Road 2 Elsewhere, Excerpt #42: The Least Likely Customer in Paris’s Red Light District
That would be me.
LIKE GOLDMUND, POST-SEDUCTION, I was soon off to explore Europe. (Link to that story, here. It involves literary sex, as imagined by Herman Hesse, so you might want to give it a read.)
But not without a last blast on the town with my Irish friend Seamus, which I wrote about in detail in my journals.
And I didn’t have time for a full accounting of my final, forbidden-fruitless night with Diamant? Maybe I was simply too ashamed by my body shyness to write another word about it.
But I could handle walking, dining, and ogling around Paris with a non-threatening male friend, though.
We began our farewell tour at Chartier, Metro Rue Montmartre. The place was teeming with Frenchmen, all lured by the passable, inexpensive food and the 6F bottles of wine. But it wasn’t just cheap. It was the atmosphere of the place: Wooden beams, vast mirrors, plaster walls, brass coat racks and shelving, wooden chairs, sawdust floor, globe chandeliers, ventilator fans in the ceiling, wooden balcony, shouting waiters, the masses in full cry — hustle at its most pleasant, energetic level.
Bouillion Chartier, 7 Rue du Faubourg Montmartre, Paris. I’ll be dining there again next month, actually. “Garçon! Plus d’huîtres s’il vous plait!”
OK, I’ll say “please” this time.
During dinner Seamus turned to me with yet another lovelorn sigh and said, “Ach…I don’t know if it’s the wine or what, but right now I wish I were with [lamented ex-GF] Glynnis instead of you.”
No, Seamus, I thought angrily at the time, that is an unforgivable statement. She’s worth no more than a close friend. Love is only a different relationship, not a panacea of happiness.
It was a strain to listen to him say, endlessly, “You know, this reminds me of the time Glynnis and I sat on that bench…stood by the Seine…talked about Homer…peed on the ground, etc.” It just lost me.
On the way back to the Quartier Latin we got off the Metro at Strasbourg St. Denis to have a look at the prostitutes. How filled the dark streets were — men with no other reason to be loitering there than the sex for sale. They (we) all looked like men with some great purpose fixed in our minds, but trying to deny our true missions by walking rigidly and staring fixedly forward. The silence of the Johns.
I wasn’t a participant. Just an observer. Just like my love life at the time.
The prostitutes stood down linoleum hallways illuminated by single light bulbs, flashing their wares. Some exposed as much as possible without giving away free samples, while others dressed comparatively normally. Their customers must have self-sorted that way. Some men were after a more subtle availability, and others simply wanted sex that was as zipless as possible. I was tantalized and horrified in equal measure. The latter probably saved me from a souvenir STD, which might have torpedoed my whole tour, and been a hell of a thing to explain to my mom.
Driven by the hormones in the air, we stopped into “le sex shop” and saw all the paraphernalia of the only animal blessed with, or even in need of, a concupicent imagination. All of those giant acrylic erections, just waiting for an orifice to plumb. The fluorescent-lit sex toys made me feel vaguely sick to my stomach. Or maybe it was the oysters from Chartier.
Upon returning to the Alliance Française we presented our favorite concierge with a bottle of wine; after that, we had a long talk (in French) about war. Our concierge friend had been shot in more places than I have fingers to count them, entry and exit wounds still remain as patches of seamy skin, still lurid even with thirty years’ passage.
“Farewell, old friend. But before you go, would you happen to have a copy of my room key?”
He painfully earned his “mutilés de guerre” seat on the Metro.
567,600 French soldiers and civilians lost their lives in World War 2. Hats off, every one.
Not that there are many of them left to claim that seat, of course.
*On alternating weekends (or, alternately, when the mood strikes) I run excerpts from The Road to Elsewhere, my coming-of-age-travel-memoir-with-funny-drawings. (The first entry is here. Most recent one is here. Or dive in here, here, or even here.) It details the story of my road through Paris, London, and god help me, Zagreb, in search of the ultimate destination: a life worth living. The story so far: Young Peter has arrived in Paris, occupied a dorm room at the Alliance Française language school, tiptoed out onto the Boulevard Raspail and the Paris Metro, and made the first steps on the road to elsewhere. If it’s too much to read, just look at the illustrations. They’re my favorite part, too.