I seem to have an endless supply of browning and defeated bananas. We buy them principally for the B&B guests who never eat them. But they may do. They never say outright that they don’t like bananas; there may come a time when they will feel like one, and that moment will be hard to define, but when it comes we better have a bunch of bananas standing by.
I think in the last year we have probably had two straight-forward banana-eating guests. Still, we continue to buy them and then I make banana bread with the softening, spotting ones, which I give to the guests who don’t eat bananas and strangely they wolf it down. We have French guests now and they have what I think is the classic French attitude to breakfast – it should hurt. Their plates afterwards are beautifully smeared with arabesques of apricot jam and chocolate (from the chocolate banana bread, a variant*), the French press empty but for the coffee grounds, the French girls’ voices throaty from their first blissful draw of nicotine. Of course they are beautiful and slender. This is how it is.
If you are English and were at school during the 1980s you would have gone on a French exchange programme; you lived with a French family for a few weeks and the French student then came and lived with you. You learned their language and way of life and they learned yours, sort of thing. I also did this in Bilbao, northern Spain where I lived on chocolate biscuits for four weeks and learned to say “I know what you’re up to and I’m going to tell my mum what you did when I get home” in Spanish.
Annie was nicer; she was from Normandy and liked smoking and camping. She drank bowls of black coffee just before she went to bed, and wore extremely tight jeans. We were both fourteen but I got the impression she was worldlier than me. Sometimes we went on long walks into the countryside, or at other times she would hitch up the family’s pony – what she called a ponette – to a wagon and we would ride to an old lady’s house nearby and buy Coke from her fridge.
Annie lived in a rural area and there was not much to do except this, and eat chocolate sandwiches. I met other kids in the area because they too would wade into the fields, pale wheaten and straggly, and we would all smoke. I had never smoked like this before; filtered Gitanes, in a beautiful, uniform white that made me think of freshly laundered shirts. I watched them gulp back big blue lungfuls. I think I knew then I wouldn’t be able to inhale and remain standing. It was on my return to England that I did it in the privacy of my bedroom – I inhaled a Gitanes and fell to my knees.
Anyway, it’s all rolled into one in my mind; the smoking, the Coca Cola, the way Annie sat on a bench outside the boulangerie and handed me the long snout of bread to try, its crust sharp, almost splintery in the mouth followed by chunks of dark chocolate that she had fed into the crevices – our petit déjeuner, our ‘little lunch’ eaten vaguely in the morning. And lastly (and lastingly), the boys in the field one of whom in a lull in conversation languidly enquired “Do you make love?”
I think I pretended not to understand which wasn’t too far from the truth; something to do with the strangeness of the present simple. As if it was a hobby. It was the only time I remember being singled out for attention. I replayed the moment endlessly in my mind, trying to reframe my muteness as intrigue, but really I was just lost for words.
I wanted to showcase these beautiful drawings of bananas and chocolate by Jasmin Bhanji, who currently lives in Kenya, though is formerly of north London, and it’s strange because since she’s gone to Africa, I’ve got to know her better and that is one of the wonders of the internet. I knew her in person in England (she’s my new cousin) and now I know her through her drawings and photos of her amazing pots and her blog, Jasmin Bhanji Studio.
*I lifted the recipe for double chocolate banana bread wholesale from Emma Gardner’s baking blog Poires au Chocolat (who in turn adapted it from Smitten Kitchen), so it would seem a bit silly to repeat it here when she has already done such a lovely job and I did nothing to improve it seeing as it was, in my view, perfect. If you like bananas and chocolate and a big fistful of cocoa powder and eating oblong cake, then this is for you. A bit naughty you might think for breakfast, but not if you imagine you’re a Parigot (slang for Parisian), in gold sandals and a lamé cardigan.