Tuesday, 12 April 2011

An Englishman In Paris

This month's assignment was to write precisely 500 words based on the following photograph:



An Englishman In Paris


Smythe paced.
She was late, but he had always believed that to be a woman's prerogative. "Fashionably late" she would call it when eventually she arrived, high heels awkward on the ubiquitous kitty-litter with which all Parisian parks are inexplicably paved, a breathless kiss rouging his cheek.

"Meet me in the Tuileries, by Rodin's ROFL" she had whispered.
His expression of helpless bafflement was sufficiently eloquent for her to add, "Look at the statues and figure it out for yourself, silly. God, you are so square it's adorable."
And then she was gone.

Smythe paused in his pacing, glancing down at his shoes. Immaculate only minutes before, the shiny black leather was now sueded grey with dust. The godawful muck might well be kinder to horse's hooves than cobbles or asphalt but this was twenty-bloody-eleven and he shuddered to think what chaos might ensue were he to ride a horse to the Tuileries through Parisian lunchtime traffic. It must be a conspiracy by Paris cobblers and boot-polish manufacturers. He was grateful the stuff was dry; on rainy days he had to chisel his shoes clean.
For a moment he considered standing on the grass but this was not allowed by park ordnances and Smythe would never dream of transgressing such authority. The grass was for the statues to roll about on; mere humans were forced to trail through the cat-litter.

An Englishman in Paris, he mused, was always a fish out of water. He had lived here for most of his life but would never be Parisian. It was much the same for the English in America. There were Italian-Americans, Irish-Americans, African-Americans, even a few Native-Americans, but never – ever – English-Americans. He would always be “an Englishman in America” just as he was “an Englishman in Paris:” a small and misunderstood island of quiet desperation with a slight air of Dickensian fustiness, a constant twenty years behind his immediate surroundings.

He checked his watch: almost half an hour late. That was well within the bounds of prerogative and he was happy to wait. Scattered throughout the park, casual groups of empty green chairs held mysterious conclave but he was loath to sit in one. Some part of him knew that it would be inelegant to be caught seated when she arrived. It must appear as if he had just got here himself. The Englishman again. A Parisian would have been sprawled in a chair for ages by now; indeed would probably have charmed a passing girl and disappeared, reeking of Gauloises and stale coffee.

He waited, feigning nonchalance as he scanned the paths for her, determined not to wave like a gauche American but to pretend he had not seen her until she startled him with her presence.

The statue caught his eye. What had she called it? “Rodin’s ROFL.” The phrase drifted through his mind and he tried to picture what kind of person might really talk like that …

She arrived, fashionably late, but Smythe had fled.

18 comments:

Ms M said...

Delightful!

dive said...

I was thinking more "Frightful" Ms.M.
As an Englishman I am acutely aware of how autobiographical this is. Women, Americans, social mores, indeed anything outside our own front doors is baffling and alien to us. I think most of us still lurk in the nineteenth century.

Petrea Burchard said...

Hahahahaha! Or should I say "ROFL?"

Actually, I never say that. How often is one really "rolling on the floor, laughing" when one types "ROFL?"

I also wonder about "LOL," which--okay, I might be laughing out loud, but when people think something's really funny they say "LOOOOOL!!!" Laughing out out out out out loud?

So, C. (Your story made me chuckle.)

dive said...

Petrea, the closest I have got to a ROFL of late was in reaction to your one word comment: "Typecasting" where I confess I laughed so hard I had to swivel my chair around and drop to my hands and knees to get my breath back. A tad awkward as an acronym, that one.
Chuckling is good. I'm glad my story evoked a chuckle.

Petrea Burchard said...

I don't remember what "typecasting" was in response to, but I remember saying it and I'm glad it made you swivel in your chair laughing.

dive said...

It was for your rĂ´le as Ryoko, Petrea.
ILSHIHTSMCAADTMHAKTGMBB (I was right - it's a dumb acronym).

Katherine Mercurio Gotthardt said...

HA! Awesome name for the statue! OMG, ROTFL, LMAO!

(Usage note: If you are concerned that you cannot roll on the floor laughing and type at the same time, simply laugh your ass off.)

Do British people really feel this way? Do they resent being called "British" when they are in the U.S.? Do British people think Americans really are ugly? Do French people like the British more than they like Americans? This Gringa wants to know.

Oh, and I want to know who this mystery woman is and why Smythe took off.

dive said...

Hee hee, Katherine. I truly wish I could laugh my ass off, or at least giggle it down to a manageable size.

To answer your excellent questions:
I cannot speak for British people but Englishmen certainly feel this way. We do not so much resent being called "British" but feel that it is a carelessly syllogistic term.
We do not think of Americans in general as physically ugly (sheesh, you've got Johnny Depp and President Obama so there's no argument there) so much as loud, boorish and way too quick to reach for their fists instead of their brains (present company excepted of course, the Americans of Blogville are the exception that proves the rule when it comes to the image of your countrymen abroad).
Like all Europeans, the French endure Americans for their spending power but tend to look down their noses at them. The French and the English have a peculiar love-hate relationship going back to the 1400s. We have spent just about every century since then doggedly slaughtering one another and yet we happily stand together and thumb our noses across the Atlantic.

Strange but true.

You really need to know why Smythe took off? You should study the English some more. Hee hee.

Petrea Burchard said...

You see, Katherine, why you and I and Ms. M and our like must visit Europe more often, spreading our genteel ways. The people are shocked--aghast, even, when they meet us.

"Are you sure you're not Canadian?" I was asked on more than one occasion.

I took a certain pride in that, yet it hurt. We have work to do.

dive said...

You've convinced me long ago, Petrea.
Now all you have to do is prevent any news of the Republican Party leaking out to the world's press. That should cure the image problem at a stroke.

Petrea Burchard said...

:)
:(

dive said...

! (I never understand emoticons).

Vanda said...

Smythe, you fool!

He reminds me tremendously of Henry Pulling from Graham Green's "Travels with My Aunt." In the novel the uptight Henry is pulled into wild adventures by his amoral and very naughty Aunt Augusta.

dive said...

Smythe's no fool, Vanda. I cannot imagine the horrors of conversation with such a woman.

Hoorah for Graham Greene. That is indeed a splendid book.

MmeBenaut said...

I was feeling bad for Smythe's shoes. That stuff is murder to walk on.
<3
(that's supposed to be a heart) :)

dive said...

Hee hee, Mme. Thank you for the translation; I have never got the hang of emoticons (probably because I am wilfully English, like the autobiographical Smythe).

You, of course, being a Parisian wanderer, know full well the torment of the kitty litter. But then I suppose if Paris were perfect in all regards there would be no need for a Heaven, so perhaps it's just as well it has that one tiny imperfection.

Petrea Burchard said...

We atheists don't believe in heaven. That's why there's Paris.

dive said...

It's a whole lot easier to get to, as well. None of this nonsense of trying to mince up a camel and squish the bits through the eye of a needle.