Letter from Paris

Letter from Paris

How much can you squeeze into a weekend in Paris? Well, Raidd Bar, Peré Lachaise Cemetery, a show at Moulin Rouge and dinner at Charlot Roi des Coquuillages, reports Stewart Who?

What do you do when a friend’s flown in from LA and wants to do Paris, but you’re so poor, you spend more time in the ‘reduced’ section of the supermarket than in your own bed? Well, you glug back the Châteauneuf-du-Pape and jump on the Eurostar in a rosy state of drunken denial. We took up residence at Hotel Duo Axial Beaubourg, slap bang in the middle of the Marais.

As one of the few quarters in Paris that’s retained its original pre-Revolution architecture, it’s just a joy to wander round, doing nothing specific but gawping at the dinky 17th century courtyards, feeling like a pox riddled tramp in Les Mis.

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Go-go boys

After dinner at Le Trois, we squeezed into Raidd Bar which is the area’s hottest gay bar. Axel Bampton was DJing and it was like being on the Northern Line during rush hour, but with banging pop-trance and people shouting in French. Raidd is known for two things; topless barmen who all look like escaped convicts on steroids- very Jean Genet- and for les shower boys du Raidd Bar. Basically, in one corner of the bar is a podium/shower stall where go-go boys get wet and naked, while mesmerised mingers ogle the wet pectorals.

Whilst pondering the mis en scene, we met an outrageously loud and camp African queen, claiming to be a model, but lacking the height, if not the catwalk swish. ‘Thierry’ took us to Le CUD Bar, where he made a huge show of sweeping us into the club like he’d fast-tracked us into Studio 54. This was highly entertaining, as there was no queue and entry was free. Still, it made us feel special.

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Thierry’s imagined status took a knock when he attempted to jump the cloakroom queue for us. This bold move caused an enormous fight on the cramped, ancient stone stairs, so with Britney ringing in our ears, we left Thierry and the scrapping queens and headed to La Boîte à Frissons at Tango.

Loosely translated the name of the club means ‘thrill box’, surprisingly, not a reference to desirable genitals, but a slang term for the accordion. Boîte à Frissons was the term used during the halcyon days of 1930s musette. In keeping with the theme, the soiree is held in a ‘50s dancehall, complete with wooden floors, tricolour bunting and school-style seating.

For the early part of the evening they played everything from the paso doble to the cha cha, moving into The Madison, heralding a few hours of ‘80s cheese and European pop. It was gripping to watch eccentrically styled Parisians getting down to Dexy’s ‘Come on Eileen’ under the dappled highlights of an ancient mirror ball. We were there ‘til it shut at dawn.

Doll’s head hoo ha

After a quick croque monsieur and a restorative glass of champagne, we hightailed it to Peré Lachaise Cemetery, apparently the most visited boneyard in the world. Vying for attention (or should that be dying?) amongst the 1,000,000 who’re buried here are Balzac, Edith Piaf, Chopin and Proust, but many come to smoke a joint on Jim Morrisson’s grave. We did that.

My friend Corey then caused a minor furore by photographing a doll’s head on various old tombs. What for? Dunno. He’s one of Hollywood’s biggest hair stylists and it’s an arty side-project for his website. Pensioners were horrified, tourists were intrigued and a security guard got most upset. So, after a quick- nous sommes très désolés, we fled.

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Gastronomic orgasm

Following a raft of recommendations, we got dollied up and went to Charlot Roi des Coquuillages for dinner. It was possibly the most perfect meal ever to grace my mouth, which is a good job, because you could buy a house in Knightsbridge for the price of a meal for two.

From the foie gras crème brulee appetiser to the flame-grilled salt crusted sea bass via Fin de Claire oysters, it was a gastronomic orgasm. The fact that the glittering Paris institution is an explosion of 1926 art deco décor, complete with mirrored ceilings and marine frescoes, well, that helped add to the magic.

Bohemian essence

Feeling full and fine, we wandered up the road for the highpoint of the weekend- a table at the Moulin Rouge. Despite a reservation, we queued for a chilly 40 minutes which almost poisoned it for me, but with a frozen-stiff upper lip, we grimly persevered. Built in 1889 by Joseph Oller, the club once epitomised the very essence of bohemian, Belle Epoque Paris. Physically, it still does.

Walking into the twinkling, chattering, plush-yet-careworn auditorium was easily the most exciting part of the evening. Our descent into this decadent ambiance was punctured somewhat when we were seated next to the stage, but to the far left. This led to a mild altercation- well, at 89 Euros each, you wanna good seat, right?

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Lithe bodies

There was an upside to the seats- when the dancers exited the stage, they were so close to the table, we could feel the breeze of their feathered outfits and the faint aroma of maquillage and perfume. But what of the show itself? The girls were undeniably stunning, with lithe bodies and surgery-free boobs, but the boys? A dreadful bunch of super-camp freaks who were the antithesis to the girls; unsexy, cheesily dressed and cheap-looking.

If you’re gonna put men in a show which, let’s face it, is about tits and feathers, at least match the standard of the ladies. The highlight of the show was definitely the giant fish tank full of fat sea snakes which one of the girls ‘fell’ into and proceeded to writhe around in with glee.

The phallocentricity and prehistoric savagery of the act was entirely appropriate, unlike the juggler, ventriloquist and tumbling clowns who also took turns when the showgirls were changing their extravagant outfits.

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Kitsch and tame

Having seen East End pole dancers, Torture Garden fetish shows, Bangkok sex performances and La Clique at London’s Hippodrome, the Moulin Rouge was always gonna feel a little tame. However, as a period piece and a kitsch couple of hours of light entertainment, it delivered with gusto. Post-show, we jumped in a cab and ran to La Scène Bastille for one of their monthly after-hours rave ups, but that, mes chéris, is another story entirely.

First Published: January 2009 TheHospitalClub.com

 

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