A novel featuring a Chinese doll, a French woman and a flute

26 February 2007

37. Ah alright Scottie said

- "Ah! alright!" Scottie said and, leaving the Japanese to their quaint ways, connected with the idea of making a cake.

She walked to the kitchen corner and pulled out of her pigeon hole a small book which was regarded as the bible for cooking matters. After fingering a number of pages she made up her mind to make scones. She had never succeeded in making scones in Scotland, she was saying, but in Kerikeri it had become her great specialty. Shiho's specialty was to make tiny cakes that she loved to pass all around afterwards.

Elle said she was going to make a carrot cake that could be brought to Kenji the next day. The recipe was on page 39 of the cook book according to Edmonds.

All swore by the 'Edmonds Cookery Book'. The success story of this family in New Zealand was not ordinary. It marked out a whole century of lady pioneers who were making their bread in places and at a time when it was hard to find good flour and above all yeast that would be... 'sure to rise'. The Edmonds family in Christchurch had launched into the making of reliable yeasts and into publishing a family cookery book that was still all the rage. All the dishes in that book were interesting to make and pleasant to eat.

"Pity we eat so fast in this country and with so little art", Elle thought.

On Sundays she had found some tutoring for extra money. A lady living in a large house in the midst of green pastures and fields of daffodils was learning French. For an hour's teaching she often spent the whole afternoon there chatting and sipping tea.

This Sunday she had cancelled the lesson. Shiho, Saa, Maa, Hiro and Scottie, all boarded valiant Olympic for a visit to the dairy.

The old car that was leaking when it rained, dragged its load on the main road at first and then along a few kilometers of dirt road. The exhaust pipe hit the ground at the slightest bump and the shock absorbers threatened to give up the ghost.

It was parked along a ditch, not far from a cemented paddock where numerous Dutch dairy cows stood waiting. They were all pregnant. One of them was about to drop its calf.

The cow was standing in the midst of others pushing and mooing. The two front legs of the calf appeared under the cow's tail. Slowly it came out and just fell on the gooey cement floor. The cow turned around, smelt it and licked it vaguely. Then it walked off further mingling with the others. The calf was desperately trying to stand up. Other cows around tried to help with their muzzle but the gooey cement was no favorable terrain for the exercise. Pretty soon the figure of a manly woman appeared.

- "Bab!" they all said.

23 February 2007


A peaceful domestic life had settled in among the hostel dwellers who had decided to spend the winter in Kerikeri.

Elle went on lighting and fueling the wood stove with logs that the Japanese boys split up. She even had a customised stick that she used as poker where she had carved in French, English and Chinese: 'this is my stick'. This way she found it again every night and didn't have to go and get a new one in the underwood each time she collected kindle wood.

- "Buddhism is rather contemplative, isn't it?" said Elle one night, "does it correspond to a national trait?"
- "But Japan is not really buddhist. It is rather zen... that's different..." Kenji answered.
- "Personally I don't like the way poverty is praised. It doesn't suit me at all! Can you see yourself as a begging monk?"
- "Not in the least..." he replied laughing and holding his cigarette between his teeth.
- "Me neither! It's easy really to be a banker's son, to give up everything and go begging, isn't it?"
- "Yes, that's easy," Kenji said with force, "What's harder is to start from nothing and become a banker's son! In my case that's what I'm trying to do... By the way I'm leaving my part-time job at the organic farm to go and work full time at the dairy. I heard they need labor."
- "Does it pay well?"
- "By the hour, not really, but you work all day non stop and seven days a week, full board paid. If I can hold out long enough, that will give me net savings... I'll be able to go on with my travelling."

Elle knew that Kenji was from Hiroshima. He had no uncle, no aunt of any kind, his parents being survivors of the atomic bombing in 1945. She could feel his critical eyes on everything, including Japan, but also his fierce passion to defend his country. He didn't like those who judged without knowing.

- "Where will you go?" Elle went on.
- "I'll take a look at the South Island, I think, as a tourist, just to visit... not to pick apples!" he said mocking.

After Kenji's departure from the hostel, Massa left to go and live at the Lodge, on the other side of town. He had found a good job working as a team with Wataru, a friend of his. The circle of hostel's regulars became much smaller. Scottie had started learning Japanese in exchange of some consulting in English. She asked Shiho one Saturday morning, after the usual greetings:

- "Aren't you working this morning?"
- "Yes," Shiho replied.
- "Alright, but at what time then?"
- "I don't work this morning", Shiho said embarassed.
- "Are you working or aren't you?"
- "Yes, I don't work..." Shiho stressed.
- "How can you say: 'yes, I don't work'? In English it just doesn't mean anything. You've got to say one or the other!"

And Elle felt she had to add:

- "You can say 'yes, I work' or else 'no, I don't work'!"

The embarrassed Japanese girls looked at each other. Shiho finally said as if to apologize:

- "In Japanese you can't say 'no'."

Scottie and Elle looked at each other. Shiho went on:

- "If you say to me 'you are not working this morning', I say yes meaning that 'yes, you are right, I am not working this morning'."

The Scottish and French women couldn't get over it. They were slowly becoming acquainted with the Japanese soul. The main thing was not to agree on facts, but to approve people, to avoid coming up against them and to take into account the other speaker's feelings.

20 February 2007

35. Elle had bought the car on a Wednesday morning

Elle had bought the car on a Wednesday morning. She drove with Scottie to Opua to the other side of Pahia on that very Wednesday night. They wanted to have a drink at the yacht club's bar. Into a pitch dark night they drove, under a beating rain.

All of a sudden in a bend the driver's door opens in a great crash. Bursts of laughter. The two associates drove on, one holding the steering wheel and the door, the other managing the gear stick.

The giggles never left them for the whole night. On the way back, after having fixed the door with a shoe string, they had to work the windscreen wipers by hand. Everyone was asleep at the hostel when they parked Olympic, nicely backing up against the fence.

- "To-day I'm going for a walk in the forest with Kenji!" Liyan announced triumphantly.
- "...Don't do that! just don't do that!" F-sharp replied obviously alarmed, "I am going to explain, just listen carefully. The Japanese are frightening people... I was in Shanghai when they invaded China."

For once, the flute was not talking about Remi. Liyan wanted to hear more.

- "And so?" she said.
- "And so?!... Can you picture how it might feel, to see a foreign army invade your country? It's like a rape. You're ripped naked and you get done. And you can't even defend yourself... the Japanese soldiers broke and killed everything and everybody... The howling in Shanghai... I will never forget that sound."

After a pause the flute had added:

- "Go for a walk in the forest, but don't forget you're Chinese."

Walking up to the Rainbow waterfall was the favorite occupation of visitors at the hostel. It meant a pleasant two hour walk along the river in thick forest.
Kenji was walking in front. He was wearing soft rubber shoes shaped like socks used by deep sea divers. The big toe which was apart from the other toes gave a better grip on the ground, especially on rough terrain like the path going up to the waterfall. European walkers they met, wore thick and heavy walking boots.

Half way up, Kenji's friend, a Japanese teacher on a course in New Zealand, started chatting with a group of walkers coming down. And then, at the top of the waterfall, the rainbow promised in the tourists brochure didn't appear... But who cared!

Back at the hostel Liyan hurried to tell F-sharp that she had had a very good time. The flute did not reply.

17 February 2007


ELLE bought the old English car which had been rotting away on the lawn in front of the hostel for some time. She got the little money she owned on a bank account in France sent to her and she received the car keys in exchange of a bunch of notes. Without further ado. She signed a small docket provided at the post office to say she was the new owner of the car registered under IS7949.

Hiro, Massa and the others were adamant that the car should be baptised. It had to have a name. It was customary... So, the car was called Olympic.

Elle then declared customary that there should be a dance at the hostel.

The hostel keeper promised to leave the radio on in the common room that night. Unfortunately the loud speakers stood in the reading corner, on a Japanese looking platform raised above the ground with a long low table in the middle. There were long sausage like cushions on each side where to kneel on one's heels. It didn't seem convenient to dance there. Therefore the loudspeakers were pulled as far as the billiard table below. Stuck together around them the small group of Franco-Japanese backpackers danced madly there until dawn.

- "Why didn't you stay last night?" Elle asked Scottie in room 6.
- "It's not my kind of scene," she answered.
- "What do you do in Scotland on Friday nights then?"
- "We go to the pub to drink beer."

And Scottie started telling of the first time she took her sister to the pub when she turned 18.

- "She's not really my sister," she went on abruptly, "...well, ...we have the same mother but not the same father. My brother is the eldest. Apparently my mother was pregnant with me when my father and her started arguing. One day he just left... when I was wee... I don't even know him. He was never seen again. He never sent any news. They say he went to South Africa."

- "Would you like to meet him one day?" Elle asked.
- "Yes but..."
- "You could go and have a look in South Africa."
- "Yes but I can't do that to my mother. He completely abandoned my mother with my brother and I as babes. She has provided for everything to bring us up. My father is a coward."
- "No, maybe not, he probably left with the idea he was going to become wealthy in south Africa and he would come and pick you up later," Elle raised as an objection.
- "He never ever gave any news!" Scottie retorted.
- "Maybe he had the nomad's chromosome! You left too, didn't you? You take after him, don't you!"

Scottie did not reply. She had never thought of it that way. In any case she hadn't given up her family. She had left because she had seen herself getting old full speed, working in the same place, living in the same house and for ever spending her Friday nights at the same pub.

- "That's what I'm saying," Elle stressed, "You have the nomad's chromosome. You are compelled to see on the other side of the hill at all cost... And what about your younger sister?"
- "Later my mother remarried. Her husband adopted us, my brother and me... We have his name... And then they had my sister... In any case they didn't get on either... My mother lives on her own with us three... Well... My brother is married now but he doesn't live very far."

Scottie stopped talking. She was now working in an orchard pruning kiwi fruit plants with a guy from south Africa who was building a boat.

13 February 2007

33. Elle remembered her visit to a college

Elle remembered her visit to a college in Motueka when she was still in the South Island. All the walls in the classroom for French had been pasted with propaganda such as: "they blow bombs in our backyard". She had been amazed. These were lies, Elle had thought, but who on earth had an interest in triggerring hatred for the French, in a school moreover?

- "Trigger hatred for the French?!" a kiwi lady had interjected when Elle asked her, "but you are the ones who blew a Green Peace boat here in our harbour in Auckland!!!"

The tone had not left any room for debate. Elle had remained silent.

The boat that had been sunk by the French spies more than ten years before was now laying on the bottom in the Bay of Islands. It was used successfully as a tourist attraction for underwater exploration. Divers of all nationalities came to get a photo taken of themselves surrounded by colourful fish and shellfish. They would be making the divers sign of a zero with the thumb and forefinger while the other fingers are extended, thus meaning all was fine, in front of the Green Peace sunk boat called the Rainbow Warrior.

- "I'm going to buy a car," Elle said one night to Scottie in room 6, "we will be able to drive to Opua on Wednesday nights for drinks, you know... I have to keep an eye on yachties likely to sail to Rarotonga..."

- "You told me it was not the right time!" Scottie answered seeing that Elle was talking about leaving again.

- "You never know," she said evasive, "...have you got news from home in Scotland?"

- "My niece is going to be two years old. I must send her a birthday present."

- "And your boyfriend?"

- "Which boyfriend?"

- "Didn't you leave a friend behind, like you told me the other day?"

- "No, he was no boyfriend, just a friend," Scottie answered, "...he had been my brother's best friend in fact until one day when they became the worst enemies, for an unknown reason, back from a trip to the United States..."

- "A common girlfriend?" Elle asked.

- "Oh no!"

06 February 2007


At the end of her first week there, Elle had managed to keep up with the pace at the orchids greenhouse. The lady was saying that care was more important than speed. The smallest spot on a flower ruled it out of export. Japanese customers were expecting the very best.

On the other rectangular table the lady boss used to pack each tall stem in a clear paper wrapper. She then hung them up again upside down on the trays hooked above her head. She could spend a whole week-end placing them with art according to colour and size in cartons, three, six or eight long orchids together.

From time to time the trays had to be taken to the final packing room across the yard. One or two trays of these dressed beauties were carried by hand above their heads by the workers. The packing room was also the place for tea or coffee break, at 10 am, at lunch time and at 3 pm every day. Slowly day by day the room filled up with conditioned orchids, long flowering stems hanging upside down from the beams. There was sometimes not enough room left for three chairs at lunch break.

On the TV turned on as background to the conversations during lunch break, the Olympic Games were being retransmitted from Tokyo. To view them live you had to stay up all night due to the time gap between Japan and New Zealond. The Japanese at the hostel, keen to follow the latest news from their teams, used to take turns through the night in front of the hostel's TV to follow the Games. When Elle left to work every morning, they used to call her out and announce the latest French performances. Thus at lunch break she would have loved to watch the particular Olympic sports that had earned France a medal according to her Japanese informants. The third lady who used to sit next to the TV set turned it off systematically as soon as there were news of the French athletes.

- "Why is that?" Liyan asked when Elle told her.
- "Well, I wonder actually!... specially since this particular lady had a daughter studying French at school and she had been all proud to tell me that... when her daughter came to visit at work the other day, I said to her: "bonjour, comment ca va?" in French. The girl stood there gaping as if she didn't understand. So I said "quelle heure est-il?" because that's what one learns in the first few lessons usually and she still didn't understand. So I stopped saying anything. Perhaps she's mad at me now."

- "Why would she be mad at you?" Liyan said.
- "I don't know... because I didn't make a big deal of her daughter, I guess."

About Me


This is not a novel really. It has no plot, no beginning and no end. It is a slice of life, the way it happened, portraying real people. A slice of life set with fantasy. This text is my own bad translation of what I wrote in French between 1996 and 1999.


Copyrights 2006-2010 Frankie Perussault All rights reserved.

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