While flipping the channels last Saturday I landed on an ABC broadcast of Mary Poppins. I hadn’t watched that movie for many, many years but it brought back vivid memories of my childhood. On a snowy Thursday of December 1964, my mother, sister and I took the bus to visit my aunt Ginette and her newborn daughter. I know it was Thursday because, back then, there was no school on Thursday and I had just bought my weekly copy of Le Journal de Mickey at the newsstand across the street from our apartment complex. For a few weeks, I had been reading the serialized “graphic novel version” of Mary Poppins. So, we took the bus from Vitry-sur-Seine to Thiais and I met my cousin Catherine for the first time. She was about a week old. I watched her in her crib; she was asleep; it was not very interesting. I was six years old and got my first lesson in anatomy when my aunt told me that babies must be handled carefully because the bones of their crâne are not completely sealed. Scary stuff: somehow, I pictured my cousin’s skull like a cracked eggshell with le blanc threatening to spill out.
To be completely honest, I was more fascinated by Mary Poppins. I couldn’t wait for Mom and Ginette to engage into their own conversation so that I could politely retreat to the living room, pull out my comic book, and see what Mary Poppins was up to after the horse race. Yes, that insane looking word popped up: Supercalifragilisticexpidélilicieux as the French version would have it.
A week later, my parents took me to Le Palace, our cinéma de quartier for a matinee with Julie Andrews, Dick Van Dyke, and the penguins. It was the first picture show for me, my first venture into a movie theater and I was watching Mary Poppins on the silver screen! Le Palace in Vitry eventually became my favorite place for entertainment: the newsreel, the cartoons, l’entracte with the ouvreuse selling candies and ice cream, and then –at last– the main feature. Three years ago, I took the RER to visit the old neighborhood, my first visit in some thirty-five years. I walked from our old apartment to Le Palace. Not surprisingly, it no longer is a movie theater. At some point, it became an appliance store. And now it was closed down. Shuttered. Defunct. Except for me. In my mind, it lives on with its grand lobby, its red velour seats, and that green pistachio ice cream that my dad loved so much.
Le crâne: skull
Le blanc: (egg) white
Le cinéma de quartier: neighborhood movie theater
L’ouvreuse: husher (usually a woman; she did double duty selling candies before the era of concession stands)