Friday, 24 July 2009

Monsieur Chevaline

This is the second in a series of Rouen characters I will be posting.

When we moved to Rouen it was to a flat in one of the most pungent streets in the city, off the bustling market square of St Marc. The shopping was fantastic, but the gutters ran with fish juice and brown cabbage on market days. The courtyard entrance to our building was, at that time, flanked by a greengrocer on one side and a horse butcher's shop on the other.

Well, 'shop' might not be the right word – it was more of a kiosk. When Monsieur Chevaline was open for business the front extended into the street, extended in fact beyond the shade of the stripy awning above it. The enormous red sausages he sold were therefore part-cured in the sun, as well as being lightly seasoned with fag ash as he leant proudly over his wares. Behind him there were posters of prancing ponies, cute enough for the wall of any little girl's bedroom.

I didn't shop there. I don't believe a horse is something that should be eaten, at least not by anyone who isn't living in the Pleistocene. And I'm not the only one; someone who owns a fat black, wedge-nibbed permanent marker wrote 'Barbare!' and '├ža se mange pas!' on the shutters one night. It wasn't me. Honest.

M. Chevaline is long gone now, but I do have one particularly clear image of him, vivid enough for a memory drawing.

Just inside the courtyard, set halfway up the grubby brick wall, was a metal door exactly like something from an elderly submarine. I only ever saw it open once. Monsieur Chevaline stepped out, wearing his bloody apron and holding an evil-looking blade.

He was chewing something tough.

'bon shooer,' he scronched

I suppose it might have been an After Eight mint.

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