Friday, February 10, 2012

Giovanni's Room

I decided to revisit Giovanni's Room after reading the essay in 50 Gay and Lesbian Books […etc] and it's excerpts like this one that remind me why I like Baldwin so much:

Behind the counter sat one of those absolutely inimitable and indomitable ladies, produced only in the city of Paris, but produced there in great numbers, who would be as outrageous and unsettling in any other city as a mermaid on a mountaintop. All over Paris they sit behind their counters like a mother bird in a nest and brood over the cash register as though it were an egg. Nothing occurring under the circle of heaven where they sit escapes their eye, if they have ever been surprised by anything, it was only in a dream—a dream they long ago ceased having. They are neither ill- nor good-natured, though they have their days and styles, and they know, in the way, apparently, that other people know when they have to go to the bathroom, everything about everyone who enters their domain. Though some are white-haired and some not, some fat, some thin, some grandmothers and some but lately virgins, they all have exactly the same, shrewd, vacant, all-registering eye; it is difficult to believe that they ever cried for milk or looked at the sun; it seems they must have come into the world hungry for banknotes, and squinting helplessly, unable to focus their eyes until they came to rest on a cash register.


Tim said...

das Ewig-Weibliche Mme Defarge

Robert Muir said...

The woman described by James Baldwin reminds me of the woman who used to rule over Au Lapin Agile. It's a cabaret on the back side of the hill in Montmartre that now you enter w/ a cover charge and drink minimum. But, back in the day, you used to go in and just pick up a brandy from a guy w/ a tray and when you left you told Madame how many drinks you had and paid accordingly. No one, I'm sure, ever lied about how many drinks they had.