On the second and final day of my brief Parisian idyll, I started the day right with Champagne at L'Hôtel Le Bristol, the swank setting for a bloggers' meet with Michel Almairac, the nose behind Bottega Veneta's debut perfume. (Read about the encounter here.) Fume talk with Almairac and esteemed perfume writers, combined with très fancy hors d'oeuvres, got me prepped and lubed (okay, maybe it was just that second glass of mid-day Champagne) for another sniff-binge around the city.
I'd had grand plans to hit rues Saint-Honoré and Champs-Elysées, to yum-yum-yum my way from the Guerlain flagship to Dior to Colette to Chanel and ritzy-titsiness galore, but once I entered the upscale department store Printemps, my shop bopping plans disintegrated. The place is a veritable bouquet of boutiques, with so many fashion, beauty and fragrance houses represented that I kind of...forgot...that sunny late-September Paris was right outside. Okay okay, so I swapped real glamour for virtual, but one-stop shopping does have its charms when time is limited.
With the store's speakers pumping Devo's version of “I Can't Get No Satisfaction” (was Printemps laughing at me or with me?), I prowled the elegant displays. I turned myself into a walking perfume blotter between Dior's La Collection Privée Patchouli Impérial (grassy, hearty, earthy and rooty-sweet), Armani Privé's Rose d'Arabie (thick, sickening, clichéd), Juliette Has a Gun Vengeance Extrême (Lady Vengeance plus pumped-up patchouli equals “Lord Vengeance”) and L'Artisan Parfumeur Mon Numéro series (when I got to Number 8, the angels sang).
I made several disbelieving laps around a kiosk ablaze with the words “black | Up”. It appeared to be a cosmetics brand for women of color.
But...“black up”? As in what white -- and black -- folks did when they greased up for minstrel shows back in the bad ol' days? Either the brand is trading on provocatively edgy irony, or they're “taking back the night” (i.e. “'queer' isn't offensive if we're gay people talking about ourselves”), or they're just sunshiney, up with (black) people: black UP, y'all! Or...it just doesn't translate well from the French?
“black | Up” is one of those nuggets of trans-cultural awkwardness I so enjoy, like the near life-size statues of little boys and girls with leg braces that used to be found on the sidewalks of Britain up until the 1990s. First you'd be thinking, why is there a statue of a polio kid outside this magazine kiosk? Then you'd notice the kicker: the word “SPASTICS” emblazoned across a donation box held in the statue's arm.
My efforts to engage the locals on the delightful inappropriateness of the statues were always met with nonplussed blankness. I concluded that spastic statues were the Limey version of Margaret Keane's big-eyed kid paintings, with a charity element thrown in.
But back to Paris and Printemps! Perfumes had led to cosmetics, cosmetics led to clothes, clothes led to shoes, and by the time I finished with shoes, it was “ou est le W.C., s'il vous plaît?” to freshen up. But in snazzarella Printemps, even the lavatory is a mini-boutique. At "Point W.C.", black marble floors reflected strategic spot lighting, amplifying the natural drama created by a crowd of people desperate to empty their bladders. Taking advantage of the roomful of captive consumers, the restroom lobby featured enticingly-lit toilet paper in bold colors -- just the ticket for that urgent impulse buy.
Perusing the saturated yellow, azure and fuchsia rolls, I marveled at the lengths design fiends were now able to go in their commitment to home wide color-blocking. My marvel-level ratcheted tenfold when my eye alighted on the darnedest Dada artifact I ever did see: black toilet paper.
Black toilet paper? C'est chic, to be sure, but in actual use, how would you keep track of your, err...effluvial status?
Black toilet paper: in France, even hygiene is an existential matter.
By the time I reached the loo administrator (a fellow coiffed like an 80s pop star behind a commandingly high desk), I noted the steep fee for relieving myself: 2 euros ($2.56). "Point W.C." had me at a vulnerable moment, and there was no choice but to pay. My consternation increased when I entered the cubicle and beheld the space-age Japanese toilet. It had more controls than a cockpit: buttons included bidet, interval stream, fore and aft positions, and most puzzlingly, a “children” setting.
One button read “massage”. What happens here? I imagined a hand reaching out of the bowl, a variation on Thing from the Addams Family.
My 2 euros had bought me a game of Pin the Tail on the Donkey as I gamely pushed every control. It was Paris, and I was determined to go on all of the rides. Nothing is quite so clarifying as a jet of cold water hitting its target, it would seem. I left the stall properly “gingered up” (a colorful British expression stemming from the obsolete practice of inserting a nub of ginger in a racing horse's hindquarters to make her run like the wind). In Printemps' luxury loo, there's no need for toilet paper...of any color.
Read about Day One here.
Shirley Temple in The Littlest Rebel
Black toilet paper via