Bathtime in Paris

OUT THERE My first night in Paris, nearly 20 years ago, found me desperately trying to call someone, anyone, at midnight outside the Gare du Nord
Click to follow
Indy Lifestyle Online
I don't know what Parisians put in their tap water, but it's blue. Not that I'm worried, in fact the clinical hue is quite reassuring, it's just that my knees are slowly going the same colour. The only way to make them pink again is to submerge them, but then my shoulders suffer.

The Hotel La Louisianne is a charming place in the heart of the Latin Quarter. Famous jazz musicians, American novelists and other romantic types have all stayed here, yet the neighbourhood has resisted the worst of the tourist trade. Even cab drivers, a breed far more critical than the snootiest estate agents, think it a very nice area. Directly under my window is a market selling fruit, vegetables, flowers and oysters, and just down the road is La Palette, a corner bar with tar-stained ceilings and huge mirrors, simmering quietly in 40 watts of jaundice, a place full of low-life and chain-smoking students, which I had seen many times in my dreams before actually stumbling across it.

I might stay in this hotel forever, and would recommend it, were it not for the fact that both bed and bath were clearly built for double amputees. Still, what can one expect? Baths and Paris have never really hit it off together. Look at poor old Marat. Jumps in the tub to soak his aching bones and ends up getting stabbed. As if that weren't bad enough, they left him there while someone painted a picture. That's what you get for complaining about blue water and cold knees.

Then of course there was Jim Morrison.

Jim, you may recall, sang with the Sixties beat combo called The Doors. When life got too complex back home, when his cheekbones drowned under layers of boozy fat, when his baritone buckled beneath incessant cries of "Show us your dick!" - in short, when he realised he had caricatured himself to the point of no return - Jim escaped to Paris to write poetry, shoot junk, grow his beard, and put on more weight. These carefully laid plans came to an abrupt halt, of course, when he was found stiff and blue, a la Marat, in the tub.

Paris may be challenged when it comes to bathtubs, but if you are looking for that strung-out junky artist feel, a set of works and a nice, quiet shooting gallery, few places can be so accommodating. My first night in Paris, nearly 20 years ago, was as the guest of a photographer called Rudolf. He found me desperately trying to call someone, anyone, at midnight outside the Gare du Nord. Realising I was homeless, he offered to put me up. Back at his apartment he produced a glossy art book.

On each double-page spread a single image appeared, once on the left, and again on the right. At first glance, the images were identical. In fact, those on the left were all reproductions of famous abstract expressionist paintings, while the images facing them on the right were photographs of mundane objects - walls, ripped posters, piles of rubbish, torn clothing. Rudolf had searched out and isolated elements from the detritus of Parisian life that perfectly mirrored these so-called masterpieces.

"I make these pictures to show that art is everywhere," he explained, "if only you have eyes to see it." And then we went into the kitchen where, after making coffee, he took some swabs of cotton wool from under the sink, placed them in a pan with some water, and lit the stove. Each swab was marked with a tiny bloodstain, but it wasn't until he rolled up his sleeve and produced a syringe that I realised what was happening. Having failed to score that night, Rudolf was boiling up the swabs for whatever juice they might contain. I lay awake all night in the darkness, waiting for the attack that never came. In the morning he dropped me at the station and gave me money for breakfast.

It was on the Eurostar express that David, a fashion editor, had told me about Jim and the Hotel La Louisianne. "Yeah, he died right there, man. Room number 16, I think it was. Why not ask them if you can have it? Mind you, it's probably some kind of shrine by now. I bet it costs three times as much as all the others. Still, you never know."

Hugo, the doleful concierge, handed me the key to Room 25. I asked if it were indeed true that the Lizard King had shed his last skin in Room 16. Hugo gave a little smile and shrugged.

"I don't know," he said. "You would have to ask the hotel's owners."

Yesterday, I did just that. Wearing the same little smile, the owner informed me that Jim had indeed stayed here for a while, but had gone off to die elsewhere. Not enough legroom, I guess

Comments