Shortly upon moving to Paris in February I had the great good fortune to meet a scatty young musician
who quickly became one of my close friends. It was added good luck that this unassuming and talented singer-songwriter with unkempt hair and unkempt everything else should turn out to be connected to both the Paris opera houses, such that he gets tickets to the very finest seats in the place, and with which he is mighty generous. He has no qualms, it seems, abetting my sinister romantic machinations, and it was thus that I found myself taking a date to see Aida at Opéra Bastille a couple of weeks past.
Needless to say the girl in question was impressed when I marched up to the VIP desk to collect our tickets, but it was what I shortly attempted that she must have found truly memorable. As it tends to be, paying for a glass at the bar was followed instantaneously by the bell, so we had quickly to knock back our Champagne and dash inside. A little addled from the drink, perhaps, and by Bastille’s genuinely very confusing seating system, I went to where I thought our places were only to find them occupied. One was taken by an incredibly ancient gentlemen – so ancient that his face looked like the plastic bag you’ve pulled out of your pocket at the supermarket, and who seemed to be in constant danger of being folded up bodily into his spring seat. He possessed age of the sort which threatens death at any moment, and had the sort of face which suggested he might kick it just to spite you, or make things difficult socially. Next to him was a made-up Asian woman in her early twenties and a short black dress. Impostors, I was sure of it.
“Excusez-moi monsieur” I said, bending down to address him, “Je ne veux pas vous déranger mais j’essaye de trouver nos sièges et je pense que ce sont peut-être ceux-ci en fait” [I don’t want to disturb you but I’m trying to find our seats and I think, in fact, that these might be them] I say, brandishing my tickets under his astonished nose.
His eyes widen at me in apoplectic startlement, and I worry that he is having an infarction. Since he is rendered unable to respond his male neighbour on the other side (a significantly younger, spry fellow of seventy) leans over to look at the tickets I’m wafting around and says something to the effect of “non, je pense que vous êtes là-bas” [no, I think you’re over there], pointing down the row. I ask them to excuse me and inform them that I’m going to go and settle this with the usher, as my date tugs on my sleeve. “Je pense qu’il serait bien de demander à l’ouvreur” [I think it would be good idea to ask the usher] she says, pulling me away. And then:
“Peter, est-ce que tu sais qui tu viens d’essayer de dégager de son siège?” [Peter, do you know whom you just tried to kick out of his seat?]
“Non, c’était qui?” [No, who was it?]
“Le Président de la France, Valéry Giscaird Destaing.”
The President Emeritus of France. He must have thought I was insane, a lunatic Englishman on the loose in the first aisle of the raised stalls. But, to be fair, he was with a twenty-something ‘companion’, and kept his hand on her thigh throughout Aida, so he is at least a man of the world. During his Presidency he used to leave, of an evening, a sealed envelope with the details of his (nefarious) location, in case of national emergency. So I can hope he respected my swagger.
This issue is just as importunate as its editor, and we wave our articles under your noses, insisting that you are in our seats. We consider this a ticket for your attention; a call on your astonishment; our right to your discernment, for a little while. We made it excellent. You just have to make it out.
Thus Dr Jaspreet Singh Boparai annihilates another nonagenarian; the New Yorker magazine, which is only one year older than Giscaird Destaing. Philippa Dunjay takes up arms against the Imperial War Museum and imperiously explodes the Edward Barber photography exhibition, which bombs. Tombo, on the other hand, blows up Hayley Daen’s tastebuds for the better, whilst J L Blarney, the Sohoist gone transatlantic, mutters about freedom and not wearing socks in Boston.
We’re sitting here. Do you mind?