DERNIER MOT - Chez the Optician
There are two opticians in nearby Moisson-le-Grand. One is slightly dowdy with an outsized cardboard cut-out of a pencil as a display for the children's glasses. This is the last shop in the Western world which still stocks those glasses like my mad grandmother wore in the 60s - plastic frames in a selection of groovy pastel colours - with detachable eyebrow-wings.
The second shop has designer frames inside, and outside, a life-size cardboard model of Johnny Hallyday smouldering in a pair of Ray-Bans. The two shops face each other across the main square, as rival shops so often do in France, their owners nonchalantly ignoring each other as they lounge in their doorways shaking hands with their respective passing clients.
Initially I went into the more fashionable shop, drawn by the idea that with addition of a pair of glasses I too could be as cool as Johnny. Sadly, things didn't quite work out that way. Partly because I tripped over the doorstep and partly because Bella knocked Johnny flying. It wasn't the best of introductions, but things rapidly got worse when the poor man produced a rage of octagonal frames.
"Very modern, very now," he said, thrusting them onto my nose.
"Or the scarlet?" he continued. "These are perfect! They will make you look younger."
We fled to the other side of the square. Not really because I didn't like the cubist frames. After all, no-one ever knows what they're going to look like in a pair of glasses until after they've bought them, because er... when you try them on obviously the lenses are blank, so you can't see properly. No, we fled to the other side because neither Bella nor I appreciate cheeky youngsters alluding to our years.
"Perhaps Madame would like to sit down," said the nice chap in the dowdy shop. "A glass of water would be welcome?"
While I sipped my glass of water and Bella panted loudly, he studied my prescription and tapped his nails on the counter.
"Something with style," he said. "You must have frames to show off your bone structure but subtlety is the key. Class, refinement, intelligence..."
For a moment I wondered who he was talking about, but there was no-one else in the shop, and Bella doesn't need glasses. "Oh!" I said. "Blimey! Do you have those kinds of spectacles?"
"Perhaps we should try this," he said slipping a pair of empty frames onto my nose and holding up a hand mirror so that I could admire them. Naturally I couldn't see anything except the usual pink blur, but I didn't quite like to admit it.
"Mmmm," I said. "Mmmm. What do you think?"
"Very beautiful," he said without batting an eyelid. Blimey.
"Sexy, if you don't mind me saying so?"
"Or perhaps this is more your style. Well-educated, original, artistic... yes, I think this is definitely you!"
Now I have to admit that there was part of me that remained entirely sane under the influence of this outrageous flattery. I didn't seriously think for a second that the purchase of a pair of reading glasses would make me look like Sofia Loren or Catherine Zeta-Jones. I knew that would require diet, exercise and surgery.
But his voice was so sincere, so honest, that I thought he must at least have found something reasonably all right. And that's why I came home in a pair of glasses that have surely been rejected by at least the last six generations of canny Cévennole women in Moisson-le-Grand. But I don't care.
At last I look really French.
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