A Madelaine in Paris
Between the neon blur of Pigalle and the sneering mouths of Saint Michel, Paris is a sprawling bindweed of sex and cynicism. The hungry and the wantless all cram into their segregated cliques, demanding more.
Let’s start in Pigalle. Its the sex district, and mon dieu, do you know it. Tired, lined faces of Romanian prostitutes line every wall, and each shop proudly displays improbably large phalluses and garish lycra that I imagine is supposed to be sexy. I’m interested in the women here, but feel too ridden with privileged voyeurism to stare or ask how they ended up in the underworld.
A Russian man shouts loudly in the hotel room next to mine, and I hear his children later in a Skype call. Two prostitutes arrive minutes later and he shamelessly lasts four minutes. Loudly. They leave. Others will keep him company later. Sex addiction? Possibly. I just wonder if his wife knows. Probably. A life heard through a wall.
Onto more polite conversation, Sir? Of course. Let’s discuss St Michel and the Biennale. Yes, the patina on that figure is extraordinary. Yes, Sepik work does inspire some raw energy within the audience. Oh, Jean? An old friend, yes, so knowledgeable on Gabon. Brexit? Terrible.
I see your wife sneering at me, fresh young predator that I am. She reeks of Dior and covert alcoholism. I know she is interrogating me, testing my knowledge of ibeji and fetish pieces to make sure I’m not too common to be gossiped about. I’m too young, too absurdly dressed, too alive. When did she lose the light in her eyes, Sir? She reminds me of a pike; sharp, frightening and hunting.
You though? I flatter your ego as you brush your lips against my cheek in an oh so parisienne fashion. Hand on my waist, shoulder, I bluntly give in to your permitted gropery. I’ll even flirt with the dealers if it eases the tension. My boyfriend watches on, pimp like as they commend my youth and announce he has done well, with me, the most alive of his collection.
Am I being unfair? I love you, Paris. We’ve been seeing each other since childhood. American women fawn over you like a movie star still trapped in a role he now detests. Not me. I see you, aging, lecherous and tired old town, hot and cold and bare and seething. But I know you well enough to see past your suave charms. I love you. But let’s keep our affair for two quick weeks, and then part as friends.