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.

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