Diary of a Marked Woman
During this month I was mainly busy creating fashion accessories - different styles of bags, scarves and ascots for men and women in preparation for the next SBO show in mid-June. Since I’m not knowledgeable about cutting, I had Viviane, the Cambodian woman, come here and cut the bags, then she would take them home and sew them. I watched her do it to learn and I helped her with handling the fabrics. She also helped me create the patterns for new bags from my design idea and together we defined every measurement. I greatly enjoyed our collaboration plus it saved me a lot of time since Viviane is a pro and very knowledgeable. I always paid her cash at the end of each session and on delivery of the newly made bags.
One morning while we were working I heard a key being tried in the lock. I opened the door. A black woman in her thirties gave me a big smile and said “Oh, excuse me, I’m on the wrong floor.” I wasn’t pleased at all. Another morning, while working with Viviane, I heard drops falling in the bathroom. Water was dripping from the top of the water heater.
On the 16th Sophie went to visit her son and daughter Rose Anne at Chateau Arnoux and Mom went to visit my brother François shortly before the birth of his child with his Togolese wife Essivi.
On Sat. The 19th I met Jeremy Yates at Le Tambour rue Montmartre. I bought us a good Calvados and he introduced me to his bar buddies who seem to like him a lot. Jeremy was in Paris with his mother for the bar mitzvah of his nephew.
On Easter Sunday I met Jeremy at Le Tambour, then his mother showed up and we shook hands. Her smile seemed artificial and she invited us to lunch at Chartier. I said that Chartier was the ancestor of McDonald. “Why?” she asked, “Because it’s cheap?”Then Jeremy and I went through St Eustache church for a shortcut to another bar. It was an Irish place. It was like in the US: a large screen TV was on with the volume turned down and there was music playing. I didn’t feel much like drinking and the music got on my nerves and I asked to leave quickly. We cut through the church again and back at Le Tambour the barman told us to go to Chartier to meet his mother and have lunch.
The place was packed. We found Mrs Yates at a table for five, one of the short ends of the table being against a central partition. I felt some repulsion at the sight of all these people eating. Jeremy didn’t introduce me to his family members and I was a little surprised. On the other side of the partition was a table occupied by three people. There were no chairs at the two free places but just as we came to the table, two children at a nearby table left, saying they were going to play, so Jeremy took the two chairs and put them at our table. We had hardly sat down when a red-haired, red-faced waiter yelled at ME very nastily, asking how dare we take the children’s chair, we had no right to do that, what nerve, and he forced me to put the chairs back and brought us some other chairs.
I was sitting across from a fiftyish man, tall and thin, and next to him was a smallish, mousy woman with a carefully curled and sprayed bob, very old fashioned both of them, not the kind of culture-loving Americans you usually see in Paris. They spoke American English to each other. After Jeremy and I had ordered, just to acknowledge the people’s presence I said to the man: “So you’re not boycotting France?” He looked very upset as if I had insulted him. His wife said with pinched lips: “I don’t like your attitude.” To relax him I said “Look, I’m French so I don’t blame Americans for coming to my country” “How do you know I’m an American?” he asked angrily. “Well, you don’t have a British accent.” He seemed very paranoid and the lunch unfolded with this couple apparently upset and in deep thought while Jeremy and I made small talk.
Around dessert time the guy came out of his funk and asked what I was doing. I said that I was designing fashion accessories. He said he was a shoe salesman from Smallville in the Midwest and gave me a list of brand names as if he expected me to ooh and aah, which I didn’t because I didn’t know or didn’t like these brands, except forTimberland. It made me wonder if he wasn’t trying to bait me to propose some kind of cooperation so I didn’t show any interest. The woman next to me never said a word. When the threesome were done with their lunch they rose and the man handed me his hand to shake and said with a big smile “Goodbye, Brigitte, nice meeting you.” I had never given him my name. Then Mrs Yates came to our table and she and Jeremy started arguing, him reproaching her for having let him down and her saying that he always had a choice. Then a woman from Mrs Yates’ table came to see us and asked me how I met Jeremy, to which I responded: “In a psychiatric hospital.” So, in the short time of an Easter lunch, there were four very unpleasant situations. It was all a set-up of course, which proves one more time that there’s no free lunch. But I find it particularly evil to do this to me on Easter day, since the alternative was to spend the day alone.
I had talked to various people about my interest in stencil, with a view to decorate fashion accessories. Among the people I talked to about it were my brother Norbert and Roland on the phone. Recently while reading Zurban I saw that there was an artists’ festival in the Belleville neighborhood. Among the featured attractions were an exhibition of pix of Belleville people, some indie movies shows, an exhibition of anti-government posters, and a free stencil workshop by Cad. So on Sat. The 26th I rode my bike to Belleville and showed up at 3:30 in the little Desnoyez street, parallel to the boulevard de Belleville in the 19th district. Most of the stores in the street were locked down as if they had been out of business for a long time. There was an Arab restaurant, an Arab sewing shop, and then there were the White, artsy shops: one that had a sign that said “Frichez-nous la paix” (Leave us alone), that was apparently the name of an artsy association, next door was an artist’s studio, and next door still a ceramic store where a young man was painting ceramic items like teapots, vases, bowls and whatnot. I knocked at the first store and said that I was here for the stencil workshop. A woman told me that the man wasn’t there yet but that he should come any minute so I went and talked to the ceramic artist who was very nice and friendly. After a while the stencil man showed up so I left the ceramist and followed him. He was a man in his fifties with long greying hair and a missing front tooth There was a third man I don’t quite remember but the three of us talked for a little while , then I said that my name was Brigitte and the other two gave their name. The stencil artist’s name was Cad. (I didn’t tell him what his name meant in English). Then Cad invited me to follow him and we went to his store at 49 rue Ramponeau, up the hill. There he opened a large carton and showed me some master stencils he had made. Most were portraits. He explained the fundamentals: what kind of material to use and what kind of knife. Then he spoke about examining closely the artwork to be cut and make decisions regarding what to remove and what to leave. This didn’t concern me directly since I intended to cut geometric shapes in two colors and the shapes were clear cut, so to speak.
On MON 28, Sophie called me from her daughter's home where she was spending Easter week-end. After talking for a few minutes she passed me my two nephews and my niece. The youngest boy is over a year old but doesn't speak at all, yet she passed him to me and I said a few words to him, then it was my nephew's turn and while we were talking about some animals he had seen at the zoo I heard Sophie tell my nephew what to say, things like "How are you aunt Brigitte?" and several other conventional phrases. Not only was she interrupting our conversation, she suborned the boy by forcing him to say things that he didn't feel like saying and replaced an interesting and free exchange with dreadfully contrived hypocritical speech. I was angry, after all I knew from experience how it felt like to be suborned, it is mind rape plain and simple, and it didn't interest me to hear this garbage coming from my sister. The poor boy started repeating hesitantly what Sophie was dictating to him, not answering my questions anymore, so I asked him to pass me Sophie. "Why are you dictating him what to say?" I asked angrily. "It is to socialize them, they have to learn how to be polite" she answered. "I don't care about formalities! I want them to feel free to tell me what they want!" I replied. "They have to learn how to behave in society and someone has to teach them." She passed me my niece, did the same thing with the girl then came back on with satisfaction in her voice and told me how she took advantage of her RTT (work time reduction), reduced train fare, time schedule, boring, boring stuff. I guess she was being boring out of politeness, practicing with me what she was teaching her grandchildren.
hen I tried to call Roland at 8PM I learned that I couldn’t make outgoing calls. I went to Norbert’s on the 4th floor and asked him if he could let me make a call, but he said that his own line had been cut. A second request for payment of my phone bill was on his desk, opened. He gave it to me, saying it had been put in his mailbox by mistake. I asked him why he hadn’t given it to me but he didn’t answer. He said that our brother in law Michel Girot, aka Val or Valentin, had an opening the next evening at the Mediart art gallery, 109 rue Quincampoix 75003 and that he was going with his wife and children, and he asked me if I wanted to go. I said yes. Mom had told me that Val and my sister Agnes had separated.
On TUES 29 I took 250 Euro cash to pay my gas-electric bill and my phone bill. The payment of the first went without a hitch, then I went to France-Telecom payment center on Blvd de Port Royal. I showed the lady the detachable part of my bill, ready to hand out the 150 E. cash. She asked if I had the whole bill and I said no. She made a fuss, saying I was making it difficult for her to process my payment. She called up my account on the computer and said that she had to split the payment because two different companies were involved so she fiddled with her calculator with exaggerated pecking gestures, tapped on the computer keyboard, spoke every figure looking very diligent and concentrated and commented on everything she did with words like “OK, now I’m going to do this, and now I’m going to...” etc. When I showed some impatience she said “Listen, you’re not making it any easier for me by acting this way. If you think it’s fun for me to do this, you’re wrong. But that’s the way I have to do my job and there’s nothing I can do about it.” So she asked me to pay her first 120+ E., she gave me change, she tapped some more on her calculator and her keyboard, all the while commenting every action in a low voice, then asked me to pay her 20+ E., then gave me change, then she printed two receipts and handed them to me. I left the window in a contained furor and on the way out remembered I had to ask for my line to be re-connected so I went back and asked her to do it. I was convinced that she could have done it with the strike of a key but she wouldn’t give me any guarantee other than “Some time today”.
I went to Norbert’s apartment in the early evening as agreed. Diane and the children wouldn’t go after all so we decided to go with his motorbike. When I saw Val we kissed like affectionate family members and I made a good-natured comment about the last time we met, back in 1989 in NYC. For a split second his expression changed dramatically and he looked very unhappy but recovered. Norbert and I stayed together and we saluted Eric Seydoux, a professional silkscreen printer. I had called him recently to inquire about the possibility of printing paper shopping bags but I didn’t have the chance to introduce myself and make a connection to this phone conversation because Norbert started talking about an opening he had participated in a few years back, concerning a documentary film that debunked the claim of a village somewhere in France, that had established a flourishing touristic trade based on the claim that some artifacts found in the region were prehistoric when in fact they were fake. He said that the artifacts had been authenticated by renowned specialists and that the documentary film exposed the fraud. He also talked about his responsibility in organizing the catering for the film opening. He said that he had chosen peasant food, contrary to the production company’s expectations, with whole smoked hams, dry sausages, peasant bread, wine from a cask, and that it was a success.
While he was monopolizing the conversation I was wondering why he was talking about this. Was it out of a need to make himself look good? Or out of “party-anxiety” to show that he knew people and wasn’t all alone? What did all this talk have to do with the exhibition? We hadn’t even had a chance to look at the paintings. When Norbert was finished I told Eric that I was the person who had made inquiry a few weeks back about printing paper shopping bags, and from there we talked about technical issues. He said he remembered having met me before but gave a year much later than our actual first meeting. I reminded him that we had first met at the rue Charles Bertheau squat, and that was in 1973 or 74. He shook his head in wonderment at how long ago that was. then I met Champi, another old friend of Val’s, who has Val staying at his place in Plaisir, somewhere west of Paris. I asked him if Plaisir was true to its name, which means “pleasure” and he said that no, the town was ugly. He is a ceramist and talked about his four grown children and his grand children. He asked if I had children. I said no, then he asked if it was because I couldn’t or because I didn’t want to. He apologized a little for being so inquisitive and hid some embarrassment with a cheerful tone. I said it was ok to ask me this question and that the reason I didn’t have children was because I chose not to have them. “Don’t you miss having children?” I paused for a few seconds because the voice of conventional society was urging me to answer “Sometimes” but I stuck to my guns and said “No” without elaborating, which made me very proud of myself.
A man took my wineglass and I stopped him. Then I started touring the exhibition with Norbert and liked a lot what I saw. It was called “Poseidon’s siesta” and consisted of anthropomorphic stones in a marine setting. A particular painting at the center of the exhibition represented a head with the mouth wide open. I was wondering silently what the head expressed and Norbert voiced the same question so after some reflexing I said I thought the expression was pain.
After agreeing to have dinner with Val at Norbert’s place the following evening we returned home with me carrying a child’s car seat on my knees on the motorbike. When we got off the bike Norbert said that he felt like smoking a joint and I said I felt likewise but none of us had any so we had to buy some. No had only 5 E so I gave him a twenty, took the five, we would share the hasch 50/50 and he would give me another five the next day. He knocked on my door fifteen minutes later with the corpus delicti, I gave him a good knife to cut it in half on the cutting board, he let me choose which hand then invited me to his apartment to have one with him. Diane was sitting on the couch watching TV, eating semolina from a bowl with a spoon. She welcomed us saying she was the toothless one and asked if anyone wanted semolina as if that were a treat. The show on TV seemed interesting. It was about the life of the little people in a coca-growing area in Colombia
What I would have liked to to best was to talk about the exhibition. My next favorite would have been to watch and listen to the TV show. But what we got was speaking about Alzheimer patients, saying that studies showed that this disease happened to people who refused to age, and as a result they ended up like babies, curled up like foetuses and needing help with their bodily functions. And she mimed the helpless wrecks, evoking repulsive images of decrepit oldsters needing nappies etc. and her voice had this detestable nasal whining and chanting tone. She didn’t ONCE ask us how we liked the show and Norbert watched her with a smile on his face, not saying anything. It was the second time in less than three days that she went through this Alzheimer routine. I got up to leave, wishing them goodnight and saying that I was going home while she kept going on about Alzheimer’s.
WED 30: Stupid me, I was looking forward to this dinner for the opportunity to cook a good dinner and share a meal with other people for a change. I called up Diane and asked her if she had any plans for the menu. She said that she had a frozen roast-beef that she had just taken out to thaw. I thought a roast-beef dinner was so boring and predictable that I asked her if she would consider cutting the meat in cubes and cooking it with a sauce. She agreed so I studied a Middle-Eastern cookbook and decided to marinate the meat cubes and cook them with a yogurt sauce, then I went upstairs to discuss the rest of the menu. She had all the ingredients to make the marinade so she took care of that and when the time came I would take the meat to cook it in my kitchen. I asked what she thought about a roast-pepper salad for an appetizer and she said that she loved roast-peppers, but she said it in a challenging tone as if there should be a fight over who would make it. Thinking about the gas bill I said go ahead, make it yourself. She asked me how I would like it to be seasoned and I said “Do it like you usually do.” I would take care of the vegetables and No would do the dessert. I made a shopping list. We already had a green bell pepper so I would buy a red one at 5E/kg and a yellow one at 7E/kg to make a nice color combination for the artist. When I brought her the bell peppers she had already taken care of the marinade and it looked good.
During the afternoon No came to my apartment and said “Diane isn’t sure what you said about this and that.” He had an expectant look on his face and a half smile. I suspected that he was trying to unsettle me so I said “Why, it’s very simple: she makes the bell-pepper salad the way she usually does.” Then he said that he was going to make an apple mousse for dessert so I asked him in a pleading tone if he couldn’t make a chocolate mousse instead, I hadn’t had any for such a long time, but he insisted on the apple so I said go ahead.
I enjoyed cooking the meat without following any recipe. I cooked it in an enameled cast iron skillet on low heat with the marinade liquid, some tomato paste, black olives, a little water, and when the time for dinner came I added the yogurt and heated it below the boiling point so it wouldn’t curdle. It looked gorgeous and tasted great.
We started dinner with an interesting conversation about M. C. Escher. I said something about Val being the guest of honor, then I asked him how he was doing financially and he said that over a year his income from his art amounted to the SMIC (minimum wage) but that he had enjoyed a ten-year period during which he didn’t have to work so he could do some work. So I said “Oh, I see, there’s work, and then there’s Work.” I saw that he was indifferent to the brightly colored bell pepper salad and all of a sudden I had the insight that during my whole adult life I always had a kind of automatic, irrational reaction towards artists, always assuming that they were superior beings and good, wise, honest people, despite the fact that experience had proved me wrong time and again. And I had done it again, spending time, money, skill and good will, going out of my way to please him, calling him the Guest of Honor, and he wasn’t even able to acknowledge at least the prettiness of the food.
I asked how he had managed to be exhibited in a gallery and to my disappointment he said that the lady who owned the gallery was away for a while and had given him permission to show his art there, that the art market was very difficult and that now artists had to pay to be exhibited in a gallery, in addition to paying a 50% commission to the gallery owner on every piece of art that was sold. I was a little horrified that artists had to pay to show.
There were no comments about the food so I asked how everybody liked the meat dish that I had cooked. Val said “Oh, I see, you put some tomato paste in there.”
When we were almost done eating the apple mousse Val said to me that he had some friends and potential clients find my website when they did a search for his name on the internet and that it was bad for his business and bad for the family and that I had to take it down. “Oh, my website!” I said. “I had the internet at home for a month trial and I didn’t even visit it.” He said he couldn’t read English but from what he’d heard, I was writing about his visit to NY with Agnes back in 89. I had refused to see them anymore after just a few days, I turned down their dinner invitation, he had lost some artworks he had brought from France and because I had refused to lend him my camera he had no record of all this lost art, and this story about a bus trying to run me over was outrageous. So I said very calmly that all I said on this website was what happened to me: what people did, what people said, and how events unfolded one after another. I said that there had been a court proceeding where I had been prevented from telling the truth, and that I told on the website what I had been prevented from testifying in the court proceeding.
Norbert said: “Well, after all, Brigitte went to the USA to live her life, she wasn’t bothering anybody, she was minding her own business. I haven’t read this website but Brigitte, I think that you should take it down.” This was a surprise attack, a vicious attack because he started like he was taking my side and he did a one-eighty.Val came back on the attack in a raised tone of voice. To my surprise he spoke about Agnes in protective terms.
The last I heard (from Mom, of course I should have known that she was lying) Agnes didn’t want to sleep with him anymore, he was very unhappy, they had broken up and were living apart, he had done a lot of work in the house and the garden, and how was she going to take care of the property all by herself now?
Val said that he had to protect Agnes’ good name. He said something that made me reply that my problem with Agnes dated many years before he, Val, entered the family, that in fact she couldn’t stomach me since I was very young and that there was nothing I could do about it. I was feeling betrayed and angry because these two guys were attacking me at the same time from unexpected angles. They have the mentality of gang-rapists.
So Val the painter had a right to express himself, he had the right to exhibit his paintings but he denied me the right to express myself in writing on the internet just because he didn’t like what I was saying about him.“I claim my right to free expression. I have a perfect right to express myself” I said. I was uncomfortable at the angry tone the conversation was taking. At some point I conceded that I wasn’t sure whether it had been an accident or an attempted murder but the two guys kept on attacking me relentlessly, saying I had to take down my website. I repeated that I had the right to express myself, that all I was saying was the truth. I had to raise my voice too and it kept embarrassing me to be shouting in Diane’s presence. “Look, I said, I don’t want to shout in Diane’s house, this just isn’t done so I’m leaving.” I got up and walked to the door. “Come on, Brigitte, stay with us!” Norbert said in an affectionate tone, as if what had been going on was just a minor dispute among good friends. “NO-no-no-no” I said and left.
[cont'd: May 1/4 ] [to ToC] [Home]