Last night I visited a club in Montparnasse where the men dress as women and the women as men. Papa would have loved it. And Mama’s face would have crinkled in that special smile she has for Papa’s passion for everything French.
The place is called the Chameleon Club. It’s a few steps down from the street. You need a password to get in. The password is: Police! Open up! The customers find it amusing.
Francine Prose, ‘Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932’.
Inspired by the classic Brassai photograph seen in an exhibit, in which two women are sitting at a nightclub table — one of them gazing off, wearing an evening gown and a 1930s wave in her hair; the other, in a man’s suit and tie, embracing her in an almost possessive fashion, Francine Prose’s curiousity led her to begin researching deeper into the couple portrayed in the photo.
What she learned later, turned out to be compelling enough to make her want to tell the story of how Violette Morris (the woman in the man’s suit), went from being a French professional athlete and race-car driver, to spying for Germany and working with the Nazis after they had opccupied France. Prose sets out to tell the story of the former athlete turned traitor as the fictionalized Lou Villars from multiple perspectives, in the form of chapters from several books by different authors. I’ve only just gotten hold of a copy of the ebook and am rather curious to see how this will actually work out in the flow of the storytelling. One of the reviews I read said that Prose manages to “… toss them together in a way that is less a biography and more a rich portrait of a difficult age, where the difference between survival and surrender could be nothing more than an image on film.” That sounds promising. From the onset though, the book does look to have enough of all the right ingredients in it to make me anticipate a jolly good read. Anything with Paris as its backdrop can’t possibly go very wrong, can it? 😛
The Montparnasse of the 1920s must have been a very different one from the Montparnasse of today, at least from my own personal encounter with this 14th arrondissement. Or perhaps that has more to do with the fact that my experience of the district had consisted mainly of its beautiful cemetery and the spectacular views from atop the Tour Montparnasse in broad daylight, and did not feature any form of nightclubs or nightlife whatsoever. For all I know, nightlife in Paris might not have changed very much after all.