Granny has made Taïgas favorite pie for dessert. It’s their last dinner together at home before they leave for St Sim’s tomorrow morning. Taïga finishes her dessert. ‘Thank you, Granny. It was very good, but I’m not hungry anymore! My stomach hurts…’
‘Is it because you’re nervous about leaving tomorrow?’
‘I guess so… I’m happy you’re coming with me. I just wish you could stay!’
Granny takes her hand and squeezes it. ‘I think a long, hot bath would do you good…’
Taïga takes Granny’s advice, playing around in the tub.
‘Goodnight, darling. Sleep tight.’
‘Granny… can you tell me a story?’
Granny sits heavily on the bed. ‘Something about France?’
‘Not necessarily. Just any story.’
‘Then I shall tell you about your ancestor, Gandalf the Grey, and how he found the palantír…’
The story is fascinating, and Taïga listens carefully to everything Granny tells her. That night she dreams about castles in France and ugly trolls…
‘Taïga! The cab is here!’ Granny is calling from the bottom of the stairs.
‘I’m coming, Granny! Just a sec’…’ Taïga hurries to put the school uniform back in the suitcase. The uniform is OK. Not comfortable for tree climbing, but OK.
Granny is pacing at the bottom of the stairs. ‘Ah, there you are… But you can’t go to France dressed like that!’
‘But, Granny, I…’
‘Tututut… Now, let me see… Alacadola Bibbedydress…’
‘Stop fidgeting, dear, or I won’t get your hair right…’
‘My hair will be a mess on the plane, Granny!’
‘Of course it won’t! It will come undone when you wish it will!’
‘If you say so…’
‘Lovely!’ Granny beams.
‘But Granny… Yellow!?!’
‘Oh… Would you like another color?’
‘Blue?’ Granny lifts her wand, but they are interrupted by the cab honking outside. ‘Oh, well… Yellow suits you, dear. Now, where is Missy?’
The luggage is in the trunk, and the driver honks for Taïga to hurry. A last hug to Missy and they’re off to the airport…
After six hours in a taxi through the Transylvanian mountains, and a two hour flight, Taïga gets her first glimpse of the lush French countryside from above.
They check in at a picturesque hotel for the night, and early the next morning they set out for the final part of their journey. After a long drive through small villages and vineyards, guided by a chatting taxi driver, they finally arrive at St Sims Art School.
So this is it… I wonder why Granny’s wearing lipstick?
‘Bonjour, Tara!’ The headmaster kisses Granny’s blushing cheek.
‘François! This is Taïga, my granddaughter.’
Taïga frowns. Tara? François? She shakes the proffered hand. The headmaster smiles kindly at her. ‘I hope you’ll like it here at St Pierre’s.’
‘I certainly will, Sir.’
Granny and François Lambert have a lot to catch up on. After the inscription formalities they decide to have lunch together in the village.
They have lunch outside in the sun. The food is bizarre and Taïga moves it around her plate. She’s not hungry and Granny is behaving strangely. She smiles a lot, and flutters her eyelashes and stuff. The lipstick! So that’s why! Granny’s in love with the headmaster! But he’s so old…
Back at school, Granny and Monsieur Lambert continues discussing, but Taïga doesn’t listen, their reminiscing about the “good old times” is soooo boring.
François Lambert takes Granny and Taïga on a tour to show them the new dormitories. They are being renovated and should be finished for the second semester…
‘This is one of the new rooms, Taïga has priority to this one!’
Granny admires the view. ‘I love the view over the garden… Come and have a look, dear.’
Taiga acquiesces. There’s so much to take in, and now Granny and this… this… Are they getting married? Oh no…
After the tour, it’s time for François Lambert to give a welcome speech to the new students. A part from Taïga, there are only two others; Charlotte Dubois, a “bourgeoise” from Paris and Fahd Al’Hafed Bin Hakim, an Egyptian prince. Or sheikh… or emir. Well, something like that!
Too soon it’s time for Granny to leave. ‘Bye, Granny… Promise you’ll call?’
‘Yes, I will. And you’ll be happy here, I promise. You’ll soon make friends and you won’t miss me at all! And you have your phone? You know you can call anytime! …’
‘But we had to leave our phones at the reception!’
‘Well, there are pay phones…’
Taïga can’t sleep that night. She was so excited to come here, but it didn’t quite turn out as she thought it would. The other students are aristocrats or from old European families, and they keep to themselves… As soon as the other girls are asleep, Taïga takes out Buddy and holds him hard.
Is it possible to be homesick after one day at school? I’ll count the days until Halloween, when we’ll go home for the holidays.
She falls asleep at last…
The lessons are difficult, but just listening to the teachers speaking French is lovely… Taïga tries hard to understand everything, and takes extra lessons in French.
Taïga loves the flowers in the well-kept garden, and painting them makes her cheerful.
But she’s not happy with the Art school exercises by the river. I hate painting water… and grass… there’s not even a swan or some ducks around to liven it up a little… and no flowers…
Back at school she finds something interesting in the schoolyard. Go out and find a living subject for a “nature morte”… blablabla… Hmmm, look at this! A falcon! In the school yard… Taïga paints a portrait of the proud bird, and M. Lefèbvre is impressed.
Taïga writes in her diary when the other girls are sleeping. She doesn’t want them to know about it, so she hides it under the mattress. Granny doesn’t like mails, so Taïga writes her long letters at night, describing her life at school. But she’s careful not to mention that she still hasn’t got any friends, that the other girls doesn’t seem to like her.
“Dear Granny, … Mademoiselle Florence, our French teacher, is also “La gouvernante” in the girl’s dormitory. She’s OK, I guess…”
Fishing is part of science this year, but Taïga only catches small, tiny fishes that make Charlotte and Eveline laugh and comment on her fishing skills. Taïga is hiding her anger, but, oh how she wants to show them!
“Dear Granny, Today our science teacher took us fishing. I caught a kind of lobster and everybodythought that strange because there are no lobsters in French rivers. I know I promised not to use magic, but I just wanted to catch something special to show off…”
“Dear Granny, … and the table caught fire! But the firefighters got here very fast, and they put out the fire so quickly we didn’t even have the time to…”
“… our Art teacher, André Lefèbvre, often takes us to different museums and “châteaux”.”
‘Ne cours pas, Mademoiselle Grey! Il faut attendre les autres enfants avant d’entrer dans le musée!’
Taïga has skipped the tour, and sneaked off to the Egyptian section – alone. Mummies and stuff beat dusty old kings of France anytime! Wow… look at this…
But Fahd Al’Hafed Bin Hakim and his body guard catches up with her. ‘Look! These are my ancestors!’ he brags.
‘Oh, really.’ Taïga rolls her eyes.
Fahd goes on and on about Egypt… ‘… and the jellyfish almost touched me – it was only this far! I could have died!… Hey! Are you listening to me?’ He pulls at one of her braids.
‘Laisse-moi tranquille, Fahd!’
“We play dominoes or chess in the evenings. Mostly with Henri and Fahd…”
Eveline is usually watching and talking, talking…
Geology is so boring. Boring. Boring… Eveline is sucking up to Mademoiselle Florence, pretending to be interested…
Taïga is painting the old fountain but she’d rather paint the running boys, who are warming up before a ball game.
“When the weather is bad, we have Art class in the “Wintergarden”. It’s nice painting while a music student practices on the piano. I didn’t realize before how much I appreciate Chopin…”
Henri has found something much more inspiring than the Venus statue…
“Dear Granny, I finally have someone to hang with! His name is Henri Fouchier, and he’s in my class. He takes singing lessons instead of maths. Can I do that too? He thinks I sing beautifully, and we’re practicing for a duet. He’s auditioning for the school musical, and he thinks I should too…”
‘… Aznavour! Et j’ai des tickets…’
‘Great! Super!’ I don’t know who that is! Charles Aznavour…
‘Ahem… tu veux venir? Avec moi? Au concert?’
‘… Yeah! I mean – oui, bien sûr! C’est quand?’
“We have gymnastics, volleyball, trampoline and cross-country…”
‘Ça va? Are you OK, Taïga?’
Taïga has some trouble breathing after tripping. ‘Ça va, Henri. Don’t worry.’ Darn Clotilde! She tripped me up!
“We’re not allowed to go swimming without an adult, but the sun was shining and we were sweaty from running…”
Twice a week they bike to the swimming pool. Henri races Taïga, and usually he lets her win.
Taïga likes sport, especially swimming.
“Mademoiselle Florence gives us swimming lessons, she was on the Olympic Team! Can you imagine that?”
Eveline thinks she’s best at everything.
But she’s decidedly not the best at diving…
Taïga calls out. ‘Hey, Ev! Is that a frog dive?’
‘Tu ne devrais pas appeler tes camarades “frogs”, mademoiselle Grey.’ Mademoiselle Florence looks sternly at Taïga.
‘But I didn’t! It’s just when I was in Italy last summer, I met someone who…’ She overhears Eveline and Charlotte.
‘… just listen to her bragging about Italy…’
Taïga doesn’t say anything more, she just waits for her turn to dive. At least one thing I beat Eveline at… for now…
Henri asks Mademoiselle Florence about the upcoming swimming competition.
“Lunch and dinner is at school, in the dining room. Mademoiselle Florence is always at our table, and sometimes Monsieur Lambert joins us.”
“Lunch is less formal than dinner, but if we’re late, we have to leave the table and go and write lines… The food is excellent, I’m even getting used to French cheese. It’s good, but I don’t like the smelly ones!”
“Mademoiselle Béjart is our dance teacher. She’s my favorite teacher, maybe because she says I’m her best student… ever!”
Or maybe I like her because she’s always nagging Eveline.
‘Look at Taïga, girls. If she can do it, you can!’
“… and on Sundays I often ride my bike (not my broom – promise!) to the countryside, where there are horses…”
“… they belong to Agnès grandfather, and he raises them for show jumping competitions. Agès is in my class, she’s OK…”
Taïga loves playing with the beautiful animals…
… often she stays until it gets dark.
Ususally when she’s spent time with the horses, Taïga stops for a swim to get the horse scent off her body.
Taïga revels in the cold water which envelopes her body like a purifying blanket… if only I could wash away the homesickness…
Part I – End of Chapter 37