- Paperback: 180 pages
- Publisher: Outskirts Press (December 16, 2004)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1932672591
- ISBN-13: 978-1932672596
- Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 0.4 x 5.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 8.5 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 2 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #10,506,696 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Life at the Cafe Berlitz: A Memoir of Paris
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About the Author
Mardiyah A. Tarantino is of French and American nationality. At 17 she studied in Paris at the prestigious Rene Simon theater school, and began her acting career. Her later experience teaching at Berlitz, inspired this book.
Mardiyah holds an M.A. in sociology. She is the author of Marvelous Stories from the Life of Muhammad, published in the U.K. and of essays published in the U.S.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
"I knew it! She bloody well met Picasso!" Donald exploded. "'My old buddy Picasso,' she'll be tellin' us next."
"Oh, and he drew his dove of peace next to his signature," I said.
Scott sniffed. "Well, you won't get much for that on the auction block. He's drawn those pigeons by the carload."
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Similarly, there could be some slight interest deriving from the conversations at the cafe, but the conversations are strung together in almost random fashion. No effort is made to organize them into something coherent that might impart a little substance, a feel for why this book should have been written in the first place.
Finally, we might wish that for someone who has been a teacher of English and lays claim to French as well, the author could distinguish "its" from "it's", or "palate" from "palette." If you don't find the gratuitous insertion of a few words of French in every sentence, the tireless misspelling or incorrect use of the French words (is "Champaigne" perhaps a sparkling wine from southern Illinois?) seems bound to enervate.
Once a year I make a pilgrimage to a little cafe in a seaside town about an hour's drive away from where I live. There I ritually consume a huge piece of passionfruit sponge cake, the best passionfruit sponge cake I have yet discovered in my sojourn on this planet.
This year I took with me to the ceremony Mardiyah Tarantino's book Life at the Cafe Berlitz. I found a sunny corner at the cafe and along with the cake, I consumed quite a lot of her book. It is a book which is ideally read at a favourite cafe, although of course you are also free to read it at home or on the train.
Wherever you read it, I'm sure you'll be delighted by it. The book tells the story of about nine months in Mardiyah's life while she was living in Paris in the 1950s and keeping body and soul together by teaching at the Berlitz language school.
The nine-month period is no accident since the book coincides more or less with the story of her first pregnancy. Since she was unwed at the time, she had a number of male protectors, her "bodyguards", her colleagues at the language school.
Some famous names are mentioned. Brendan Behan came to visit one night at the flat that Mardiyah shared with an Irish roommate. He was so taken by one of Mardiyah's sayings - "A home is not a home unless it has a snake" - that he said he was going to use it in one of his books.
There are also memories of the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas when he stayed at Mardiyah's parents house during his famous reading tour of the United States. He did not eat the excellent food prepared by Mardiyah's mum, preferring to get drunk instead. And at a book launch, Picasso held Mardiyah's eyes in a penetrating stare
But mostly of the book is about her interactions with the more obscure bodyguards at their favourite cafe, the Cafe Berlitz. The bodyguards are a somewhat eccentric collection including Donald who is part Maori and loves mountaineering, Camelo who is a Portuguese aristocrat down on his luck; and Gilbert, a disgraced Oxford Don.
The book is full of the sights, sounds and smells of Paris. This is an authentic, funky Paris which if it still exists at all, is no doubt very hard to find these days. We also find out all kinds of interesting things about Mardiyah. Did you know that she was once part of a belly dance troupe?
Or that she came to Paris to study theatre but unfortunately found herself typecast as a "perverse ingénue". Apparently in the rather rigid French theatre of that time, once you were typecast, you could not get any other kind of role, which blocked Mardiyah's career, since there was not a lot of call for "perverse ingénues". She eventually became a sociologist instead,
A few dark tones are hinted at in the book. It is set against the background of the Algerian War when the French Army regularly used torture, and also the general strike which paralysed France for several months. Towards the end of the book, the girlfriend of one of the bodyguards dies in childbirth.
But mostly the book is as light as a successful soufflé, and charming and elegant as Paris itself.
There is not very much about Subud as this was before Mardiyah had joined. Only in the very last chapter does she find out about Subud. A new life is about to begin for her.
Reviewed by Harris Smart