Monday, 4 November 2013

The Sasha Factor

The Sasha Factor

We have a young lad staying this week, from Paris.

He is very sweet and helpful and is working hard at improving his English (which is why he is here.) He also has an interesting face. As with a lot of French children he is impeccably turned out with the long, smooth haircut and smart pullovers favoured by French mothers.

At dinner the other evening, I was musing over what I found familiar in his face and then I realised he was remarkably similar to the Sasha dolls my childhood friend used to have. Smooth olive skin stretched over fine china bones. Long dark lashes framing pools of liquid amber. A delicate, unfinished face.

I envied my friend her Sasha doll, not simply for the toy itself (I loved my own Tiny Tears after all) but for what it represented. There was an insouciance I could barely understand then but which fell into sharp focus as I pondered the features of the young man who came to stay.

My friend was French. Her father was working for the UK Air Force like mine and so our two families were thrown together on several postings. There were six children, with floppy French haircuts and pouting mouths. They called their parents 'Maman' and 'Papa'.

Everything about their lives was tantalising to me. Funny little things stick in my mind: tea cups imbued with the smell of Lapsang tea, Maman's leather driving gloves and elegant loafers, mahogany wardrobes and chests of drawers, large family meals that lasted for hours, bookshelves made from planks and bricks, talk of relatives living in chateaux. And of course the exotic Carambars they brought back from holidays with indecipherable jokes printed inside the wrappers.

I realise now that what I envied was the faded French gentility, the Frenchness of their way of life,  and it occurs to me that this is something I have craved all my life. I come from solid English stock, hockey sticks and bread pudding, wall to wall carpets and central heating, Saturday afternoons down the shopping mall, Sundays in the garden centre, suburbia.

Now I know you are thinking that France has suburbia too, and our two cultures are really pretty similar, both of which are true. But there is something ineffably different about the French and life in France. Long lunch breaks because food is important and mustn't be rushed. Old fashioned opening hours for shops and offices because people have lives to live as well as livings to earn. The tradition of the Association, enshrined in all communes, because we all need activities that bring us together. Finesse, politesse, gentillesse. I wax lyrical.

So that's why I have always wanted to live in France. The presence of a young man with the features of a Sasha doll has brought a subliminal ambition to consciousness.

Deep down, I want to be like my childhood friend. I want to be French.