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Monday, February 16, 2009

Paris Days 38 and 39 - masked ball



I have entered the mental illness phase of the writing process, which has gotten me thinking about Ovid. Ovid was a good writer, but he was too soft-hearted. He couldn't stand to see anything really bad happen to his characters. He'd sooner turn a nymph into a tree than see her raped. He couldn't bring himself to kill off Echo, so he turned her into a sound. Even when he tried to punish someone, he let them off easy. Narcissus, punished for not putting out for some smitten homosexual, was made to waste away pining for his reflection. How long does it take to starve to death, five or six weeks? Couple months? If Ovid really wanted to make Narcissus suffer, he would have made him stare at his own face into his late thirties.

I wrote in the last entry about the hallucinations we suffer looking at our own creative work. Recently, despite a severe apparent shortage of hallucinogens in Paris, the same phenomenon has been affecting various mirrors and my digital camera when my face drifts into them. Much of the time, I will catch a glimpse and give myself the usual props, hey handsome, looking sexy there, keep subtracting five years from your age online. But increasingly over the last few weeks I have caught visions of ruin, horror mask, tales from the French hospital for incurables, and I think, honey, you need to start adding.



Friday around noon there was a nice little pizza party for a new resident here at the monastery. The subject of this blog came up, and that led to a discussion of the wild nightmares I had my first few weeks here and my theory that I was sharing the psychic premises with the ghosts of prior residents who came here with consumption or gangrene instead of the second draft of a first novel (each of us has his cross to bear). Three of the lunch guests made reference to a story about room 326 - mine - that they all agreed was too awful to let me know before my residency is complete.

I find, by the end of my Sunday to Friday work week, that my 6-hour day deteriorates into something closer to five or four hours, and this Friday was no exception. I couldn't get anything done and so took myself on a long walk through unfamiliar neighborhoods, with a vague goal of winding up at the old opera house, which I'd never seen. I wasn't expecting it when I came upon it and the sight took my breath away:


On the walk home I took pictures of fierce mannequins that I'll save for a day I can't think of anything to write. Saturday I commenced my day of leisure by updating this diary, calling into question my use of the word leisure - chronic problem. At three o'clock I biked down to the Beaubourg for a coffee date with a Costa Rican mime, followed by a 4:30 tea date with a Welsh friend on the Rue Montorgeuil who has an amazing library of books relevant to the novel and loans them to me, followed by a 6:30 date near the Bastille with Martin's friend Sophie. As her complete noncomprehension of English became apparent, I thought, how am I going to get through this? Two hours later, I asked myself, do I speak French now? We'd been talking nonstop and it was nearly nine. Perhaps I'd cheated, gotten by sticking to safe topics, vocabulary covered in the first ten chapters of my French textbook - what will you have to eat and what is it that you do for a living. But for two hours?

I had one last social engagement Saturday, and here is the part of the blog where I must issue a warning to readers under the age of 14, blood relations, and anyone who considers him- or herself squeamish about stories concerning the reproductive organs, because as amusing as I find this story today it's actually kind of gross.

It all started on Facebook, of course, or maybe it started on Gmail when San Francisco friends furnished emails of introduction to Parisians and I struck up Facebook chats with one of them. He invited me to a masked ball Saturday night, the invitation for which read, in part:
A mask is required. And, gentlemen, I refer to a mask on your eyes [loup also means wolf]. Or a face mask, or whatever you want but something on your head. For the rest, you don't have to wear a thing - naked bodies are fine with us.

And here's the original, in case it's my translation skills that got me into trouble:

Un loup est obligatoire. Et, messieurs, je parle bien d’un loup sur les yeux. Ou un masque, ou ce que vous voulez mais quelque chose sur la tête. Pour le reste, vous pouvez ne rien mettre. Le corps nu nous va très bien.
Give me some credit: I didn't take them literally about going naked. I wore the stretch-tite silver sequinned hotpants that I got from Momo Le Moins Cher for my Beltane wardrobe, and for "quelque chose sur la tête" I wore a Vegas-style belt with beaded tassles that I picked up in the same place. Look, I didn't grow up in San Francisco, the son of a man who's placed in numerous Bay-to-Breakers costume contests, and give the dregs of my youth over to Trannyshack, and spend the last three years hanging out with the Radical Faeries for nothing - I have some basic drag skills. Maybe it's true, as some unkind person remarked, that I looked like I was wearing a lampshade. So what? Short on disposable income, I make do with available materials. Also, when you're experiencing novel-induced hallucinations about your face disintegrating before your eyes, it's surprisingly comforting to go to a party with a sort of bag over your head.

Not everyone at the party was pleased with my outfit, or with the behavior of various guests and even hosts in the presence of the outfit, especially toward the end of the 52 bottles of champagne we wound up putting away. The Facebook friend of a friend who invited me to the party in the first place only half-jokingly refused to acknowledge me when we were introduced. But if you come to Paris, and you're concerned about a party being dull, with a bunch of reserved Parisians
incomprehensibly murmuring this about Sarko and that about la crise, bust out with a little Showgirls drag. Because in the presence of some silver sequins and a little skin, these people turn into complete animals.



I promised you a revolting story about my reproductive organs (kind of funny to call them that, considering their usual circumstances, but whatever) and as much as I would like to put this diary entry out of its misery a promise is a promise. After five hours of being manhandled by homosexual Parisians and a few of their girlfriends, I came home with the worst case of blue balls I have ever had - not because they hurt so much, although they did, and not because my balls were swollen to the size of Meyer lemons, as they were when I auditioned with Suppositori Spelling for John Cameron Mitchell's Shortbus workshop, but because they were so swollen that the left one seemed to have actually burst open and halfway given birth to a third ball. I sat there, palpating this monstrous seam, wondering, are even my fingers hallucinating now? You'll be happy to know that after sleeping with a bag of frozen peas tucked between my legs, I woke up with everything restored to its proper size and shape.

My peas got mushy. Co-sponsor my next trip to Franprix.

2 comments:

FRANK said...

Lord, lad, you do penetrate the perturbid points of Paris, but who should be surprised that in a culture dedicated, neigh addicted, to the slurping suction of state bureaucracy, the animal impulse bubbles up when the sequins break an opening.

Paul Festa said...

hear hear!

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Paul Festa’s first film, Apparition of the Eternal Church (2006, 51 min), captures the responses of 31 artists to the apocalyptic music of Olivier Messiaen (with Justin Bond, John Cameron Mitchell, Harold Bloom; screenings: Grace Cathedral, Barbican Centre, Library of Congress; “Remarkable”The New Yorker; “Stunning”Chicago Sun-Times; “Sublime”Globe & Mail; numerous awards). Festa performs the Tchaikovsky violin concerto, opposite members of the San Francisco Ballet and The Cockettes, in his award-winning second film, The Glitter Emergency (2010, 20 min), a silent-film drag ballet comedy (“Enormous visual and musical inventiveness…full of pleasure and joy...Festa gives a bravura performance."—Film Threat). He produced, wrote and edited, with director Austin Forbord, and was chief archivist, for the Emmy-nominated documentary Stage Left: A Story of Theater in San Francisco (2010, 80 min: with Robin Williams, Bill Irwin, Peter Coyote; screenings: Geary Theater, KQED; “Intriguing...entertaining...a valuable record”—Variety). Performances as violinist and actor: ODC Theater, Center for Performance Research, Kunst-Stoff, TheatreFIRST, North Bay Shakespeare, Albert Fuller's Helicon Ensemble (Merkin Hall, Weill Hall at Carnegie Hall, Alice Tully Hall). US, Boston, NYC, SF, LA and DC (Coolidge Auditorium at the Library of Congress on the “Betts” Stradivarius) premieres of Messiaen’s Fantaisie for violin and piano. He is the author of OH MY GOD: Messiaen in the Ear of the Unbeliever, based on Apparition of the Eternal Church, and several anthologized essays, and has written for The Daily Beast, Salon, Nerve, and The New York Times Book Review. Current projects include a novel and Tie It Into My Hand (2014, ca. 80 min), a documentary feature that has screened as a work in progress at the Cannes film market and at ODC Theater in San Francisco (with Alan Cumming, Gary Graffman, Peter Coyote, Mink Stole, Robert Pinsky; "A fascinating exploration of the artistic life, as rollickingly entertaining as it is insightful and stirring."San Francisco Bay Guardian). Education: Yale (B.A.; prizes, honors, distinction), Juilliard (Cert., Adv. Cert., scholarships). Residencies: Yaddo, MacDowell, ODC Theater, Centre des Récollets.

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