A Parisian apartment left untouched for over 70 years was discovered in the quartier of Pigalle a few summers ago and I’ve been meaning to share the pictures with you. Time to unlock the vault …
The owner of this apartment, Mrs. De Florian left Paris just before the rumblings of World War II broke out in Europe. She closed up her shutters and left for the South of France, never to return to the city again. Seven decades later she passed away at the age of 91. It was only when her heirs enlisted professionals to make an inventory of the Parisian apartment she left behind, that this time capsule was finally unlocked.
The team that had the honor of opening what must have been a very stiff old lock for the first time in 70 years, likened the experience to ‘stumbling into the castle of sleeping beauty’. The smell of dust, the cobwebs, the silence, was overwhelming; a once in a lifetime experience.
There is a further twist to the story. In the apartment a painting of familiar style was discovered of a beautiful woman in pink. One of the inventory team members suspected this might be a very important piece of treasure. Along with the painting, they also found stacks of old love letters tied with colored ribbon.
With some expert historical opinion, the ribbon-bound love letters were quickly recognized as the calling card of none other than Giovanni Boldini, one of Paris’ most important painters of the Belle Époque. The painting was his. The beautiful woman pictured in the painting was Mrs. de Florian’s grand-mother, Marthe de Florian, a beautiful French actress and socialite of the Belle Époque. She was Boldini’s muse. And, despite him being a married man, she was also his lover. The art world went a bit nutty for the whole story and the painting was later sold for $3 million at auction.
This is where we live:
There is dust, everywhere
but it never makes us sneeze.
There are dolls, everywhere;
their painted eyes follow us,
the movements so minute
we can only
There are French doors to every room
(this being France)
or there are no doors
or perhaps a curtain
or yawning, lazy screens
translucent in the green morning.
We live above a bakery,
and across the street from a forest.
On the roof we keep bees;
on the balcony, a garden.
We share a cluttered vanity
full of twinkling bottles of perfume
the kind you wear with gloves
that stretch to your elbows,
The mirror is yellow and old.
We are sepia-toned in the morning;
we are never home at night.
I wear red satin shoes I’ve ruined in the rain.
You are similarly dressed in crimson;
your wrists are bangled with bracelets,
there are bells around your waist.
We decorate with long stemmed flowers,
stolen as we caper about the city.
They hang from the ceiling to dry in droves,
then stand, one to every empty blue wine bottle.
Our fingers are always stained with ink;
our tongues are always singing.
this is where we live.
we answer the ad of a wednesday morning: rooms to let. pigalle. 100 year lease. please no americans, writers, or ghosts.
i have black tea swished through the dregs of a laphroaigh bottle, and a laura ingalls wilder novel, which is almost as good as food. you have ford madox ford and an irrepressible countenance, which is not.
you thrust the paper at me with a yelp, burn yourself on your own excitement. i douse the livid red mark with my icy practicality: “we can’t afford it. and we’re american writers.”
“‘terms negotiable,’” you read aloud, heedless of your swelling lip. “and anyway, it’s not as if either of us has been published. we hardly count as writers.”
“new rule,” i say, invoking section delta, subsection B of the if-we’re-going-to-live-together-then-there-are-going-to-have-to-be-some-understandings book. “you are not allowed to refer to our failures—”
“trials by fire.”
“we’re too poor for pain au chocolate and chicory coffee anymore, which is technically how you defined breakfast in section rho, subsection H, point 4 of the how-to-live-with-an-absolute-berk handbook. so there is no ‘before breakfast.’ it’s all after breakfast.”
“and we’re american,” i reiterate.
you dent your lower lip thoughtfully. “ish,” you lie outrageously. “american-ish.”
“my french accent fools americans, which means that it will, under no circumstances, fool french people.”
“my scottish accent, on the other hand, is excellent. you, i’m sad to say, will be mute. tragic and charming and excessively punctual about taking out the trash and sorting the mail and waiting for the plumber, whenever he’s necessary. but silent. a throat operation gone wrong, i think. a budding opera career, perhaps, then polyps on your vocal chords, a drunk doctor performing the procedure. voila! the perfect tenant for…” you check the ad, “madame de florian’s—oh, wait, she doesn’t give an address. just says she’ll hold interviews near the trinite church.”
“because that’s not suspicious at all,” i say.
“it’s near the opera,” you wheedle.
“i’m not actually an opera connoisseur. you just made that up.”
“don’t change the subject.”
“the subject is closed.”
“i want to live there. you want to live with me. ergo, you want to live there.”
there is a way you pose, sometimes, a wicked trick of lashes lowered under the aching weight of the world. it’s a pose that says “you owe me,” “you love me,” and “memento mori.” it’s a manipulative, mendacious bitch of a pose; and everything it says is true.
i close my eyes. “all right. we’ll call.”
you shriek with delight, shattering the spun sugar planes of our oft-broken windows. i groan, low and resigned, until they ooze themselves whole again.