Autobiography & Memoir
Have you ever been taken for a prostitute? Well I have - twice! Once in Brazil by association and the second time in Paris in the late 70s. Ooh la la!
I had rented a charming first floor flat in Rue Campagne Premiere, a street known for the numerous famous artists who had lived and worked at #9 and the famous building where my landlord lived, designed by Andre Arfvidson with its exquisite ceramic tiles by Andre Bigot. I resided at 27 Rue Campagne Premiere, overlooking an inner courtyard, in Montparnasse. I had arrived in Paris for a job with the French cultural student organisation, FMVJ located in the Quartier Latin but was ousted by a fils de papa and so ended up finally working as a supersonic typist at the OECD in posh La Muette where the streets were paved with dog shit!
Not having friends in the beginning, I was naturally lonely for the company of the male species. My only social life revolved around going to art gallery vernissages on the Left Bank early evenings once every two or three weeks and weekly to the photographer Willy Maywald's salon on Saturday nights in the rue de la Grande-Chaumiere, Montparnasse close to my flat off the Boulevard Raspail where the famous film 'Bout de souffle' had been filmed.
Willy's salon was at the precise time of 8.00 to 10.30 pm so I regularly took myself off to a friendly female owned Vietnamese restaurant close by that opened at 7.00 for the evening's trade. The smiling owner always welcomed me as an habitue so I didn't feel bashful about the social stigma of dining alone.
It always annoyed me when the restaurant waiter knows you are dining alone, and will always remove the plate and cutlery opposite so that you are then even more conscious you are alone! Never would you be joined by another solo diner!
That evening, as I was savouring my Hanoi beef soup, a pleasant looking conventional man in his 30s walked in and sat opposite me on his own so in fact we were facing each other. As it was early, no one else would be in the restaurant for at least another hour at 8.00, the usual Parisian hour to indulge gastronomically. It seemed stupid not to enter into a polite conversation. The usual boring 'How long have you lived in Paris?' And all that jazz scenario.
Jean-Paul introduced himself and asked me what I recommended to eat. He was French Canadian and so spoke perfect English. He seemed to presume I was a regular and so we spoke of Vietnamese food and it's ingredients. He was a sports coach so I knew we would have nothing in common to talk about at any length after the social niceties had ended.
I told him I had to be somewhere around the corner at 8.00. He explained he was in the area because he was going to a small arts theatre close by and the performance began also at 8.00. He would be meeting friends and when the show finished at 10.00, they would be going for drinks to Fouquet's on the Champs Elysees. Would I like to come too?
I had never been to the Right Bank, especially at night and bien sur never to one of the poshest places in Paris. I was a Left Bank habitue. Obviously I accepted. Even though I had to leave Maywald's salon before the end, I considered it to be a better social option and I was smartly dressed and made up already, so pourquoi pas? We thus agreed to meet in the theatre foyer at 10.15 pm.
I arrived on time excited to be with French branche people. On seeing me arrive, Jean-Paul ushered me to one side not introducing me to his well heeled friends and asked me straight out if I was a putain!
I was so shocked, I blurted 'no' and ran away crying with humiliation. I felt even lonelier than ever and confused. Just because I was alone and going somewhere, he must have assumed I had a client between 8.00 and 10.00. Little did he know that Willy Maywald was gay with a coterie of young lovelies as he sat in state on his couch in his high glass ceilinged atelier. Certainly no hanky-panky there!
Today, decades later I would have handled it differently. I might have laughed in his face. I might have taken it as a compliment. I would have interrogated the insignificant male species with scorn, wanting to know if he really wanted me to be a putain or not, how much he would have paid me, which services he would have required. I would have asked him about his sexual frustration, his fantasies and really humiliated him. But then I thought, maybe he was just checking I was not, so that if he thought in his ignorance, he stood a chance of 'having me' after 'Fouquets' or was it 'Fuquets' then he wouldn't have to pay! He was not my type anyhow and I was not that desperate for a F----! Mon Dieu!
Ladies, how would you have handled the same situation today or yesterday?
Written in the Marco Polo Mansion, Rhodes Old Town, Greece on 16.9.17
Wikipedia - Willy Maywald
Google - Le Fouquet
Wikipedia - Rue Campagne Premiere
Wikipedia - Rue de la Grande-Chaumiere