About Rosalie

About Rosalie
He can talk your ear off, talk the squirrels out of the trees, talk a blue streak—or a blue line, a dot, a curlicue, rhombus, hash mark, doodle, blot, or stripe in any color from infrared through ultraviolet, inclusive. Yes, he can. And I’m listening. He fell into stride with me a minute or two after I had got up from my table where I had finished my coffee and paused to read the plaque to the side of a door on a weary old building announcing the birth on the third floor of someone completely unknown to me, a Parisian hero of the Resistance. And without introduction or preface, he says, “That plaque is not the story.” What is? “Where the Nazis shot him. You’re interested in things like that? I can show you.” Of course, and off we go, with people every minute or two at the most, saying, “Bonjour, Paul,” and with him answering name for name as we make our way. I tell him he’s the mayor of the quartier. He laughs. “My family’s been in the quartier for at least four generations, one more on my mother’s side.” He slows down to point at a roasted chicken shop where a man is loading in the makings for this evening’s carry-out, including the cut-up potatoes he lays out and levels like gravel across the bottom to soak up the drippings. “That place, that one’s changed a lot. When I was little, they sold hats there, for men and women. But first the men stopped wearing hats, that was in the sixties. And then the women got the same idea. Why wear a hat if your head isn’t cold? You only see hats on special occasions—and it’s the rich who wear them. Crazy people too, you know.” He’s right about that. I see more loonies everywhere wearing hats. Neither of us can figure it. And, he adds, baseball caps don’t count as hats. After the hats, it was a bicycle store, a greengrocer—“Well, every space has been at one time a greengrocer”—a travel agency specializing in South American travel, a boutique selling briar pipes, “but there was a problem with selling the tobacco for them because of licensing,” a café, a brocante, an electrician, a lingerie store, and a butcher shop that became, gradually as it changed hands three times, the roasted chicken joint, which is, of course, halal. As with the hats, there was always something. The owner of the bicycle shop left the bikes locked up out on the street at night, and they kept getting stolen. “Greengrocers, there are always too many of them, and you have to have money because if you don’t, you don’t throw away the spoiled produce at the end of the day, and people stop coming.” That seems to be the problem. Something’s always stopping. People, he tells me, at least people from around these streets, stopped going to South America if they ever went before. Men stopped smoking pipes. Woman in Paris stopped wearing girdles and then stockings. And, and, and… And in between the decline of one enterprise and the rise, or at least hopeful grand opening, of the next, the store was usually vacant for a few months at a time. But people will always eat chicken, right? “Who knows,” he looks gloomy, “maybe the végétaliens will take over the world or just the Chambre de Députés and we’ll all eat leaves and the bark off trees.” Well, the price is cheap enough. “Always a good thing, I agree. A chicken and potatoes are better than leaves, but it’s not a coq au vin, either. This is something I know about because my aunt Rosalie is one of the best cooks in Paris, so I know coq au vin. But the reason I tell you this is that it was on this corner that she met a man more than sixty years ago. Right here,” and he puts his foot down: shoe marks the spot. There is nothing interesting about the corner, the crossing streets are small and carry too much traffic, but nothing else. No plaques on buildings, no statues in sight. “Right here.” Yes? “Yes, and I will tell you in a minute. Look over there.” Where? “In front of the window of the laverie, across the street, which I can tell you has been there for forty-five years at least. Before that it was a horse butcher.” The good old days. “For some, yes, but that’s where they shot the hero of the Resistance you were reading about.” How do you know? “My grandfather saw it. They almost shot him. He said someone threw a pot of hot water out the window up there”—the next building, over to the right a little—“and distracted the Nazis long enough to let my grandfather and another man escape. The Nazis burned the building down the next day.” And Aunt Rosalie? “My favorite history. She was a good girl, meaning a Catholic and a virgin, engaged to marry a very boring man. It was on the corner over there that she met a man many years ago who made an indecent proposal. As she likes to say now—she’s long past eighty—she wasn’t exactly sure what he meant, but it sounded more interesting than anything her fiancé ever said to her. So she said yes, and they went to a hotel and made love all night long. The man, my uncle who died six years ago, was so pleased, he married her the same day, or so they told me. It turns out his mother was a famous cook from the southwest, and he had written down all her recipes, because she couldn’t read or write, which he gave to Rosalie. There weren’t many cookbooks in those days. She learned them by heart—and, as she still like to say, her husband never made an indecent…

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