Madeleine

   8   12   14

In an old house in Paris that is covered in vines
Stand twelve young girls in two straight lines
In two straight lines, they’ve played and grown
They walk to school now on their own.
And every night they’ve broken bread
And brushed their teeth and gone to bed.
(And sometimes chattered through the night
Though Miss Clavel says this is not right.)

Madeline is still not tall,
But she is the bravest of them all
She is not afraid to fight
When she knows that she is right.
Nor is she afraid to speak
Or join the crowds at République
When the girls read scary tales
Madeline hardly ever quails.
And once she climbed the Tour Eiffel

(Which terrified poor Miss Clavel).

Today is an important day,
And Miss Clavel has something to say:

“I’ve taught you all for many years.
“Through happy times, and times of tears,
“I’ve watched you grow, and learn and play,
“But girls – you are fifteen today!
“And while you’ll always be my girls,
“Soon you will need to face the world.
“As women, brave and kind and wise
“The sole directors of your lives.
“So now you must think, and plan, and see
“What it is you would like to be.”

Claudette looked at Josephine and Eve-Marie,
Who looked at Yvette, who looked at Sylvie,
Who looked at Belle, and at Fleur and Giselle,
Who looked at Monique, who looked at Noelle,
Who looked at Nadine, who looked at Madeline,
Who looked at the table where they would dine,
Which held an amazing birthday cake.
“Well,” said Madeline, “We all like to bake…”

Miss Clavel smiled. “That’s very true.
“Let’s see if baking is for you.
“Now, eat up, girls, then it’s goodnight –
“You’ll need to be up before first light!”

~~~~~

Monday

The girls got up at half past four,
And softly tiptoed out the door
They held hands walking through the park,
And reached the bakery in the dark.
It had white walls and a yellow shutter,
And smelled of yeast and flour and butter.

“Welcome!” said Madame Boulangère
“Today, you will make bread to share!”

And all day long they baked a feast –
They learned to knead, and to care for yeast,
They hammered out butter, and kneaded dough,
And made croissants and brioche and gateaux.
By half past two, the bread was baked
But their feet were sore and their arms all ached –
Except for Monique and for Eve-Marie:

“We’re going to be bakers!” they cried with glee.

“That’s excellent news,” said Miss Clavel.
“Do the rest of you want to be bakers as well?”

Claudette looked at Noelle and at Giselle,
Who looked at Yvette, who looked at Belle,
Who looked at Fleur, who looked at Nadine,
Who looked at Claudette, and then at Josephine,
Who looked at Madeline, who looked at her hands
(Which she’d burned that morning, handling hot pans).

“I don’t think we want to bake,” she said,
“But perhaps we could learn first aid, instead?
“I’ve always thought, since I rode in one,
That driving an ambulance might be fun.”

“Fun and useful. You could do much worse
“Than to be a doctor, or a nurse
“Or paramedic,” Miss Clavel said.
“Now – brush your teeth, and go to bed!”

~~~~~

Tuesday

At half past nine, in the pouring rain
Ten girls left the house with the vines again.
A man in a shirt with a red cross
Taught them how to prevent blood loss,
And how to treat shock, and burns and sprains,
And what to do if you have chest pains
They practiced triage and CPR
And Sylvie and Fleur were the best by far.

And Miss Clavel beamed at them with pride.

“But my other dear girls, you have still to decide
“What it is that you want to do.
“I’m sure there is something that is perfect for you!”

Giselle looked at Josephine who looked at Belle
Who looked at Claudette, who looked at Noelle
Who looked at Nadine, who looked at Yvette,
Who looked at Madeleine, who looked at the gazette.
And thought of the articles that she’d read,
And all of the things they left unsaid.

“We all like to write, and to read the news
“Maybe journalism is the job we should choose.”

Miss Clavel smiled. “That’s a good idea,
“Just write the truth, and have no fear
“Of how your readers might respond.
“I’ll call my friend, who works at Le Monde.”

~~~~~

Wednesday

At half past seven the very next day
Eight girls in suits of sensible grey
Took the Métro to Le Monde
Where they were met by Monsieur Normand.
He showed them how to write a story
That was factual, and not too gory,
And warned them against excess adjectives
(A sin no editor forgives)
They checked their sources, and asked for quotes
On immigration, and welfare, and votes
And finished it all with a catchy headline
In plenty of time for the printer’s deadline.
By the end of the day, the girls were all tired
But Nadine’s cartoons had been much admired
And Noelle’s article on stock exchanges
Had come back with only fifty-six changes!

TWO YOUNG JOURNALISTS SET TO SHINE:
“They came from a house all covered with vines.”

Said Noelle and Nadine to Miss Clavel
Who told them they’d done very well.
(Although their headline did not quite rhyme –
But she assumed they’d learn, in time.)

“Six girls settled, and six to go.
“What shall you try next?  Do you know?

Claudette looked at Josephine who looked at Belle
Who looked at Yvette, who looked at Giselle
Who looked at Madeline, who looked at the sky
And the satellites that flew on high,
Winking at Earth, like tiny stars,
She wondered if there was life on Mars
She thought about atmospheres, and gas
And the difference between weight and mass
And how it was that birds had wings
And many, many other things.

“This world is beautiful and grand –
“But there’s so much I don’t understand
“About how it works, or even why.
“Is science something we could try?”

“An excellent plan,” said Miss Clavel.
“Some time in the lab would serve you well!
“Now, go to bed – don’t stay up late!
“Tomorrow, you must leave by eight.”

~~~~~

Thursday

The next day, six girls took a cab
To visit Dr Descarte’s lab
Where a tall woman dressed in brown
Welcomed the girls to the Sorbonne.

“My name is Dr Anne Descartes
“Today, I’ll show you just the start
“Of all the things that you can learn,
“If it’s for knowledge that you yearn.
“But first you need to dress the part:
“Please take a lab coat, and we’ll make a start.”

They put on white coats and safety glasses
And learned about the noble gases
And how to make things precipitate
From liquid into solid state.
They looked at cells through microscopes
And Josephine had quite high hopes –
She even saw some cells divide!
But Belle and Claudette crunched their slide.
They learned the laws of thermodynamics
And principles of quantum mechanics
And Giselle listened with devotion
To all of Newton’s Laws of Motion.
But Madeline and poor Yvette
Thought that this was the worst day yet.
For even though they understood
The theory, it did them no good,
As all of their experiments failed –
(Which is what science often entails).

The girls walked home as darkness fell
To the house with the vines and Miss Clavel.
And both Giselle and Josephine
Sparkled with all the things they’d seen.

“We’re going to be scientists!” they cried,
And Miss Clavel clapped her hands with pride.

“Well done, my girls,” she said “I’m sure
“You’ll do great things!  And now we’ve four
“Girls left to find their new careers.
“What would you like to do, my dears?”

Yvette looked at Claudette, who looked at Belle,
Who looked at Madeline, who looked at the carousel
And the Ferris Wheel on the Place de Concorde
And the way the carriages danced and soared,
And thought she would like to dance as well.

“Could we learn to dance, please, Miss Clavel?”

She smiled. “Why, certainly you may.
“I have a friend in the corps de ballet
“I’m sure she’d love to teach you how.
“I’ll go and send her a note right now.”

~~~~~~

Friday

The next day, at a quarter to four
Four girls knocked at the stage door

“Welcome!” said Mademoiselle Brussells
“Let’s start by stretching all your muscles –
“It’s quite important that they’re warm
“Before we start to work on form.”

They learned positions one to five,
And Belle seemed instantly to thrive
On exercises at the barre –
At these, she was the best by far.
They learned to plié and to pirouette
And the most graceful was Yvette.
But Claudette and Madeline struggled in vain
For them, ballet was nothing but pain
And when they returned home that night
Miss Clavel saw that something was not right.

“Now girls,” she said, “Do not be sad.
“Sometimes we’re good, and sometimes we’re bad
“At the things we try to learn and do.
“I promise, there is a place for you.
“And when you find it, you will shine,
“My dear Claudette and Madeline.”

Madeline looked at her friend Claudette,
They had not found their place quite yet.
Or had they?  Did they know it well?
Madeline looked at Miss Clavel.
Who’d taught them all the things they knew.

“Do you think we could teach, like you?”

Saturday

In an old house in Paris that was covered in vines
Stood twelve little girls, in two straight lines.
All waiting for the bell to ring
And ready for what the day would bring.

“Good morning girls,” said Miss Clavel
“I hope that you are feeling well.
“Today, I have a surprise for you –
“Two teachers who are very new:
“Miss Madeline, and Miss Claudette.
“Be good girls now, and don’t forget!”

Miss Claudette went first, with maths,
And soon the girls were plotting graphs
And brushing up on long division
And nets of triangular prisms,
And when they seemed prone to distractions
She used a cake to teach them fractions.
They learned how to find x from y
And so two hours passed quickly by.

After lunch, it was Miss Madeline’s turn
To teach the students what they’d learn.
She started with grammar and conjugation
And gave exercises in dictation
And made them practice writing cursive
But soon began to feel subversive.
She read them Woollstonecraft’s Vindications
And philosophical conversations
By Rousseau, Locke, and de Beauvoir
Which revolutionary repertoire
Inspired the smallest girl, Annique,
To climb upon her chair, and speak:

“Children of the house with vines
“Why should you walk in two straight lines?
“Why should you feel the tyranny
“Of bedtime, or of broccoli?
“Come, sisters – to the barricades!
“And join me on this great crusade
“For freedom and self governance
“As citizens of mother France!”

Their souls with revolution fired
The little girls arose, inspired,
And chanting “Bedtime should be free!
“More cake! And down with broccoli!”
They marched straight down the corridor
Until they reached Miss Clavel’s door.

Miss Clavel came quickly out,
She said, “Girls, what is this about?
“You can’t have finished school so soon –
“It’s hardly even afternoon!”

But the girls shouted “Down with schools!
“Down with your oppressive rules!
“We will not walk in two straight lines!
“Or go to bed at ten to nine!”

Miss Clavel sought a solution –
This really was a revolution.
“Well, girls, I really can’t agree
“With everything you’ve said to me.
“Still, it’s clear that you’re irate.
“Perhaps we can negotiate.”

And with exceeding grace and tact
Miss Clavel soon made a pact
Forbidding any peas at tea
And banishing all broccoli
(Unless it came with bechamel
A specialty of Miss Clavel)
The girls might read in bed ’til nine,
But must still stay in two straight lines
“It’s safer, girls, when you’re on walks.”
Nor would there be any more talks
Regarding cake each day at tea.
“We must agree to disagree.
“And, girls, I really do advise
“That you accept this compromise –
“You really, really wouldn’t like
“It if *I* were to go on strike!”

And since it was a sunny day,
She sent the rebels out to play.

“But Madeline, and Claudette, please stay
“And tell me what you learned today.

Claudette smiled.  “It was so much fun
“And if you’ll let me, I’d like to stay on
“I loved the way the girls’ faces would light
“When they got an equation right.
“And finding different ways to explain
“The difference between a line and a plane.”

But Madeline only shook her head.
“I’m sorry, Miss Clavel,” she said.
“I don’t think teaching is for me.
“And after today, I’m sure you agree.”

Miss Clavel laughed. “That’s partly true –
“Those girls did learn *something* from you
“Standing up for your rights is a useful tool –
“Just not every day, or in my school.”

Madeline sighed.  “I do agree.
“But I still don’t know what I should be.”

“You’re clever, and brave and full of passion,
“And kindness, and imagination,
“You know how to inspire and lead
“And how to try til you succeed.
“There are so many things that you do well
“You just have to choose.” said Miss Clavel

Madeline thought of the places she’d been
And all of the things she had learned and seen
Of the paramedics she had admired
And how they were underpaid and tired.
Of the journalists, and how they made news,
Half facts, and half their editors’ views.
She thought of the bakers with their sore backs
And how injuries become a tax
On those – like dancers – whose jobs require
A physical perfection that will expire
Before one is much past one’s youth.
She thought of science, the search for truth
And how it was hampered by lack of funds
She thought of the orphanage run by nuns
As the cheapest way to educate girls.

She thought she would like to change the world.

“I don’t think that baking is for me,
“Or journalism, or pedagogy.
“I don’t think I’d make a good paramedic,
“And my science skills are quite pathetic
“I definitely don’t want to dance –
“No. I’d like to be President of France.”

“What an excellent plan,” said Miss Clavel,
“I think you would do that very well.”

And she smiled at her girls in their two straight lines
Who would soon leave the house all covered with vines.

“I am proud of all my girls,” she said.
“But now it is time to go to bed.
“Goodnight, all my girls, thank the Lord you are well,
“And now go to sleep,” said Miss Clavel.
And she turned out the light, and closed the door.
And that’s all there is.  There isn’t any more.

station

Madeleine station is a station in the 8th arondissement, just a little bit north of the Tuilleries gardens and the Seine.  It opened in 1910, serving what is now Line 12, and the platforms serving what is now Line 8 opened in 1913.  Line 14 was not built until after the second World War.  Madeleine station is named for a nearby church, L’Église Sainte Marie-Madeleine, which is trying quite hard to be the Pantheon in Rome.

I imprinted on Ludwig Bemelmans’ Madeline books when I was very young, so even though the spelling is not the same, when faced with the prospect of writing a story for Madeleine station there really was only one possibility (with apologies to Proust, there are only so many stories I can write about baked goods.  It’s not as if baked goods don’t find their way into a disproportionate number of my stories anyway.).  I confess that the poem got away from me entirely around about the point when I realised that ‘cursive’ rhymed with ‘subversive’, and that *of course* Madeline would be an activist.   After that, all the bits about oppressive labour systems were sort of inevitable.  (Madeline was always going to wind up deciding to be the president of France, but the more revolutionary aspects of her personality were a bit of a surprise.  Though they shouldn’t have been, really.  She was pretty bolshy even in the original stories.)

The pictures are all drawn by me, which is why they are of varying quality; my drawing skills are very hit-and-miss.  I was trying to imitate the style of Bemelmans, but since he actually can draw, this didn’t always work as well as I would have liked.  I am reasonably confident that this counts as fair use, since nobody in their right minds would mistake my work for a Bemelmans original.  Those who pay attention to French politics might also recognise a more recent influence in my second last picture. I decided that if Madeline was going to be the President of France, she could do worse than to imitate the official portrait of Emmanuel Macron, who does an extremely good job of projecting power and authority.  Madeline doesn’t do quite so well.  I think it’s the school uniform…

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Concorde Madeleine Opéra
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Saint-Lazare Madeleine Pyramides

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