Monday, August 23, 2010

Paris Journal X: Rue Saint-Denis

The women on the Rue Saint-Denis, their faces hardened and lined as they linger in shadowy doorways, look like protestors against an injustice—in this case the obsolescence of their own profession. In Madame Rosa (1977), Moshé Mizrahi romanticized the condition of the aging prostitute, played by Simone Signoret, but the characters waiting along this destitute section of Paris, with its burned out massage parlors and X-rated sex shops, exist in a condition of waiting that precisely echoes Beckett’s En Attendant Godot. Waiting for Godot, or while waiting for Godot, which is a more apt translation of the original French, is a good description of the despair to be found on the Rue Saint-Denis. Susan Sontag directed a production of Waiting for Godot in Sarajevo in 1993, and one of the boarded up storefronts on the Rue Saint-Denis would actually be a perfect place for the Living Theater to stage their version of the play, with audience participation. It is only a short walk from the Rue Saint-Denis to one of Paris’s great cultural institutions, the Beaubourg, but conceptually the two worlds are light years apart, proving that in our quantum universe, in which particles can occupy disparate positions at the same time, contiguity is not a guarantee of continuity. Prostitution may be alive and well in the high priced precincts occupied by expensive call girls and politicians, but the Parisian streetwalker, one of the most venerated practitioners of the world’s oldest profession, has begun her death rattle.

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