Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Have You Been DSK'd Lately?

So the alleged Depraved Sex King (DSK) went on TV in Paris on Sunday night to be interviewed by a friend of his and his wife’s to explain the mystery of the New York Sofitel drama. He denied that there had been any violence whatsoever-these being, he said, only the words of the New York Prosecutor-- and he said that the whole matter was simply a morale lapse.
Judging from a poll I saw, some quarter of the respondents believed him. These are probably the same people who some months back thought he was innocent. They were nearly all male and socialist. Another quarter had not seen the broadcast, but a solid 54 per cent said they did not believe the ugly old buzzard and found him insincere in his interview. In fact, you could say they refused to swallow it and spat it out on the carpet.
Comments in French newspapers alleged that this was just more of the same old cosy cuddle of politicians and the media and that the suspect should never have been interviewed by so close a friend of his wife and himself.
The fifty or so feminists who turned up to blockade the TV station were, one feels hardly representative, either of feminists or the majority of females (and many males) here who feel absolute disgust that this fat old gargoyle got away with something that would have landed a less powerful man in an American jail for some fifty years.
That there are two outstanding legal actions by apparent victims against this alleged beast seemed not to matter at all. He dismisses the claims of attempted rape made by the journalist/novelist Tristane Bannon as imagination and calumny. Really, why would anyone want to imagine being raped by this thug? Well some might, I suppose. But isn’t that just more of his arrogance, and his vanity?
Even Tristane’s mother, a socialist regional deputé who dissuaded the young woman from making a police complaint about what happened to her when she went to interview DSK in an apartment—which turned out to be furnished only with a mattress and a TV-- admitted to the police inquiry that she too had once had sex with the fiend and that it was pretty rough, even one might say brutal. She didn’t try it a second time, evidently.
Tout Paris knows the accounts that have been circulating for years about DSK’s sexual behaviour. One of his favourite haunts, a swinger’s club called Les Chandelles is in my quartier. You are obliged to take a partner to these clubs. Some men take prostitutes, others their mistresses and a few their wives. But, I doubt if Madame DSK has gone in to one of these on her husband’s arm.
So his remarks that his little flutter in the Sofitel was more, really, a moral fault mainly affecting his relationship with his wife—and I could see the fear in his eyes as he said this—are no more than an insincere attempt to gain public sympathy. Was he apologizing to anyone, to his wife or to the chambermaid Diallo? Certainly not.
As the French press commentators wrote, he was arrogant and insincere. And need we add, probably untruthful?
So why would a wife put up with this? During the latter days of the New York farrago, word was out that Anne Sinclair, the heiress and former TV journalist was getting to the point of no return over her husband’s sexual behaviour.
What I don’t understand is why would any wife put up with this, never mind paying the huge bills associated with keeping the man in luxury to save him from his cell on Rikers Island? So she is an heiress? Frankly, all the more reason let him sit out his time in jail and save the money and her face by finding someone new.
But, evidently Ms Anne Sinclair alias Madame Dominique Strauss Khan was having fantasies about being First Lady in 2012. Surely those are over now?
DSK is never going to be President of France, and even considering the selection of low grade candidates available for that august post, the citizens of France, and the female employees of the political institutions especially, may heave a sigh of relief that DSK is not going to be in the running.
Better still, if Madame DSK divorces her humiliating husband that will give one signal of hope at least to the oppressed females of this country (especially the poorer ones) that this whole debacle has been a step in the direction of the idea of female dignity. As for the politicians they treat it as a divine right of kings to maul and bonk their female staff. Maybe some of the girls enjoy it. Or they prefer to keep their jobs.
Males rule. Right?

Monday, 19 September 2011

C'est Brigitte!

“Brigitte Bardot, Brigitte Bardot” the cry goes up from the poissonnerie staff as I ride up on Daisy Belle, my Paris bike. This has been going on for a few years, but partly due to the months long closure of the nearby swimming pool for repairs and the beastly cold of the last winter, they have not seen either me “Brigitte” or Daisy Belle in almost a year.

Now after this absence, Guy the handsome, tall, curly headed owner of this fresh fish shop, chief of a family business and star of what often tends to be a cabaret production in the famous Rue Montorgueil, steps out from behind his cash desk and embraces me warmly. “Je t’ai manqué beaucoup,” he says (I’ve missed you terribly) with what look suspiciously like tears in his eyes. I am impressed. Guy never smells of fish: he only handles the money, of which there is no doubt plenty since his poissonnerie is the best in the centre of Paris. “Ah BB,” he sighs. “But it’s not Jean Pierre you like is it, he asks? It’s me isn’t it?” JP is his brother, although when I ask Guy to confirm this, he turns away: “No. He’s my father.” Ah jealousy!

This is all part of the slapstick showbiz display of this poissonnerie. On a Saturday evening, half an hour before closure they stand outside calling out the bargains on offer. “Three Tuna steaks for five euros; five fillets of Lemon Sole for ten.”

The nickname “Brigitte Bardot”—due no doubt to dark eyeliner and blond tresses—goes back several years when Guy and Jean-Pierre took a fancy to me. Now the entire establishment personnel refer to me as “Brigitte Bardot.” Clients turn their heads and stare as I step over the wet tiles in my dainty high-heeled sandals. Staffers run to serve me. Guy is all over me. Can this be Brigitte in person? I have not checked out her site but I suspect Brigitte is completely vegetarian thanks to her wish to protect animals.

I have often felt the same, but after weeks on Tofu I have been awakened by night dreams of intense hunger for grilled salmon. Some of my absence from Guy’s emporium has been due to the attempt to struggle by on vegetarian protein, balancing this with that and that with this, but to no avail. One feels light and clean, but, alas, broken nails and repeat dreams of grilled fish point to nutritional disorders for me if I don’t start biting the fishy flesh again. So I have returned to Guy’s poissonerie. I must admit that another reason for staying away was that he kept trying to make assignations for a passionate date. I told him I was otherwise engaged. He, I believe still has a wife. However, he hasn’t given up, yet.

So “Brigitte,” is my name there and I’m not insulted. This star has been the most extraordinary phenomenon: her youthful images still live in the French psyche. I know another man who, when finding me in the supermarket says that when he sees me he thinks for a moment he is seeing yesteryear’s Brigitte Bardot, his ideal woman. Yes, there are many men in France aged, say 50 and more who remember, from the days of their youth, this star who lit up the world. Young men too, in the street, say, “Hello Brigitte,” to me. Her beauty and sexuality haunt us still. During August, a huge black and white portrait of her, aged perhaps thirty with her bleached blonde locks, her black eyeliner and her inviting smile, looked down from the wall of the Musée d’Orsée facing the river and the quai where I walk often in the evenings.

Glamour of the past, glamour of images from the days of black and white film…these are far more interesting and wonderful to men than paparazzi shots of the so called stars of today who seem less attractive than many a supermarket cashier.

Brigitte is not the only legendary name I hear on the lips of passing males as I walk or cycle along. A guard in the Tuileries greets me as “Madonna”. Other men call out the name of ‘Arielle’, another French blonde actress, as I pass them, riding Daily Belle through the Louvre’s courtyards. Women also point this out to me.

Resemblance to stars of stage and screen seem to be more exciting than the reality of today’s actual women. The desire to acquire the glamour of past stars spurs present day actresses or models to pose in imitations of yesterday’s icons, from Marylin Monroe to Jackie Kennedy. We are drowned in images and the image takes over from the real person. Until recently, I had a good portrait of myself in my passport. However the passport expired and the new rules for ID photos obliged me to get something digital that makes my face look like a poached egg. It passes under the scanners at the Eurostar passport control with no comment, or even a glance at my real face: but when the old photo was there any male French immigration officer who looked at my passport would usually nudge his colleague and show it to him. “Quelle belle photo?” he would say and bow me through the barrier with a lecherous smile.

What are we lacking? The present digital photo mania has become the fast food equivalent of meals that need to be OD’ with ketchup and chilli sauce to give them any kind of flavour. The Internet sends instant images around the globe. A bland tofu like indifference has replaced the arresting moment of a beautifully lit portrait. Ah, nostalgie: an old photo of a never to be forgotten beauty, stops us in our tracks.

And a dish of grilled wild salmon beats tofu any time.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

August Night in Paris

August Night in Paris

I have just walked for half an hour from rue Beauregard in the Sentier to my home, if I can call it that, or that place where I keep my possessions and may sleep, bathe, eat, work.
I walked through streets untouched by Baron Haussmann’s regular eye, through
alleys where the buildings curve and bulge against the force of gravity, where windows open onto the night without concern for architectural conformity.
Is this where, alone and aware of no sound other than that of my shoes against the paving stones I fall in love again with a city that has long since lost my affection?
Yes, from the window of a friend’s apartment high among the roofs I saw a girl lying on a couch, alone, while another, several windows away puffed her cigarette into the silent street.
I passed among the empty arcades of a long lost city where dreams draw breath but only sleeping vagabonds breath the scent of roses. Under the night sky or under the shadowed arches of a hidden world I found again the beauty that eludes one in the day.
The city remains an enigma. Far more beautiful and wonderful than the one where people surge in daytime, I love this night-time city that is almost empty of humanity. I feel its history, know its suffering and its joys. I am part of its beauty in the silent night.
I long for nothing, for no one. This is the time of being. The empty streets of Paris in August at night. Sudden gusts of scents that live only at night. The scent of flowers from balconies or hidden gardens, the light from windows where the late night’s leisure preludes a sweeter sleep. This is the city in her reality. I love no other city save this one.

Yet, I can only catch glimpses of this secret city that exists like a ghost haunting the urban daytime, peopled by the colonized beings of another culture. Why do I say that? The Parisian, perhaps the French, mind is no longer itself. It has been taken over by the pulp products of Internet and TV news. That is why the city, with only its sprinkling of souls, the ones left behind by the rush to the beaches, can emerge and reveal its hidden self. The girl alone on the couch dreaming of her lover, the woman puffing her cigarette into the scented night, I, as I walk through the winding old streets of the Sentier and through the poised arches of the galleries of the Palais Royal into the Place Andre Malraux, whose fountains are the most Parisian in all Paris. Now sparkling with red and blue underwater lights put there by some freak of a city administrator, they splash over the cherubim of an earlier fantasie in this most Parisian of all open spaces.

The hidden city has revealed itself to me a few times in the past. A moment in winter at the bottom of the rue Moufftard where a staircase climbs and the iron balustrade curves upwards; a moment in the Place Marche St Honore at 1 am during a strike, where the café terraces were devoid of their usual chattering yuppie crowd. I walked in there on a warm autumn night, having tottered some way on three inch heels: a waiter was sweeping the leaves and cigarette ends away from the now bare terrace of his café. The little trees, the straw backed chairs piled high, the shuttered windows of apartments, his greeting and his smile seemed to pull me back into an old movie, perhaps Irma La Douce.

I’ve puzzled about this strange connection with an older, perhaps also fictional, Paris and now the explanation leaps into my mind. The absence of cars is one glorious wonder. The absence of the people is the other: and it is the people and their minds chock full of global media messages that destroy the soul of this city and send it back into its secret hiding place.

When the people leave, the city becomes itself again: the hidden city, to be discovered only at night when the chatterers, the yuppies, the bewildered, yes they are bewildered young things whose world has been supplanted by another, colonized by the leap in hyper space and cyber space, are gone to the trendy resorts, taking with them their concerns about the body beautiful, l’amour and la mode.

But I know now what I am searching for in this city…passing backward through time into a present devoid of people, whose head-space is the blockage to the discovery of the hidden city.

Secret city, I have the key to your soul. August night opens the door.

Your accent is gorgeous, so chic...

Forget Galliano in the Oubliette: The British are the Fashion!!

I heard a female voice behind me saying, “Bonsoir”. I was walking in the Tuileries, my local garden, and I thought it was one of the Guardians. A bit early for them to be asking me to leave, I thought: they usually start chucking out half an hour before the hour, which in summer is 11pm. But it wasn’t a Guardian, it was a young woman on a bike with her boyfriend also on his bike. The Guardians would have told them to get off and walk. Anyway, they both stopped and she started talking to me, so friendly, I was astonished, then the girl introduced herself and her boyfriend and when she heard my accent asked me where I was from. I told her, I’ve lived here for eleven years but before that I lived in London and a few other places. I didn’t mention Africa, and the US, especially. Most people who start conversations with me here want to know if I’m American. I hasten to deny that. Not because I have any prejudice myself but because many French don’t like Americans. Let’s not go into gratitude here. Americans have done their stuff for La France. Anyway, I would prefer to be taken for who I am, a true Brit. And, the Brits are really à la Mode at present.
But the voice, coming initially from behind my suede trousers and vintage leopard print shirt was undeniably friendly. I explained my mission in the Tuileries –to walk an hour or so before dinner and the girl commented on the adorable nature of my accent. This is common. Whereas I would like to speak in an upper crust Parisian accent, the fans tell me “Don’t make any effort to change it,” because as they all say, it’s considered charming. The young couple and I chatted of this and that and they buzzed off on their bikes. They seemed quite sober: so I assumed they were simply being friendly, and that in itself is rare, or has usually been so. Except, I have found more and more French total strangers acting in this friendly way. I’m frankly gobsmacked, after 11 years in this grumpy city.
But, there have been a few experiences lately that have lead me to believe that Parisians are coming out of their shell. I have been waltzing in and out of the local Monoprix supermarché in my trendy St Honoré quartier for a decade now and although I have been on ‘Bonsoir” terms with a few of the local habitués, it has never gone further than that. However all of a sudden I am being plied with phone numbers and invitations to take a drink or dinner. No, no don’t get me wrong, the men have been doing this all through the eleven years, but now its women, who I assume can’t possibly have any other designs than to listen to my accent. Anglo pals of mine have noticed the same syndrome.
Is this because the English are now suddenly the fashion? One of my building’s residents came down in the lift and as I got in I spoke to him. “Ah, vous êtes Anglais” he said. Votre accènt, c’est un peu chic. Well, yes indeed, we are, but, could there be something else going on?
The French, thanks to their hideous recent history which perhaps no one in the UK can understand since the divinely protected Albion was never invaded by the Nazis, are crippled in terms of trusting fellow humans, especially foreigners.
I saw the most wonderful play at the Thèatre de Madeleine a couple of months ago. It was based on the historic fact that in August 1944, the Swedish Ambassador persuaded the German Gauleiter of Paris to rescind Hitler’s order to blow up all the historic monuments of the city as the Allies and the French Army arrived to liberate it.
I was moved to tears by the play and its historic origins and the emotions of the French people around me, many of them old enough to have been teenagers during that evil epoch.
I am now delighted if there is some chance that Parisians are awakening to the idea of friendliness as they are possibly coming out of their long period of mistrust and isolation. I’m also enjoying being in the fashion very time I open my mouth!