Martine wants to be in a novel
Going through my notebooks from the Provence trip, I found this piece I wrote a couple of weeks back for Martine, a happily-inquisitive waitress at the Cafe des Ormeaux, in Lourmarin:
Martine wants to be in a novel. She works here at the Café des Ormeaux, white shirt, black skirt and waistcoat, all smiles and style, gliding across the marble pavement and pave road with its small square blocks of stone, subtle variations on green and mauve and rose amidst the grey.
Barely enough room for a single car to come through now, so almost impossible to imagine what this was like, barely a couple of decades ago, when this was the main road from Aix to Apt. How would Martine have plied her trade in those days? Leaping from bonnet to bonnet of heavy trucks to carry café and pression to customers cowering in the corner of the tiny square? Or simply stand, waiting, in the middle of the road, daring the traffic to even try to continue whilst she was there?
She stands now, beside a crowded table, one arm resting on the shoulder of a man in a black sweater, his hand resting on her calf, her high leather boot. Friends. The village. Children together; and their children, probably. An excited black-and-white puppy; white wine, red, cigarettes held, positions and points held; animated conversation. A handful of tourists like me, outsiders, sitting writing, reading, watching the nothing-much happening that’s happening everywhere here.
Only a few details betray the era: the cigarette cartons, the finer points of clothing, the bleep of a mobile phone announcing another message to be ignored; otherwise, without the now-banished traffic, this could be any time in the past fifty years. Or, if we’re lucky, the next fifty. When another Martine, her grandmother, her daughter, could have been, is, could be, plying the same bright smiling trade: “qu’est-ce que vous voulez, m’sieur?”