The Frogmarch

"I've got to pull up my stakes and roll, man." --Jean-Jacques Libris de Kerouac

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

The World's Oldest Professional

I didn't take any pictures to go with this post, either.

I seem to go to the supermarket a lot here. I don't know if this is a typically French thing--owing to the small size of refrigerators, the unavailability of Costco warehouse-club packs of frozen chicken nuggets, or the difficulty of toting 12 grocery bags full of stuff without a car--or if I actually went to the Harris Teeter pretty often back home as well, but just didn't really notice because it wasn't much hassle.

Regardless, every other day or so, I walk the six blocks along Rue Carnot, which appears to be populated entirely with travel agents; their front windows are papered with the season's package-vacation specials (Algeria is dirt cheap in summer, Florida priced way out of proportion to its actual worth). Just before getting to the Monoprix supermarket, I hang a left down an alley that runs between the 14th-century church of St. Bonaventure and Planete Saturn, sort of a French Circuit City (the buildings in the center and the left, respectively, of this 1910 photo; they still look the same, except that when the Germans blew up the bridge at extreme left in 1944, the shockwave blew out all the stained glass).

She's always there: The World's Oldest Hooker.

The first time I saw her, it didn't really click that she was a "working girl". After all, sluttily-dressed women aren't too uncommon in France, and women dressing half (or a third!) of their age don't really raise an eyebrow. Lots of sixtysomethings are wearing tube tops, miniskirts, and spike heels these days, right?

Maybe she's just dressing younger than she should.
Maybe she's dressing younger than she should, and her eyesight's going, so it's hard for her to tell how much makeup she's got on.
Maybe she's dressing much younger than she should, her eyesight's going, and she's hanging around on this street corner chainsmoking while waiting for a ride to church bingo. Every night of the week.

Nah, she's a hooker.

Most of Lyon's ladies-of-easy-leisure work in the gritty south end of the Presqu'ile by the railyards and warehouses. These women (who are more in the typical age range one expects of their profession) work out of delivery vans parked on side streets and along the quais, their dashboards decorated with candles, lanterns, and garters, apparently in some sort of code I don't understand. The ladies--and I use the term loosely, not to denigrate their character but because I don't think all of them are biologically female--lounge provocatively on the running boards or sit in plastic chairs on the sidewalk; transactions take place in the curtained-off rear of the vans. Don't come a-knockin', etc.

I must assume that the authorities turn a blind eye to this trade of the tricks, since it is practiced so openly. We discovered it while I was out for a long walk with Boog down the quai---on the way home, after a riverside juicebox break, Boog needed to go potty, so we ducked into a vacant find that it was being used as a place of business.

C'mon, kiddo, let's go someplace else.
"But Dadda, I need to pot-"
Now, I said!
"I was just waving at the nice lady, Dadda."

Anyway, The World's Oldest Hooker plies her wares far uptown, far away from these lower-mileage competitors whose wares might be more pliable. I don't know how much business she gets, since the fact that she's always on the street means she's not actively earning money at that moment, but she seems content to hang out on the corner, chatting with the neighbors, exchanging knitting tips, and so forth. Heck, I don't judge.

Plus she always waves back at Boog.

Bonus photo, also not mine: That Lyon Photos website has some neat stuff on it, especially the "Photos Anciennes". This one's of our street almost a century ago (1909). You can see straight into my living room at center (second building from the right, top floor with balcony).

Dig the sign on the building at right, above Gaz de Lyon: "Life for Nothing." Was there more to the sign, or was the existentialist movement active in France decades before Sartre? A disgruntled GdL employee frustrated by rampant Cartesian rationalism? ("Say what you will about the tenets of National Socialism, Dude, at least it's an ethos.")


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