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  • Ashleigh Ogilvie-Lee

Blog 10 - The table is set!

On Saturday, before the fete on Sunday, I met my friend Patricia. She is from Sete in the South of France, where Michael, our three boys, and I lived for a year. She, her husband Julien, and their daughters Hanalei and Lulu have visited us in NZ and Australia a few times, and I know she will make everything okay for me in Paris. She is the most gentle person I have ever met and the only French person I know with a sense of humour. Her face has that marvellous gift of looking amused most of the time, but with me, it often changes from amused to confused. This is a look of endearment, however, because she looks at Julien the same way. It’s the look of an ex-maitrisse (teacher) when recognising that some people are simply incapable of mastering the fundamentals of life that make it easier and comprehensible. The only fault I can find with Patricia is that she laughs when Julien tries to speak English, but to be honest, his accent is so strong you can’t help but think he’s having you on. Julien and Patricia met at a rally to stop the government subsidising private schools, and Pat continues, like most of the French, to be a die-hard socialist. She and Julien nearly divorced when he bought a white jaguar with brown leather seats, as well as an amazing motorbike which he drives to Montpellier while Patricia does Pilates.

Socialism underlies the everyday interactions between the French, with their veneer of politeness and importance, giving a polish and flair to ordinary everyday things. It’s impossible not to find their pompousness funny, but they, of course, don’t, as they have no ability or wish to laugh at themselves or the world, as both are to be taken seriously. A waiter will be the boss of you in a restaurant, shopkeepers will spend hours gossiping with customers and wrapping things up while queues grow, and hairdressers sit beside you and do their hair while your colour stays on long after the timer has gone off.

I am so excited about seeing Pat as she is my only friend in France. We spend an hour trying to find each other. I keep sending her photos of where I am, and eventually, she says, "Ashlee, I think you are at the Eiffel tower, not Notre Dame." With a sinking heart, I check her text, and it says quite clearly to meet at the little bridge at Notre Dame, and she says, "Oh Ashleeee," in that way that makes me wonder how I ever raised 6 children to adulthood.

I get in a taxi and go to the Petit-Pont to find her. I see her with that look of resigned incredulity on her face, and we hug each other, and I cry a lot and hold her hand. We go to lunch, and she has a croque monsieur and chips, and I tell her all about Josette, and I show her the photos of where I am staying, but I have a sinking feeling she suspects I am not a practising socialist.

We walk through a part of Paris, the sixth arrondissement, which is very different from the quartier where I live with Josette, the Romanians, the chicken sellers, and the poor homeless people who wave at me. Apparently, there are statues in all 20 of the arrondissements in Paris, but I have never seen one in my quartier. Pat and I walk in the open-air wonderland of St. Michel’s, and the beauty of it makes the spirit dance and sing. Ornate buildings, golden statues of rearing horses, angels, philosophers, conquerors, and strong women with one breast falling out of their dress while they thrust a sword to God and a torch to liberty make us feel uplifted and inconsequential. There has been a movement in France, just like in New Zealand, to remove many of its statues, especially those linked to colonialism. But Macron has just decreed that the Republic will erase no traces of its history - it will overturn no statue. We must instead lucidly look together at our history, all our memories, he says. Julien says the history of France is written by the winners.

Pat and I stand in front of the statue of Saint Michel. He has his foot on the devil because, if you believe in God (i.e., are a Catholic), good will triumph over evil.

Culture is as much a part of everyday life in France as food, and the preservation, celebration, and homage to the past is no doubt what gives modern-day Parisians a certain right to be pompous.

The shops have no fancy shop fittings like ours but overflow with the most beautiful clothes and shoes, and I buy an orange coat because it is freezing.

We have a beer in a little wicker chair outside a hotel that costs €2000 a night, and then we keep walking and have some risotto with asparagus. We look online for a new place for me to stay, but most of them are for a minimum of 3 months. In the comfort of my friendship, I think I might be able to survive, as I am going to Sete next week for 5 days, and my sister Damaris says it is only a bed to sleep in, and there is a party tomorrow.

When I get home, Josette is sitting on the side of her bed, smoking in a red Moroccan heavily embroidered smoking jacket. It is 10:30, and she is waiting for Maria to come home so they can make the leaves to go around their beef and pork sausages. She seems very tired, as she has been preparing for this party for weeks. The table is set, and little colored balls sit in the middle. I feel treacherous for thinking of leaving her.

I go to bed and think that my coat will make me look like one of those old Jewish women in Toorak who have dyed black hair, thick tortoiseshell glasses hanging in chains around their neck, heavily jeweled hands, heavily painted faces with orange lips, and blazers with gold buttons. I hate my new coat, and I am overwhelmed with fatigue.

Patricia texts to say we have walked 11 kilometers, and my friend Catherine texts to say that if it makes me feel any better, Ernest Hemingway had a hard time in France too.

...I was finally doing all the good writing I had promised myself. But every day, the rejected manuscripts would come back through the slot in the door of that bare room where I lived once over the Montmartre sawmill. They’d fall through the slot onto the wooden floor, and clipped to them was that most savage of reprimands—the printed rejection slip. The rejection slip is very hard to take on an empty stomach, and there were times when I would sit at the wooden table and read one of those cold slips, and I couldn’t help crying.

"I never think of you crying," I said.

"I cry, boy," Ernest said. "When the hurt is bad enough, I cry."

Me and Patricia.

The table is set.

129 views4 comments


Jun 05, 2023

‘Ernest Hemingway had a tough time in France too’ 😅♥️♥️, loved this edition


May 29, 2023

The sea of change …... You have an old friend , a dinner party , and a trip to look forward to. Voila 🤗

Your writing is good - I love it when the next chapter pops up. Warts and all. C’est la vie 🌼


May 29, 2023

I can see the fabulous orange coat and pleased that you will stay on with Josette as at least you know her and the 'hood etc. And the party.... now a must attend event. How is the French going? Yes Montmatre is a charming part of Paris ... what a great adventure... the hard bits make the good bits even better. All love Joxo


May 29, 2023

delicious Kegg! And love that you are the proud owner of an orange coat xxx

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