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

15 March 2007


The event was soon forgotten as neither the moment nor the mood was for a conversation. A few kilometers after Kawakawa a particular noise coming from the engine put a strong doubt on the stone assumption.

The dashboard never indicated anything much except the rough amount of petrol in the tank. So, in doubt, Elle stopped Olympic by the side of the road and listened to the engine. The radiator! The radiator's belt!

Under a beating rain she went round to see the car's front grid. Smoke was coming out of it. She didn't manage to pull the handle to open up the bonnet from inside but she was sure of the diagnosis: the radiator's belt that cools the engine had gone. Luckily it was raining and the cold water on the car's bonnet could cool the hot mechanic a little bit.

Liyan was sound asleep inside the bag where she layed snug. The flute was well set in three parts in its box. Elle stayed thus a whole half hour watching the clouds going past the landscape. She delighted in seeing the various tones of green of this hilly countryside according to woodland or pastures and the various tones of grey above.

It was raining so hard that the earth was making furrows under the car as it crossed the road to get to the ditch on the other side. With the rain as her ally Elle thought she could drive for five minutes at a time, then stop for fifteen minutes and get to the next garage this way.

At long last, a house by the road. Running under the cloudburst Elle went to knock at the door. A young lady looking after a baby told her that the next garage was not very far.

It took ages however to get to the sign showing a petrol station ahead. The mechanic opened the bonnet, found a brand new radiator's belt to fit and wished her 'bon voyage'.

12 March 2007

41. The day before she left

The day before she left, the hostel's regulars prepared a farewell dinner for her. European and Japanese dishes were placed side by side on three tables put together. Kenji and Bab came back from the dairy for the occasion. They gave Elle a card where everyone had put a nice word and signed. She was very touched by this and swore never to forget her good traveling friends with whom she had just shared a slice of her life. But, disliking sentimental departures, she decided to leave early the next morning without much ado.

Early the next morning she found all her friends embushed behind trees. They wanted to say farewell. She couldn't dodge. With tears in her eyes she sat at the wheel of her car and started the engine.

"Departing is the first move to another life", she thought as she was changing gear on the main street in Kerikeri. "Leaving is dying a little". Sure. It is a new beginning too. And she was already keen to know the new life ahead of her. She was going to find a sail boat and sell her car. If it didn't work in Whangarei she'd drive down to Auckland.

It started to rain and the sky gave signs that it would last the whole day. At the speed she was going it would take an hour and a half to reach Whangarei. Lined with green pastures the winding road was going up and down crossing hamlets with Maori names.

A bit before Kawakawa a sharp noise was heard from somewhere under the bonnet.

- "What's that?" Liyan asked straight away.
- "Oh nothing, a stone that hit the chassis perhaps..."

07 March 2007


The month of August was getting on. It wasn't very cold but not very warm either. Winter in these parts of the far north of New Zealand was wet and mild. The temperature never got below 5°C at night. Elle figured out she would survive the cold season with two thin sweaters and two pairs of socks. No more. Specially since she had the privilege to work in a warm green house looking after orchids and out of the rain.

- "Now tell us", Liyan threw in one morning, "your God sent miracle is going fine, is it?"

Elle was just back from her breakfast and was sitting quietly thinking for herself on the edge of the bed.

- "No, it's not going fine!... Well, yes, ...in a way, I have learnt a million things."
- "Hey, you're still here?" Scottie asked as she burst in room 6.
- "Are you going to work right now?" Elle asked in turn, "if you like I'll give you a lift. I have time for a detour."
- "O.K., let's go."

In the car Elle admitted to Scottie that she expected to be leaving soon. She had learnt the job of looking after and harvesting cymbidiums. She had worked at all the different positions in that job. The boss had even allowed her to pick the tall flowers. Only the final packing job had been left out of her scope. But the atmosphere there was unbearable.

- "You know, I think it's a case of the French woman syndrom again!" she said to Scottie with a laugh, "You know... the 'femme fatale' stealing husbands!!! I can't stand it any more. I don't want to be with these girls any longer. I'm leaving. I've had enough."
- "What are you going to do then?" Scottie asked.
- "I'm going to see at the Whangarei harbour if there's a boat leaving for the tropics. And you?"
- "Oh me? I'm staying here. As long as I can earn money in the orchards I'll be staying in Kerikeri. I'll travel next year... O.K., you can stop here. It's alright. I can walk now on the path. See you to-night!"

Pretty soon everyone at the hostel knew Elle was going to leave New Zealind. Neither F-sharp, nor Liyan saw any objections to that. Liyan had become used to the idea of sailing to exotic places. And F-sharp, as she hadn't been able to attend concerts after leaving Motueka, was in favour of this wandering way of life with her two friends.

03 March 2007

39. A carrot cake

Here's the recipe of the carrot cake Elle made using Edmonds Cookery Book:

Ingredients needed:
150g butter, 1 tablespoon of grated orange rind, half a cup of brown sugar, 2 eggs, 1 cup of grated carrot, 1 cup of plain baking flour with 2 teaspoons of baking powder, 1 teaspoon of cinnamon and 1 of nutmeg, 2 tablespoons of milk.

Cream butter, orange rind and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Stir in carrot. Sift flour, cinnamon, nutmeg and baking powder into creamed mixture. Stir to combine. Stir in milk.

Elle's note: add bits of wallnuts.

Spoon mixture into a well greased and lined 20cm ring tin. Bake at 180°C for 35 minutes or until cake springs back when lightly touched. Leave in tin for 10 minutes before turning out onto a cooling rack. When cold ice with Cream Cheese Icing if desired.

For the Cream Cheese Icing, beat 2 tablespoons of softened butter with half a cup of cream cheese until creamy. Mix in 1 cup of icing sugar beating well to combine. Spread over the carrot cake.


Bab pushed the other cows with authority to make room for the little calf and prompted it to stand up. Once on its legs the new born calf followed her all wobbly. She put her fist in front of its muzzle as if to feed it.

Calves were taught from birth to get milk from an oval machine on wheels with twenty big rubber teats all around it. She called this device the 'cafeteria'. Calves were quick to transfer from her fist to the cafeteria where they were fed with a nourishing synthetic milk.

Bab had been working there for a while now. She spoke English with a strong accent in chopped rhythm sounding more like a dialect. Even Scottie had problems understanding her at times. She explained her work, said it was rough but she enjoyed it very much. She used to roll her cigarettes and to drink and swear like a trooper. She was also very motherly with the calves.

Along a track between two pastures a long line of black and white cows were arriving. Seven hundred of them, Bab said. The herd was heading for the building where Kenji was working. To get there everybody had to stride over fences and wade in the mud. Young playful dogs were jumping up at the visitors.

One by one each cow came to take its place nicely on the merry-go-round that was turning clockwise slowly.

Sitting below, Kenji placed the four tips of the milking machine on the cows' udders. You couldn't hesitate, lag behind, nor miss. The merry-go-round turned slowly but relentlessly. It turned just long enough to empty the cows' udders. Once arrived at the other end of the circle the cows were freed from the milking machine by someone else pulling it sharply. Each cow then knew how to walk backwards a bit to get out of the merry-go-round before returning to caper in the meadows.

Kenji was in no position to hold a conversation. His visitors went to the house where he was staying with his Kiwi work mates and left the cake and some cigarettes on the kitchen table. Hanging around a bit more they eventually got back into the car and drove back to the hostel.

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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