Part of my Montmartre preparation involves reading anything and everything vaguely related to Paris. This week has somehow managed to throw Henry Miller & Juicy Couture in Clichy into the mix.
Paris & a Hair Cut
The book I finished this week? You know the plot. Woman finds her husband has been cheating with a 23 year old. Woman moves to Paris. Cuts hair (hers not his) and then takes him back. I am, of course, paraphrasing. I don’t know about you, but I like my protagonists to be a bit more kick ass than that. Paris was a bit thin on the ground too but if that’s your bag, I respect your choice. I just like my heroines more Boudicca than Bambi.
This Week’s Paris Homework
I’m in London working this week with over ten hours of train travel. So, my new read is Henry Miller’s novella, Quiet Days in Clichy. Whereas my last read was ineffably positive (come now, it would take more than a hair cut and an “I’m sorry love” to rectify a misdemeanour of those gargantuan proportions) Miller promises to be somewhat more sobering in comparison. Note the dust jacket quote;
‘Here, even if I had a thousand dollars in my pocket, I know of no sight which could arouse in me the feeling of ecstasy.’ I know what I’m in for with Miller. He obviously didn’t have the kind of barber that makes the world rose tinted.
Quiet Days in Clichy unearthed a memory from over twelve years ago that I had forgotten. I returned to London fresh from working in a UN refugee camp eager to find work. I’d applied for one job and during the interview was randomly offered another. “How would you like to be seconded to the Metropolitan Police?” Not in a position to refuse, I’d said something along the lines of “Go on then.”
A Tale of Two Cities
The project I was seconded to was situated in a south London Borough. It was one of those strange geographical peculiarities that you find in London. Some of the most affluent, efflorescent areas of the city, smack bang next to some of the most deprived, down at heel neighbourhoods. On one side, prep schools, private colleges and hipster coffee shops charging the best part of a fiver per cup. All this juxtaposed with council estates so run down that even the police I worked with didn’t want to go there. That they could exist within the same post code and be so utterly poles apart totally mystified me.
No Such Thing as a Free Lunch, Dinner or Trip to Clichy
It was November. I’d been working on the project for eight months. The leaves were falling. Summer had cooled and autumn was on it’s way out as we headed towards winter. In a fortuitous twist of fate, our London borough was twinned with Clichy in Paris. A delegation of local politicians and what can only be described as hangers on had been invited to Paris to mark Remembrance Sunday. Our project was one of the hangers on. With my reluctant boss, who admitted he’d rather be watching a box set and eating Haribos instead, I cheerfully headed to Paris.
Dinner in the Place du Tertre
I couldn’t believe my luck that first evening when we were invited to dinner at the Place du Tertre. Seated near an open window I sat looking out at the milky silhouette of the Sacre Coeur against an indigo night sky. A cool breeze swept into the hot restaurant with the sound of people laughing, talking and drinking on the terrace below.
A loud clatter of glass and cutlery pierced the serenity. I turned to see the mayor slamming down her glass. Her lips pursed, set in a furiously tight ‘O’. She muttered bitterly about the choice of restaurant, lack of service and her general dissatisfaction with Paris per se. One final volley of insults followed by a stare that would turn milk sour directed at the waiter and she heaved herself up. Her hand angrily motioned to a minion who scurried after her as she stropped out of the restaurant into the night. I turned to my neighbour, a former Reuters journalist, along for the ride as we raised our eyebrows in unison.
Juicy Couture & Remembrance Sunday in Clichy
My great uncle, Arthur, served in the Desert Rats during World War II. He’s the man who proudly taught me and my sister where the vagus nerve is and how to disable a man with a well aimed chop to it. He shared top tips should we ever need to garrotte someone along with a verbal map of the most sensitive parts of the male anatomy. Suffice to say, I am now very well equipped to meet just about anyone on a dark night. As a result I was brought up to treat the eleventh of November with the reverence it deserved.
Remembrance Sunday arrived. The air was cold and crisp. I watched my breath cloud in front of me as I walked towards the meeting point for delegates. There in front of the coach stood the Mayor, face still framed by fury from the night before. Hands on hips, she stood head to foot in a bold, hot pink, velveteen Juicy Couture number. Maybe she’s ill and she’s not joining the ceremony, I wondered. Perhaps she has more appropriate attire on board, I posited. Had someone stolen all her other clothes? I stood agog mentally running through all of the possible reasons that she would not be wearing black. But no. The mayor had deliberately plumped for fuchsia to demonstrate her respect for the fallen. Or perhaps it was magenta retribution for the hosts choice of restaurant the night before. Who knew?
All in black, the Clichy delegation was sombre and stylish. I cringed as I followed her cerise, porcine frame throughout the procession. I don’t know what the french delegates thought. They never said. I think Great Uncle Arthur would have had a few choice words. It would have been anything but a quiet day in Clichy.