LIFE ISN'T WORTH LIVING WITHOUT LOVE. FOR SURE. BUT IT'S EVEN HARDER WITHOUT SHOES
When I was young, very young, very small, barely old enough to walk, I was fascinated by a crazy TV show.
I saw a young girl, barely a teenager, doing kangaroo jumps and Bruce Lee-style somersaults. I immediately reproduced this at my parents' house, between the sofa, the bar I used as a beam and their dressing room as parallel bars. I destroyed everything, tore up their bed and smashed the closet. I'd made their house my gym, my Olympic training ground. I'd just turned three and had decided to give high-level sport a try. Too young to be punished, too old to be abandoned, my parents had the generous idea of enrolling me in gymnastics the following year. This meant they didn't have to buy new furniture every time I performed, especially at a time when Ikea still didn't exist. As my parents didn't do anything by halves, they chose the best for me at the time. They made enquiries all over France and decided to enroll me at the Academy of Little Athletes, set up by a Romanian dissident who had fled the dictatorship of the Ceausescu regime. This unique academy was an absolutely amateur boarding school located on the edge of Normandy, but since its director was Romanian and we were in the middle of the Comaneci hype, it had to be great. And it was bound to produce little mat geniuses. When my father dropped me off on the first day, for the start of the new school year in what was the equivalent of the middle section, I was devastated. There was no way I was letting him go. I clung to his car, then to the exhaust pipe, where I had to swallow the equivalent of six packs of cigarettes and a tar-tasting hookah in the space of a few handfuls of seconds.
After catching me with a lasso and a few strokes of the ruler on my fingertips, Georgeta, the director, took me on a tour of the facility, accompanied by her colleagues, all dressed in red Adidas tracksuits with the three yellow stripes and the blue brand crest, in the image of their country's flag. There was only one large dormitory in this immense building, a former military hospital, reinvested as a high-level competition center. Rows of bunk beds followed rows of bunk beds, giving the impression that the whole of Normandy was housed here. At three years old, it was truly impressive. My integration went relatively smoothly as I followed all the coach's instructions to the letter. I'd come here to spend all my energy, and I had it in spades. Enough to light up a provincial town all year round. I had breakfast at the gym. I recited poetry while doing headstands. Playtime was a succession of cartwheels and somersaults. Before going to bed, I'd read and reread the perfect little gymnast's manual. And if I ever had trouble falling asleep, I'd imagine myself jumping over paddocks. I soon grew so muscular that I became the center's mascot, twirling with such ease between all the apparatus. I'd leap to get around, go down the stairs and stand on the banisters. I spent my Friday evenings entertaining the other residents with shows I'd created from scratch. Some sort of acrobatic act in which I could perform any idea I had in my head that I couldn't do in training, or risk being thrown into the dungeon by Georgette, the high priestess of the place. And when the show ended, Georgette invited us all to learn the polka. She loved this music and was keen to teach us how to dance it. She was often very nostalgic and would start crying on the sly or when she'd had a bit too much vodka. I didn't necessarily like the polka, but it gave me a chance to clown around, and that was always good. I didn't see my parents very often, the school demanded constant sacrifices, but there was a real spirit of mutual support and I did what I liked best. Sport in all circumstances. This gave me incredible balance and a desire to surpass myself every time I undertook something. Sadly, after four years of delightful camaraderie, teaching and competition, the Academy of Little Athletes was forced to close its doors due to the discovery of a major uranium smuggling operation run with a steely hand by the woman we'd come to affectionately call Auntie Georgeta. Although she had cleverly passed herself off as a political refugee, she was in fact a spy working for the regime, which was trying to acquire nuclear weapons. The school was closed, but the headmistress was never arrested. On my seventh birthday, I had to leave, love in my soul, this academy where I had learned to be the perfect mix between a chimpanzee and a kangaroo. The place where I'd thought I wouldn't survive when I got there, and where I'd learned to dance the polka, would evaporate for good, and so would my earliest childhood memories.
Faced with my distress, my parents once again did their utmost to find me another club where I could exercise my budding talents. It was out of the question for them to leave me at boarding school again, as my mother had arranged not to work 24 hours a day. My parents eventually found an academy a little way from home, but which was supposed to be the best in Paris. It was. It had an excellent reputation but never reached the excellence of the Academy of Little Athletes. Which, for me, was an undeniable plus, because I was able to stand out from the crowd. So much so that I became my club's flag-bearer for the French U10 championships. It was an incredible, exhilarating event. Despite the importance of the event, I felt no stress, but rather an unspeakable joy at taking part in a competition where I could finally shine, in my own way. Just as they called me to my first apparatus, racing to it, proving that I was no more concentrated than that, I saw a face I knew. She'd grown old, thin. But I was sure I recognized my trainer of the time, Auntie Georgeta. After leaping into the air and performing a perfect figure, marked to the maximum, I rushed to greet the woman who had so terrified me with her severity, but who had given me all the keys I needed to understand the sport and the joys of polka. I couldn't find her. She'd disappeared from the gym, and now I had to take my second test. That day, and certainly thanks to her presence, which I took as support, I won the champion's title, supported by an entire club. And it was as I was leaving the gym to join my parents that, without paying attention, I missed a step and fractured my fibula. Nothing too serious, but enough to put me in a cast and keep me out of the gym forever. Goodbye Auntie Georgeta, I loved you so much in spite of your impoverished uranium and your whips to make us learn the tricks meticulously. I don't miss you, but I think of you. Like I think of the polka.