"I have a vernissage* at the Palais de Tokyo tonight." Mélusine pauses to examine me for a moment. "I think it will be fun. Why don't you come?"
I don't know Mélusine. I met her for the first time today. She's a curator and owner of an art gallery I wandered into this morning, near the mysterious hotel. I meet her there again in the evening before taking a taxi to the Palais.
Next door to the gallery is a boules pitche. Old men play while old women with immaculate red lipstick sit and watch. Mélusine goes over to one, to several of them; she embraces them, talks for a while. She turns to me. "They're - I don't know how to say it in English. Voyous. Do you know that word? You know, the guys, the real men of the neighborhood?"
"Do you mean like local guys, like Cockneys? In London they have Cockneys, like Titi Parisien?"
"No, I mean they're voyous. Men, guys. You know, they're always boasting about that they've been in prison. Like, 'I've been in prison for ten years; Yeah and I have for twelve.' ."
I realise I've heard the word before in a 1950s movie. Now, here they are at the end of their stretch, enjoying their retirement, playing boules peacefully in the sun.
Mélusine insists we take a taxi. In Paris, I don't take taxis. I walk or take the metro. While I watch the buildings peel by unfamiliarly from my low bucket seat, Mélusine takes calls on her mobile. How much French does she think I understand? We've been talking in English. I hear her say,
"Yes, I'm on my way... I know. She's not very attractive. Is it because she dresses so badly?" I wonder whether she's talking about me.
Mélusine wears black. A black jacket, which she does not remove; black t-shirt; black twisted rope necklace. She also wears perfume. Lots of it. Poison by Christian Dior, she says. It's so thick it forms a barrier between us. On anyone else it might have been oppressive, but on Mélusine, it's part of her allure. I've always loathed strong perfume, especially in cars where it makes me carsick.However if, as Diana Vreeland said, 'Pink is the navy blue of India' but it doesn't necessarily work everywhere ( just as certain shades of orange-red, I've noticed, look dull in the grey light of London), maybe overpowering scent also only makes sense in its heady city of origin.
"You know," says Mélusine, "I have to do an interview at the Palais. I do an emission about the arts. For la télé. Do you know that arts show, with the chairs? But I'm so tired." She leans back into her leatherette seat. "I just got back from the Maldives last night."
We pull up on the wrong side of the multi-laned avenue du Président Wilson and jaywalk to the Palais, dodging the rush hour traffic.
The Palais de Tokyo is artfully distressed. It's walls, inside and out, are peeling, greyish concrete. When a building looks as hubristically Fascistic as this (the enormous winged typewriter was built, optimistically, in 1937), the only thing to do with it is to make a romantic, post-industrial ruin of it.
The exhibition inside is inspired by the Superdome stadium in Atlanta which was used as a disaster centre for the poorest and most resourceless victims of Hurricane Katrina in the US. When we arrive, the main exhibit, inspired by the stadium after its occupation, is still being prepared; curators carfully distributing crumpled Macdonalds wrappers, empty plastic water bottles and other human waste to their pre-appointed places on the artist's floor-grid. The preview-goers form temporary alliances and hang about in groups, waiting for the opening, leaving their own debris of tickets, magazines, and waterbottles. Here we are, the survivors, the stragglers, waiting for our handouts of free champagne.
What do art girls look like this year? The art girls in Paris are all wearing sarouel this summer. And weird shoes. Art girls all over the world wear weird shoes...
Mélusine, who is wearing terrifyingly high black patent platforms with dagger heels, meets an artist friend. He shows me pictures of his work on his blackberry: a car and an uprooted tree turning slowly in the white cube of a gallery. "They're beautiful, huh?"
"I have to meet with les télé people." says Mélusine. "I have a ticket for you. Go in. Have a look around. We can get together later."
I wander in past the works on time, by Jonathan Monk which I like more and more, as I take more time to look. They include a two part exhibit - possibly the most conspicuously luxurious in the World - as you have to travel to Tokyo to see the other half in order to appreciate the whole piece.
I walk past the machine that fires beer bottles at 600km per hour, making everyone jump, and laugh, dissolving the gallery atmosphere. I circle the stuffed elephant balanced on its trunk, examining it's beautifully detailed trunk-hairs; and the group of ceramic Darth Vader heads, which hum like Mongolian throat singers.
But the biggest queue is up the central stairwell is a sign to the free champagne bar. I follow the crowd. The bouncer at the foot of the staircase tears my ticket and sternly indicates the sign, 'Toute sortie est definitive' (no re-entry).
I look up at the beautiful people standing around the balcony about my head, and see something else. On the artfully peeling concrete walls, an enormously enlarged, cheerily wholesome woman in late middle age beams from a huge posters showing cartons of her new flavours - mint tea, Irish coffee and lychee. Yes, the exhibition is sponsored by Mamie's Yogurt.
After as much free champagne and yoghurt as I can stand, I catch sight of my friend Vic, a fashion writer, on my way out. I didn't spot him in the exhibition, despite his gleaming peroxide hair and the tightly-buttoned waistcoat worn over his freshly-waxed bare chest which curves in two unnaturally tan sculpted mounds like the breast of a roast chicken.
I ask him.
"Did you eat the yogurt?"
"Yes. The violette is divine. It goes so well with the champagne. Are you here alone?"
"I'm with Mélusine."
"I don't know her. I just met her today. She owns an art gallery. She just asked me here."
"And you're going home already?"
"I promised to be at another vernissage in the Marais. A smaller one. Photographs. A friend is organising it."
He looks at me with a newfound respect.
"You," he says, "have the knack of being invited."
Click on the illustration to see it bigger. Click again to resize.
*vernissage - (n.) A private showing held before the opening of an art exhibition. [French, from vernis, varnish, from Old French]. There also is a comparable ceremonial ending of art exhibitions, called finissage. Bigger art exhibitions also may have such an event at half time of the exhibition (midissage).