In the early 1980’s a sequence of events unfolded, a storm, actually, that blew me from the British West Indies to a recording session in Paris, where suddenly Bach to playback had rekindled an obsession with music. I was too stubborn to be wary and threw myself like a lemming off the cliff, despite the warnings of friends.
“Stop trying to be Jacqueline du Pré,” snapped Charles. But the opportunity had come, and I grabbed it. With predictable consequences, I suffered a relapse. My ego was shattered, ripped apart, and scattered. My Don Q. towed me, by now a leaking vessel with torn sails, into port. Well, out to dinner, one creamy Parisian dusk down the banks of the Seine, looking for a restaurant.
Paris had closed down for the month of August. Shops were boarded up restaurants were closed. White shutters shrouded entire buildings into summer tombs. Outside the streets were empty. The air was close, smelling of the sticky sap that oozed from the chestnut and plane trees. There was a wonderful silence during August in Paris, and the distant murmur of traffic or the odd echo of a mobilette straining up some nearby cobbled street.
Don Q. was leaving the next day, and that night we had a farewell dinner. The following morning he left. A friend of his, a young queen came to talk to me, and suggested taking me out that night with his friends.
Round midnight, they arrived in a dreamboat, a Cadillac convertible, driven by a breathtakingly beautiful man. In the rear seat sat two rare specimens of Parisian youth.
We went to the Palace…,
(originally opened as a music-hall in 1923, it was transformed into a cinema at the end of the Second World War. The rather banal history of this establishment though took an abrupt turn with the birth of disco, and when it was reinvented as a nightclub in 1978, a myth was born. Throughout the 1980s it became the Parisian equivalent of New York’s Studio 54, hosting shows by artists such as Grace Jones and the first public appearance of Prince. It was not generally considered a trendsetter though, but rather a jet setter. The focus was not so much on the music but on the people, and it was the nightspot of choice for princes and millionaires, fashion designers and models. For nearly 20 years it was the heartbeat of the Paris night scene, regularly reinventing itself to cater for the Gay crowd, and the younger followers of House and Techno music. Like the Hacienda in Manchester however, it eventually became a victim of changing fashions, with people increasingly seeking out smaller, more specialised locations. It had always been an establishment with a hedonistic reputation, and with moral panics over the supposed substances that people were taking in the 1990s coupled with rises in numbers of complaints from increasingly upmarket neighbours, it was fated to disappear.By 1996, the night clubbers had moved on to other places and the owners went bankrupt).
…and sat in a large booth in the half-empty club. It was Don Q. territory all right. People came and went all evening. They were a good-looking, fast moving crowd and they never stopped laughing, drinking, smoking, and knocking back pills. A handsome Woodstock hippie tottered across the dance floor towards our banquette. He sat down next to me. “Hi, don’t take any of that crap, it’s really bad for you”, he advised. I took his advise. He then managed to chaperon me the rest of the night. In Los Angeles, everyone was surly and cynical; these kids here were having too much fun. Everything about the evening was deja-vu. I realized I was witnessing the last of the glittering Disco era.
I sailed out of the club as the dawn rose behind the slate roofs.
My chaperon had followed me. We stood outside waiting for a taxi. He regarded me with a curious half-smile. “We know each other,” he said, finally. I couldn’t place him. He laughed. “Quad-Eight”, he said. For a second I was back in L.A., and the man before me bore little resemblance to…”A.?” He laughed again. “Maybe. You have my number. Call me sometime,” he blew me a kiss and returned to the unnatural night. It would be twenty years before we meet again.
I got into a taxi and clattered back to the Île Saint-Louis, as the sky turned to a pale summer blue and another long hot lazy day began in the deserted city. I was thinking of Oscar Wilde. He must have limped through the same streets, penniless and toothless, after nights spent chasing grooms and footmen in the Moulin Rouge. I sank into bed, wondering what the wallpaper had been like that inspired his final recorded witticism. (“Well,one of us had to go…”)
That night I decided to move to Paris.
I spent the summer in the South of France in my caravan at a friend’s house. At the end of September, I moved into Brigitte’s apartment. I planned to stay for a few months, but ended up living there for two years. It was a beautiful place, small, discreet, lost in a time warp. A couple looked after me. He a sweet man called Claude, she a witch called Catherine. One day I came into my room to find the two of them poring over my spread of “X” rated Polaroids, from then on the ice was broken.
I cut myself off from the outside world and lived in virtual seclusion. The past disappeared and I felt like a ghost. Being a foreigner is one of the great delights. You are a silent observer. The first year I improved my French. I let conversations wash over me and I could not have been happier.
When Don Q. came back into town, he became my official guide. He introduced me to his Paris circle of acquaintances. They were exotic blooms that lived fast and faded faster. During the short time I lived in Paris, one by one they fell away. However, that first year, they were fresh and shiny. They all thought the train they were on would stop at a convenient station and they could get off. One always does.
My friend Brigitte represented the other end of the social spectrum. Très distingué. Don Q. was always at his best behaviour. He assumed his courtly “Siegfried” demeanor in her company. To him she was Marie Antoinette. Don Q. had managed to secure a location shoot, from one of his ‘cinema friends’, at Brigitte’s clan headquarters. The chatelaine, a delightful tiny lady and Brigitte’s aunt, welcomed us on the morning of the first day of shooting. She was accompanied by her sexy grandson Edouard. Don Q. was at his best behaviour. Nevertheless, I could sense trouble.
An old school French film set was an extremely civilised affair. Filming always began with a delicious lunch. Tables with white tablecloth were set-up in the garden. Wine bottles, baguettes, and flowers decorated the tables. The three-course meal was followed by Camembert and coffee, and slowly the conversation would drift to work.
Friends came and went. The day our friend Larissa arrived, caused a big stir. Edouard was instantly smitten. The chateau was a deeply romantic place. The remains of formal gardens stretched out on all sides towards beautiful woods full of mysteries. Madame could be seen walking with her dog by her side. Don Q. would visit her often for drinks. She called him “Monsieur”, and he called her “Madame”, and their rapport was a film all of its own.
It was of course delightful to be on the other side of Don Q’s schemes of seduction. He loved weaving his web. His eyes glittering at the beauty of his fabrications. He held the crew enthralled. His fantasies very much depended on his moods, and those moods changed with the wind. Luckily he soon tired of the country life and disappeared without a word back to Paris. Larissa and Edouard were married a year later. Don Q. was best man. (Are you paying attention Clive?)