And now, when I suddenly see a huge bunch of wonderful bloated tropical grapes, overpowering some old woman in the street, I feel so happy! In Paris, of course, they are quite different—balloons have much too much flavour to be international—they are smaller and lighter in colour and gayer and more reckless—they always look as if they were out on a spree, just waiting to break loose from the long string by which they are tied, in a huge multi-coloured sunshade, to a stick. There is something very independent about French balloons—you feel you couldn’t make a pet of one.
But I am telling you things you know already, instead of getting on with my story.
It was the sort of spring day when all the buds look like feathers and the sun has been bathing in milk. I was walking down the Champs Elysees, sniffing secret violets in the air and feeling as joyous as if the world were entirely full of primroses and larks and light-hearted passers-by whom I would never see again. In the distance a barrel organ became more and more distinct and as I drew nearer and the noise grew louder, I wanted to dance and sing. It was in tune with my mood. A symbol of the crescendo of living.
And then, in the distance, I saw Cousin Emily crawling towards me like a black beetle with her half-shut eyes that see everything except beauty and innocence. Though I avoided her and the day was as lovely as ever, I had become conscious that the world was inhabited and that there were people who didn’t whistle—or want to whistle—in the streets.
I tried to think of larks and primroses, but my thoughts were dragged back to thick, half-drawn red curtains, black woolen shawls and silver photograph frames. Then I had an idea. “I will buy a balloon,” I thought. My spirits rose and my heart leapt. Should I buy a green one like a bad emerald, or a red one like wine and water, or a thick bright yellow one? White was charming too, and sailed up into the sky like a tight, round cloud—
I reached the Galleries Lafayette.
“Des ballons, s’il vous plait. Joujoux,” I added. I was told to go straight on, to turn to the right and the left, to go up three steps and down three steps—but my mind wandered as it always does when I am listening to directions that I have to follow. By an unseemly scramble I got into an over-crowded lift. I seemed to be treading on children and reclining on tight, upholstered bosoms. At random, I chose the third floor and found myself among a forest of lamps. Desperately determined not to risk another struggle for the lift, I tried to find the staircase. At last, after endless enquiries and—it seemed—going back five steps for every three I had gone forward, I reached the toy department. Breathless, bedraggled, hot and exhausted, I clutched the arm of the first saleswoman I saw. “Des ballons, Madame,” I gasped.
She looked at me with contempt, “Les ballons, ca ne se vend pas, ca se donne.”