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Saturday, 6 June 2015

Saturday 6th June: A dark horse.

Benjamin was standing at the pear tree this morning, concerned that three toy soldiers had mysteriously entangled themselves in the upper branches. He beamed as I got the garden broom from the shed and knocked them down (for the third time this week).
Ines phoned later, asking if I'd go round to her place to run through some songs. I agreed as Alexander's still looking for a drummer and won't practise until he's found one. He can be very single-minded. When I arrived at Gavin and Ines' house I was greeted by a life size bronze statue adopting an operatic pose which dominated the front entrance. At first I assumed this to be a figure of Gavin until Ines appeared and told me it was Enrico Caruso, Gavin's greatest hero. (I always assumed Gavin's greatest hero to be himself). I followed Ines through the black and white tiled hall and into the conservatory. It was sunny this morning and the doors to the garden were open. Outside, on the patio, Gavin's elderly mother was slumped in a garden chair with an open book on her lap, her sun hat gradually sliding off her head.
The best thing about Gavin's house is his baby grand piano which takes pride of place in the conservatory and which I always look forward playing. I was seated at it when Ines asked if I'd noticed the new addition to the photo collection of Gavin's performances. She pointed to a black and white print of Gavin; a distraught expression on his face as he lay across the body of a young woman. At the bottom of the photo was an inscription; A scene from La Boheme with Rodalfo falling upon the lifeless body of his lover, Mimi.
I asked Ines why she doesn't have any photo's of herself. She avoided the subject, telling me that Gavin has been away in Munich for a few days and is due to return this evening. It was my turn to steer away from the subject this time, and we ran through a couple of songs; L'eau du Mars and Quizas.
During our break I stepped outside I admired the beautiful scented white and pink roses. Gavin's mother, who had woken from her nap, became quite animated when describing her old garden in Cardiff; a tiny patch of lawn in front of her two bed terraced house. She told me how Gavin's father had an allotment where he used to disappear, every weekend. Gavin obviously started from very poor beginnings and I get the impression his mother idolises him.
As I went back into the conservatory, Ines handed me a letter and asked if I would mind reading it aloud as her English is not too good. At first I assumed it would be a business letter, but then I noticed it was handwritten. I asked her what it was about. She seemed reluctant to tell me. I read;
"Dear Gavin, It was good to see you. The boys loved their presents but were sad after you'd left. Jake's school report was so good and Charlie's doing well with his trumpet lessons. Hope your time in Munich goes well. I know how busy you are, but please try to find time for us. Any chance of a trip to Brittany?"
The letter ended with "Love Susie."
Two photos fluttered out from the pages; school photos of two boys. One was about 11, the other about eight. Both bore a resemblance to Gavin; the younger boy, more so.
Ines was standing expectantly at my side, waiting for my reaction. I was certain she'd already read the letter a few times and this irritated me. I was being dragged into something which I don't want to be involved with. The letter was dated several months ago and addressed to a hotel in Milan. I asked how she found it. She shrugged. She'd obviously been snooping while Gavin's was away. I suggested she speak to Gavin's mother about it. She dismissed the idea, saying the old lady refuses to say anything on the subject, only repeating that Ines would have to speak to Gavin. As if to prove her point, Ines took the letter from my hand and went outside. I followed. Although she must have overheard, Gavin's mother, book in her hand, had a fixed expression as if she was attempting to ignore us.
I followed Ines into the kitchen where she made us drinks from a hi tech DeLonghi coffee maker. She asked me if I thought the boys were Gavin's sons. I told her they must be, although I couldn't tell if he was still involved with their mother (I wondered why he hadn't told Ines about them).
She was telling me how worried she was when we heard the front door opening and Gavin's booming voice calling out for her. She froze as he strode into the kitchen and, beaming at her, picked her up and swung her around. Noticing me, he came over and shook hands, asking how I was. He'd managed to get an earlier flight from Munich, wanting to surprise Ines. He'd certainly done that! Still holding the letter and photos in her hand, she thrust them in front of his face and demanded an explanation. He hesitated for only a second before telling her she was being silly. He admitted they were his sons and, apart from practical arrangements to see the boys, insisted he had nothing to do with their mother now. He laughed at Ines, scolding her as if she were a child. She asked why he hadn't told her about them. He said he knew it would worry her. I felt awkward standing there. I could see Ines was ready to believe him so I made my excuses and left (I don't think they even noticed). I said goodbye to Gavin's mother. She nodded at me, barely glancing up from her book (I don't like Gavin and I don't like his mother, but I do wish Ines would stand up for herself).

It was a relief to be get back to my cottage where Joao was cleaning the windows outside the gite. I sat in my garden and he came over for a chat. We talked about his region of the Algarve and the pretty town of Loule where I once spent a birthday.

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Wednesday 27th May: Stefanie's Return.

Karl has just told me that several nights ago, at about 3.00 a.m, he'd heard a noise in his house that sounded like footsteps. Going downstairs and still half asleep, he was amazed to find Stefanie in the kitchen. She had the fridge door open and was, literally, stuffing herself with food. He was shocked by her appearance. Her hair was lank and greasy, she was pale with black shadows under her eyes, and was wearing a torn t-shirt and stained jeans. He got her to sit down and tell him what was going on. It turned out she'd been living in Tomas' squat with no electricity, heating or hot water. Karl was extremely angry that she'd hitchhiked all the way from Berlin. When asked why she couldn't pay for the train fare, she admitted she had no money, as she'd lost her evening waitress job. Karl wanted to ask if Tomas had anything to do with this, but reluctant to bring up the subject of Stefanie's boyfriend, he thought better of it.
By half past three Karl could wait no longer, and had to ask where Tomas was. Stefanie spent ages before admitting that he had been arrested after the police questioned him about a break in at a pharmaceutical research centre with thousands of Euro's worth of damage to the factory and hundreds of rats, mice and rabbits released from their cages.Two other boys from the squat were taken in with Tomas but Stefanie insisted that, although she did know about it, she had nothing to do with the break in. This was not a first offence for Tomas and he has been sentenced to four weeks in prison as he was unable to pay the fine imposed by the court. Tomas' parents are wealthy bankers who could easily have paid, however, they had washed their hands of their son, and want nothing more to do with him. Karl did his best to comfort Stefanie, assuring her that Tomas would be fine and would probably soon be released. He told me, however, that he was relieved to see Stefanie return without him. She'd done so well in her end of year exams and had been determined to continue on in September.
Since coming back she's already found a summer job at the local kennels run by a Dutch couple who breed Poodles and Labradoodles just outside Languidic. Stefanie studied their website before walking to the kennels to enquire about work. She's been there for two days and told her dad she's really enjoying the work. Although she assured him she has no intention of releasing any of the dogs, or causing any damage to the property, Karl is very concerned. I pointed out that, now she's not in touch with Tomas, she's started eating properly again and already looks much better.
Karl asked me to come and look at her room. I followed him up the stairs and into the small bright room overlooking the garden. Photos of Tomas and Stefanie, along with pages of letters and poems were taped all over the walls. Stefanie had made a chart of the days until Tomas was due to be released and was religiously crossing each day off. A threadbare jacket lay across the bed which had a damp musty odour. Stefanie refused to wash it as it was Tomas's. As we made our way back down into the kitchen Karl told me he was concerned about what will happen when Tomas is released.
Yesterday was Stefanie's twentieth birthday and Karl asked if I would come over and could I also bring Ann-Sofie? When I asked Ann Sofie, she was very enthusiastic to come and Solange agreed she could have the time off.
It was late afternoon when we arrived. Ann-Sofie was given a guided tour around the house and gardens and we sat down by the lake to watch Gary the goose. Stefanie certainly seemed much happier than the last time I saw her. She was followed everywhere by a collie dog, Bon-Bon, who she said had followed her home from the kennels. She dismissed Karl's concerns, saying the dog was a stray and unwanted. Ann-Sofie and Stefanie spoke to each other in English and seemed to get on well. She asked for a piece of paper and began sketching Bon-Bon. Stefanie showed it to us, clearly impressed.
Dinner, cooked by Stefanie, was roast chicken with potato dumplings, red cabbage and carrots. She'd also made a Gugelhuf; a hoop shaped cake with a chocolate filling. She's placed twenty pink candles around and explained that in Germany it's traditional to keep the candles burning for as long as possible.

Karl said she used to have a wooden birthday wreath with twelve candles, one to be lit each year, until she reached the age of twelve. Ann Sofie told us that in Sweden a child is brought breakfast in bed with a piece of birthday cake; traditionally a Princess Cake, layered with sponge and cream and topped with green marzipan. We gave Stefanie our presents (chocolates we'd bought on the way over) and we sang Happy Birthday in a variety of languages.
Karl had given Stefanie money for clothes. She asked Ann Sofie if she would go with her to Vannes or Rennes for a day's shopping and maybe to the cinema. They checked on her laptop and discovered a zombie film called Maggie about a teenage girl who becomes infected in an outbreak. Of course Ann Sofie was enthusiastic about this, telling Stefanie all about her book. Karl and myself teased her, suggesting it was the perfect film for her. Ann Sofie was interested in hearing about Berlin and the university. Listening to all her questions I did wonder if Stefanie is destined to become the next character in the zombie book. There was no further mention of Tomas.
Stefanie borrowed her dad's van for the evening and, after they'd gone we sat talking whilst Bon-Bon sat whimpering at the front door. Nothing would distract her (not even the offer of food). When I left, she was still sitting there, waiting patiently for Stefanie's return.
I haven't seen Ann Sofie today and wonder what Stefanie's told her about Tomas.

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Sunday 17th May: Breton Myths and Legends

Benjamin and Madeleine have been particularly noisy this weekend, banging on my door, demanding to come in. Solange was outside yesterday, weeding the pathway when I overheard her shouting at Benjamin, ordering him go back indoors. When she brought him over for his piano lesson today, she told me he'd been caught drawing on the kitchen wall and that Pieter was very annoyed with him. She left him with me, giving him strict instructions to behave. He nodded and smiled sweetly up at her.
We ran through Au Clair de La Lune from his music book and for the first five minutes he concentrated. After that he started running around the cottage, crawling along the carpet and leaping on and off the sofa. I could see we weren't going to get anywhere so I took him back next door. Solange said they were going out for the afternoon, as it was her mother's 75th birthday. Ann-Sofie who in the kitchen I invited her for dinner, saying Celine was coming and was keen to ask her about illustrations for her book.
When Celine arrived, she was holding something which she passed to me, telling me to read it carefully. It was an envelope written with her name and address. Inside was a formal wedding invitation, printed on cream card with a border of roses.
As a joke, I asked if I was invited too. Celine snatched the card from me and read it out loud. The wedding was to be held on 31st July at St. Jean Baptiste Church at Pouy-Sur-Vannes between Adele Marchent and Jacques Ditronc. I laughed and told Celine this was great news as we wouldn't be bothered by Adele following us around any more. Celine was far from happy. She insisted this was not a normal wedding invitation, and asked me why I thought Adele would send this to her. I couldn't see why this mattered. I admitted it was an odd thing for Adele to send, but at least now she would be someone else's problem. I went to the fridge, took out the bottle of wine Paul had given me to celebrate his baby's birth and poured out two glasses. Raising my glass I made a toast: No More Adele! But Celine wasn't having it. She sighed and shook her head. She asked me if I recognised the man's name. I told her I couldn't care less who he was, and couldn't understand why she thought I should be interested. She looked at me, clearly irritated, handed me the card and told me to read the name. Jacques Dutronc. It meant nothing to me. I conjured up an image of a respectable business man, solid and dependable. I felt only sympathy for him, whoever he is. Celine was questioning me again, asking me if I was certain I didn't recognise the name. I insisted It meant nothing to me. She told me it was name of the actor who plays Van Gogh in the 1992 film of the same name. I asked if she was sure and wondered if the name could be a coincidence. But then I remembered Adele had been keen on Van Gogh's paintings and fascinated by his life. This all made sense. I explained this to Celine who said Adele must be using her to send me a message. If she is, I don't know what the message is. The whole situation is just ridiculous. Why pretend she's getting married? She must be completely insane. Celine is very concerned by the fact that Adele knows where she lives, but what can we do?
We were still discussing all this when Ann-Sofie arrived. Celine asked if she would be interested in illustrating her book, explaining that it was all about myths and legends. Ann-Sofie was very enthusiastic and went next door to get her sketch pad. By the time she'd returned we'd been through another fruitless discussion about Adele and her wedding invitation. It was a relief to change the subject. Ann-Sofie showed Celine her sketches, including the one of Marie's twin brothers. Celine asked if she could draw three creatures, the Nain, the Goric and the Ankou. Ann-Sofie scribbled notes whilst Celine gave a brief description of each of them. I remembered the Nain resemble gargoyles and have feline claws and devil type hooves. They are dark and small creatures with gleaming red eyes who speak with harsh rasping voices. They haunt ancient dolmens where they dance around, chanting the days of the weeks (except for Saturday and Sunday, which are sacred protected days and cannot be spoken of). Ann-Sofie was making notes and I listened to Celine's descriptions. The Goric are dwarves who inhabit druid monuments or hide beneath ancient castles. Every night they dance around the stones of Carnac and, if a human interrupts them, he would be forced to join in until he dies from exhaustion. When they're not dancing they guard hidden treasure and, rumour has it, that a golden hoard lies beneath one of the Menhirs of Carnac. Ankou, is a spirit, who takes the form of a skeleton and collects the souls of the dead. He travels around Brittany in a cart pulled by horses and wears a large black hat to hide his face. 

Ann-Sofie sketched as she listened to these stories, and Celine said she would particularly like a picture of the dwarves dancing around the Menhirs. She also asked her about the myths of Sweden.
Ann-Sofie explained that trolls originated in Norse mythology, appearing in both Sweden and Norway, as do dwarves and elves. She told us the story of Huldra. a troll woman living in the woods. She's fair and beautiful but has a long cow like tale which she hides when she meets people. She's not evil, unlike Nokken, a mysterious water spirit who resides in lakes and ponds. He's a handsome young man and talented musician who plays his violin throughout the night and entices woman to their deaths. Ann-Sofie is a born storyteller, and obviously loves talking about her homeland. Soon after dinner (tomato and caramelised onion tartin served with salad) Ann-Sofie left, as she has a test at the language School early in the morning.

Celine and I discussed the drawings, but it wasn't long before we returned to the subject of Adele and the invitation. I said we should ignore the whole incident, as she's clearly looking for a reaction. Celine said that it's easy for me to talk and pointed out that she's the one being targeted. She was subdued when she left. Maybe I'm dismissing Adele's behaviour too easily. But I really don't see what we can do. 

Thursday, 7 May 2015

Thursday 7th May: Zombies

I was on the phone to Alexander when Ann-Sofie knocked on the door. She sat and waited patiently whilst Alexander continued his diatribe against our drummer, Michel. Apparently, he and his family had left unexpectedly and returned to Canada. I can't say I was surprised after what happened at the Golden Wedding party, but I do think he could have given us a bit of notice. Needless to say, Alexander was fuming. I noticed Ann-Sofie had brought over her latest instalment of Midnight Hour Zombies, but Alexander was in full flow and would not be stopped. It was another five minutes before I managed to end the call. 

I asked Ann-Sofie why she wasn't at language school, then she reminded me there were no classes on Thursdays. It was also her day off from looking after the children. Instead of having to look after them when they return from school and kindergarten, her time was her own. She told me her class at the language school are learning about French food and they each have to take in an example of a Breton dessert or cake. (No doubt everything they take in will be eaten during the lesson). I suggested a Far Cake. Ann-Sofie was keen on the idea of a Pommes au Tart, although I'm not sure that's specifically Breton. I was planning to go to the supermarket near Lorient, and suggested she come along.
Ann-Sofie had brought her sketch pad, in case she spotted anything of interest to draw. I told her we must go to Dinard, with all the lovely old buildings, she'd have plenty to draw there. (I must remember to mention this to Celine).
On the way out I showed her my three Clematis plants, two of which are starting to wind their way up the trellis. I've put my herbs outside too, they're doing well, even the Basil which survived the rain over the past few days.
The supermarket was packed as usual; irritating electronic music playing over the speakers, forcing shoppers to shout across the aisles. While I was trying to decide what to have for dinner, I noticed Ann-Sofie sketching. She was drawing a middle aged woman in a a bright red hat and a matching dress who was standing by the cakes and desserts in the patisserie section. I couldn't see why she was of any particular interest. Ann-Sofie came over and joined me. She was looking for illustrations of the zombies in her novel, and this woman fitted one of the descriptions perfectly (Poor thing! If only she knew!) Looking at the sketch, I was again taken with Ann-Sofie's drawing -- so much better than her writing, although I don't want to discourage her with either.
We were loading the food into the car (including the Tarte Aux Pommes) when Ann-Sofie nudged me, pointing off to the left. Standing not far from us, loading their dirty white van with crates of lager, were Marie and the Twins. I explained that they were neighbours and told her about Hilda, the magic cow. She seemed to be fascinated by the twins, with their usual blue overalls with matching caps. They both sported pencil moustaches (a fashion statement for the summer, perhaps?) and Marie's outfit was as strange as ever. She was wearing a yellow flared trouser suit, blue socks and bright blue sandals with high heels. I can't imagine where she gets these clothes from. Ann-Sofie insisted on being introduced to the twins. I warned her they weren't exactly friendly, but she wouldn't listen and had already started to approach them. I decided I'd better go over and join her. Marie, yellow headscarf fluttering in the breeze, turned and glared at us over her dark shades. When I asked after Jean-Luc she started blurting out something about the lottery and a system. She spoke so fast it was difficult to follow. The twins didn't appear to notice us and continued loading the van. Ann-Sofie went over to them and held out her hand. She introduced herself halting French and said she would like to draw them. They stood side by side and stared at her with expressionless eyes, but they said nothing.
As soon as Marie noticed she began to shake her head and called out "Non, non, non!"
Several people stopped to watch as the mad woman dressed in yellow pointed in the general direction of our car and urged us to leave them alone. I suggested Ann-Sofie to follow me as I marched off. What was their problem?
We stopped off in Languidic as Ann-Sofie was keen to sketch the church. I left her to it and said she'd find me in the café bar. Whilst I was chatting to Andre, the proprietor, the door swung open and in marched Marie and the twins. They didn't seem the type to frequent bars, but then, without having to ask Andre nodded at Marie and went over to the coffee machine. I watched as he served them three coffees. No words were spoken. There were only a few other customers in the bar and they were all amused by Marie and the twins. I was thinking about Jean Luc and his mad family when Ann-Sofie came in and sat beside me. She showed me her sketch, which was very good. I asked if she'd thought about applying to Art College, but she seems unsure. It wasn't long before she spotted the twins and with the sketch pad on her lap, she started to draw them. I hoped they wouldn't notice. Not that they'd say anything, but Marie certainly would. Thankfully they didn't stay long and left without speaking to anyone. Once they'd gone Andre looked over and raised his eyes. When he came over to clear our table we told him what had happened at the supermarket. He smiled and told us that, about a month ago, a Psychology Professor from Paris had been staying nearby with his family. He came into the café quite often and spotted Marie and the twins on several occasions. He tried to speak to them, not appearing to be bothered by Marie's rudeness. Andre was concerned and he warned the Professor about them. The Professor explained that he had studied twins for many years and was fascinated by the idea of telepathic connections between them. Andre told us that Marie had become angry and told the Professor to leave them alone. Andre had heard that the Professor had been up to Marie's farm several times to try and make a connection with them. He had also heard from the owner of the gite where the Professor was staying, that his tyres had been slashed and a note left on his windscreen advising him to leave. The note had been badly spelt, made no sense and was obviously written by Marie. The local police were informed but said they could do nothing. The whole incident became a source of much amusement in the village. The unfortunate Professor and his family returned to Paris as soon as their tyres had been replaced (with the usual at extra charges reserved for Parisians).
Before we left the café, I asked Andre if he'd heard from Jean Luc recently. He'd seen him a few days ago and he mentioned he was working on a new system designed to predict winning lottery numbers (so Marie hadn't been lying about that).
Back at the cottage, Ann-Sofie rushed next door, saying she'd be back later. I'd finished dinner and was watering my garden when she returned. She held open her sketch pad and showed me her finished work. I had to laugh. The twins, wearing their blue overalls and blue caps, had been transformed into a pair of grotesque zombies with bloodshot eyes and blood dripping from their mouths. With a backdrop of dark and cloudy skies, they were staggering through a deserted country field. Ann-Sofie explained that the twins were now characters in her novel, two of the most feared and dangerous zombies.

Sunday, 26 April 2015

Sunday 26th April: 50eme Anniversaire de Marriage

Last night's gig was to celebrate Michel's parents-in- law Golden Wedding Anniversary. At Alexander's suggestion, the party was held at Andre's restaurant in Carnac. 

The place was decorated with red and yellow balloons and banners strung across the ceiling proclaiming Felicitations Bernard et Yvette and Heureux 50eme Anniversaire de Marriage. Each table held a vase of red and yellow tulips. Somebody had gone to a great deal of trouble. Alexander and Kieron were already setting up. Kieron was in a cheerful mood, entertaining us with stories about his crazy customers. Michel arrived a few minutes later and wanted to show me the table in the centre of the room set up with a disply of framed photographs of his parents in law on their wedding day with several of their daughter, Antoinette, and a couple of their little granddaughter, but none with Michel. I had the feeling he wanted me to comment on this, but I said nothing.
The guests were taking their seats as Ines turned up with Gavin. They'd been asked to sing a duet; the theme tune from the 1964 film LesParapluies de Cherbourg by Michel Legrand (Bernard and Yvette's favourite song). They'd been practising and were looking forward to performing as it. Gavin was in his usual form; hard to ignore his fake laughter as he circulated amongst the guests, dominating their conversations.
The guests stood and applauded when Bernard and Yvette made their entrance with Antoinette. The room soon fell silent as Ines and Gavin began their duet. They performed the beautiful love song so well (obviously been rehearsing together). Bernard and Yvette were beaming; they looked so pleased. When the song came to an end the applause was deafening. Gavin bowed, kissed Ines, and then announced in French that he had an important announcement to make. Clasping Ines's hand, he announced in his booming voice that a date had been set in September for their wedding. This drew further applause from the guests. Gavin gave several more of his theatrical bows, paused to congratulate Michel's parents in law, then, leaving Ines on the stage, made a grand exit through the front doors. I wondered where he was off to: there's something so fake about him.
As soon as waiters started serving we began our first piece, LesFeuilles Mortes as sung by Yves Montand; another request from Bernard and Yvette, but there was so much chatter at the tables I'm not sure if anyone noticed. Our next piece was Besame Mucho by Consuelo Velasquez. Ines was singing well, probably because she was in a happy mood.
During our break Alexander and I wandered out into the moon lit garden while Kieron had disappeared into the kitchens. Michel was already out there, pacing up and down, smoking. I asked him what he thought of the evening so far, but was unprepared for the rant which followed. Violently grounding what was left of his cigarette into the grass, he told Alexander and myself he was desperate to return to Canada. He hated living with Antoinette's parents. While they fussed over his wife and daughter, they constantly interfered. He often felt as though Antoinette was ganging up against him by siding with them. Although they were saving, his job in the music shop didn't pay well enough for them to find a place of their own. Antoinette had just found out she was pregnant again. We congratulated him but, although he was pleased, he was now worried that Antoinette would use the new baby as an excuse to stay at her parents' home. 
When we returned to the restaurant, Michel made no attempt to go over and speak to his wife and parents in law. In fact, it was Ines who was talking to them, showing off her engagement ring. During the second half we livened things up with Capullito de Aleli and the upbeat So Danco Samba before the speeches. The first to speak was an old man, a friend of the couple who'd been their best man, but I couldn't hear a word he said. This was followed by Bernard's speech; a long rambling recollection of his wedding day and stories of married life. He mentioned their grand daughter and I wondered if they knew about the new baby. I noticed Michel making a study of his drumsticks, seemingly bored with the proceedings. Photos were taken of the couple and several with Antoinette. Just as the replica of their wedding cake was about to be cut, Michel dropped his drum sticks with a loud clatter and strode over to his family and announced he would like to say a few words. The room fell silent. Bernard looked worried and whispered something to him but Michel turned away and shook his head dismissively. First he congratulated his parents in law, then, putting his arm around Antoinette, he announced they were having another baby, and, soon after the birth, they would be leaving for Canada to bring up their family there. I couldn't help feeling sorry for Yvette. She looked devastated. I thought she was about to cry. Bernard put his arm round her. Antoinette stared ahead, her body rigid. She was fuming. The guests were unsure of how to react. A few clapped and some called out congratulations at the mention of the baby, but most were silent. Michel avoided looking at us as he returned to his drums. We listened to a recording of Sacha Distel singing C'etait plus Fort que Tout (the French version of I Can't Stop Loving You) whilst Bernard and Yvette cut their wedding cake. 
I was glad to get away at the end of the evening. I went over and congratulated Yvette before I left. She thanked me in a quiet voice. Bernard was nowhere to be seen. I asked Antoinette if she'd enjoyed the music and she hardly looked at me when she replied. She was still extremely angry. Michel was also quiet as we packed away; just muttered goodbye to us as he left. His wife and her mother were busy collecting their photos and presents and ignored him as he passed by. I understand Michel's frustration but I don't think he should have made his announcement. I hate to think what will happen when they get home. One of them is going to have to compromise and I don't think it's going to be Antoinette.

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Thursday 16th April: A Broken Peace

I made the most of the sunshine this morning by sorting out the garden. Pepin joined me by racing about like a mad thing, constantly bringing his ball for me to throw. Solange stopped to chat on her way out. Paul, Isabelle, Mathilde, and their new baby Leo, are due to arrive this afternoon and are staying in the gite until Sunday. I mentioned this to Celine when she phoned. She said she'd bring a card and present on her way over. 

Everything was peaceful outside for a while, until the window cleaner's tuneless humming broke the silence. He told me Solange had instructed him to clean my windows. I was unsure of his accent and asked where he was from, and if he spoke English. He told me he was from Portugal, from a town called Loule in the Algarve. His name was Joao. I surprised him by asking in Portuguese if he wanted tea or coffee. He wanted to know how come I speak the language and I told him about my days in Portugal and Brazil. Loule is a pretty little town I've visited many times. I also mentioned that lived in a village called Olhao, not far from Faro. Joao knows Olhao and Faro well and was interested to hear about my time there. He's been five years in France, and is married to a Frenchwoman. We spoke in a mixture of English and Portuguese and I was amazed how good his English is which he picked up from watching British and American T.V programmes. I asked if he missed Portugal, but he said no; he has everything he wants here in France. He set up his own window cleaning business three years ago and has now built up a large client base. He was just finishing when Celine arrived. She chatted to him for a while, asking what he thinks of Brittany and whether he likes living here. He finished up and had to leave in a hurry as he was late for his next customer.
Celine had stopped off at a second hand shop in Lorient and bought two framed photographs of village scenes in the 1920's. One of a smiling lady, taken in the doorway of her town house and the other of a grocer dressed in a long apron, standing outside his shop showing off his display of fruit and vegetables. I pointed out that there was a corner missing from the frame and I would try and fix it. I can't imagine Celine has much more space on her walls. Her cottage is unbelievably cluttered.
When we went back outside I noticed Paul's car parked in front of the gite. Mathilde came running up, followed by her dad, Paul. She was hopping up and down, insisting we come over immediately to see baby Leo. We congratulated Paul. He's relieved everything went well and Isabelle and the baby are both fine. I remember him telling me about several earlier miscarriages. Mathilde beamed as he told us how she's been so good with the baby and helps her mum. She told us to hurry as baby Leo was awake and waiting to meet us. We followed her across to the gite and congratulated Isabelle who was sitting on the sofa, holding the baby. She looked tired but happy. I could tell Isabelle was pleased with the present, a sailor suit with a matching hat. Thank Goodness Celine picked it. I wouldn't have had a clue what to get!
It's good to see them so happy.
Over dinner Celine mentioned she's seen Adele a few times in the last few weeks and is starting to wonder if she's being followed. She's spotted her in the supermarket three times and again in Vannes twice, but hadn't spoken to her. I said she should have mentioned this earlier, but she dismissed it as a coincidence and didn't seem too concerned. I said to note down each time she sees Adele because I'm convinced there's more to it than coincidence. She's already had to change her phone number and I'm concerned about what Adele will be up to next.

I showed Celine the lemon drizzle cake I'd made earlier. She said she'd never tried it before, but she must have liked it as she finished off three slices. 

Saturday, 4 April 2015

Saturday 4th April: Animal Rights‏

I was surprised to see Stefanie and Tomas at Karl's house yesterday. They chatted for a while, but I sensed a tension between them. Tomas was even hairier than before; dreadlocks and beard covering most of his face. There was also a musty, damp smell about him, as if he'd been sleeping rough. Stefanie looked tired and drawn with dark shadows under her eyes and had lost a lot of weight. She was quieter than I remembered. It wasn't long before they announced they were going for a walk.
I asked Karl if anything was wrong. He said they'd arrived two days ago and the atmosphere between them has very strained. Tomas was sleeping outside in a tent and insisted on Stefanie sleeping there too. Apparently, because she was cold, she'd crept back into the house at three in the morning and this had caused an argument between them. Tomas had also caught her using the washing machine and started ranting about the chemicals in washing detergents. He'd stormed out of the house, slammed the door and left Stefanie crying in the kitchen. She'd told her dad she'd moved out of the student house she'd shared with two other girls and moved into the squat to be with him and, although she loved Tomas, she missed having hot water, proper heating and a washing machine. Tomas insisted she mustn't wear make up or use deodorants and demanded she only use water to wash her hair; no shampoo or conditioner. She's already a vegetarian but Tomas is now putting pressure on her to become a vegan. I was surprised that Stefanie had gone along with all this. I remembered how, at Christmas, she had a very good appetite and had gone for second helpings which included meat. 

I said she must love Tomas very much as she'd given up a lot for him. Karl thinks she'll follow him to the ends of the earth, but he's worried how she's being so influenced by him. She did well at school and, up until recently, has been getting good grades at university. He wasn't sure whether to say something to Tomas. I said they would probably see it as interfering and it could make things worse.
We walked down to the lake and watched the ducks and geese. Karl had to point out out Gertrude, the goose we'd rescued from Jean Luc last summer. Little does she know how lucky she is as she nearly ended up on the dinner table. She's now grown so much I wouldn't have recognised her. We were wondering how Jean Luc and his mad wife are getting along when we heard shouting behind us. Stefanie was clinging on to Tomas's coat whilst he was trying to push her away. I don't speak any German but it was obvious Stefanie was very distressed. We went over to see what was going on. Tomas had packed up his tent and was collecting his belongings. Stefanie was sobbing, pleading with him not to go, but he barely glanced at her. He just picked up his rucksack, gave a dismissive wave and marched off down the road.
Stefanie was inconsolable, clinging to her dad. I wondered if I should leave but Karl asked me to come back into the house with them. He told Stefanie to sit down and made her a coffee. Once she settled down, they spoke in German for a while. She then left the room.
Karl said he'd he'd told her to have a hot bath and catch up with her sleep. Apparently Tomas had been planning to break into a mink farm nearby and release all the animals. He'd been up to the farm a few times, making sketches and plans of the area. He'd wanted Stefanie to take part in the break in which he planned to carry out the following night, but she was worried. When she told Tomas she was concerned about them being caught he'd become angry and told her to go back to her father's. He'd told her she was weak and pathetic and was no use to him.
While neither Karl nor myself are supportive of the mink farms here in Brittany, I know he is more concerned about Stefanie getting into trouble with the police. He believes there are more effective ways to go about closing these farms and doesn't think releasing the mink will do any good. I'm inclined to agree.
I stayed for a while and told him about meeting Josephine from the book shop, but Karl wasn't really listening; I could see his mind was on Stefanie.
That all happened yesterday.
This morning I was clearing the garden when I had a call from Karl. When he'd got up he found a note on the kitchen table from Stefanie. Tomas had come back for her and they decided to return to Berlin. Karl had a feeling this would happen and the previous night he'd put some money in Stefanie's bag whilst she was asleep. He was concerned about her hitch hiking and wanted her to have enough to make the journey back. There was no mention of the mink farm.

Friday, 27 March 2015

Friday 27th March: Tempting Fate

This morning Celine and I decided to visit the town of Quimperle. Although the town is a popular tourist spot neither of us have been there before. Celine had read a report in the local paper advertising a stall selling books on Breton culture at the brocante (flea market), and this was the reason for our visit. 

We took a chance and went in my car. I tried to ignore the strange whining noises the engine was making while Celine was talking about going to Paimpont, where Merlin was supposed to have lived. She wants to include something about the forest in her book. So far she's collected hundreds of interviews from many elderly residents detailing their childhood memories. She's decided to include only the most interesting so at the moment she's trying to decide what to keep and what to throw out.
I don't usually listen to music in the car as I find it distracting but didn't mind when Celine switched on the radio as it took my mind off the noise from the engine. She searched the channels until she found a local one playing traditional Breton music. A very interesting interview followed with the lead singer of the band (of which I didn't get the name) who was discussing the changing attitudes towards Breton music and culture. Celine translated as we drove (chugged) along.
Until a revival of interest in the 50s and 60s Breton music was in danger of disappearing altogether and it wasn't until the mid-century the Breton language was banned from schools; even children being punished for speaking it. I believe parents were banned from giving their children local names right up until the end of the century. Now things are very different, and Breton culture is very much alive with the distinctive Breton flag being seen everywhere and the language being taught in schools for a few hours a week. I suggested to Celine now would be a good time to contact the local radio stations to discuss her book.
Quimperle is certainly a very picturesque town with a riverside setting. We walked around the medieval centre and took a look inside the 11th century Abbey. Although photography is prohibited, Celine sneaked a few photos of the beautiful 16th century altarpiece on her phone. The oldest building in the town is a lovely half timbered house with a cafe nearby where we did a bit of people watching.

Eventually, we found the market. The place was packed out even though it's a week day. There were all sorts of stalls; home crafts, antiques, books, clothes, and of course, food. I was pleased to discover several albums of stamps from Dominica, St. Lucia and Martinique. I was inspecting these when Celine called me over. She was at one of the bookstalls, talking to a small dark haired person dressed in black trousers, black boots, a biker's jacket and a black beret: Josephine from the bookshop in my village. I paid for my albums and went over to join them. Josephine was in a cheerful mood, much more animated than when we first met. She showed me two bags of books she'd bought. Apparently, one of the stall holders was from England and selling off his history text books from university. I helped her carry them to her car; an ancient 2CV Deux Chevaux (no surprise). She said she'd always wanted one of these back home in New Orleans and dreamed one day of owning one. Hers is from 1990, the last year of production, and so far, hadn't given her any trouble.
We said goodbye and after about ten more minutes of browsing Celine and I decided to make our way back. Celine showed me a book she'd found called A Childhood in Brittany, with numerous pictures, recounting the author's recollections of growing up in the thirties. It's just the sort of thing she's looking for. I was also pleased with my stamps, so, a worthwhile trip.
We hadn't driven far when Celine pointed to the side of the road up ahead. It was Josephine. She was standing glaring at her car; fumes were streaming from the hood. With people hooting as they passed by, we managed to push the car along the road and into a supermarket car park. 

We said we'd give her a lift back to her hotel in Carnac and, if she felt her French wasn't good enough, Celine offered to phone the towing company and garage for her.
Josephine was so distressed that Celine had to remind her to bring her books. She then had to go back again to collect her pipe and tobacco. (I don't think I've known many women who smoke a pipe). She said she didn't know why she was so upset by this as she's had to deal with much more in the past; including Hurricane Katrina back in New Orleans.
Celine told her about my writing and Josephine suggested I give her some copies to sell in her shop. She also offered to put some posters up in the window. I asked if she was keen on doing any singing and told her to phone Alexander. I also mentioned that Andre, the owner of the restaurant in Carnac, might be interested in booking her. Celine asked if she'd had many customers in the shop. She admitted things had been quiet. We suggested she do an official opening night with cheese and wine. Celine was enthusiastic about this, saying she could help Josephine prepare everything but Josephine didn't say much.
We dropped her off at the hotel. Celine took down all the car details, promising to phone the garage.
Back at the cottage the sun came out and we were able to sit outside for a while. Celine mentioned the opening night idea but I can't see it happening! I got the impression Josephine was focused on the books she's interested in and not the books her customers might like. Perhaps she doesn't need the money. She doesn't seem to have much of a head for business.
We had a Spanish omelette for dinner and finished off a bottle of wine.
After Celine phoned the garage to arrange for Josephine's car to be towed in, I told her how, with all the strange noises it's been making, I thought my car was about to die.
She warned me not to tempt fate.
Listened to some Billie Holiday later: so similar to Josephine's voice.

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Thursday 19th March: Doppelgänger

Karl was quiet on the journey yesterday. We were on our way to pick up some furniture from a house near Dinan. Whilst the blues music was playing at full volume on his CD player, he wasn't singing along to it; definitely out of character. I asked him what the problem was.
Apparently his daughter, Stefanie, has moved into a squat with her boyfriend, Tomas. She's still attending lectures and keeping up with her university course, but he's concerned she's on the point of dropping out. She's always been a clever girl but impulsive and prone to making rash decisions. She's besotted with Tomas, but Karl believes she's going to get hurt. I'm inclined to agree. Although I've only met Tomas once, he seemed very self-centred and domineering. I suggested Karl should ask them down to visit for a while. This way he can see what's going on.
It took us a while to find the house. The owner had e-mailed directions which were impossible to follow and we drove down the lane several times before we found the place. The house; traditional stone built had an air of neglect about it. The front was overgrown with weeds and the paint on the shutters and door, once a bright blue, was beginning to flake.
The owner was waiting outside when we arrived; a slim, pretty woman, with dark hair, almost black. At first, she appeared to be tall. However, she was standing next to a door frame you needed to duck under, and it turned out she couldn't be much more than five foot tall. She introduced herself as Natalie.
We followed her through a long narrow hallway into a dining room. The room was large and bright; most of the space taken up with half empty bookcases. Two windows looked out onto the back of the property; a large garden with lawns and a circular flower bed invaded with bindweed and nettles. In the centre of the room stood a solid mahogany table and chairs. Natalie also showed us a sideboard which stood in an alcove leading from the dining room. She was talking about the house and describing how her children had been happy growing up there. I thought there was a sadness about her, as if she had been alone for some time. Karl carried out his usual inspection of the furniture but I got the impression he was more interested in Natalie. He kept glancing at her with a puzzled expression and I wondered if she'd noticed; if she had, she gave no sign. She was more concerned in relating her story. She ran her hand along the sideboard, telling us it had been a wedding present from her parents in law. For a moment I thought she was about to cry. She and Karl eventually agreed a price for the furniture and she asked if we wanted tea or coffee. Before waiting for the answer, she turned and walked towards the kitchen.
The kitchen was a large tiled room with fitted wooden cabinets and a traditional cooking range. While we sat at the table, Karl was quiet and, again, I noticed him studying Natalie. True, she was attractive, but I had the feeling there was some other reason for his interest; as if he recognised her from somewhere.
When she sat down, she explained that the house and contents had to be sold to pay off debts. Her husband had left and was living in a modern apartment in Rennes. In the last few years they had many problems, money, illness, problems with their children and there had been an affair. Her children were grown up, living in different parts of the country. She laughed and said she didn't know why she was telling us this and was sorry to bore us. (I didn't mind. I'm always keen to hear about other people's lives). Of course, I felt sorry for her. It was obvious she'd been very hurt.
She watched as we loaded the furniture into the van and waved as we drove off. Before Karl had a chance to turn his music on I asked if he'd met her before. He seemed annoyed, wanting to know why I should think that. I said it was because I'd noticed him staring at her and asked if he fancied her. He ignored this last question and just switched his CD on.
We stopped for lunch in La Place des Merciers, a square surrounded by timber-framed buildings in the old town of Dinan. It was here that Karl told me about Julia, a woman he had known in Germany. Apparently Natalie was her exact double; her doppelgänger. He said she even had the similar taste in clothes and had the same gestures and mannerisms as Julia. Seeing her had brought back painful memories. 

After Karl's wife died he wasn't interested in seeing anybody for a long time but eventually met Julia, Stefanie's teacher, at a parent's evening. There was an instant attraction and they started dating. It soon became clear that Julia had a drink problem. At first Karl thought nothing of this, but when he stayed at Julia's apartment he discovered bottles of whiskey and vodka hidden in cupboards and under the bed. She denied she had a problem, insisting she could stop at any time. Things took a turn for the worse. She was under a lot of stress at school and confessed to Karl that she was drinking during the lunch break and between lessons. A parent complained that her breath smelt of alcohol and she was suspended. Karl suggested she seek professional help, but even at this stage she still denied she had a problem. He wanted to help her but didn't know how. A week after being suspended she phoned him to say she'd been caught drink driving and was going to lose her licence. She begged him to come round. It was half three in the morning and when she opened the door he was shocked at her appearance: she was a mess. The apartment was unrecognisable; half eaten takeaways and empty bottles scattered everywhere. Karl lost his patience and told her that, unless she got professional help, their relationship was finished.
Several days later he had a phone call from her sister. Julia had taken an overdose and had been found dead in her apartment. This was a terrible shock to Karl. Soon after her death Karl moved to Brittany while his daughter, Stefanie, stayed with her aunt in Berlin to finish her schooling.
It had been such a shock yesterday for Karl seeing Natalie and bringing back all these memories. For a long time after the event he had blamed himself; replaying their last meeting in his head. I said I didn't see what else he could have done. 

Back at my cottage I was thinking about all this when there was a knock at the door and Ann Sofie came in, followed by Benjamin and Madeleine. They had been making Madeleines, a kind of Breton butter cake. Madeleine was very excited about the cakes having her name. It's difficult to understand her speech sometimes, but she's only three! They brought a whole plate of cakes for me and stayed for a while to help me eat them.

They certainly cheered me up! 

Monday, 9 March 2015

Monday 9th March: Ligonberries

Stayed at home today as Solange has gone to Paris with her sister and niece and I'm looking after Pepin until Pieter gets home from work. Solange's niece is hoping to get into the Sorbonne and they've gone to look around the college. They're staying overnight and will be back tomorrow. Pepin has spent most of the day sitting at the fence, staring at the driveway and pining for Solange. I carried him into the cottage several times but it wasn't long before he ran outside again and took up his usual position. There's devotion for you!

Ann-Sofie's mother and brother left yesterday after staying in the gite next door. I saw them a few times during their stay and on the Saturday evening I was invited over for a traditional Swedish dinner. Ann-Sofies's mother, Linda, looks so much like her daughter. When I mentioned Ann-Sofies's drawings they showed me Linda's website where she designs greeting cards. She has many different designs and sells them all over the world.
Linda said they'd been to Dinan that morning and were very impressed with the historic town. She showed them to me Ann Sofie's sketches of Place des Merciers with it's half timbered houses: they're very good. 

Max, Ann-Sofie's brother, who has Downs Syndrome, was very quiet. I think maybe a little shy. He shook my hand and gave me a formal bow. Both he and Ann Sofie laughed. Apparently he's been given strict instructions not to hug people until he knows them.
Whilst in Dinan, Max had insisted on climbing the 158 steps to the top of the Tour de L'Horloge but only managed to get halfway. He got scared and had to be led back down to wait with Linda. Ann-Sofie said the views from the top were amazing. She could even see the distant outline of Mont St Michel.
While they spoke Swedish to Max, they switched to English for me. Max was obviously confused by this, and looked worried. I asked Ann-Sofie if he was still interested in Super heroes. She told me he was really looking forward to the new Batman film due to be released in 2016 in which Batman battles Superman. I asked which actor was his favourite. He whispered to Ann-Sofie that he likes Chris (Christian Bale). He also likes Henry Cavill who plays Superman in Man of Steel and will also feature in the new film. Linda has helped him write to the actors, who've sent signed photos of themselves. He's very proud of them and they are now up on his bedroom wall. 

The diner was delicious. The main course was Kottbullar met Poatismos (had to ask her to write this) which is meatballs with mashed potatoes in a gravy sauce. This was served with lingonberries preserve which Linda had brought with her. I've never tried this before. Apparently, ligonberries are used in Sweden in the same way people in the U.K use ketchup. They put it on everything! The taste is quite bitter, a little similar to raspberries. (I decided not to put any with my meatballs). We had Swedish pancakes for dessert (again with ligonberries). Linda said the fruit has been used in Sweden for centuries as the fruit can be preserved through the long winters. Max put half a jar on his and got teased by Ann-Sofie. It's obvious she is very close to her family and very protective of Max. 
Linda mentioned her homesickness, telling her she should stay here as her French has greatly improved. I said she'll regret it later if she leaves so soon. Although Solange and Pieter are very good to her it wouldn't surprise me if she goes back home.
Linda was very impressed with Brittany. She'd hired a car and they've been to Rennes a few times and for walks on the beach at Carnac. She really liked Quimper. They spent a whole day there where all three had sketched a view of the city from one of the bridges crossing the Odet River. Ann-Sofie told Max to fetch his drawing to show me but he refused to.
The rest of the evening passed quickly. Linda gave me some Swedish recipes, and told me how they preserve food (including Ann-Sofie's despised pickled herrings!)
This morning, before they left for the airport, she brought over a box of Swedish Toscas, which are really almond tarts: a thank you present for helping Ann-Sofie with her writing. She said she's worried about her, knowing how much she misses home, but wants her to stay till the Summer. I promised I'll try my best to encourage her to stay.
Pieter came over this evening to collect Pepin, who was sulking on my sofa. As soon as he spotted Pieter he leapt up, tail wagging, although I think Solange is the person he misses the most.

I notice Ann-Sofie is still here. I had a feeling she might have left with her family. Hopefully she'll settle now; knowing they'll come to visit. 

Friday, 27 February 2015

Friday 27th February: Voices from the Past

Benjamin's piano lessons are progressing well: I'm pleasantly surprised. I really wasn't keen on teaching a four year old, but he's learning very quickly. Last Sunday he managed to play the whole of London Bridge is Falling Down with only a few pauses. He was so pleased with himself that he ran off, reappearing moments later with Solange and Pieter who gave an enthusiastic applause after hearing the piece. His sister Madeleine, who was dressed as Belle from Beauty and the Beast, also came in to watch. She stood on my armchair and insisted on singing to us in an attempt to drown out Ben's playing. Ben shouted at her, pulling faces and calling her ugly. Pieter carried her outside, but not before she managed to push Benjamin off the piano stool. They're lovely children but, I have to say, I do prefer peace and quiet.
On Wednesday Celine and I went into town to investigate the new second hand bookshop (Madame Dupont's old place). Celine is suffering from writer's block at the moment and her book hasn't been touched for a while. She's desperate to unearth some original information; especially about Merlin the Wizard, who supposedly lived in the Forest of Paimpont.
On the drive into town she told me she was thinking about her father a lot and felt guilty, wishing she'd done more to help him. She also regrets not seeing more of him in his last years. It's difficult to know what to say. I'm sure her father could tell she loved him, and that's all that matters in the end. I said I'm sure everyone has regrets when someone close to them dies.
We were lucky to find a parking place near the bookshop. Every available space in the window was piled high with books. Various sized volumes, precariously balanced, formed a tower as a central display. Celine remarked that, judging by the assorted covers, the owners appeared to have an over-riding interest in military history; particularly aircraft of World war Two. She was intrigued to know who they are.
As I pushed open the door, a familiar bell rang, the same as there had been there when Madame Dupont owned the shop. This, however, was the only similarity: the interior had been completely transformed. The large counter and till was repositioned to the right and the available space was taken up with a variety of bookcases of different sizes; some were new and stood at least six feet tall while others, of half that size, were falling apart. Hand written notes, identifying the subjects in French and English, were taped to each bookcase. Celine headed for the History of Brittany section while I looked over one of the largest bookcases crammed with English text books on the history of World War Two. I was studying an illustration of a Churchill Tank when I heard footsteps. A man, probably in his sixties, was approaching from a door at the back of the room. He had very short, dark hair and small round glasses and was wearing a turtleneck sweater over a pair of black trousers. It wasn't until he was within an inch or two of me that I realised he was a she. She introduced herself as Josephine and spoke in a strange accent, asking if there was anything we were particularly looking for? Celine came over and wanted to know where she was from. She told us Jefferson in Louisiana, although her mother was originally from Rennes. After retiring from the U.S Army, she'd decided to come and live in Brittany for a while. I asked about her interest in military history. Her father had been a fighter pilot in World War II and had served in the U.S Air Force for over twenty years. Her mother had died a year ago and she wanted to see where she'd grown up. She was staying in a small hotel in Carnac whilst looking for somewhere more permanent.
So far, she seemed reserved but when I asked if she had any music books her face lit up. She led me to three bookcases at the back of the shop and asked if I played an instrument. I told her about the band and my piano playing. When I mentioned teaching Benjamin she showed me a pile of children's piano books which she'd bought from a car boot sale a few weeks ago. I sorted through the piano books and found a few which would be perfect for Benjamin's lessons. Celine had found two histories of the Paimpont forest she wanted to buy. She asked Josephine how she was liking France. She said she missed her old home, especially her dog, Bertie, who she'd left with a neighbour. As soon as she finds somewhere more permanent she plans to send for him.
I noticed a ball of wool and knitting needles near the till and I wondered if she'd had any other customers. There was also a CD player on the counter and, from where I was standing, I could hear someone singing a cover of the Madeleine Peyroux song, Don't Wait Too Long. I asked who was singing. Josephine smiled, pointing to herself. I was amazed. She has such a perfect tone (reminiscent of Billie Holiday in the 1950s). She said she used to sing regularly in a jazz bar in New Orleans. I wondered what had made her leave. (Later, Celine said she sensed a sadness about her. They had been talking about the loss of her father and she wondered if this was the reason Josephine decided to move away). 
We paid for our books and I wrote down my number, telling her to get in touch. I'm sure she could sing at some of our gigs. Such a talented singer, but I can't see her making much of a success of the bookshop.

Back at my place Celine flicked through the piano books. Inside one she found three postcards; each written in a child's handwriting. The postcards were of familiar Parisian landmarks; the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame and Sacre Coeur. They were all dated from April 1975. Celine read them out, translating for me. They were from a boy called Laurent and addressed to his parents. He was obviously on a school trip. He wrote that Paris was amazing but he was missing home and didn't think much of the food. Laurent's name was also written on the inside cover of the piano books with an address; the same as on the postcards. Celine said the place was a village near Vannes; not too far from her. She took the postcards, saying she'd investigate and try to return them (Celine loves a mystery!) We discussed Josephine for a while, inventing various backgrounds for her. I made an omelette and salad before she left, but I think we both could have done with something warmer! It's still so cold here.
This morning I was running through some pieces for the band when Celine turned up. I could tell she was bursting to tell me something, so, just to tease her, I pretended not to notice. It wasn't long before she had to interrupt. She'd gone to the address on the postcards, a little bungalow on the edge of the village. The person who answered the door had only moved in two years ago and the previous owner was now in a residential home. She looked up the details in her address book and wrote down the address.
Celine had gone there early this morning and met Laurent's mother who was now in her mid eighties. She was thrilled to see the postcards. She read them through several times and told Celine she remembered Laurent going on this school trip as if it was only yesterday. He must have been about twelve at the time. She laughed as she recalled how the children were not allowed to take any sweets on the trip. She remembered sewing a secret pocket inside Laurent's coat and filled it with his favourites.
Celine asked what Laurent was doing now. His mother was silent for a while and gazed through the window looking out onto the gardens. Eventually, she spoke in a quiet voice, saying that he'd died when he was twenty two. There had been no warning. He'd been at home for the holidays, back from university and had gone to bed early, complaining of a headache. The next morning she found him, dead, in his bed. A post mortem was carried out, but no explanation was ever found. Celine didn't like to think of the old lady on her own, but she was told her other children visit regularly.
Celine didn't stay at my place too long. She had a meeting with a historian who's published several papers on the legends of Merlin. After she'd gone I kept thinking about the boy. Celine said his mother mentioned he'd done well on the piano, reaching an advanced level. And now I had his music books. I wonder how Benjamin will get on with them.