Wednesday, February 25, 2015



Before the season begins, you are waiting. Everything prepared, all that remains is for the snow to arrive. 
The telephone. A whispered ‘yes’, a nod of your head and suddenly you become animated, excited, almost to the point of frenzy.

Your apartment bursts in to frantic  life. The maid dashes to and fro, garments piled high. The housekeeper, her round face red, prepares the hampers for the journey and sends the boy out to the stores. You are laughing, singing and dancing all at once - friends call.
‘Can it be so early?’
‘Yes, ma cherie! It’s so wonderfully true! Just think in three days...’
‘Tomorrow night? Us? No, the following’

You do not waste time. Out you fly, to the hairdressers, the beautician, the department stores on Boulevard C..... Your radiant beauty, illumined with anticipation draws attention from everyone.
‘See the pretty lady...’
‘What a beauty!’
 ‘Who does she think she is, trying to look important.Try working for a living!’
You do not care and do not even notice the looks, admiring or admonishing.

The snow has come! As you hurry along the wet streets, you scheme - how you will dress on the slopes, how prettily you can arrange your hair, so the frost can also frame your face and how you will look stylish, happy and yet vulnerable. A ski bunny with a heart...even if it is made of ice.

Time for a chocolate. You arrive at the fashionable cafe and wave across to a group of women. They wave back, less enthusiastically than one might hope. You approach, but they do not make space at their little table, where the cups of rich chocolate sit steaming. Finally, another chair is brought by a waiter and you sit, neatly and elegantly.
‘Another cup!  Mademoiselle?’
You incline your head and smile demurely. A less polite member of the clique raises her hand to her small mouth, stifling a laugh.

‘Will you travel tomorrow, Mademoiselle?’
You nod and smile. The ladies thaw and resume their chatter. Their hands flutter like wings and their excited voices carry across the packed salon.
‘Too much, darling!’
‘ Another baby - no slopes for her this year! How dull! And her poor husband...
‘ Oh, I shall die of boredom. The same old sights and the same old faces’

You speak little, but you communicate much; your luminous eyes shine with interest at the dullest tale. Noon, and you take your leave; refreshed, you must continue your business. You kiss the proffered powdered cheeks and slide on your gloves. Gracefully, you make your way to the door, which is held for you by a dark man, who devours your loveliness.

‘Not so bad really, is she? For what she is?’
‘ You heard what K.... said’
‘She’s done mighty well for herself’
‘We’ll have to put up with her. She’s a great favourite of X.....’

Are you unaware? Or does their gossip reach you through the thronging midday streets to haunt you in your loneliest hours? 

Nico Style

Dolce Nico

Monday, February 16, 2015

Les secrets de Séverine, no. 6

Jordan Hook, 1975, Severely Séverine

Les secrets de Séverine, no. 5

Les secrets de Séverine, no. 4

The Grandmother

The Grandmother

 A sweet child, she was, thoughtful. She would cry for hours over the little birds and mice killed by the tabby. She wouldn’t eat the rabbits I prepared for the pot, just wouldn’t. Now I  think of it, she was always stubborn. She would rather go hungry than eat a bunny, she used to say. I’m afraid she often did, food was short in those days - not like now.
You know she was a twin? Yes, a brother. They were very close - always her and him against the other two. They never did get on, and I don’t wonder she doesn’t speak to them now - after they killed her hen, she never forgave them. I see her clear before me now, a tiny girl of seven in her ragged play frock,tears on her face but cold as ice, telling those great sisters of hers that she would never forget and she would see them in hell first. She got a beating for that, talking of hell so boldly, but she didn’t care and looking back, that was her first lesson in cruelty and death. She started to grow up after that, to harden -never saw her cry again, even when her brother died.
I say died, but he was killed - they were playing in the barns, there was a fire. We never got to the bottom of it, but he was trapped. Just nine years old, so sad. Neither his mother nor father ever really got over it, but she, my poor little girl, suffered the most. I think they blamed her, after all, she had been there, but she had lived. Just a terrible tragedy.
After that her father took them all to live in that dirty town where there was more work, and they visited only rarely, in the summer when they could get away. Each time I saw her she had lost something of her heart, but gained in beauty. Such a lovely girl, like a wild flower. Her sisters are great ox-like creatures and so jealous of her - made her life a misery,I heard. It’s no wonder she ran off before she was even fifteen. Off to the city, all by herself.

She comes to see me sometimes, yes, and to see her mother in the town. Her father died some time ago.She did not seem too upset but I must say I can’t blame her. She writes  and sends money - underneath that brittle exterior she is still the kind little girl she always was. I sometimes get presents from her - usually warm clothes, I guess she remembers the cold here in winter. She came down last summer to see me. How beautiful she is now, truly lovely. I offered to go and keep house for her - cook and clean and launder those lovely clothes. She just laughed her tinkling little laugh and said no, she had her maid. Fancy that! Her own servant, and her just a little country girl!

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Friday, February 13, 2015

Les secrets de Séverine, no. 1

Ich bin Séverine

From 'My Mother's House' ( Colette)

From 'My Mother's House' ( Colette)

  -  J'ai vu Nana Bouilloux! En «long», ma chère, en long qu'elle est habillée! Et en chignon! Et des talons hauts, et une paire de…
— Mange, Minet-Chéri, mange, ta côtelette sera froide.
— Et un tablier, maman, oh! un si joli tablier en mohair, comme de la soie!… Est-ce que je ne pourrais pas…
— Non, Minet-Chéri, tu ne pourrais pas.
— Mais puisque Nana Bouilloux peut bien…
— Oui, elle peut, et même elle doit, à treize ans, porter chignon, tablier court, jupe longue — c'est l'uniforme de toutes les petites Bouilloux du monde, à treize ans — malheureusement.
— Mais…
— Oui, tu voudrais un uniforme complet de petite Bouilloux. Ça se compose de tout ce que tu as vu, plus: une lettre bien cachée dans la poche du tablier, un amoureux qui sent le vin et le cigare à un sou; deux amoureux, trois amoureux… et un peu plus tard… beaucoup de larmes… un enfant malingre et caché que le busc du corset a écrasé pendant des mois… C'est ça, Minet- Chéri, l'uniforme complet des petites Bouilloux. Tu le veux?
— Mais non, maman… Je voulais essayer si le chignon…
Ma mère secouait la tête avec une malice grave.
— Ah! non. Tu ne peux pas avoir le chignon sans le tablier, le tablier sans la lettre, la lettre sans les souliers à talons, ni les souliers sans… le reste! C'est à choisir!

Ma convoitise se lassa vite. La radieuse petite Bouilloux ne fut plus qu'une passante quotidienne, que je regardais à peine. Tête nue l'hiver et l'été, elle changeait chaque semaine la couleur vive de ses blouses. Par grand froid, elle serrait sur ses minces épaules élégantes un petit fichu inutile. Droite, éclatante comme une rose épineuse, les cils abattus sur la joue ou dévoilant l'oeil humide et sombre, elle méritait, chaque jour davantage, de régner sur des foules, d'être contemplée, parée, chargée de joyaux. La crêpelure domptée de ses cheveux châtains se révélait, quand même, en petites ondes qui accrochaient la lumière, en vapeur dorée sur la nuque et près des oreilles. Elle avait un air toujours vaguement offensé, des narines courtes et veloutées qui faisaient penser à une biche.

The Mother

Yes, we are in touch - mainly by letter, and not that often. I find writing hard, you know, and my eyes....not what they were. Too much close work in poor light, the doctor tells me. But no choice, I have to eat, I have to live and all I know is sewing. I used to make lace, but now, no one wants it - they want that cheap machine made stuff. 
You’ve spoken to my mother, yes? She has a soft spot for Sidonie, that’s her name, none of this Severine nonsense, please. She was christened Sidonie, and that is what we call her, a pretty name.
She was a docile enough child, although stubborn and a bit sentimental - you can’t be soft in the country! Whenever we killed an animal to eat, there were tears. Silly girl! And she would hide, so as not to have to help - got a beating every time, but she didn’t care. As I said, stubborn.
Her twin brother was killed in the fire. We never really got over it, Jaques and I, and I think he blamed her, or at least I think he wished it had been her who died, not our only son. After that we moved - couldn’t bear to see those ruined barns every day. We settled in L......, a mining town. There was employment and Sidonie went to school every day, clever girl she was. The other two, well, they soon went out to work on the surface and Jaques,he was down the mine. Filthy dirty, he got, but good money, and the girls had the chance to go out, meet people, young men. They married and as far as they tell me, they are very happy, grandchildren in plenty! Not Sidonie, she hated the town, hated the dirt and hated our neighbours - honest miners all, bit rough, but kind. Not good enough for her, I dare say. She always thought she was better than us, superior.
Do I love her? Yes, I loved all my children, but I cannot say I liked her and after her brother’s death, I found it hard to have her near me. I used to see the neighbours’ little girls laughing and playing, and there was my sullen Sidonie, sitting with her doll, all by herself. She was never one to join in after the fire, it was as if she closed her door upon herself, and there she sat, unreachable. 
If I found her sisters mistreating her, I scolded them, I know they used to tease her and take her things - she was so pretty, you see, and they were big country girls, made for work, as she was made for pleasure, or so I hear.  I think they were jealous of her. 

Anyway, one morning, when she was almost fifteen, I called her for work - she was an apprentice seamstress by then - and she had gone. Without so much as a by your leave. Off to the city!

The Rival

That bitch? I’m sure you felt sorry for her - because today, now, at this moment, that’s what SHE wants. Bitch? I should have said WITCH, because that is what she is. An evil witch! She’s not even that pretty, at least, I don’t think so,well past her best - have you seen those bags under her eyes? Ha!
Done well for herself, hasn’t she? Fancy apartment, fine clothes, real jewels - not like these paste things I have to put up with now, and plenty of admirers taking her to classy places. Oh, good for her, the slut!
She used to be my friend - or so I thought. Did everything together, even shared a room once, when she first arrived and first ‘came out’ as you might say. Pretty girl then, fresh looking and innocent. I showed her the ropes, took about with me - I was doing very well then, had quite a few gentlemen and was always getting invites to fabulous parties and weekends in the country. You should have seen my wardrobe! I only ever drank champagne. Madame S didn’t like the taste, didn’t care for the bubbles, stupid little mare. She soon acquired the taste though, didn’t she? I heard that she won’t even drink Moet, calls it ‘cooking champagne’ - Miss Hoity Toity! She probably bathes in ass’s milk and will only eat caviar - but I tell you, she eats something or how does she keep that famous ass of hers so big?
No, I don’t like her! You can tell? She is devious, and a spiteful little cat as well; you cross her, and you’ll see. Oh, I know, she is so kind to that fat slattern of a maid of hers and her little bastard and so friendly to the street girls - well, shouldn’t she be? She was just a dirty little urchin herself when I found her and thought I could help her. Should have left her in the gutter.
What did she do? Stole my clients, that’s what. Didn’t so much take them on as make them love her and leave ME! She put some kind of peasant spell on them, I reckon, looked at them with those cat’s eyes of hers and off they trotted to howl at her door - no more presents for me! She’s nothing more than a tease these days, swanning around in her couture get ups. Well, she’ll get her come-uppance soon enough. There is always a younger, prettier more charming new comer for the pack to fall for, and then we’ll see what happens to her ladyship. 
Of course she knows this! I bet she is lying awake worrying about it even now. You see how her frocks get even more stunning, and her charm even more insidious? Fear has sharpened her wits like nothing else. Oh, you mark my words, it won’t be so long before she’s in a one room apartment in an unfashionable area with only memories of luxury. Serves her right!

The Maid

I love working for her, I do! She’s the best mistress I have had, a real lady. She is so good to me, and my little one. Plays with him, buys him things - she don’t have to do that, you know, don’t even have to let him in her apartment, most ladies don’t. But as soon as she found out I had him, she told me to bring him, not to leave him with my ma. She plays with him sometimes, got that kitten for him. Nice of her, weren’t it?
My hours are quite long when she is in town which is  springtime, and autumn. Summertime she is off gallivanting to the South, to the beach, and in the winter, off she goes skiing to the mountains, and to them fancy parties she gets invites to. We seem to spend most of autumn getting her frocks turned and new ones made, visits to the dressmakers, the glove maker and the milliner - not to mention her other little necessaries, perfume, shoes, lingerie. You have never seen such lovely things! She just smiles a funny little smile and packs them away in that big trunk of hers - as if thinking of future pleasures.
Even when she is here in town, off she goes to weekends in the country, or on trips with her gentlemen. She is always very happy when she gets to go on some boat or other - gets in a right state choosing her bathing suits. She makes me laugh, she does - so much stuff she has to take for just two night away. Still, I suppose she always has to look her very best, or they might not want her no more, poor girl.
I reckon her life is as hard as mine - she’s got to look lovely all the time, even at home. Round they come, sniffing like a pack of wolves,howling on her doorstep almost, bringing her all manner of fancy bits and bobs - she won’t allow me to let them in, but makes them hand the presents to me, through the door. For that, she lets them catch a glimpse of her in one of them lovely floaty things she has. Most of the presents she gives away - all the chocolates to me and my boy and the champagne she gets me to share with her - my poor head, some mornings! But my mistress - she  has to smile all the time, to everyone,no matter what. It’s her job, isn’t it, to be lovely and charming?

I wouldn’t leave her, my poor lady, I think she needs me here to keep her safe and make sure she eats - I stand over her and make her, like I do with my boy. Waste away she would, without me - you can’t live on cigarettes, black coffee and champagne. I make her take naps too - same as the boy - she just looks so weary, so tired. No, I wouldn’t want her life, not for anything!

The Friend

The friend

When I say I have known her for half a score or so years, I mean I have an acquaintance with her - I do not know her, and I doubt that anyone does. Not really...not to know her soul, if we can claim that of anyone we meet in life.
No, she is not really strange, just close. And closed, like a journal sealed by its owner - so much inside we wish to discover but it is not permitted. Yes, I think you could say she is secretive, but not in a deceptive way, more that she cannot reveal more of herself than the little glimpses you catch by accident , almost.
Good company? Oh, I should say so, she can make a room come alive with her charm - to say nothing of her beauty. She can be so sweet to us, the girls of the shadows and the half light of the theatres, the dance halls and the bars, almost as if she were one of us, which of course, she is not - she is a thing apart and always has been.
I would say I am one of those closest to her but I hardly can claim intimacy to her secrets. I know where she was born, and when and that she has parents, a mother still living. She had a brother who was killed,  sisters who both married and a grandfather who died. Funny, but I think she almost envied them, those who had passed over - I don’t know why I should think that, but I do. She sees them, but I believe her mother writes to her - it would be fair to suppose she writes back, she’s like that. 
When I first got to know her she was more fun - a real party girl - but then the joy died in her and it was as if a light went out. She became more beautiful, her clothes more exquisite and her tastes more refined, but she lost her way. Oh, she was still as funny, as witty and as desirable but those of us who knew her well could see it, see her fading inside. Becoming spectral.

I’m not sure what else I can tell you - she is very popular, she has money and so many admirers who are devoted to her. Like a pack of little dogs, the hounds of Severine we call them, running after her, just to get a smile, a wave, a few words. We see less of her, now she is wealthy, but she is still friendly when we meet. I saw her in a cafe just last week, and she was as sweet as ever. I thought she looked tired though - around those lovely eyes there was the beginning of age and she sighed more than she used to, despite her beautiful dress and expensive jewellery. I used to envy her, be so jealous of her looks, her lovers and her life. Not now. She is so sad.....

Night Porter