Monday, October 6, 2008

A Lesbian in Paris Part Four

A Lesbian in Paris - 4
By: Shannon Connolly

“You know how people refer to Paris as ‘gay Paris?’
They lie. There is nothing gay about this place.”

Just last week, feeling completely (albeit temporarily) fed up with the city of Paris for a variety of reasons, not the least of which being the bad weather and the constant PDG (‘Public Displays of Groping’), I began an email to a friend with the above words.

Have you ever been on vacation and by the fifth or sixth or tenth day realized that, though you had enjoyed yourself, you were ready to get back to your life? Well, as of last week, I was feeling that I had had just about enough of this very gray, seemingly very straight city. My time here, after 5 weeks, was beginning to feel like a vacation that, though it had been nice enough, just would not end.

I was really beginning to miss being around people for whom things like “Proposition 8” and “Stonewall” and “Bette Porter” (come on, I had to throw that in) actually mean something.

Fortunately, just as I was beginning to fall into deep despair and begin watching countless YouTube clips of my favorite L Word moments to ease the pain, I had the opportunity to leave Paris for a few days and escape to the south of France.

I arrived at the train station early Friday morning, bags and ticket in hand, ready for an excursion with my 8 new closest friends (yep, the very Breakfast Club clan I referred to in one of my first blogs) to Provence. We boarded the train and found ourselves in the beautiful town of Avignon by mid-morning. Some seven hours later, after a tour of the Palais des Papes (a beautiful castle where the Pope resided in earlier centuries), dinner at a small Indian restaurant, and an ice cream cone with the best soft serve ice cream I have ever tasted, I entered our hotel (which proudly displayed a rainbow sticker in its front window) with my friends and several bottles of French wine. The perfect pick-me-up day after a week of feeling a bit down.

For the next three days we continued on our journey throughout the south of France, visiting (after Avignon) Arles, Baux de Provence and Aix-en-Provence – all of which are fabulously charming towns with great spirit and life, and most importantly, beautiful weather. It was like visiting the “California” of France. For all of you couples who are getting married this year (congratulations!), I would recommend you take your honeymoon there – it is picturesque and, judging by the many rainbow stickers I saw (not only in the front window of my hotel, but at a local travel agency and several restaurants), quite gay friendly.

By the time Sunday afternoon rolled around and it was time to board the train back to Paris, I found myself wishing I could stay in that warmer, friendlier part of the world indefinitely.

Sunday evening though, after my 3 and _ hour TGV ride from Aix-en-Provence back to Paris, I remembered at least one of the things I have been enjoying about my stay here in Paris. Perhaps I haven’t mentioned it before…in fact, I know I haven’t mentioned it before, but I have been placed to live with a family whose daughter is (and this is no exaggeration) the most beautiful 22-year-old girl living in Paris. She is stunning. Do you remember when I told you that often during dinner I find myself unable to find the right words to ask for something at the table in French? Well, now my vocabulary problem has been compounded by the fact that when she is at the table, I become so distracted just by her presence that I often cannot speak. It is really becoming a problem. And, unfortunately for me, she has what the French would call “un copain” – a boyfriend. How very triste (sad).

Copain or no copain though, the girl is absolutely lovely and it has been so nice living with her and her family. They are extremely welcoming, and have even made a point of telling me on several occasions about their niece who is a lesbian and who just had a baby with her partner. They have made me feel very at home and very comfortable since the day I arrived.

And, despite my sentiments last week about Paris absolutely not being gay enough for me, I must admit that on the whole, I think Paris is a very welcoming city for gays and lesbians. It may not have quite the glamorous nightlife I am accustomed to, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t options.

Yesterday, I visited the Marais again (the “gayborhood,” so to speak, that I mentioned in an earlier blog). My evening outings there, I must admit, have proved disappointing on the whole. The bars, while welcoming, are real hole-in-the-wall places without much going on most of the time. I learned from a local Parisian lesbian that the real lesbian scene in Paris takes place in private parties, not so much in bars and clubs. So, I will of course endeavor to get myself invited to these elusive private events.

But anyway, I digress… and friend and I decided to spend the day in the Marais yesterday instead of the evening, and it turned out to be an outing of complete indulgence. We began with lunch at a pizza place called Pizzeria St. Antoine – a place that is just filled to the brim with lesbian couples in the evenings, and seems to have a predominantly gay/lesbian staff as well.

After lunch, we wandered for a bit and found a fantastic gay/lesbian bookshop called Les Mots à La Bouche. Remember when I told you last week that the Shakespeare Company Bookshop was my favorite place in Paris? Well, Les Mots à La Bouche is either tied, or a very close second. The magazine rack alone contains Curve, Muse (French version of Curve), DIVA, and countless others. Upon discovering Muse magazine, I promptly purchased it and was delighted to find an advertisement for the Dinah Shore Weekend printed across the back. It really is a small gay world, isn’t it?

It appears that French lesbians have all the same interests and obsessions as us American lesbians.

This issue of Muse included the typical advice column section (women couples whining about lesbian bed-death and 16-yr-old baby dykes needing help coming out to their parents), an interview with Mia Kirschner (Jenny on The L Word), and pictures of such lovelies as Lena Headey and Kate Moennig. Perhaps my most exciting discovery in Muse was a column about the Lesbian Film Festival, called Cineffable. Check out its website here:

I cannot wait to go at the end of this month. You will, of course, receive a full report.

My friend and I moved on from the bookstore eventually; though, we both admitted it was hard to tear ourselves away, and had gelato at a famous spot down the street called Pozetto.

And that concluded my day of indulgence – lesbian restaurant, lesbian magazine, lesbian gelato. Couldn’t have been happier.

And now, here I sit writing this blog and what has just appeared in the sky outside my window? A rainbow in the sky right next to the Eiffel Tower. Now, that must be some kind of sign.

Oh yes, one last thing to share with you – a sort of preview for next week’s blog. My aunt, herself a lesbian, emailed me the other day with a whole slew of questions about what life is like for the gays here in France. Using her email as a guide (which I have pasted below), I intend to go on a mission this coming week to find the answers to questions about French gay culture and address them in the next blog.

Email from my aunt:

What's new? What is the general French gay culture like? Are there any out French stars equivalent to Jodi Foster, Lindsay, Ellen or the like? How does the rest of Paris take to them? Do people hang rainbow flags on their houses? Bumper stickers? Secret handshakes? Wide belts? (haha) Is there any activism? Support groups? Gay-Straight Alliances in the schools? "Heather has two Mommies" movies in grade school health class? Where do the French stand on gay marriage? I'm not clued in on these things.

Well, Aunt Karen, rest assured, you and the rest of the LGBT community will have the answers to these questions and many more next week.


Lezlie Mac said...

Mmmmm Funny I don't feel I live in the same Paris as the one you experienced. Granted that gay life in Paris is more underlying than what I've witnessed elsewhere, but it's there !

Answering all those questions about the French & LGBT related issues would require a full conversation ! I'd be glad to provide insight if need. Just e-mail !

And Stonewall, Prop 8 and Bette Porter actually mean something to me. Yet I'm French..Sort of..

Bernadette said...

shannon great to see you are looking for that "rainbow." i swear it's hard sometimes to find, but there is always one about. have a great time in scotland and chin up!

Anonymous said...

"Public Displays of Groping"

Are they groping themselves or are they groping each other?

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately I think you really are missing the great lesbian scene that exists in Paris right now. Admittedly it's very different from Los Angeles, but there are some amazing parties to check out. Like L.A. it's all about the weekly or monthly nights:
La Babydoll (Fridays at le Soir) (probably the best women's parties in Paris..)

You can find tons of info about the Parisian lesbian scene here:

There's also Blue Book Paris (another LGBT book store) and Violette and Co, a lesbian/feminist/women's bookstore. And then there's the lesbian archives, Archives Recherches Cultures Lesbiennes.

Have fun!

Lezlie Mac said...

Concurring with Anonymous # 2

I'd add to the list:

What's Gouine On? parties, monthly

All the PopInGays parties, of various kinds (my favorites, for the pop rock music excellence)