Usually at this time of year, I mark my birthday by lazily re-blogging an old piece, The desert island pickings of a quadragenarian, which is beginning to date me in a rather unflattering manner. So this year, I’d like to share a few snippets from my birthday celebrations in Paris.
My present this year was a copy of Wodehouse’s Performing Flea, with an inscription from my eight year old daughter. We spent the day walking along La Seine and exploring the Latin Quarter. We visited the famous ‘Shakespeare and Company’ bookshop, teeming with American college students, and the nearby Abbey Bookshop – quieter, quirkier and more to my liking.
One of nature’s extroverts, I enjoyed the opportunity to practice my appalling phrasebook French. I suspect Wodehouse was being typically modest about his abilities when he wrote, in the Preface to a new edition of French Leave:
I never succeeded in speaking French, but I learned to read it all right, which is all I need, for now that I am 92 and shall never leave my Long Island home it is improbable that I shall ever have the opportunity of kidding back and forth with a Frenchman, and my views on pencils will remain unspoken.
Pencils, owing to my instructress at Berlitz, were the only subject on which I was able to speak with authority. She taught me all I know today about pencils (or crayons as we call them in France). ‘Le crayon est jaune ‘, I learned to say. ‘Le crayon est bleu’. ‘Donnez-moi le crayon de ma tante’, and lots more on this fascinating topic. If some French manufacturer of pencils had happened along, I would have held him spellbound with my knowledge of his business, but in general society the difficulty of working pencils into the conversation was too much for me and after a while I gave it up and stuck to the normal grunts and gurgles of a foreigner who finds himself cornered by anything Gallic.
I didn’t get to chat pencils with the Parisians either.