Rue de la Clef: 5th arrondissement, a romantic story takes place in île de la Cité
20.30, Paris Gare du Nord, Eurostar 4920 rentre en gare. Sensual hips get off the train, go straight through shiny red Christmas decorations, but she already misses London’s lights. Paris is not as charming as before since she started to go back and forth from the 5th arrondissement to Westbourne Grove; intellectuals & French bobos have been replaced by cool British, café crème en terasse by talking on mindfulness, poached eggs and avocado.
Black stiletto heels, a cat-like stride, a beautiful young woman, carrying a big suitcase and a large green Harrods bag walks fast, then quickly gets on a cab, “You can leave me in front of the Cinema de la Clef, thank you” , “Yes Mam”.
It must have been some years ago, the Cinema was closed now, the intellectual bohemian cinema couldn’t survive the capitalistic globalization, the socialist Paris was defeated, the intellectuals were. Since the nihilist existentialists launched the challenge of reconstructing new values, Paris was able to produce BHL and Beigbeder, unfortunately. Poor Paris, Camus lying in peace far away in the South of France.
She enters an elegant Haussman building, the apartment is on the 4th floor with elevator, around 80 m2 only for her, a luxury in Paris, New Year’s alone with many rooms, many books and dvds, almost paradise.
She chose the small room with the big mirror at the foot of the bed, just upon the fireplace for herself. Mirrors always inspired her. In the room there was the wardrobe of the Landlord’s former girlfriend who still lived there; they were separated at home, but both absent for very long Christmas holidays. A quick look: naïve bras, innocent knickers, skirts and granny style dresses. Sex wasn’t good for the couple. Only two slightly less boring items: a red fur sweater and a regular although gold jacket by Cavalli, both from a charity shop. Her iphone rang. “Hi, are you in?”, Landlord worried about her moving.
“Yes I’m, tired.”
She was happy, lying in that bed, conceived for a couple but actually only fit for one person. The landlord, must have been very selfish and greedy with his former girl. They didn’t want children, and it seemed he liked back holes. She put her black sassy boots on top of the fireplace and in between them she placed a pair of very sexy red knickers, then she took a photo, scrolled her Whatsapp list: Happy New Year Landlord – sent.
A little present for her sexually frustrated landlord. She put on her cat slippers, went into the bathroom – the toilets were to be renovated – and washed with some scented lemon soap from Covent Garden, a bit of colour at least. The dining room was of a gloomy white-gray, with a granny-style Persian carpet. Dvds of her favourite filmmakers on the shelves; the complete nouvelle vague collection: Truffaut, Godard, Rohmer, etc. So nostalgic, featuring a France that didn’t exist anymore.
They reminded her of some roman Monday evenings, when she used to go to San Luigi dei Francesi, an interesting venue with roman mosaics inside, and looked at them for free. Then straight home, crossing an almost empty piazza Navona on a winter Monday evening, few VIPs around, and a terse blue Roman sky spreading upon.
The blue Roman sky: a mix of cobalt and electric blue which becomes brilliant at night, it’s for restless romantic people, for those who look for the magic that the day hides away.
On the shelves some classics on Les années de plombs,; special guest: Giulio Andreotti. Full episodes of Blue Notte, an Italian TV program on political mysteries, and a more than exhaustive collection of films on Alessandro Magno, the character her landlord believed himself to be. She was always charmed by those dreadful Italian years, so many intriguing plots that not even Sherlock Holmes could have made up a better and all true! With the landlord they liked to talk about possible links between Moro’s kidnapping and Ninfa Gardens, with a mysterious famiglia Caetani involved.
Anyway, she did have her theory on many of those politicians, what if they had married different wives, what if many of them wouldn’t have gone with prostitutes? Some say women made history, but till now only from behind, maybe with the sole exception of Jeanne D’Arc.
The landlord had set for her a room to write and do sports, and one to sing, as she would have stayed for ever, but she would leave in 10 days. The apt. was also equipped with the complete collection of two bands she liked. When they met she was moving from her house to a life she didn’t know.
While lying in bed, some memories came to her mind: “You should try my electric bike.”, “I bet it’s no different than the others” she answered. She was wearing a black lightly dress and pedaling around him along the quais de Seine, he was following with his eyes, a timeless moment of a short love story.
“Come to Greece with me!” asked Landlord that summer, “No thanks, I have to pack”.
“How do you dare to refuse my invitation?” He replied.
She realized she had made the right choice, what a “pallone gonfiato” he was!
So Landlord of rue de la Clef, next to cinema de la Clef, wanted his clef back.
They met at the mosque, in front of the Jardins des Plantes.
Mille e una notte atmosphere inside, Landlord was reading a book, waiting. She arrived and they sat on a purple couch with a golden window below, and birds singing. So a coffee became a dinner. “I can help you pay the rent, a friend has an apt. near Montmartre”. “No thank you”, “Where are you sleeping tonight? At Clara’s?” “Non, at a friend’s” “Ah, who is he?” She noticed an outburst of rage on his face and said “Stef” Then he completely forgot about the clefs. The next morning he started to harass her with calls and became furiously jealous. She was upside down because of her continuous in and out of different places, she was coming back to the mezzanine and her friend was helping her, but Lanlord insisted on joining her because he wanted to see his rival. “I’m coming”, “No, You can’t, someone is already helping me”.
He had his poor girlfriend at home and he wanted to run the life of someone else as well, the latin type was done with. He was a violent guy, he couldn’t understand that there were also good boys around, and he could have his key a bit later, but he was so arrogant he couldn’t bear a woman making her own decisions.
He was violent and she knew his secret. He stole the virginity of his little girlfriend, feeling guilty for ever and for this reason never able to love a woman, just prostitutes, in the name of his father who did the same.
The mezzanine where she slept was in a nice but kind of scary apt. in the Marais, his landlord, an American, was leaving for States and had forgot his passport the morning she was coming back. So in a very few minutes the apt.’s threshold was the most crowded place in Paris. The landlord of the Marais apt. was coming back for his passport, friend Stef as well because she had forgotten her laptop in his bag. The landlord of rue de la Clefs was also there because of totally blind of jealousy. All of them on the threshold at the same time; when one says appointment with destiny.
She was stunned to see him. By contrast he was ashamed, didn’t say hallo and looked at the ground all the time, thought his guitar was still around; he knew that place. He came the day of a missed fuck. They didn’t like the same holes.
As soon as he left she took her mobile and sent him a message: “Your behavior has been totally impolite.” “I don’t care. Fuck”. What a lord. “Unfortunately I was obliged to leave some dresses in your apt., I’ll take them back as soon as I can. As for my books, please bring them to our common friend”.
“Coming by taxi tomorrow morning with your dresses”. Landlord.
“No, you can’t. there’s no space here and I’m leaving again, I’ll call you when I’m back from London”. Sent.
The wardrobe was still squashed full of dresses belonging to his American’s former girlfriend who ran away one night some months ago in a hurry, taking with her the key of the apt., perhaps the right punishment for her American landlord, because he cheated her with one of his students. The same landlord who offered her timeless hospitality and in less than two months started to make her life hell, throwing her out every week without warning before.
So the apt. in the Marais had no key, except one, and many residents, so the key was left for months under a flower pot on top of the building; she had the sensation of risking a stay outside every time she came back. Sarcastically funny her work for AU in that period was walking throughout Paris with ten different keys in her pocket every day and visiting apts, as if that was the starting for her search for of a new house and the right keys. Our princess didn’t really like the Marais, but she was attached to the apt. where her friends used to gather together. The landlord of the Marais loved and hated her secretly.
“You are romantic, that’s the problem” he said, meaning “You are one of those few fucking stupid girls who still believe in romantic love and won’t let me to fuck you. Men have the power and I live in the Marais because it’s full of gays”. This is why her friend, who offered her a roof when she lost hers, started to treat her badly. Unfortunately these are the only possible explications to his crazy behaviors, another reason was his crazy mother, but this is another story.
Since the episode of the threshold, he couldn’t forget the two nice guys he met. So coming back from one of his weekly trips to Ethiopia, he decided not to warn her. She had fever that week and she was alone, some friends came the evening before bringing her food. His American friend was insensitive by contrast, maybe he learnt it at Yale, where he studied.
Early in the morning he entered his apt. like a thief, because he wanted to catch her in bed with a man. Like a snake he crept to the mezzanine, shouting at her at the very last minute. There was no man in her bed, only a frightened, feverish girl. She literally freaked out. “What is that mess on the table?” he shouted. She had a fever and a bad cold, couldn’t manage to clean up the evening before, and she didn’t know at all he was coming back. She felt like Cinderella, and despite the flu she decided to leave that apt. as soon as she could, for good.
He went to the bathroom, found a thermometer, which he believed to be a pregnancy test, eagerly he read it, the mercury showed 38 degrees, she was definitely pregnant!
“So you are ill? I’m sorry.”, he said in a dismissive voice and went to bed. She escaped a violent man to find another one, this is why he couldn’t stand her former boyfriend, too much competition between similar types.
As soon as she felt better, she went to the 5th and met Father Brown. Father Brown was a special person who ran l’Eglise des Bernardins in the 5th, the district she always considered her home and from where this looser philosopher, a sort of Althusser, throw her away. Father Brown took her with him and offered her a temporary shelter, for her and her dresses. Who said that the Church doesn’t like glamour? Those dresses were special, every one represented a different soul, she was all those dresses and those dresses were her.
In the days to come Landlord of rue de la Clef featured a real stolker, called her every day, wanted to know where she was. After some weeks, she suggested they meet at the Bourgogne, a café in square Medard, a kind of headquarter during her squatting year. He was drinking a coffee waiting for her, carrying a valise with her dresses. Those dresses had power over him, he feared them, their powerful charm, an obsession which haunted him, the proof of his unfaithfulness. She arrived, sat facing him, ordered a coffee and whispered ‘You’re a failure also as a friend, shame on you.” You You…’ he stood up, didn’t have enough words, left his coffee on the table and went to the door, he liked thresholds, and from there started to shout incomprehensible sentences. All the fauna of the 5th was listening: “You shouldn’t, You didn’t dare! …” Here the maître de conference, here the former ENS student, here the son of the director of an important University in Paris, and then ran away. She drank her coffee in peace at least, and the barman didn’t want her to pay, he said “Mr. Iain will pay next time.” “Thank you”. Unfortunately, he still had her books.
photos: credits Zelda