteric comments was also blurring the edge of my judgement. For example, the night before:
'Which restaurant are you going to mama?'
'To 'Aux deux amis''.
'Oh. When I was a man I used to go there.'
And to a man last week on the bus to ballet:
'To go to The Straya (Australia) we go on a big plane. Up in the clouds. My mummy's mummy lives inside there. You can see her.' 
Maybe the black photo was something ancestral. I wondered at it for five seconds then hustled her off to school.
Wednesday came. She was eating pasta in a tutu. 'They're going to take your photo tomorrow.' I said without thinking. 'We'd better have a beauty salon tonight.' 
Her face crumbled and she started to cry. Really cry. 'But it's mine the black one! I don't want them to have it!'
'I don't know what you're talking about honey,' I said. 'What's the black photo?'
'It's my black photo! Nanny Chris gave it to me!' 
I suddenly remembered the beautiful Eisenstaedt postcard Nanny had given her when visiting the month before, of ballerinas in an old Paris studio. She had bought it for Kiki as it reminded her of the room where she had recently had her first ballet class. There, she, Grandad and I had brought Kiki to the creaky attic room of the magical old dance school deep in the Marais with all the ballerinas and tappers and tango couples twirling behind tall white windows. The three of us had huddled together under the low wood beams to watch her and the other pink ducklings flutter from corner to corner, teacher scrabbling to get them to point their toes. Nanny Chris had bought the postcard for her the next day, and Kiki had been carrying it around ever since in the bottom of a shabby book bag, showing it to every teacher and friend before clutching it hard against her chest. 
'The black and white one? Of the ballerinas?' I asked. 
She nodded, tears dripping in her bowl. 'It's mine!' 
'But what's that got to do with school...?'
And then it dawned on me. She thought they were going to take it away.



Sunday, September 7, 2014

Clafoutis

Have you ever had clafoutis? It's a cake, not a venereal disease. Have you ever had a venereal disease? I haven't but I remember one nervous hour in a waiting room. And being convinced for one solid month that I had AIDS. Is it human nature to constantly think you have some kind of terminal disease? Do your teeth sometimes ache? I have a toothache in my lower right molar that sometimes goes away so I think I don't need to go and see the dentist on the Avenue Parmentier who hurt me so much when she cleaned my teeth I cried. Can Clafoutis cause gum disease? Should I be brushing three times a day now I'm over 35?

Another piece won't hurt. Ukie bought it yesterday from Julhès. It tastes like heaven. Imagine a baked custard tart with little red berries in it, but slightly fermented and with a custard so rich it's practically caramel. Couple this with the sweetest saltiest butteriest crumble crust you've ever stuck in your hole and you have me, in bliss, on Sunday night, alone with a 3/4 full wine glass. And you.

Do you like Riesling? I remember it being terribly unfashionable when I was in my early 20s. Do you remember a wine named Moselle? Did you parents drink wine from a cask? Have you ever spent 7-10 years composing a novel and then reread your first draft and found it better than your current one? Probably. Anyway, I stopped writing to you here in order to focus on such redrafts. I thought it was right but the feeling was a bit constipatey. Better out than in! So... me-revoilà. Do you still want to be friends? Want some clafoutis? 

Saturday, April 26, 2014

She who Smiles Last

I'm usually the one reminding Mr Rabbit that 'She who smiles last wins'. No matter what goes down in Paris you should always just smile and move on otherwise you will sink into a pile of muck and die, because nobody gives a shit about how grumpy or annoyed you are, and you end up getting nowhere. Sometimes Mr Rabbit can't help it, but I must say I'm usually pretty cool about the standard Paris frustrations - drivers ignoring the green men (especially that one at the intersection of Magenta and the Faubourg St Martin), the being-cut-in-front-of in queues (oops! Pardon! Je ne vous ai pas vu!), the long waits in front of disinterested people at desks, the ubiquitous disdain of waiters. But this night I was definitely spiky. It had been one of those hairy exits from the house in desperation to get OUT and have some FUN - a badly put together outfit - terrible eyeliner I should never have started - too late to stop for an apéro - which has become the necessary brush-down between the world of the tiny clutches to the lights and dazzle of the Adult Realm - I NEEDED SOME FUN, I needed some time with Rabbit and the Dodge and his rocking love who had fantastically and unexpectedly-as-always rolled in town for 48 hours - an opening for another one of her artists. This was our chance for talk, and drink and food. 

I was definitely flustered, and way too eager.

I rabbited on to Mr Rabbit about some random junk all the way over the canal to Parmentier, where I was sure the Dodge must have booked a restaurant of the same name in a distant French suburb because you could never get a table at this joint at such last minute notice. 

They were running late. 

We stood in the trendy entranceway and a trendy waiter approached. I felt desperately untrendy but I tried to pout it up a bit. 

And then it happened.

A couple had entered closely behind us - a stunning French woman and her older-looking man friend. Just as I went to talk to the waitress, the woman stepped in front of me! As if I was invisible. Now if you live in Paris you'll know this happens all the time - usually I just allow it to happen or grumble a bit, or shrug and look at Instagram. But this time I venomously hissed 'Excusez-moi', and stepped rudely back in front of the lady, turning my back to her in such a way as to cut her off from the waitress's view before stating audibly and with demon bile 'FUCKING FRENCH' to Mr Rabbit. I said it deliberately so the French woman would hear. There was spittle around my top gums. How DARE she. Every time I had been ignored, stepped on, near-run over, cut off, cut-in-front of, denied, hung up on and overlooked accumulated in that one raging moment and spurted out.

It didn't feel very good, I must say, especially when I saw the look on Mr Rabbit's face, and I remembered the main tenet behind 'She who smiles last' - it's always you who feels bad if you let it out - the offender usually just feels like they've won. 

The waitress couldn't find our name on the list - and we eventually realised once I pointed to Dodger's name on the sheet that our table was for 6. Damn - the Dodge must have invited the artist. Of course it could never be as perfect as I dreamed. 

Mr Rabbit and I sat down at the table - at the end. He was still a bit gobsmacked by my racist outburst. I smiled and tried to pour some honey on the mood. And then, to my slow, sinking horror, I noticed the Frenchwoman and her man moving towards our table. I looked down at my napkin. Yes, it was true. They were the artist and his girlfriend.

The buffed cement floor beneath my chair turned to quicksand and drew me gratefully down to into its sweet, suffocating embrace. Oh death. Oh peace. Please.

She sat next to me, and the artist sat on the far seat on the other side of the table. 

Should I say something? There was no doubt she heard me. And, as she sat down and introduced herself in perfect English, I realized my fucking french was unlikely to have been mistaken.

I hate myself, I thought as I slugged back a glass of bubbled water and looked around the table for ways to suicide. The man seemed put out, but he was older, Greek and a serious artist, so that may have been his demeanor. The lady also seemed uncomfortable, but maybe that could have been that we were sitting here without our common link - I told myself. Perhaps none of us could be bothered meeting new people tonight and hadn't been aware of the others' impeding presence...

Or had we, I wondered in my clammy sheets later that night. Was it possible that in fact the woman had not been trying to overstep me in the queue - rather, just to point out on the waitress's chart that the booking was made for 6 instead of 4, and that they were the other two?

I rolled over and moaned, wanting to die all over again.

She who smiles last - I thought to myself. I shall never, ever be rude again.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Hypoallergenic

Her dad was a bodybuilder and her mother was short and sweet and baked cakes and ferried her around to dance competitions. I didn't know it then, but her dad beat her mother and ended up in jail later on. So many things you don't see when you're eight.
Their house was nice, a double-story in a court, and she only had one brother so they had that bit more money. Their house was always dim, however, curtains drawn. There were always videos.
She and I had a love-hate relationship. She was a real bitch - a scratchy one - we had known each other right through primary school and depending on our - or was it just her - mood - we would hold hands and tell secrets or she would chase me around the oval, catch me and beat me. Sometimes with other girls. Once, together, we asked another girl to tip a bin over a girl's head.
There were pink things in her room. She had one of those plastic doll busts with hair that you could brush AND the little plastic lipsticks. Her trundle bed was soft and pink and slid neatly back underneath her own bed with its dancer spread and fluffy lace pillows.
Her mother let her have lots of sugar.
Also, she had a live bunny rabbit.
When she began getting her period her mother soaked their knickers in a bucket together. I was so ashamed, I couldn't have imagined sharing that sort of thing with my own mother. Also - the bucket would be kicked over in two seconds in our house.
There was this video. She was allowed M, and even R-rated ones. I was still utterly PG-restricted. It was a horror movie about girls going to a dance school and getting locked in. One naked woman in the shower dropped some soap and offered it sensually and threateningly to a young girl saying,
"Try it. It's hypoallergenic."
That word just came up in my copywriting job and to this day whenever I see it I think of that film. There was barbed wire all around the dance school and a particular unforgettable scene involved a girl jumping desperately out of a window only to be met with a sea of barbed wire through which she could only try to swim... I looked on in awe, knowing I should never sleep again. My friend's mother soaking knickers, the smell of cakes baking in the background.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Thinky

It is february and the day suddenly stayed up two more hours - literally on wednesday it was dark at 5 and on thursday at 7 - and the sky went all blue and the jasmine came out everyone is walking around thinking - is this real? Maybe it's just me. Last winter was a six month funk of grey and ink that never distanced itself from your skin long enough to let you breathe, a neverending cloak of misery, one of those huge heavy ones people have in country houses that hang by the back door all ugly and heavy and dripped on with dried rain and full of the tall heavy grandfather who once wore it centuries ago. It's so hard to get off you. Well the cloak is not this year and I can't help but feel suspicious and then I feel guilty for not just going with it. I can feel Mr Rabbit thinking - god, can't you just enjoy it? That is so him. Why do i have to always think so hard, wonder - is it the Armageddon? No, Rabbit, it's just a nice day. Sit in the sun and put it on your face for a bit and don't worry. A kingdom to be slightly less thinky.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Where the Fuck is Teddy

I think we're doing ok as parents. It's not easy. Today I used a gruff voice I've never heard before, and I've noticed myself speaking in a measured tone that I have heard before, on other people - grown-ups. The measured tone, I have established, is used when your brain cells are wallowing around defeated in the cup of your head and you have to somehow not only find the means of speech, but assert authority. Losing the power of improvisational speech has been a particularly devastating side-effect of parenting for me, and I do find myself regularly appearing as an automaton, bereft of basic functioning, placing words like Kiki. Put. On. Your. SCARF. Now. Or NO PARK. Also, it is getting harder, because the small bundle of cuddles now suddenly has a razor-sharp little brain of her own and is wielding it with little empathy upon my mushy pile of being. She doesn't even want to 'cuddle mama's chest' so much any more, which is leading to my own kiddy tears. Now I'm the baby! I am 'Kiks' and she is Mama, putting me to bed, changing my nappy, telling me to CLOSE. EYES. I miss being the mama - is my baby really my mother already? She is outgrowing me, at 2.5. Help! I am drowning - look at me, scrabbling around the flat like a zombie for toys - ah, my big girl, ah, my tyrant screaming in bed for cold water and warm milk and honey and big bubba and little bubba and new bubba and squirrel and teddy, round and round and round. And where is teddy? Sweet Jesus. WHERE'S TEDDY?  

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Muddy Puddles

The favourite activity of the little girl's favourite cartoon pig was jumping up and down in muddy puddles.

The cartoon pig lived on a hill somewhere in the English countryside.

The little girl lived in one of Paris's grimier neighbourhoods.

The puddle lived outside the New Morning Jazz club. 

The puddle was composed of many things.  

The little girl was wearing little pink sneakers and little black pants and little grey socks with tiny flowers sewn in them.

The little girl was wearing the week's piss and spit and cigarette butt and ash and perhaps some sewerage and probably some old coffee and a few old chips up her little black pants. Not to mention the centuries-old grime and plague and dead ants and spew and grease and rat fur and beer funk.

The little girl was delighted.

The little girl's face crumbled upon perceiving the shock of the passers by.

The little girl's eyes spilled over as her mother rushed to pull her out saying 'I'm so sorry darling, but you mustn't jump in puddles! Puddles aren't always puddles.'

The little girl tried to understand.