L’Esprit d’escallier: Part One.

by | Nov 22, 2023 | Uncategorized | 5 comments

Bread came before anything else

Château Rouge, an area in the centre of the eighteenth arrondissement of Paris, is also known as “Little Africa”.

Lying in the North East of the egg-shaped city, enclosed by the Boulevard Peripherique, it is one of the poorest, yet most vibrant parts of Paris.

Every day, a black tide flows in and out, like the Atlantic Ocean against the far away beaches of the Côte d’Ivoire.

Their objectives vary from the specialist food shops to the cheap bars and cafés, from establishments selling unique religious items to those dealing in obscure CDs and DVDs from Port-au-Prince.

For example, Le Rou Poulet, Chicken Street, far from selling poultry related goods, is almost exclusively dedicated to shops trading in Afro wigs.

In a tiny apartment, under the shadow of the Basilica of Sacré Coeur de Montmartre, on the Eastern slope of the mount, lived Dr Lucien Muersac.

Lucien had resided and practised here since graduating from medical school, almost forty years earlier. In four decades, he had seen massive changes in his locale. His neighbours and patients originated from such exotic places as Agadir, Timbuktu and Dakar. Their demands and ailments varied greatly from the septuagenarian and octogenarian Parisians on the other social scale.

His own apartment block was a microcosm of the district, home to a cross section of its population. Although a haven of Lucien’s love of all things cultural, his abode did not reflect the deterioration of the surrounding building. Once one exited his front door, one left the Paris of pre sixty-eight protests, and entered twenty-first century decay and regeneration.

He seemed to have toiled a lifetime but retirement was still years away, thanks to Macron’s unilateral increase in the retirement age. In any case, who would replace him? His fellow practitioners only stayed a year or two and were either attracted by the richer rewards of better-off areas or frightened away by the sheer poverty of their work surroundings. This is his story…

***

The ancient alarm clock burred on the bedside table. Like a thrush with its tongue cut out, it had long lost its ring. Lucien’s arm stretched out from beneath the covers and blindly felt for the source of noise, muting it with a click of the button.

The tiny timepiece brought wakefulness and wakefulness brought pain. The pain of thirty-eight years of dedication to humanity. His thumbs ached, his knees ground, bone on bone and his hips groaned like an unoiled gate. Physician, heal thyself, the motto of his life.

He swung his aching limbs to the edge of the big, old brass bed, blindly locating his slippers in the dark. As he slid his feet into the threadbare house-shoes, he closed his eyes tightly, then reached for the bedside lamp. He  waited a few seconds then opened them, thus avoiding the initial glare of the bulb. This was his favourite moment of the day, as he took in the familiar surroundings of his bedroom.

This sanctum of Lucien’s other life lay before him. A refuge of Parisian culture within four walls. Nobody could invade his private sanctuary, his one indulgence. The furniture, from the elegant bookcase to the massive wardrobe, were all from an era when France was an Imperial superpower. A post aristocratic Republic, led by a diminutive Corsican.

History faded for another day as Lucien thought of the challenge ahead. The moment was gone and he concentrated on the task of getting ready. Bread came before anything else. Even clothing, as he took his overcoat from the back of the door, his keys and a handful of change from the dresser.

He exited the apartment into another world. A world of peeling varnish and chipped marble. The once elegant stairway stared in the mirror like a fading actress. The sweet, yeasty aroma of fresh baguette caressed his nostrils and his stomach cramped with hunger. Lucien descended the several flights of stairs and stepped out into the dark, empty street.

The yellow lights of Boulangerie Patrice bathed the pavement next door, the only sign of life at this time. Soon this area would be teaming with humanity from around the globe.

He tolerated the right-wing rant of Patrice Deschamps, a fourth generation baker of the eighteenth arrondissement. His bread was the best in all of Paris and several metres from his doorstep. As he padded back up to his apartment, clutching the hot baton by the napkin wrapped around its slim waist, Lucien anticipated breakfast. He pinched the golden crust at the end of the loaf and popped the morsel in his mouth. The contrast of the crispy outer shell and soft doughy centre was one of life’s pleasures. Today was going to be a good day.

How wrong could he be.

5 Comments

  1. Kenneth Childs

    Lovely descriptive stuff. Looking forward to part two.

    Reply
  2. Mrs Michelle Gregory

    Found it Brian will read soon

    Reply
  3. Gavin Atkinson

    Well we have a well educated and very creative and descriptive author here. I am really surprised at how good your passage was and I too am looking forward to the next instalment. I know you did ypur master degree recently in writing but after knowing you for 54 years I never expected you to write such descriptive work. I loved the description of the stairway and of him eating the bread. I think if you made this into a book talking about Luciens exploits in Paris you could get it published. I love Paris and your description of the area and buildings could only have been by someone who had visited the area. Brilliant and cant wait for the next instalment. I love the time period you have chosen and goes down well having recently watched the film about Napoleon.

    Reply
  4. Jonathan

    MORE ! ENCORE ! ‘BIS’ (as the Italians put it).
    That’s a lovely intro, Brian. 😉. The atmosphere you conjure makes me a bit homesick for Milan, though. (Irrelevant. I’ll explain later). BIS ! BIS !

    Reply
    • brian

      Grazie mille Jonathan. Is Bis the same as in French? Looking forward to your explanation. If you’re really interested, I’ll send part two. Speak soon.🙏🏻

      Reply

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