“You’ll like her,” said my employer. We were leaving for Courchevel in the French Alps the next day. A large group of friends and family would be meeting there. They would all be bringing the children; I and another girl would be on duty as nanny for the small ones. But meanwhile there was that delicate and eternal equation to be addressed… there was still camembert and wine left… so we needed more bread. Then we had bread but no wine, so had to open another bottle… there was always cheese. ‘I have the best employers’, I thought to myself. “I think you’ll get on very well,” Madame smiled as she refilled my wineglass. “Though she is … fofolle.”
I hadn’t heard that one before… but the French are an expressive race. It wasn’t difficult. Crazy. This could be interesting.
“They told me you are a little English mouse who hides in the corner,” said Louisa a few days later. She flashed that dazzling smile of hers, while I reflected that while unflattering, it was a fair assessment. She wrapped frozen fingers around the vin chaud. We had all been playing in the snow, but the adults had come in from the pistes and collected the children and now we were off duty till morning.
Louisa raised her eyes as the young barman came over. Patrick was blond, blue-eyed, handsome and commensurately overconfident… but nice enough when you actually got talking to him, which, of course, Louisa had. “There’s a dance in Moutiers tonight, my friend and I are going; do you want to come?” Moutiers might only be fifteen miles away, but the roads led between high banks of snow and we, of course, would be reliant on their good offices for transport. It probably wasn’t sensible. Louisa glanced at me… I nodded. “Okay,” said Louisa and so it was arranged.
We ended up walking most of the way back; unsuitably clad with feet, sore from dancing, appreciating the chill of the snow. We even managed to get back in time for breakfast. Just.
It was one of those unexpected friendships that blossom from nowhere, based on nothing except an instant chemistry. Louisa was a French-born Algerian who looked like a prettier version of Edith Piaf. Sang like her too…usually at the top of her voice strolling down a Parisien boulevard. Although we did not…or I did not… know it at the time, we were embarking on the transformation of the mouse.
I wasn’t resisting much.
Louisa had the knack of making friends wherever she went… none of this English reserve, if you please. By the end of those few weeks in the Alps I had been to more night clubs than I had ever seen in my life. We had sunbathed in our underwear on the balcony…the sun being surprising warm in winter in the mountains… cried on the summit at the sheer beauty of the world and Louisa introduced me to Calvados and raclette. One whole night we spent talking… in a tent half buried in several feet of snow halfway up the mountain. We watched one of our party ski down the piste noir… they were all experienced skiers… and I had come down the mountain in a novel fashion at some speed, perched on the shoulders of my employer’s brother.
It is the oddest thing though, looking back and flicking through the journals, most of the madness we shared was actually my idea. It was a pattern that would continue throughout our friendship, yet until tonight I would have sworn that Louisa was the madcap that dragged us into adventures. She was the one who was open to people … she would strike up a conversation with anyone, and believe me there are tales I could tell of the situations that got us into! I, on the other hand, was the mouse… reticent and shy with people. Yet in fact, when I look at the individual incidents, it wasn’t Louisa who was the instigator…
It is really only now that I can see that pattern. Then, of course, I was simply lost in admiration for my friend’s social confidence. Outwardly she epitomised the legendary gaiety of Paris. Inwardly, perhaps, she was as staid as I was shy. We both needed the catalysing effect of the other in order to embrace life at full flow.
It is curious to note that I have spent all the intervening years harbouring a false impression of the dynamics of that friendship… Knowing the facts, yet accepting the assumptions made then that it was all down to Louisa; assumptions based on accepting the mirrored impression of others that I was, indeed, a mouse. Those assumptions stayed with me for a very long time, sapping my confidence in myself and effectively hogtying myself with my own refusal to look beyond them. I have to wonder how many of us carry similar illusions about ourselves through our lives… and how many more I am yet to uncover in my own. It has been a year for it… hence this delving into the recesses of memory, digging through half forgotten treasures and bringing them out in a new light of self discovery.
Not that it affects the value of that friendship. In some ways it was all down to Louisa… she was the catalyst that brought the mouse out of her corner. But it seems it was a mouse that could roar…or at least laugh… and walk barefoot at dawn down the Champs-Élysées singing La Vie en Rose with a friend.
Images photos of old postcards from my journals