by LODA BULLDUST
About the Author
Loda Bulldust is a Paris-based writer. In another life she was an Australian poker-machine addict and pisshead. She hasn’t done much with her life at all. She didn’t finish primary school nor high school but is proud of the fact that she once attended Gamblers Anonymous for almost four weeks straight and has a Diploma (Correspondence) in Primal Screaming. She found herself in France five years ago after smoking too many bongs in an Amsterdam squat and getting on the wrong train. Loda has never studied French but she knows what “voulez-vous coucher avec moi ce soir” means and can tell you to “nick off” in the colloquial.
For Mum and Dad
(Whoever you were)
Et vous, connard (you know who you are)
I left Australia after a big win on the pokies. I was playing a One Cent “Queen of the Nile” machine at the Italian Club when I got heaps of free spins and took out eight hundred bucks. I should have gone home and paid the rent and bought some food but I was feeling right naughty so I stopped off at the R.S.L. Club and the rest, as they say, is history. I got dead lucky on the “Lucky Diamonds” machine and walked with three and a half thousand bucks. I bought a ticket to Europe the next day.
It was while I was knockin’ around Slovakia that I met John-Pierre, sorry, Jean-Pierre. We were both on the same pub crawl and I fell for his accent - he sounded like Maurice Chevalier on speed or something and later on at the backpackers it was so funny when I told him I “had the shits” and he thought I said “had the sheets” and wanted to sleep with him. Well, I did, but that’s another story. Anyway when I ended up in gay Paree I needed a place to crash and J.P. had given me his address and Voila! as they say in France. I was in like Fly
click on me babynn.
I didn’t know much about France then. Oh sure, I knew they had the Eiffel Tower and the Moaning Lisa – everyone knows that. And I knew they ate snails and horse-meat and other disgusting stuff. And I knew the blokes were all big shaggers and kissed you on the hand and everything. And I knew they threw in the towel early in the piece with Hitler and collaborated and that. But you know there’s a lot more to France than just the Awful Tower, berets and baguettes. Things that you only realise after living there awhile. You can’t hope to know a place after just a few days I suppose. Although I went to Tasmania once and I reckon I could find my way around Hobart again real easy. You know...if you start at that pub near the docks.
Now remembering how dumb I was about France and the French – how naïve, I gotta smile. All those things I thought France was turned out to be wrong. Well not completely wrong. They ARE rude bastards in Paris and men and woman DO use the same loo. And what about those awful smelly Turkish-style squat toilets they have! And I’m still not sure what to do with a bidet apart from washing ones feet in it.
For a long time I couldn’t figure the French out. Why do they ignore you when you go into a shop? Why don’t they have any prices on things? Why don’t they smile? Why are they so rude to you? Why don’t they respect a queue? Why are there so many strikes?
But then there was a lot of things about me that the French couldn’t figure either. You don’t wear your trackie pants to the shops for instance. And you don’t smile at the shopkeeper – he’ll think you an idiot. You don’t get pissed in the bar and chunder in the dunny. Well pretty much hurling anywhere is off-limits. And that goes double for women. And you don’t see women getting pissed. Not like we get pissed in Australia, anyway. You can get a bit tiddly but not full-on, swinging off the chandeliers, rip-roaring drunk like we’re used to. In Paris it’s not a good look. Oh yeah…………and another one – you’re not supposed to use someone’s lavatory when out visiting. You’re supposed to go before you go, if you know what I mean. And the biggest faux-pas of them all is to drop a big smelly grogan into someone’s loo or heaven forbid technicolour yawn into their bidet. Especially if you have been eating julienned carrots.
Anyway………living with J.P. has been cool. For a Frog he’s pretty funny. And he’s now starting to talk like an Aussie. Except he doesn’t know how to use the swear words properly. And he still thinks I want to go to bed when I say I’ve “got the sheets” with something. And no matter how many times I tell him that “CUNT” is the rudest word in the English language and you have to know how to use it properly he’ll still address a stranger in a bar with “Hello you silly Cunt” and wonder why the guy wants to deck him.
If I had to pick one word to sum up my life in France it’d have to be “MERDE” which means “shit” in French (pronounced “MAIRD”). That’s because I live in Paris and you can’t go anywhere without stepping in barkers-eggs –“crottes de chiens” en Francais. It’s a real problem. At first I could never understand why Parisiens wanted you to take off your shoes at the front door of their apartments. But now I understand. The bloody stuff is everywhere. Officially it is illegal to let your mutt defecate on the footpath, street or park. You are supposed to “ramasser” – to pick it up but nobody ever does. There is a fine of Fifty Euros for disobeying but noone’s ever heard of it being enforced.
But when I say “Merde”, living in Paris doesn’t always give me the “sheets”. There are times when I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else. I love the way the French respect artists – any artist – whether it be painter, singer, dancer, sculptor, striptease artiste, pavement-artist, bullshit-artist. They love their artists. So when I’m asked, as I often am, “what do you do?”, I have no hesitation in replying “I’m a performance artist”. And instead of getting “So you’re on the Dole” as I would in Australia, I get “How interesting! Tell me all about it”.
It seems like just yesterday that I arrived in Paris – well woke up with a rude shock would be closer to the truth. I looked out the train window at a sign that said “Gare du Nord” and thought I was in Sweden or Norway – somewhere with big, blond blokes that liked drinking beer. Instead I had to settle for smallish, dark blokes with Inspector Clouseau accents and aperitif tastes. I was dressed in my standard summer gear – cargo-shorts and T-shirt, my hair was all over the place like a mad-woman’s breakfast and whilst not exactly woofy, I wasn’t wearing any perfume or make-up and looked like I’d been sleeping in my clothes after being on the piss all night – which was more or less what I had been doing.
I hope you get to finish this book. Well more correctly I hope I get to finish this book. I’ve never finished anything in my life. I’m a great one for starting things and never finishing them. A psychiatrist once told me it was a sure indicator of bipolar disorder (manic depression). Could be. But then some of the world’s greatest artists have been or are bi-polar. Like…..Um…..well…….(quickly goes online to consult the Web) Ernest Hemingway, Van Gogh, Winston Churchill, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Sylvia Plath, Tennessee Williams, Marilyn Monroe, Phil Spector, Brian Wilson, Sting, Francis Ford Coppola, Spike Milligan, Axyl Rose, Robin Williams, Jean-Claude Van Damme, John Daly, Mickey Mouse and Napoleon. Well alright, I made up Mickey Mouse and John Daly is a big-hitting golfer but the rest of the list is Kosher. Check it out. So if this yarn suddenly peters out you’ll know I’ve lost the thread. Or maybe I’ve gone off to write a book on Bipolar Disorder (“You Too Can Be Bi-Polar!” or “Mmmm..Make Mine Manic!”, “The Downside to the Upside” – Travels in Bipolarland”).
Last night I dreamt I went to Manderlay again…………
This isn’t like me
I tumble out of the train at Gare du Nord not really knowing where I am. Paris? France? Can’t be. Everyone else seems to be half-stoned and/or hungover as well. I see French Customs up ahead and hope someone hasn’t slipped a joint into my pocket. Welcome to Paris – click click as they handcuff me and haul me off to the Bastille. What do I know about Paris? Let me see. There’s a hunchback living in Notre Dame. They do the Can-Can at Montmartre. They chopped the last King’s head off with a guillotine. Napoleon said “not tonight Josephine”. The Impressionists were impressed by the light. The Louvre has the Mona Lisa; they make great films like “Is Paris Burning”, “Diva”, “Moulin Rouge”. See, I know quite a lot already. Uh Oh. They speak French. Bonjour. Grazie. Oo air ler leaning Tower ? How hard can it be?
I’m not the sort of Sheila that shacks up with anybody
It takes forever to get through Customs. The gendarmes are giving the hippie couple in front of me a hard time and making them empty their pockets. I feel like saying “Well of course she smells of pot – she’s just come from Amsterdam, dickhead, and it is legal there you know”. Geeze. But when it comes my turn all they say when they see my Australian passport is “You like Rugby?” And I say “I prefer the League” and they wave me through with “Bonne journée, Mademoiselle…….bienvenue à Paris” which I now know means “Have a good day, Miss……Welcome to Paris”. Geeze…..Gay Paree….who would have thought?
Paris? What the fuck am I doing here?
The railway station is a mix of Art Nouveau and state-of-the-art with the old segwaying into the new. I’ve been dying to use that word ever since I heard it on the Breakfast Show on Today F.M. Kind of suits this place, don’t you think? Could be a movie title – “Segue at Gare du Nord”. Yeah that’s what this is. I’m starring in my own movie. Or maybe it’s a dream within a dream. I dunno. Seems I’ve come a long way since cracking the feature on ”Queen of the Nile” at the Italian Club. 60 free games. Who do you know that’s ever got 60 free games? So this is meant to be. God’s plan. My destiny.
Now to find J.P. Gee, I hope he doesn’t think I’m easy just because I need somewhere to stay. Maybe I won’t sleep with him again. Not straight away anyway. Make him suffer a bit
I go looking for a telephone then realise I don’t have J.P.’s phone number. Just an address – Rue de Vouille in the 14th Arrondisement. He’s written in brackets “Roo de Vooyay”. O.K. how am I gonna get there? Cab? Nah. Too expensive probably. Bus? Nah. I hate buses. Unless they’re double-decker like they have in London. I know. The Metro. The Paris Underground. I’ve seen it in the movies. Can’t be that hard to figure out.
About an hour later I’m outside J.P.’s apartment building. The trip should have taken twenty minutes but the Metro was a lot more complicated than I thought. “Follow the signs” they told me at the ticket office. Yeah right. What signs? And they’re all in French. So after taking the wrong line to begin with and then going in the wrong direction I finally got it together and managed to get myself from Gare du Nord on the Right Bank in the North of Paris to Metro station Plaisance, Line 13 Direction Chatillon Montrouge in the 14th Arrondisement or district in the Left Bank almost due South of the Gare du Nord. I’m not too sure about this “Line 13” business though. Maybe I’m making a big mistake. I hardly know this guy. What if he’s a cereal killer or something? Chops me into little pieces and puts me into his muesli. Now that I think about it he did say he was from Belgium. Or somewhere up the North of France near the Belgium border. Somewhere blokes kidnap little girls and keep them in cellars.
And I don’t know if that whole Midnight Cowboy thing is a good look. Kind of like Elvis Presley meets the Sundance Kid. But already I’ve seen a few other French guys who dress the same. Maybe those fringed suede jackets, winkle-picker boots and Navajo silver belts are back in now? This is, after all, the fashion capital of the world. And you gotta admit that skin-tight Levis leave nothing to a girl’s imagination. At least he has a job. Well he told me he had a job – paediatrician – one of those guys that scrapes the corns off your feet. Yeah I know...a childrens doctor. He’s probably an accountant or a loss adjuster if the truth be told.
Geeze, I don’t know about this arrondisement though. There’s a lot of black people around. Not that there’s anything wrong with black people. It’s just...well where I come from the blacks are all down by the river drinking all day. And if you go near them they’ll ask you for money or a cigarette. Talking of cigarettes, everyone seems to smoke here ‘cause the gutters are full of butts. Butts and dogshit. But they’re working on the doggie-doo problem I see. They have these guys on motorbikes with a vacuum cleaner on the back. No kidding, they just suck it up. Imagine doing that for a living? Whadya tell people when they ask? I’m a dog-shit sucker. Fair Dinkum.
I’m standing outside J.P.’s apartment and I’m thinking “maybe this is not such a good idea”. I look like something the cat dragged in. So I decide to find a café or a Maccas where I can tidy up a bit. Get the bong smoke out of my hair, as it were.
Ever tried ordering in a French café in English? You’d think it would be easy right? “Coffee, please garcon”. That’s not hard is it? Blank stare. O.K. “Cappucino” ? Nothing. “Flat White”? Irritated sigh. “Irish Coffee”? Outright hostility now. “Anything with caffeine in it?” Finally after going through a whole deaf and dumb sign language routine and two verses of Edith Piaf’s “La Vie en Rose”, which brings a smile to his dial, garçon deigns to bring me something. It’s drinkable but he hits me up 6 Euro – about 10 Dollars Australian. I find out later that if I’d stood at the bar with a short black – Coffee that is, not an African, it would have been less than half that. Welcome to Paris, France. “Tourists R Us” – 70 million visitors a year at last count
The lift to J.P.’s apartment looks like it was the hot item at the 1888 World’s Fair. A three-man steel cage affair. La cage aux folles as it were.
You know the taxis here will only take three passengers max. In the back. You can’t sit in the front seat next to the driver. That’s for his lunch. Or his dog. Or whatever he bloody-well wants it to be. If you wave a sizable tip under his nose you may get another person in the front. But usually it’s one cab for three people. So if you’re a party of four, it’s two cabs. You work it out.
The lift rises slowly. Reminds me of that scene with the old guy in the Stairmaster in “Arthur” or was it “Arthur II”. You know, when Dudley Moore and Lisa Minelli are checking out an apartment to rent?
After three hours it gets to the thirteenth floor. There’s that number again. If he opens the door wearing a T-Shirt with “13” printed on it I’m outta here. I stop outside J.P.’s apartment and put my ear to the door - as you do when you’re not sure what you’re getting into. I can hear drumming. Some sort of tribal drumming. African? Jamaican? Haitian voodoo?
To be continued
I hoped you liked reading this parody of "Almost French" by Sarah Turnbull - "the charming true story of a spirited Australian who finds adventure - and the love of her life - in Paris". And I hope Sarah's forgiven me for taking the piss. She's sold god-knows-how-many-copies of her book around the world and it's still selling. It's been phenomenal. It was first published in September 2003 but when I went into W.H.Smith's in Rue de Rivoli the other day there was a big display. Go here www.almostfrench.com
I just re-read this story of mine after not touching it for six months and I gotta admit I pissed myself laughing at my own jokes - even though I tried very hard not to. Sometimes a story takes on a life of its own.
If you're a Publisher or a Literary Agent why don't you sign me up? I'd like to finish the bastard of a thing. And who knows...maybe it could be as big as "Almost French"? (tell him he's dreamin'.)