It was 1980 and I was living in a garret in 28 Rue Bobillot, Paris 13e next to the corner chemist shop. The vivid painted red walls with a foam red sofa bed took up almost the whole studio and was boiling in the summer. In fact I kept the sofa permanently down so there was only room for a table and two chairs. The integrated kitchen was cleverly built like in a caravan. Not that I cooked much. The reddish tan brick roof tops seen from the window were picturesque as I was on the 10th floor with a lift that only went up but you had to walk down. I was renting a cozy chambre de bonne. A maid's room.
The studio was owned on the curious French legal system of Viage by the patchwork quilt teacher and American textile connoisseur Sophie Campbell. Hailing from Chicago, this strong character had been born on a train and named after the famous American singer Sophie Tucker. She had bought the studio with key money and told me it was 4,000 Francs. Sophie lived in a nearby rented flat with her American partner elderly Brett who was sent to collect my rent of 800 Francs each month. We would play tric trac and chat about this and that. I looked forward to his afternoon visits especially as he would generously bring croissants and pain chocolate from the local patisserie.
One of my regrets in life is that when Sophie offered the studio to me, I thought why would I want to buy a second flat when I own one in London already? I was not farsighted enough to pay this bargain price. In fact after I left Paris because I had become nervous about walking back in the dark, Sophie moved in because Brett died unexpectedly. Within months of her moving in, the owner died and Sophie became the proud owner of the studio which today is worth a small fortune. C'est la vie!
In that era of my life I was getting up at 5.30 am and taking the metro all the way to the Mairie de Porte de Montreuil where I would deball my vintage goods brought from London. I would return in the afternoon after 14.00 and crash for the afternoon. What a life. There had to be an easier way!
It was a silent peaceful studio. Rue Bobillot was a tree lined street leading from Place d'Italie down to Porte d'Italie. Today the area is hopping with Asian restaurants but in 1980 it was quiet and frankly dull with not even a cafe in my part of the street. However there was a small street to the right, with a sprinkling of Arab bars I was told, that snaked round and joined up with the pharmacy on my corner. But I had never ventured down that street. Why would I?
One night I was walking back alone after midnight. Not a cat in sight. I was aware of a hooded being of the male species pass me to go down that verboten dark street. He pinched my bottom! Mon Dieu. I was in shock and screamed at him in French. 'Maniac sexuel'. It was the only thing that came to mind having never uttered those two words before!
The being vanished into the night. I quickened my pace almost running. It was the witching hour and there were no pumpkins to be seen. Then I thought 'what if he comes around the corner, there will be no one to help me if he attacks me.' I started to panic. My heart was pounding. I sensed the being would come around that dreaded corner. I reached the black wrought iron decorative gate of my building and pushed my door code into the metal plaque on the wall. I was just pushing the heavy door open, my heart beating so loudly that I could hear it in the silence of the night, when he appeared!
He mounted both of the steps and gazed at me directly in my startled eyes no doubt seeing the terror in them. He was a French student type with long greasy unkempt brown hair in his 20s and clearly on drugs. Slowly he said 'je ne suis pas un maniac sexuel.'
Jilliana Ranicar-Breese. Written in the Mudejar lounge of the hotel Las cases de la Juderia, Santa Cruz the old Jewish district pre 1492 of Seville, Spain. October 2015.