FRENCH DRESSING

Here is an example of one of the chapters of my book. I seem to be one-third travel writing, one-third memoir and one-third cookery writing…perhaps you could make a suggestion as to where I belong? This tale was inspired by the wonderful time I spent living in Paris a few years ago; a time that so vivid and exciting…I still dip into this treasure trove when I need inspiration:

FRENCH DRESSING
Paris. The city where you find couples snogging by every bridge, a fine white dust coating your shoes as you wander through the Jardin des Tuileries and small rolls of old carpet diverting the street washing water down culverts in the sidewalk.

I stood gazing out of the window of my small apartment on the Quai des Grands Augustins and breathed in my luck, and the rancid air from the busy road below out. To my right the Notre Dame and the Pont St Michel, before me the Seine and the Palais de Justice. It was a hot summer evening when I was 29 years old and my life was unfolding beautifully in front of me. That hot Sunday had been spent sitting by the river wielding my needle nosed pliers at a coil of steel wire. Small sculptures of fishes appeared. Fantastical creatures that could never swim in the Seine, but had swum out of pleasure from a part of my imagination overflowing with glee. They had also arrived at my fingertips out of necessity; French men were such sex pests. It seemed as if they were always dressed in belted off-white rain coats, fiddling in their pockets or devouring your underwear with their dark eyes and painfully stubbly mouths.

My first Sunday in Paris, just five months before, had been spent exploring the Jardin du Luxembourg, then sitting in a sunny place with a contented sigh, a book to read and an apple to eat. The bliss of my arrival was accompanied by the sparrows around me celebrating the first day of spring, and immaculate children with knickerbockers and velvet collared coats sailing toy yachts in the large ornamental lake. Three pages later a shadow crossed my page
“C’est un livre passionnant?”
I looked up in shock. A tall darkly shaven man with brown eyes, a foppish oiled hairstyle, hairy knuckles and THAT raincoat gazed down at my book and licked his lips.
“Mais non monsieur” I squeaked, as a blush and the hot breath of continental casual carnality swept my way.
“Fuck off and leave me alone, allez allez!” I added, with indignant fury rising and my crap french firing on all cylinders.
A look of confusion and disbelief at my not requiring a quick and energetic bout of “giggi giggi” in a hotel room with carpet on the walls. Then THAT raincoat disappeared into the well-groomed undergrowth, in search of his wife and immaculate children no doubt. I felt flustered and hunted. I moved on to another part of the gardens, in search of my long dreamed of seclusion and success at having run away from London. I found a new sunnily positioned chair, ripped my way through the apple and ate the core and stalk, polished my sunglasses, concealed any sexually suggestive and visible body parts, retrieved my novel from the pocket of my coat and settled back into my new life in France with a newly contented sigh.

Eight pages later,
“C’est une livre passionnel?”
Unbelievable! I was too angry to look up. THAT raincoat had courage. A long minute passed until I finally looked up at yet another middle-aged man, this time with donkey brown corduroy trousers and a huge nose, round glasses and moustache that looked like one of those joke ones! I had to laugh at the poor man nervously fondling his pecker in his pocket, that made him hobble away in shame!

The use of those sharp-pointed tungsten tipped pliers to clip, bend and cajole steel wire into intricate shapes then was not an accident. As I sat on my cushion on the sunny, peed-on embankment of the rive gauche of the Seine, no horny Frenchman dared to come close to me and worrying pastime. My little fish sculptures poured from my singing snips and into a black velvet pouch, ready to be glazed with bright silk paper and suspended in mobiles and earrings in the brightness and privacy of my high ceilinged 17th century apartment. My home measured just 35 M2. I’d painted the walls a deep burnt orange shade and all furniture items that I’d found, mainly in skips, a peppy gecko green. My bed was two purple covered mattresses that doubled up as seating with big squishy patterned cushions in the day. From this tiny womblike environment I succeeded in cooking, and drinking, most new French and international friends under la table. The music invariably veered towards the 1920’s; Bix Beiderbecke, Edith Piaf or Josephine Baker. My hair became bobbed and hennaed, my clothing sleek, startling and shiny. Large hats, tall flat boots, vampire red lips and Guerlain perfume. My mum egged me on and bought me a long ebony cigarette holder; I stole a silver cigarette case from another man who was after a shag but I evaded and took to smoking Gitanes. That was until the day my little French pal Claudette ask me why I was smoking them? And did I not know that it was just French truck drivers who preferred them? To me they were the essence of France when I arrived in Dieppe en route for a family holiday in the 1970’s…In retrospect I guess that there were plenty of lorry drivers around at the time.
I was so in love with Paris, I fell for the city like a foolish man with a beautiful courtesan. She dazzled me on a daily basis. I slavishly drooled in every courtyard of the innumerable Hotel Particulaires that peppered my stomping grounds of the 5th, 6th a 7th arrondissements. I wept for joy in the street markets filled with squeezable vegetables, radioactive fur or leaf covered cheeses, bright-eyed fish and crustaceans brought from the coast that morning and the babble of the contented people tending to the French compulsive disorder that is gastronomy. I was overwhelmed as I paced the mediaeval incline of the Rue Mouffetard, equipped with a large basket and hunting after the dish of the day.

That evening in the Quai des Grands Augustins I began to open my windows to the hot noise of the street and the river. The ‘bateaux mouches’ had begun their evening floodlight patrol of the sights of Paris from the river, armed with lasers and tourists having the time of their lives. I was fresh from the shower, smelling of vetivier soap, glowing from a day in the sun and wearing a cream silk kaftan and no knickers. As I pulled the old windows open, a hot breeze rushed at me and blew up my loose kaftan and between my legs. I gasped and lay on my cushion strewn mattress laughing as the little suspended fishes twirled in endless spirals in the orange air, and the silhouetted balcony rail rotated around my pretty home as the bateau mouche sailed by.

French dressing:

Take a clean, resealable glass bottle (a 500 ml sized olive oil bottle is perfect). Pour 1/3 balsamic or white wine vinegar in. Add 2/3 good olive oil, 2 tsp sea salt, plenty of ground black pepper, about 8 crushed cloves of garlic, 4 tsp Dijon mustard, 3 whole bay leaves, plenty of chopped oregano/basil/French tarragon and/or thyme. (Alternatively a good flurry of dried oregano and thyme….use your favourites). Simply shake it hard then use. I tend to keep mine going in the fridge for a couple of weeks. It marinates and improves with time. Take it out of the fridge 30 minutes before you need to use it so the olive oil can liquefy.
A real Parisian would omit the heavy use of garlic; as most of them work in office environments and prefer not to stink like someone from the Mediterranean or from abroad and living in Paris!

18 thoughts on “FRENCH DRESSING

  1. I didn’t realize when I reached the end, looking forward to reading the book. You are an excellent writer Heather. Congrats on your fabulous start!

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  2. I could feel the warmth of the Parisian air as I read this chapter! Love it, Heather and can’t wait to read the rest. Bon chance with the blog, keep it coming!

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  3. Takes me right back to my two years living in France, wonderful food, the excitement of being at home somewhere foreign and yes, all those creepy “exhibitionists”! Great work – keep it up x

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  4. Hi Heather, I can almost picture you here, more please about Paris! I am sure you could write a whole book just about your experiences here. I think of you when I see a Louis Vuitton shop or see the Arc de Triomphe. Your writing is witty. You bring the place alive – I want the details!!

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  5. Hi Heather
    Crispin and and I thought it was clever and funny and I will certainly try the dressing something with more kick than my present efforts. Very memorable-lots of luck
    xAstrid

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