The ferry is almost completely empty, and we enjoy a sunny trip to Dieppe. We get to my parents’ house mid-afternoon and are immediately engulfed in a lot of love, it feels warm and lovely, my mother and father cannot get enough of Eliza who is smiling away. A few minutes later my sister turns up and covers the baby’s head in lipstick kisses, and we enjoy dinner in companionable chat, although poor Heather is struggling with our fast slang-filled conversation.
As we’re talking about how to get Zaza a prescription for her next jabs, as if by magic my parents’ GP friend Michel randomly shows up on his motorbike. Michel is enormous, bearded and genial; I hadn’t seen him in years (as a child, he was my own personal Hagrid, complete with giant bushy black beard and roaring motorbike) and it’s great catching up. He’ll be glad to give us the prescription but obviously doesn’t ride around with the prescription pad on him, so we invite him and his wife for dinner the next day.
The day is otherwise nicely relaxed although no fewer than three poonamis have occurred in the last twenty-four hours!
If the welcome is warm, the weather however is pretty rubbish, chilly and rainy all of Wednesday, when we semi-force ourselves to leave the house to go for a small stroll in Rouen. Zaza’s bundled in the sling with her face in my chest and I keep having to check if she’s still breathing! It’s difficult to enjoy the walk with such rubbish weather, so after a quick pit stop in a café that is filled with comic books, we give up and return home. Michel and Annie join us for a dinner which is concluded by a spectacular cheese board (one of my parents’ specialties) and a no less spectacular caramel and chocolate tart brought by the guests from a champion bakery. Eliza is in full teething drool and well awake, prompting Michel to compare her to a hybrid between a Labrador (for the slobber) and an octopus (for the wild flailing of all limbs).
On Thursday, I pop by Michel and Annie’s house to pick up the prescription with my dad. I remember running around their huge garden with their kids twenty years ago, fishing tadpoles and climbing trees; nowadays obviously things have moved on somewhat, and their son’s wife is heavily pregnant. We get shown Michel’s prize chickens (they truly are quite impressive) and the many (many) outbuildings he has built / the trees he has felled / the ditches he has dug. I am again reminded of Hagrid.
At lunch time Claire is back, the rain too, so afterwards we set off for the Museum of Natural History in Rouen – a place I’ve managed to never visit despite living in Rouen for half of my life. The Museum is free (not very many French museums are), and it’s lovely in a quaint provincial way. There’s an interesting exhibition comparing the weekly food shopping of families around the world, and some old taxidermy galleries on creaking floorboards, with specimens from the 19th century with handwritten labels.
There’s even a shelf of mutant animals in formalin – six-legged kittens, two-headed calves, four-legged chicks. We leave and decide to have a stroll as there’s a break in the rain. It’s interesting to see your hometown as a traveller. From just going from place to place, you end up taking notice of the details of the medieval streets, the colours of the beams, the statues lining the doorways of each magnificent Gothic church, the glistening cobbles. It’s the end of the school day and the high school kids from the majestic, crumbling Lycée Corneille sit down at the terrasse of the old La Lycorne bar, familiar herby smells spreading from their rolled cigarettes.
We join one of my favourite streets, Rue Eau de Robec, a pedestrian road with a running stream in it and some old half-timbered houses. At the end of it is a tiny café recommended by Claire, Couleur Café, where dozens of teas, coffees and hot chocolates are on offer. Zaza is popular with customers!