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The Pure Products of France
This is a sad story.
We noticed the posters from the first day we were in Paris. “SOS Doudou Perdu!!!” they said in boldface block letters above a photo of a baby’s lovey–a stuffed white dog with an enormous nose, cute eyes and blue ears. I took a picture of it but can’t upload it; the computers at this Avenue Parmentier internet point won’t take my memory card. The posters are full color printouts, with all the elegance of a lost-cat poster and all the pathos of a lost-dog poster.
We notice that the SOS Doudou Perdu posters keep disappearing and being reposted. For who could resist taking one home? French people like children. Not the way Romans like them, with extravagant, voluble bursts of enthusiasm, but by putting little playgrounds all over the place, and carousels and even trampolines in random squares and parks, and by giving everyone free health care and education through university level and a bonus to families that have three children or more. So I believe that many of those who stole the posters did so not only for aesthetic reasons–though that too–but because they fully intended to buy a new Doudou for the child and needed to take along the contact telephone number.
Not realizing that the child didn’t want any Doudou, but the Doudou–the only Doudou.
As an aside, my upstairs neighbor when I lived in Massachusetts, a professor in Smith College’s French department, called her one-year-old son ‘Doudou,’ a term of affection, then, toward something little and cute and beloved. I called Maisie this a few times, but with my American accent it always sounded like I was calling her ‘poop.’
In any case: If it weren’t for the tiny expensive apartments, Paris would be a miraculous place to live. Garbage is collected daily. There are now rental bikes locked everywhere in the streets. You get a card and use it to unlock a bike; you can relock it anywhere in the city that there’s a stand of them. The streets are cleaned every day. The street cleaners wear bright green uniforms designed by either Yves St. Laurent or Christian Dior, I forget which, with silver reflector tape for vertical and horizontal panache up the pant legs, around the knees, across the chest. The uniforms are better made and better looking than anything in my closet.
The street cleaners open up sluices of water that run down the gutters, carrying away dust and detritus. At every corner you can see rags and pieces of rolled-up carpet to direct the water one way or another. Some are obviously issued by the city of Paris and are neatly cinched. But some are not. On the Blvd. de Belleville yesterday we saw a pair of boys maroon sweatpants being used for this purpose.
There is no name for these things in any French-English dictionary. Jim and I have decided tht if we were cleaning the streets daily, however handsome our uniforms, however good our union was–and this is France, so our union would be very good–we figure we might occassionally feel a little crabby. So if we wanted our coworker to give us the thing–in French, the chose–we might say, “Yo, throw me the fuckin’ chose!”
Jim and I joke that someday we’ll go out at 3 a.m. and steal all the fuckin’ chose in Paris. They’re left out, not taken away after cleaning. Paris would be paralyzed. Capitalism as we know it would crumble.
I saw, in the gutter on another corner, a little hoodie with the word Zizu on it. (Zizu is Zinedine Zidane, the sexy French soccer star who, in his very last game, head-smashed an opponent who insulted his mom.) I realized then that anything at all could, and probably does, wind up as a fuckin’ chose on the streets of Paris, and this, this was the likely end of Doudou the baby’s lovey.
Someday, when the baby is too old to care anymore, she will come upon her lost lovely, her Doudou–only she won’t recognize it–being used as a fuckin’ chose in a backstreet of Belleville. She’ll feel a pang the origin of which she cannot identify.
Is this the pang that will make her a poet…or revolutionary?
My first post to Harriet four months ago was called “The Pure Products of America Go Crazy.” Is it only fitting to end my final post by noticing that The Pure Products of France Go to the Gutter?