Life before yoga: was I petite Nicole? 6. Determination wanes
The days passed as quickly as my diminishing bank account and still, “Non,” was the only part of the response to my question, “Do you have any vacancies?” that I understood. Any potential miscommunication was quickly dismissed with a slight smirk of disgust at my lack of French and a shrug of the shoulders, as if to brush me off their person, a speck of English filth. It was incredibly frustrating, not least because in hindsight, I’m sure that I was grossly disadvantaged by the weather. Had I been hunting for a job wearing my usual summer attire, naturally affording more flesh exposure and the opportunity to see the shape of my figure, including my 32D sized bust, I’m almost positive that a role would have somehow been available at one of these bistros or brasseries. I have to say though, that I am still somewhat non-plussed over this high-concentration of middle-aged, oak-aged or perhaps more accurately, tobacco-aged men that there seemed to be in the hospitality industry. It’s quite normal to be served ‘une bière’ in a Tabac in Paris by someone whose teeth match the colour of the nicotine stained ceiling and whose few remaining hairs are greased back from their face. This is so they can be sure there’s nothing to impede the view from under the drooping, crinkled flaps of skin that now constitute eyelids, earned by many a year of labour and perhaps, love. Something I had discovered about this breed though, was that being a single girl in Paris made it very easy to take advantage of their inherently predatory nature. It was rarely necessary to pay for a coffee or a glass of wine if I were sitting alone.
One afternoon for example, I wandered into Amelie’s Café, having been taken there by some friends who were following the Amelie Trail – the various places in Paris that Amelie was filmed. (Yes I did do some cultural stuff though I am the first to admit, not much. I just wasn’t into going to museums and looking at old pretty ornaments when I could look at new ones the ceramics shops in Soho. Neither did I want to look at dead bodies and mummies when they shouldn’t be in a museum, they should be in tombs in Egypt, or paintings of old rich, now dead bourgeoisie bastards. Modern French art is mostly weird and I can see stuff like that in The Tate so why bother? The one concession I made was the Picasso Museum (which I was bored of half way round).
Solitarily, I drank a glass of wine and as I searched my pockets for the 3 euro payment, the waiter approached.
“Non Mademoiselle. I cannot accept this! It is not necessary for such a beautiful girl to pay for her wine.”
“Really?” I asked, eyebrows raised somewhere between; petulance at such an affront on feminism that as a woman I shouldn’t be expected to pay; and elation at the realisation that I had an opportunity to play them at their own game. All’s fair in love and war n’est ce pas? Of course I accepted the offer but declined to leave my telephone number.
“Aaaaargh!” I wailed at my avid audience – Robbie and Alex a few nights later, “I’ve spent a total of 7 weeks moving from one hostel to another and back again and I’m running out of hope!”
“Come on Shortie, something’ll come up. Don’t panic,” said Robbie in his irritatingly nonchalant manner (though in truth I was jealous of his nonchalance). “That’s ok for you to say.” I responded, shaking my hands in distress. “You’ve got a job and somewhere to live. Show off! And you can at least get over the basics of communication. I can just about manage to say, ‘Pass me the plonk please.’”
“Have you tried the American church?”
“Yep. Like the millions of other exiles I have been down in the freezing cold at 9am when they post up the new adverts in the hope of finding that hidden gem and bagging the job before one of the other cretins who were probably sleeping rough just to make sure they got in first.”
“And?” Robbie looked hopeful.
“I bagged an interview the other day. Turned out to be more lump of poo than hidden gem. Poo and puke courtesy of her 6 month old child to be exact. It was an American woman looking for some help 3 days a week.”
“So it was a no-go then?”
“Well, apart from the fact that 60 euros a week is not going to keep me in socks let alone cover the cost of the cheese I seem to be consuming of late, and even if I found two more days work, at that rate, I couldn’t afford rent, never mind food. I just don’t quite envisage myself mopping up puke and poop three days a week.”
“Most of the people I met in the first couple of weeks who decided to come and live in Paris have already given up and gone home,” said Alex. “You’ve got this far. I’m sure there’s something just round the corner for you.”
“I don’t know if I can wait till I get to the corner. Besides, where is this flipping corner. Covered in dog shit I expect. I’ve been coping with roommates where the sum total of our communication amounts to, ‘can you pass me the toilet roll please’ in hand signs because they speak Japanese or something. I’m really growing tired of dragging around my suitcases, living off microwave meals, McDonald’s breakfasts, lukewarm shared showers and lugging my clothes to the launderette.”
“Ah. That explains why your arms are getting longer,” piped in Robbie.
“Alright smart arse!”
I remember that as I climbed into my top bunk that night, the structure of which resembled a banana, I felt extremely jealous of the Chinese girl on the bunk below who’d sensibly bunged up her ear holes with plugs. I could just make out a tear of dribble glistening as it ran down her snoring mouth onto her chin.
My hopes of escape were resting on the fact that somehow Monika and I might find a rich Russian to purchase one of her pieces of art or her ‘children’, as she referred to them. I would be able to set myself up on the commission and Monika, well, the possibilities were endless. If Hirst could get away with commanding millions for a pickled shark and unmade beds win art prizes, I saw no reason why a work of art that does actually have something to say, shouldn’t be bought for serious money. It is of course unfortunate that art become a consumer product however, until such time as living is free, this state of affairs is inevitable whether we are talking about a painting or a poem. I felt, perhaps we had a chance. Monika had opened her exhibition without the traditional vernissage (an opening show where press and potential buyers and genuine art critics would be invited to see the work and generally, get pissed and show off). It would be tough to organise without any funding or contacts but we had the exhibition space and with some scouting around, there was a possibility we might pull it off. I resolved to give it a go.
“Perhaps we could make it a performance,” said Monika as we trod the pavement of a sidestreet, which branched off the Champs Elysée. “We’ll get some live models to ‘act’ Mademoiselle Guillotine, play some powerful music, project video on the walls.”
“I think it’s a great idea but I think our best starting point is going to be to network to start with. We need people with money to invite and excite,” I said. “Otherwise it’ll be an empty event.”
Walking closer, “Vodka 380 euros, 2002 Louis Roederer Cristal 700 euros,” I read aloud from the menu in its gold and glass case. “It sounds like this must be the place.” I said, turning to Monika, as we looked up at the sign over the darkened doorway on which was inscribed, Raspoutin.
“Excellent, let’s have a look inside,” she said heading for the door.
“Attendez,” came a voice from within. I looked closer into the shadows and realised that there was a doorman buried deep in his green and gold livery, peeking at us from under his top hat.
“Are you members of the club?” he asked in French.
“I’m sorry but no.” I replied. “It is a members only club?” I asked meekly.
“Yes, so unfortunately, even though you are both very beautiful, I’m afraid that I can’t allow you past. I’m very sorry.”
Crestfallen, having felt that we had come so close to meeting our target, Monika and I turned on our heels and headed for the nearest bar that we actually would permit us entry and straight back out again after looking at the prices on the menu.
“Mesdames!” Came a shout from behind us. Turning, we looked to see a short, balding fat man running attempting to run towards us, his tie tickling his chubby cheek with the force of the wind and spittle caught in the corner of his moustache.
“Excusez-Moi! Est-ce que vous-êtes prostituées?” He inquired.
“No we fucking well aren’t! Get lost!” I yelled back at him. It was his turn to look crestfallen. “Unbelieveable.” I said looking at Monika, then down at my clothes to double check that I hadn’t accidentally walked out of the hostel in anything which could be construed as being whore-like dress. Nope. Definitely not. It was just the sordid bloody French again.
The following morning, on arriving at the ‘gallery,’ we discovered another setback. A Pavarotti look-a-like was busy unloading a lorry full of clothing onto rails, which ran the entire circumference of the room. He was eccentrically dressed in a large, baggy pair of pink and black chequered trousers. I thought I’d give him his due in case he was blind or had been involved in a fashion collision but it was soon clear that the former was not true. Dresses dangled from the open stairway, hats adorned the centre table and Monsieur Pavarotti lorded over his assistant who could just be made out under the layers of cellophane covered bundles of clothes he carried. “Hi,” I said to him, slightly flabbergasted. “I’m Nicola, a friend of Monika who was exhibiting her art here yesterday.” I gestured to Monika who was stood next to me.
“Hello” he said, barely glancing up. “I’m a friend of Lucien.” He paused as though looking for recognition. “I’m a fashion designer.” He said, with emphasis. “I’m selling some of my clothes from here for the next few weeks. I have a lot to do so, excuse me.” He turned away from us abruptly and began brusquely fussing with the rails.
“Where are my prints?” asked Monika.
“Sorry? Prints? What are you talking about?” he responded.
“There were some large prints of photographs set around the room. Do you know where they are?”
“Ah, those strange pictures? They are over there.” He said, pointing in the direction of the stairs.
Hurriedly, Monika and I collected the pictures and made a swift exit from the gallery.
“Well, if his dress sense is anything to go by, it’s going to take him a while to shift that lot.” I said.
“Pah!” said Monika. “He is a joke. Look at his hair. It hasn’t been washed in weeks and his trousers, I will not think about them. It is too… disturbing.”
“Well. Now we’re truly buggered.” I said, as we stood looking up the street at the looming silhouette of the Louvre.
To read earlier stories in my Paris adventures, check out the Life before yoga category…