so tonight in the next to last metro home a woman came nearly past but instead up to me and said “do we know each other?” “no,” i said, “i just smile all the time.” i had been smiling at her momentarily and so that was her chance to stop in front of me and begin talking. she had grey white hair with all the hair the same colour – that’s kind of rare if you look around at your friends or at your own hair in the mirror – and her top teeth were squiggly and her bottom teeth were all long and encrusted with age and food. this is a grosteque picture of her mouth but in fact she was lovely to look at, and a welcome voice on the same train platform, creating a circle of two women talking, one with grey white hair and one with various light and dark brown and reddy blonde hair, to make a small temporary force field together against late-night man trouble.
although it turned out she hadn’t always had a force field around her. she showed me in the first few minutes of conversation a plastic bag and inside the plastic bag was a dvd with her same face on it – grey white hair, long bottom teeth, smooth 69 year old french skin, looking at least ten years younger than australian skin. when she was 18 a man took her to america to be a prostitute and so, this was the story she recounted to me in the six metro stops to where we were both getting off the train. she told me about selling the dvds of her life story, which is how she earns her living now, and about how things got bad in the time of peak aids, and about the fact of not drinking or smoking and just eating fruit making her skin stay nice as it truly was. when she asked me to guess her age i thought about my mum – how old was this woman compared with her? – and thought about how to give a true but also potentially flattering answer. it didn’t occur to me at the time that she too could be my mum.
this happens often, people tell their whole story, or some particularly intimate part to me. earlier in the day i went to buy a banana on the way down through the streets towards the river and the man in the grocery store and i ended up talking about french attitudes to contraception. he was not being sleazy when he said, through his long eyelashes and islamically and grocery-store influenced world view, amongst all his opinions “it’s like licking honey through a pane of glass”. at first i thought he meant sex without being in love is like that, but in fact this was his way of describing sex with a condom. he explained to me how women in his village who didn’t have access to the pill or other contraceptives seemed to do very well with taking care with their husbands of the times in their menstrual cycle for not getting pregnant, and other special methods for when that way couldn’t account for desire.
i couldn’t understand everything the woman in the metro was saying, but one of the things was definitely about her job changing during the biggest aids time and how that affected condoms/no condoms/being able to do the job she was doing with or without the fear of death. “life and death” were also mentioned in the little grocery store, through the smiling conversation with the long lashes man. i can see his face and her face now as i think back to them.
i went to see music too, in a record store. a band called “volage” who later my friends and i agreed on a rating of 65% for, given the mainly excellent self-mix the band did of the semi-acoustic versions of their songs, the mix of songs that seemed like solid hits and those that lacked some balls, the mix of band members with and without charisma, the feeling it was all good but not mind-blowing, but still good. during the show the room of variously cool 20-45 year olds nodded along, drank the free wine and beer, mainly refrained from talking so as to be respectful to the music, and kept their ideas about aids, contraception, making a living by working 16 hour shifts in a grocery shop or as an international prostitute for the moment to themselves. it’s not a fair review because we only saw them play once and it’s hard to compete general folk-rock lyrics with a man bringing out “it’s like licking honey through a pane of glass”, but in french, in a grocery store where you’ve got a banana in your hand and as usual the almost-total absurdity and impending end of the world on your mind.
p.s. climate change
p.p.s here is an unrelated photo of some great dogs we saw in the bois de vincennes