Sunday, 16 December 2012

Le déjeuner en France

This morning I was woken by a call. One day, when I have a high powered job and responsibilities up to the eyeballs, that call will come at 3am and be an urgent call for help that only I can provide.

This time, however, it was at 8am and was an invitation to lunch.

I confess I didn't actually answer it. My voice, unlike Apple computers, is not ready to go from sleep. It takes a little while to get back to its smooth, British tones, and so I blearily flicked it to answerphone and staggered to the shower. The weekends are my favourite days of the week because, even though I have to get up early, nobody else does. So they don't. So there's hot water a-plenty.

I stepped from the shower just about ready to face the day and the lesson ahead with my student - the final one - when the phone rang again. This time my student presenting his apologies and letting me know that he had a match this morning, and that the lesson was unfortunately cancelled.

Once I'd run out of things to throw I slipped back between my sheets and caught three more hours of lovely sleep. Sleep is very much like money. When one has a lot, one hardly notices it. When one has only a little, each measure is precious. Those three hours were golden.

 And so to lunch I went. My host, Colette, is a charming lady who is working on her English for the sake of her (mostly American) clientele. Her husband is really nice, and has a very dry, very wicked sense of humour. He towers over his wife (and of course me) and smokes Camels. I thought this was going to be the entirety of our little lunch party; people with whom I am familiar and whose accents are known to me.

Coming up the stairs to their apartment, I was slightly unsettled to see the table set for six. Either we were going to switch seats halfway through lunch -  a tradition I was unaware of but was already formulating as a possible basis for the children's game musical chairs - or there were more guests coming.

- En fait, nous avons invité nos voisins. she said to me. Wonderful. Things were suddenly more interesting; the neighbours could be from anywhere and could have accents broader than the Champs d'Elysées. As it happens, they were a charming couple, she from the Netherlands and he from Alsace region, along with their daughter, who got over her initial shyness of me with the first mistake I made. And I made plenty, but somehow having your French corrected by a tiny and precocious infant makes the mistakes not seem so bad. Besides, this little terror of a teacher corrected her mother as well, who rolled sympathetic eyes at me when she insisted

- Mais Maman, tu veux dire... Children. Love them or hate them, you have to know how to deal with them, and for this I thank my mother. The years she has spent looking after other people's children has taught me two things; one, if you tell a child not to do something they will try to do it, and two, children and those with young hearts love magic tricks.

So we ate dinner, and we chatted a lot, and I managed - with the aid of Colette - to convince Emilie, the neighbour, that the haggis is in fact a real creature whose legs are shorter on one side that on the other. She held it far longer than I did, waxing on about the creature's relation to a similar animal that lived in the alps. We agreed, Colette and I, that it was well-known that the only way to catch one was to whistle at it. As soon as it heard it would try to run to you but, because of its physiology, will immediately fall over. It can then be captured at your leisure.

We finally both lost it when she asked, bemused,

- Est-il dans la famille marmotte ? and at the point we had to stop, with tears streaming down our faces and puzzlement reigning supreme. With dinner almost over, Hugh - Colette's husband - bought some fruit over.

Now some of my friends may have noticed this, but when I'm nervous I do a really silly trick. It's just a little sleight of hand; I learnt it when I was younger, but it seems to now be ingrained as something I do when my hands aren't doing anything. I was doing it with an orange, and noticed tiny Marie-Anna staring, so I stopped. It's an absurd thing to do.

She didn't think so. In fact, she insisted that I do it again, this time slowly, this time with my hands out to my sides, and finally with my sleeves rolled up. In a worrying glimpse into the future, should I have a daughter, I acquiesced to every demand this infant made of me until her mother hushed her. She looked terrifically stormy for a moment, and since I'm a sucker, I said

- Je parie que tu ne peux pas rester silent pour cinq minutes. Mais si tu peux, je te montrerais un petit tour de magie avec des cartes. As-tu compris? she just nodded. Smart kid. Worryingly so. In any case, that gave the adults five minutes to talk, and the neighbours quizzed me about my studies, what I was doing, what I did at work. The conversation flowed nicely and before long Marie-Anna was wildly (but silently) gesticulating at an imaginary watch. I congratulated her on her win, and she ran off to get some cards. It was interesting to note that at the same time, the adults all leant just a little bit forward - not enough to seem eager, but not so far away that they'd miss anything.

I did my favourite trick to start with; it's a simple switch where the action happens long before the action seems to happen, and then let Marie-Anna take over. She had a sweet little trick that she was clearly quite proud of, so I decided to let her be the star. After all, true recognition is better when people know you're pulling the strings but can't work out how, and the easiest way to do that is to let someone else perform the trick. So we did Four Kings, and for added drama I did it with my eyes closed and simply gave her instructions in French.

I confess, that meant I had to rely on my French to make a trick work, and the trick only works if the instructions are flawless.

It worked. We gave Marie-Anna a round of applause and she glowed to the tips of her ears. Nobody asked how I'd done it because I obviously couldn't have done anything. It was magic. And magic is still cool.

Alas; the trick was the last thing to be done, and it was time to pull on coats, shake hands and kiss cheeks. Marie-Anna's shyness seemed to come back in a sudden wave, and she had to be given a gentle push by her mother to give me the kisses that are necessary socially. I can't say I didn't find this a little bizarre, but I didn't want to cause offense to the nice people I'd just met, so I lent down and we kissed cheeks. It seems odd, but what's odd for me was clearly normal for my new friends. So when in Rome.

Last lesson with Colette tomorrow, so we'll do something quite fun I think. Five more days at work, and then home!