(“We” start Madame Bovary then “we” disappear)
Googling back to where I was fifty years ago,
I come out of the Ecole Normale on Rue Anselme
and head for the Café de la Butte on the corner.
Lyon, hard and bitter in January, exhaust plumes trailing
Simcas and Panhards on Boulevard de la Croix Rousse.
Pierre brings me a coffee and a newspaper.
“L’Angleterre est dans la merde, Wilson,”
the warmth of his daily greeting,
whatever’s on the front page today.
The man from the British Consulate,
blue-veined nose, public school hair,
thin strands, John LeMesurier,
raises his second glass of white,
best way to start the day, he says,
and I sneak away into Charles Bovary’s classroom,
looking round for the disappearing ‘nous’,
the first word of the first sentence
that’s puzzled me ever since for half a century –
such a short time ago, so easy to google back:
back half a century times two and I’d be blown up
in a boggy trench, which I’ll give a miss;
back times three and I could speak to Flaubert,
ask if he was sorry for the way he used ‘us’ and dumped ‘us.’
Probably easier to skype him, you’ll say.