June 5, 2011

Pigalle, Paris. December, 2005

When Billy Wilder’s 1963 film Irma La Douce opened, I couldn’t wait to see it. (I was 14 and didn’t meet the age requirement, but I managed to “dress older” and get into the Lavalette, NJ, theater where, two days earlier I’d passed for the under-12 discount to see Hayley Mills in Summer Magic. Just saying.) I loved it. The music, the clichéd presentation of Paris, the forbidden humor and intrigue surrounding ladies of the night. (And I also liked the film’s ads, the graphics of which I reproduced with driftwood charcoal on the side of a lifeguard shack late one night to the general disgruntlement of the awakening Silver Beach, NJ, community.) So, arriving in Paris for the first time in 1969, I made a beeline to Pigalle. Well, it was short on Hollywood glamour but still possessed a seedy charm. I can recall an older, heavy and worn woman leaning in a doorway, humming “La Vie en Rose” as I walked by. Know your audience, chérie. On a recent visit to the City of Light, I noticed that even the Parisian sex trade in Pigalle has been commercialized, the human element removed, with a supermarché erotique on almost every block, porno DVDs for sale on the sidewalk...and few ladies to be found. I suspect a misguided, late-1980s Times-Square-style cleanup by a politically motivated mayor with little respect for tradition. Have you no sense of indecency, sir?

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