September 23, 2003


Is it a coincidence that the gay ghetto in Paris is in a neighbourhood called Le Marais (or "The Swamp")? For all the Dionysian excesses that go on here, it is no wonder. Gay ghettoes can be a pain - witness the contrived village atmosphere in SF's Castro - but here it actually works. Gay businesses sit happily together with others, and all of them are straight-friendly. Since there is so much competition, all staff are extremely friendly and welcoming and the quality of the service and food is superb. No more talk about snooty Parisian waiters, please. Ours at the AOC Café, where we had evening dinner and breakfast the next morning, was quite flirty (although I still can't figure out where friendliness ends and flirtations begin with these Latin people), but what was more, when we saw him on the street two days later he actually recognised us and said hi.
My friend Erwin, who came over from Belgium for a weekend in Paris, took us to a restaurant (I'm sorry I didn't note down the name), where the food was superb. It didn't matter whether the place was gay owned, run or cooked, the quality of their service was what counted. It showed when other restaurants in the area were deserted. Competition on quality works, Auckland take note.

Culture-wise (of the non-sexual variety) we got our fair share too. Highly recommended is the Carnavalet Museum about the city's history. It has the actual bedroom of Marcel Proust where he wrote all those interminable books after he spent his youth as a party boy. The bed he wrote in didn't look particularly comfortable, so I guess that played a part in his torturous writings. On another floor they had the whole history of the French revolution depicted in artefacts from the time, including a hair lock from Marie Antoinette (presumably from before she lost her head) and the bedroom of King Louis XVI from his prison in Le Temple, including a miniature pool table and chess set. All very sad, but I caught myself humming the Marseillaise when wandering through.
We're off now to the brand new exhibition on Jean Cocteau in the Centre Pompidou. Now if there ever was a French guy who was important to gay aesthetics, he was it, and no, Jean-Paul Gaultier doesn't even come close. The exhibition was comprehensively massive but only contained one rude drawing. Even so, this alone is worth buying a plane ticket to Paris for.

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