Dinner’s at Carine. The usual. John and Lucas are already waiting out front, a cigarette moving between John’s hand and mouth. Also the usual. Francesco comes in from the other direction, wearing a massive puffy coat and a smile that never leaves him. I haven’t seen him since June in New York. It was about sixty degrees warmer.
Ciao, ciao, ciao…
They give us a table at the back of a very small, very empty room. Eating at Carine is like eating in your grandmother’s armoir. You can touch both sides of the wall lying on the floor with your arms outstretched. The bathroom is down an impossibly narrow set of stairs, the ceiling poised to knock your head off if you’re not too careful and the door-jam into the water closet smaller still. The entire process is like a gradual compression of space, until you are finally inside, behind a door more suited for Alice in Wonderland after a bottle of Drink This!
Lucas calls it “The John Malcovich” bathroom.
The restaurant is often so packed we’re left to wait on the sidewalk drinking complimentary champagne and eating a plate of apologetic proscuitto. Last summer, they dragged a table out in between two parked cars and we ate there. Sometimes Paris has a lawless, “Go fuck yourself” quality to it that can be enormously charming, like the older sibling who’s learned how to manipulate the elders and get away with everything. This kind of stuff would never happen in America. No, America’s the serious middle child who has to stand straight and fly right, exclaiming, “We left for a reason!” while making up strict rules for speeding and drinking in public.
The boys order heaps of pasta – either the sea urchin or with butter and a mountain of truffle shavings. Everyone gets starters. We share a bottle of wine. During fashion week, everyone eats like kings.
“Cher is here,” Francesco whispers to me.
I look across the room towards the entrance. Sure enough, Cher sits there, a two-foot tall fur hat propped up on her head, taking up all the available space between her on either side. Candlelight bounces off of buttery, acid-peeled skin, and casts odd shadows in the hollows of her eyes. Your brain juggles what should be with what is. It knows Cher is 100 years old, and that Cher should look 100 years old, but here she is before you, looking neither young nor old, with pulled back baby skin and holes for eyes.
“She looks good, no?” Francesco says.
True, from far away, the woman has better skin than I do, but upon further research, it turns out Cher is not 100 years old, but 66, which puts her a year below Helen Mirren, who is still one foxy, natural (?) babe. In trying to look 28, Cher’s managed to add on another 10 or 15 very confused years. That being said, Cher is still Cher. My love for her is devotional, if for no other reason than the movie Mermaids.
“I feel gypped she didn’t come in wearing fishnets.”
One of the highlights of my trip will be listening to Cher, in that gorgeous iconic voice of hers, relay her dinner order to the server.
Someone pays for dinner and we leave for another café, sitting outside under shitty heat lamps while the boys drink out of fancy glasses. Francesco’s about to go home and sleep when he gets a text message from a friend heading to a party in Pigalle.
John hates Pigalle. Pigalle is the sort of trashy, red-light district that one might find in gritty independent films filled with neon lights and drug addicts. Francesco says everyone is at some place called Foiles Pigalle for such-and-such an after-party. “Let’s go, no?” he asks, and then runs inside and pays the bill just to hurry things along.
From the outside, Foiles Pigalle looks like a set piece from a Gaspar Noe movie, the words “PARIS BY NIGHT” and “DISCOTHEQUE” glowing in red, some of the neon lettering blown out and playing understudy to the rest. I think there’s a sexy cat woman riding a piece of the signage; I can’t tell.
The security guards know Francesco because everyone knows Francesco. We walk through the ropes and into a black hallway that reminds me of every downtrodden, abused concert venue on the Sunset Strip. Once inside, the walls alternate between red and pink, sometimes purple. There’s a disco ball hanging over the dance floor and a DJ on an elevated stage at the back. I’m told that it was a massively popular gay club back in the ‘90s.
John and Lucas stand at the back, staying near the exit for any swift emergency departure. Francesco flits around, introducing everyone to everyone. Here’s this model, here’s this person, and that one, and this, and that. She’s the best. He’s amazing. I love, love, love her. He’s like a Rolodex with the heart of gold.
The Berlin babe DJ is playing a rotation of heavy, banging house music. John’s upstairs smoking in a cigarette cave with a friend. Lucas has peeled himself away from the bar and reluctantly dances, shifting his feet from left to right and back again. The old wooden floor groans under the negligible weight of models and other fashion people, the average BMI coming in at about that of a prepubescent 12 year old.
And when the guy wearing the kilt saddles up to the guy wearing monk’s garb, I know it’s time to leave.
(Photo courtesy of Living Travel)