Hot as a Peugeot’s piston, I’m down on my hands and knees, scouring the kitchen floor with my brand-spanking-new serpillière (aka ‘the magic rag’). It’s the best of times. It’s the worst of times. It’s the age of citron-infused Monsieur Propre (Mr Clean).
It’s also the age of no air conditioning, at least for me, up in my fourth-floor garret. With the high noon sun pressing down on the tiled roof above, my tiny cuisine feels more like a sauna. Sweat pours as I rub-a-scrub-scrub, grateful for every little shifting cloud and breeze. My windows are propped open, so the familiar Sunday hums and echoes fall easily on the ears. Lovers squawk, ‘rock pigeons’ talk and church bells ring in every hour. The aroma of freshly baked bread rises up from the vents above the rear entrance to the boulangerie that faces me across the cobblestoned passage below.
Before long, visions of their voluptuous croque madame sandwiches are dancing in my head. Just as I’m about to throw in the towel on my seasonal renewal plans and grab some grub, our rag-tag neighbourhood street band cranks up their never-in-tune cover of Joséphine Baker’s La Conga Blicoti! Not even my playing of Charles Trenet is able to drown out the cacophony of their enthusiastic jam session.
It’s too hot to batten down the hatches, so this Sunday I decide it’s less effort just to surrender and join them. “C’est la conga!” I sing, still down on my knees. Fully embracing the jarring yet much needed distraction, my hands, soap bubbles and time are soon all a-fl ying. That is, until the shriek…
At first, it’s more of a faint squeal or yelp, one which soon crescendos into a bloodcurdling scream. I jump to my feet and take a gander from my black-iron balcony, spying a woman struggling with a man who’s furiously tugging at her handbag.
“Help! Stop!” the woman yells. “Let go! My mother’s medication is in it! Please, stop!”
A few onlookers pause but, at first, no-one intervenes. What to do? The distance between my balcony and the scene below is near enough to see that the bag is a two-tone number by Longchamp, but it’s much too far away to think about jumping down to help her. Meanwhile, the man has managed to tear the bag from her hands and make a run for it. I begin to roar, “Arrêtez! Arrêtez! Arrêtez!”
At this, the bakery doors suddenly burst open. Six burly bakers run out, covered in flour and armed with rolling pins. They hear me yelling and look up.
“Arrêtez! Pickpocket! Stop the pickpocket!” I holler back, and with flailing arms, I point out the crook dashing down the passageway. “Droit! Droit! To the right! To the right!”
Not missing a beat, the bakers set off at breakneck speed with rolling pins still in hand. Jaws drop. The crowd separates. At the foot of the stairs they catch up with the miscreant. A rousing cheer erupts in the passage, from the awestruck pedestrians and the other curious residents who have now been drawn to their balcony windows.
Cutting to the chase, the bakers not only manage to retrieve and return the bag to its still visibly shaken owner, but administer enough thumps to the would-be bandit that I’m sure he’ll find some other part of Paris to menace, the next time he considers crime an option.
“Merci!” I shout down to our sweating heroes. One of the bakers waves and blows a flour-dusted kiss up at me. In return, I offer them my best salute.
People say that it takes a village to raise a child. But sometimes it takes a village to catch a thief!
From France Today magazine