Les Petits Contes

About life's little observations, which matter. About hilarious situations, which illuminate. About stories which offer immense possibilities, open endings, different interpretations and perspectives.

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Location: Singapore

A nature lover; sun-worshipper, manic book-collector, dessert-devourer and a magnet for hazards

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Twenty-five Years Ago, In France

My head throbbed loudly, my throat bled in acute pain, and I could hardly breathe through my blocked nose as I lay in bed. It was very early morning. I was so tired, and yet I could not go to sleep. Worse, random, unpleasant memories flashed past my mind.

It was sheer torture. Only suicide could relieve anyone of the double-whammy of insomnia and bad memories crashing together.

But I am a classic contradiction – brave and cowardly at the same time. I will never be brave enough to kill myself, no matter how much I stare at my wrist and bulging veins and imagine the blood spurting from them.

So I sobbed. Sobbed hard, violently and uncontrollably – for lost memories, lost youth, lost times, lost opportunities, lost dreams, lost loves. But it was strange – no tears flowed. I panicked. They must have dried up together with the heart.

Suddenly music filled my mind, as memories of my first association with France flooded me. It’s Richard Clayderman’s piano recital. Yes, I grew up in his era - I am not young anymore.

Funny – first time I heard his music was in France 25 years ago, in Brittany, where I was staying with my host family. (Surely, then, I never knew I would one day work in a French company, or imagined what would become of me 25 years later.) Yet, this morning, the music that played in my head was not his signature tune, ‘’Ballade pour Adeline’’, but something whose title I can’t quite remember but had to check (''Coup de Coeur''). It went, ‘’dum dum dee dum…’’

The clock ticked loudly in the still silence. It aggravated my sleeplessness. I put it far away from the bed. But I could still hear it. Desperate, I put it inside the toaster/ oven. I needed the rest and sleep – I had planed to go to Fontainebleau later.

I applied Origins ‘’Peace of Mind’’ cream on my forehead, and ‘’Sleep Time’’ sleep-inducing lavender gel on my temples. Hopefully the double dosage of creams would work and that I have not got immune to them. I had been ‘’addicted’’ to them since my return from Perugia.
It rained the whole day. What a day to go see the chateau and its gardens. Laura thought I was mad and was sure it was the reason why my cold got worse and that I almost lost my voice. But the rain here is so soft and gentle, so unlike the downpours of Perugia. Still, it made the sky grey and gloomy, and my photos just as sad.

On arrival, I ate lunch at L’Atrium, an Italian restaurant. No, I was not Italy-sick. It was more like, I was sick of the snootiness of two of the French restaurants there.

I had gone into one and the person at the door actually asked, ‘’yes?’’ as if wondering what I was doing there. I asked if it was a restaurant (my feeble attempt at being ironic) and she replied, ‘’yes’’. “So, can I get a table for one?’’ I shot back. She said yes, signalled to some guy and later came back to say, ‘’we are full’’.

So off I went to another restaurant. This time I was shown to a table without much hassle but they totally ignored me for ages after that and were in no hurry to take my orders. (No, the restaurant was not ‘’too busy’’.)

Normally I would have settled for a simple sandwich at a bar or something, but as I was half-dead from all that uncharacteristic weakness and train journey, I wanted to take a rest in a comfortable place and dine leisurely.

Instead of comfort all I got was being ‘’worked-up’’ and so I stormed out and marched into L’Atrium. What a world of difference there. They were friendly, breezy and most cheerful. Except the food was atrocious.

I ordered tagliatelle al salmone (prepared with some lemon sauce) and it came in a bright artificial yellow topped with a slice of lemon and cherry! The minute I saw this amateur presentation I knew the food was going to taste bad. Plus, the fact that the food arrived almost immediately, meant that it was probably the type of pasta we have back home at Coffee Bean & Tea Leaves – pre-made and chilled and when someone orders it, they just nuke it and serve. Yuks.

I took a few bites and gave up. The napkin has the following text printed on it: ‘’simple, authentique et sans pretension… une cuisine maison… plats servis sans chi-chi…’’Still, I gave the waitress a nice tip – for her ready smile, her prompt and attentive service, and for giving me an extra napkin to take home when she saw me copying the text in my notebook!

She is also one of the rare ones who thanked enthusiastically for the tip, and who sang out a warm ‘’au revoir’’ from afar when I left.


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