Apples of the earth in the dress of the bedroom

The French expression ‘Les pommes de terre en robe des champs’ means baked potatoes. Imagine the gloopy orange mess that is coronation chicken, a staple of spudulikes, filling an apple of the earth in the dress of the fields. Or an apple of the earth in the dress of the bedroom – which is what the 1869 Larousse calls them. A bedjacket potato. An apple of the boudoir. They may call them by a far more sensual name, but the French are rubbish at baked potatoes. The only tattie shop in Paris is a disgrace of lumps and cheap emmental. The best baked potato shop in the whole world is called Take It Away Spud. It’s represented here in glorious black and white by Miguel Arredondo :

Fittingly, Bogart was no stranger to a hot bedjacket, particularly one with Bacall in it. If you know how to whistle, go to Take It Away Spud, where even the coronation chicken is bearable, and the philosopher owner Mitch is a hugely benevolent employer of, as he puts it, the poor and depraved, of whom I was one.

Take it Away Spud, 31 North West Circus Place, Edinburgh, Scotland EH3 6TP


Today’s étoiles – punch with calf’s liver

Says French Elle’s Astromail :

‘Avec cette ambiance astrale, il est possible que vous alliez manquer de punch. Pour renverser la tendance, manger du foie de veau et des rognons de veau ou d’agneau.’

‘In this astral atmosphere, it’s possible that you’ll lack punch. To combat this, eat calf’s liver and calf’s or lamb’s kidneys.’

For breakfast?




Personal Urns – never forget a face!

In my first post, I mentioned an urn that was found on the metro, with the ashes still inside. So I started thinking about urns and I found this website:

They create urns in the image of your choosing, for example, you may elect to have your last earthly remains preserved in a cast of Barack Obama’s head :

Cremation Solutions say :

“Personal Cremation Urns for ashes are a new and exciting way to memorialize your loved one. Now we can create a custom cremation urn for ashes in the image of your loved one or favorite celebrity or hero, even President Obama!”

Or Mr Bean; or Margaret Thatcher; or Simon Cowell. Imagine sitting on a relative’s mantelpiece inside Simon Cowell’s head. Interesting. It is odd to consider a whole family, even in casts of their own heads, lined up in pride of place in the living (haha) room. I wonder if Cremation Solutions do discounts for groups. But would you want to snooze or have sex or eat toast or watch True Blood (well, yes, that would probably be appropriate) under the watchful eyes of your ancestors? Or even Barack Obama? Hoping for enlightenment, I emailed Cremation Solutions to ask if they had any customer reviews. They haven’t replied. Maybe they’re too busy with the urns, for they do pay great attention to detail :

“Personal urns can have hair added digitaly (sic) for short haired people, as in the sample of President Obama. For longer hair we can add a wig to your specifications.” Wow. Maybe they could do a Picasso-type version of your loved one, with one eye halfway down the face, say, or why not add an attribute of a favourite animal or mythological beast, an elephant’s trunk might be just the thing, or what about a unicorn horn sticking out of the forehead? Very decorative. Or they could colour the dear departed’s hair to match your curtains, for example. Lovely. At only $2,600 for a full-sized urn and $600 for a keepsake-sized one (fits in your hand baggage), these could be the perfect presents for all the family. ALL the family. Including the descendants. As Cremation Solutions explain : “Personal Urns for ashes combine art and the very latest in technology to create a family heirloom that will be cherished for generations.” Until the entire house is filled with the heads of the dead. Who could resist?

The Spare Leg in the Museum of Lost and Found (Musée des Objets Trouvés, Paris), Part 4 : Return of the Spare Leg

So in my previous lost and found posts, I talked about a mislaid Lost and Found museum (the Musée des Objets Trouvés) that purportedly harboured a prosthetic leg; an existential  midnight woe on a station platform with a stolen suitcase and a mental mathematician; and the poem I wrote about it all, which began :

I went to the Museum of Lost and Found
to look for you there.
I’d heard there was an urn, complete with ashes
that someone left in the Metro.
I’d heard there was a leg, prosthetic,
fished out of the Seine.
You’d think the owner would need it –
but perhaps they had one to spare.

A few weeks after I wrote the poem, I went home to Edinburgh for a couple of weeks. With only hand baggage. The night before I was due to come back to Paris, I very sensibly stayed up drinking with my mum until 5 in the morning, as it was her birthday, though we would have done the same thing if it hadn’t been. The next day we didn’t feel very well, but she succeeded in making coffee and so I got to the airport on time. I checked in and then went to wait in the passport control queue. The person immediately in front of me was standing on one ordinary, fleshly leg and one prosthetic leg. In his right hand, he was carrying another prosthetic leg. My hungover brain shuddered. But it was real. I felt a bit peculiar. Most of all, I wanted to say, hello, I wrote a poem about your leg…the spare one. I longed to tell him that his existence right in front of me in the queue seemed a spinningly wonderful thing. But how do you tell somebody that their presence with their spare leg in front of you in a passport-control queue is making you delirious with delight? That it makes up for a lost museum and a lost suitcase? (though not a boyfriend – had he really been lost, not even a spare leg could have consoled me for that.) I wanted to invite him to tea, to meet my boyfriend, and my cat. Ok, the cat isn’t part of this particular story but she’s behind the curtain of every story I write, twiddling buttons. Cleverly, as she’s not a polydactyl cat. I wanted to read the spare leg poem to the spare-legged man, and perhaps to re-enact in the bath the fishing of the leg from the Seine (I was in the Seine once, so I’m an old hand. An old hand, a spare leg, what else do we need?) I thought, if I were a person with a spare leg in a passport-control queue, I’d like to know that I was (sort of) making a poem come true. Of course, that probably wouldn’t be true if I had just lost one of my original legs. I would be more likely to want to murder the poet – and I would have a convenient weapon to hand, or leg. You have to be careful with these things. But the spare-legged man didn’t look like he was new to prosthetic legs, spare or otherwise. He looked quite at home. Would he mind? I thought. Would he? Shall I..oh. The spare-legged man had showed his passport to the passport police people and marched away through some sliding doors, like Vishpala returning to battle; or maybe he was just going to Luton. I asked the passport police persons if they often had spare-legged passengers coming that way. No, they said. I sped through the doors, I looked high and low, above, below, but no spare-legged man was to be seen. Only three men in bear suits. Disconsolately I went up to one bear and asked if he had seen a spare-legged man, and by the way, where was Goldilocks? The  bear said he hadn’t, and that they didn’t have a Goldilocks, they were just three bears. Well, I thought. Then I went and sat in the departure lounge. I told myself that the spare-legged man mightn’t have wanted to know he’d just (sort of) made a poem come true. I pointed out to myself that, just because the spare-legged man didn’t know this, it didn’t mean it wasn’t true (sort of). I called my mum and she agreed. So that was alright.

When I arrived at Paris Charles de Gaulle, I went to Objets Trouvés. Not because I thought that the thief – who had stolen my suitcase the last time I arrived at Charles de Gaulle – would have handed it in, caught on the prong of a sudden fork of conscience upon seeing my lovely red boots that unbeknownst to her/him were once in a sculpture called a Nido, filled with scarlet feathers. No, I didn’t think that (not least because he or she would have had to have been a bit psychic. But then…how handy for a thief to be psychic. Wow. I wonder why more psychics aren’t thieves. Or…) I just thought I should go and ask because I was still floaty and hungover with a head full of spare legs, and bears. At Charles de Gaulle, Objets Trouvés is hidden away in the basement,as if embarrassing things are to be found there, ones that might not contribute to la Gloire de la France. Next time you’re in Paris, have a walk around and see how many times you spot these words. Everywhere you look there are monuments to the glory of France. They’re as ubiquitous as the dog poo on the streets. Interestingly, the next part of this story concerns poo, too, but of a size that’s more the stuff that dreams are made on….

The two ladies who work at the CdeG Lost and Found are as sympathetic as you could wish lost and found ladies to be (not like the pike ladies at the lost Lost and Found museum) and when they heard my sorry tale of the suitcase, the mathematician, the leg in the poem and the leg in the passport-control queue, they let me in to have a nose about, which they don’t normally. In the crammed back room, amongst the computers (100 a week turn up), the batches of phones and iPods and all those things, there were paintings and bird-headed canes, waders and a violin, ballet shoes and a flea circus (I made the last one up, but I’m sure there were plenty of fleas in there, making their home amongst soft porn paperbacks and suncream-sticky bikinis). I asked the lost and found ladies what was the most surprising thing that had ever made its way to them. They thought about it, and then they said a mallette scientifique (lab kit) had arrived. Inside were instruments for forensically examining la bouse des éléphants. Bouse? I asked. Ah. Dung. Right. So a forensic elephant poo examiner mislaid his or her lab kit case and didn’t get in touch with lost and found. Did they think it would be impossible to find among all the other forensic elephant poo examiners’ lost lab kits? Maybe they had just had enough of elephant poo for one lifetime, and flew off into the sunset of running a little gîte de charme in the Dordogne. Probably not; I imagine it’s like being a proper alcoholic : once a forensic elephant poo examiner, always a forensic elephant poo examiner. Think of the FEPOOE Anonymous meetings. Stinky. Though the lost and found ladies were more interested in the fact that the the kit was new. Toute neuve! they exclaimed. What a waste. Before it could be used to examine even one elephantpat. They shook their heads. So did I. Then I thanked them effusively and made my way into Paris, and I didn’t lose anything at all on the way; maybe my time in the heart of lost and found will protect me from those who would be tempted to steal my underwear, and deliver me from those who would question my existence. You never know.




The Spare Leg in the Museum of Lost and Found (Musée des Objets Trouvés, Paris) Part 3 : The Lost and Found Poem

The day after losing my suitcase and thinking I might have lost my boyfriend or even myself, I was feeling a bit strange. I thought about the museum, the prosthetic leg, the urn; I thought about what it’s like to lose things, and people. So I wrote a poem. I didn’t know it was going to be as sad as it turned out to be, but I felt better after writing it :

I went to the Museum of Lost and Found
to look for you there.
I’d heard there was an urn, complete with ashes
that someone left in the Metro.
I’d heard there was a leg, prosthetic,
fished out of the Seine.
You’d think the owner would need it –
but perhaps they had one to spare.

I thought you might be there.
I thought you might be there,
curled up around
a slightly saggy, taxidermied bear.

It’s surprising, the things people lose
when they don’t take care.
I’d heard there was a yakusa sabre,
mislaid in a taxi.
I’d heard there was a human skull
crying tattooed tears.
I went to the Museum of Lost and Found
to look for you there.

I went to the Museum of Lost and Found
but they said it was locked
Deep underground ; it was just
for the police, they said.
I tried to assume
the air of a sergeant,
or a detective,
bent on finding out.
I tried imploring
the pike lady at the desk  –
I told her I’d lost you,
but thought you might be
Deep underground, alone
with the urn,
the sabre,
the leg,
the tears,
and the slightly saggy, taxidermied bear.
I thought you might be there.
I quaked before
the pike lady’s pike-lady stare.
At last, I said I feared
I’d never find you ;
I said I was lost,
until you were found .

And then, in some unheard-of gesture,
some buried instinct,
grasped from her musty past,
or dug from a childhood dream,
the pike lady fetched a key
And took me down.

You weren’t there,
I don’t know why.
But in the Museum of Lost and Found,
the urn,
the sabre,
the leg,
the tears,
the slightly saggy, taxidermied bear,
and I,
are waiting for you
to come home.

The Spare Leg in the Museum of Lost and Found (Musée des Objets Trouvés, Paris) Part 2 : The Lost Suitcase

A couple of months after the lost museum of lost and found, I was on my way back to Paris from Madrid when en route to the railway station, a shuttle bus thief gang stole my suitcase. This is the second time in nine months this has happened (the last suitcase was nicked by a Scottish train robber) and I’ve suddenly found myself without underwear. It’s very disorienting to lose all your underwear in the wink of an eye. You feel buoyant, but not in the sense of optimistic. Just buoyant in the sense of jiggly. And I reckon even Marilyn would have agreed with me that jiggling body parts are not necessarily always a girl’s best friend (though they can be handy for a career as the world’s biggest bombshell). And in the suitcase were also my swoonsome red leather boots, which I’m wearing in the photo below as I pour feathers over my head in a metal thing that is called Nido, a sculpture by a fab octogenarian Brazilian artist, more of whom anon. Nido means nest in Spanish – I don’t know why she didn’t give it the Portuguese name, maybe she doesn’t like ninho, or thinks people might confuse that with the Spanish niño (child); it’s true the Nido doesn’t look like a child, well, maybe a spaceship’s child)… :

Me in the Boots in the Nest

So now I was bootless on a midnight suburban Paris (these type of trains are called RERs) railway platform. All the other shuttle bus passengers got on the train to Paris while I sobbed on a bench. The stationmaster was a dear man who was terribly apologetic and rushed off to get the police, telling me not to move. I phoned my boyfriend to tell him what had happened, but his mobile wasn’t working and so I called his house phone. It was answered by his mad mathematician of a house guest who was staying with him for a few days. This guy is like Sheldon the physicist from the Big Bang Theory, without Sheldon’s occasional expeditions into the world of reasonable human interaction. He told me that he’d never heard of me and that he doubted I was my boyfriend’s girlfriend. Being told you might not exist by a crazy mathematician when you’ve lost your suitcase and you’re weeping in a station that isn’t even Grand Central is no fun. I told him that the cat whom my boyfriend had been visiting every day while I was away was my cat; I told him I knew he was a mathematician in town for a conference; I told him I knew he and my boyfriend had been meaning to go to the Paris Sewer Museum that day but hadn’t had time…none of this convinced him. Now I was a telepathic non-person. Then the stationmaster came back with the police and I had weepingly to witter on about bus thieves and underwear whilst wondering whether my boyfriend had a parallel existence as someone else’s boyfriend. The stationmaster was so worried about me that he asked the train driver if I could travel in his cabin back to Paris, ensuring I wouldn’t have to undergo unpleasant interactions with any of the witching hour ghouls who were the only other travellers on the last train. So I ended up racketing through a blade-runnerish night, all sudden neon and indecipherable alien sounds, with a friendly train driver, who told me about an old lady who left a plastic bag filled with 30,000 euros in 5 euro notes on one of the trains. She wandered the tracks for days, moaning for her money like Edward Lear’s Lady for her Yonghy-Bonghy Bo. In the dark of the cabin, on my high flip-down seat, shaking slightly in shock, I was nevertheless aware that her predicament was probably worse than mine. Still, the RER trains that link Paris to its suburbs are so long they barely seem to have ends, so to be in the very front of one feels kind of avant garde – unorthodox and experimental, like the dictionary says – but never more so when you’ve just lost your underwear, maybe your boyfriend, and maybe even your mind. When I arrived at Gare du Nord I was met by my boyfriend who explained that his house guest was a bizarre person who had confused me with the person whose cat my boyfriend was sitting, i.e. he had confused me…with me. I bet even Sartre never had to deal with that.

The Spare Leg in the Museum of Lost and Found (Musée des Objets Trouvés, Paris), Part 1 : The Museum

The Museum of Found Objects, or the Lost and Found Museum) is housed in the police headquarters of the 15th arrondissement in Paris. Except it isn’t. Or it might be. A French website told me it was, and the hours and the address and all that. The website said that the museum contained all kinds of things that you mightn’t expect people to mislay, like a prosthetic leg; a wedding dress (even if the bride changed her mind and galloped off naked with a Mexican revolutionary, the dress would still be a curiosity in the Museum); a funeral urn with ashes inside. People speak of loss. They say, I lost my mum last year. What if they actually did, on the metro (so crowded) or in a fleamarket (ditto) or under a table in a bar? The last one is the most plausible, but a person might take their mum on the metro where a pickpocket – or peekpoquette, as it’s pronounced in Paris. It’s now a French word with its own special way of being said, like dayjahvoo in English – would likely take a shine to her urn (ok, urns are quite large, but pickpockets have deep, um, pockets…).The person might well take her to a fleamarket for one last trawl and leave her on a table, maybe even pick up an urnish-looking vase instead (blinded by grief, and all the junk). The fleamarchand would never take an urn to lost and found, they’d sell it on. You have to hope they’d put the ashes in a little bag and hand them in, but how could a person who went to lost and found tell whose ashes they were? What if it happens a lot, and there are lots of little bags of ashes? Maybe we have a special nose for the ashes of those we’ve been close to, but what if we don’t? Anyway if I were some ashes in a little bag I’d feel (yes, probably not, but let’s just imagine) dreadfully lost at lost and found, but even more lost if I was supposed to have been put in the lost and found police department’s lost and found museum, and then it turned out that the museum itself was lost…that’s one version of loss, I think you’d agree.

To explain: on the third floor of the Préfecture (police HQ) there’s a long grey room staffed by long grey people behind long grey counters. But sometimes grey things conceal colourful things, like in the Wizard of Oz. So I was willing to believe that this room and these people hid a dazzle of surprises. Unlikely delights that for one reason or another got lost somewhere (if not over the rainbow).  So I went up to the counter that said ‘Objets Trouvés’. The counter was womanned by two bureaucrattes. I said I’d like to visit the museum. Bureaucratte No. 1 told me there was no museum. This was confusing. Then Bureaucratte No.2 said there was a museum, but it was locked. ‘C’est que pour nous,’ she said. (It’s only for us – the police). This was more confusing, especially because No.1. had told me there wasn’t any museum. I said to No.1., how can this be, if there is no museum? She said, well, there isn’t any museum. I said to No.2, but you say there is a museum, but it’s locked? She said, yes, that’s right. But, I said again. But, but. No.1. and No.2. smiled, in complete agreement whilst also maintaining their own, opposing, positions. This is not as unusual as you might think, especially in Paris. When wielded by somebody in the pay of the state, the truth is mutable and not a priority, easily trounced by the power of the desk. Apparently the leg and the wedding dress and so on both existed and didn’t exist, but there was no way I was going to get to see this Schrödinger’s kitten of a museum. I left. By the time I was on the metro (where by happenstance there were no urns to be pickpocketed), I’d decided that if anything was simultaneously to be and not be, it might as well be a museum of lost and found.