• Vol. 01
  • Chapter 09
Image by

Vive La Reine: Long Live the Queen

To my dear niece Clementine,

     Our trip to China has been postponed, for the moment Albert and I are stranded in Paris. The summer days are long and hazy, the streets tainted with the colour of treacle. I do love it here in July. Albert spends his time playing chess with Boris, an organic farmer who comes to visit his family in the Marais quarter every summer. Albert and Boris are to be found each morning at ten, on the terrace of the Café des Amis. They sit hunched over their game of chess, ignoring their steaming cups of espresso, until the liquid turns cold and bitter.

     I watch them from afar, sipping my petit crème. I read Le Monde and peruse the pages of Paris Match. The chess pieces slip and slide across the chequered board. The knight hopping, the castle commandeering, the poor little pawns the foot soldiers of the game, murdered on mass by the others.

     Boris is small and slight, a fair Celtic pixie from Brittany. He is a slow but steady player, watches the board like the lay of the land. Once he has made a move he sits back to admire; his hands are firm and sure with the stubby fingers of one used to picking cabbages.

     In comparison, Albert is like some elongated, nervous machine. As they play, he drums his long fingers, bites his lips and scratches his head repeatedly. (His grey mountain of hair, by the way, has grown far too long and could seriously do with a trim). He looks right and left, goes to move a piece, hesitates, thinks again and goes for another. He is both swift and chaotic, yet as finely tuned as the mechanical innards of a clock.


Vive La Reine: Long Live the Queen

     They are a fair match, the town and country mouse. The chess game normally lasts all morning, until the sun is too hot and the pollution too great. I never play, I always preferred Mahjong. But, I do adore observing them.

     The piece that has always intrigued me the most is the darling queen. She is a multi-tasker; a contemporary feminist, she can move diagonally, vertically and horizontally. I always found the King rather static and dull and not worth the protection. I think of the Queen in these Parisian streets. I watch her as Boris and Albert play. Here the hoards cut the head off Marie Antoinette during their bloody revolution. I am sure they were right, but I am tempted to whisper, on my café terrace, as I watch the chess pieces at war: Vive la Reine, Long Live the Queen, Vive La Reine.

     On that unpredictably Royalist note, I must dash Clementine. We’re off to meet your cousin Alphonse; he’s taking us to a ‘performance’ by a female artist at Beaubourg involving teapots, opera singing and a reconstructed oyster farm.

     All best to you darling and do kiss baby Sophia,
     Much love from your Aunt Dorothea.