The Little Madeleine

The Little Madeleine

The Little Madeleine

The Little Madeleine

Excerpt

WAS born on 13th August 1906 in Montmartre in a steep cobbled street of leaning houses, slate-coloured and old, under the shining loftiness of the Sacré-Cœur. Matilda, my mother, describing to me later this uncommodious but picturesque corner which we left soon after my birth, stressed the curious characters from the Auvergne and from Brittany who kept modest cafés with zinc bars. Behind these they toiled, storing in dark courtyards or in windowless rooms coal, charcoal, and firewood dipped in resin, which the inhabitants of our street, who never had any money to spare, bought in the smallest quantities such as a pailful at a time. The Auvergnat traders in particular formed a clan of their own, each knowing from which village the others came, all speaking patois, and so unaccustomed to French that they mangled it when speaking and could only write their names.

The woman who owned the café over which we lived had a sister called Mme Gaillard, a fine-looking person who had come from the rockiness of her native village to Paris to sell lace. Her stock-in-trade consisted of a large red umbrella with a cherrywood handle rubbed to a shine, and two chests opening out fanways on leather hinges which she placed on a deal table supported by trestles. These contained the more valuable stock such as laced table linen, curtains, and lace blouses. The red umbrella, opened out and placed point downwards, formed a recipient for cheaper laces sold by the yard, or made-up articles which, whilst inexpensive, attracted knowledgeable customers by the excellence of their quality.

My father would take his aperitif every day at the café downstairs, and buy his litre of red wine for the table, my mother going there for a pail of coal or a bag of charcoal. When my mother was expecting my baby brother and was too advanced in pregnancy to fetch the piece goods on which she sewed buttons and . . .

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