Dancing Bare

by Rigby Taylor

Chapter 36

Paris and…

Cologne. So tired I slept on the concrete platform of the railway station all night waiting for the London train. I arrived in London a wreck. Cold, dank, dirty, described both me and the city. Misery compounded by the realisation I'd come to the wrong country. Why hadn't I gone to France? A public bath restored my appearance enough to enquire at London Berlitz about a job in France, hoping for Nice so I could laze on the beach in the sun and join all those elegant, sexy young men promenading among the trees in the Park of Albert the First. But Paris was looking for teachers and that was even more exciting.

I needed a photo for my application. The nearest place boasting the new instant portrait cameras was Swan and Edgar, the very upmarket menswear store on the corner of Piccadilly and Regent Street. In jeans, scuffed desert boots, and a once attractive Egyptian cotton shirt, I sauntered in and charmed a pleasant assistant who risked his job by letting me borrow an expensive tweed sports coat. I bought a tie, and together we went up three flights to the photographer.

The photo must have impressed Julie, who ran the Paris Berlitz English Department, because before long I was taking the metro each morning from my apartment near Place des Fêtes, which I shared with a piss-elegant Australian convinced he was one of the 'beautiful people', to the Arte Nouveau Palais Berlitz on Boulevard des Italiens.

Paris was now my home and even more heartbreakingly beautiful than on previous visits. Magnificent tree-lined boulevards, grand avenues, squares, vistas, pavement cafés, grand architecture that had recently been cleaned back to the original pale gold stone, elegant people speaking perfect French, handsome young men dressed like peacocks, friendly students, sunny skies.... I was living in a dream and had never felt more alive.

I enrolled at the Sorbonne for a diploma course in French Language & Civilization; stood in the open backs of buses on my way to University and work; goose fleshed at the romantic sight of caped Agents de Police directing traffic as morning mists lifted to reveal Chatelet, Pont Neuf, the Pantheon… I thought I'd fallen in love with London, but that was only because it wasn't New Zealand. In Paris I'd truly come 'home' and was determined never to leave.

Recurring nightmares that I was back in New Zealand haunted my sleep. I'd wake sweating from fear that I couldn't return to Paris. Never before had I felt such a sense of liberation, culture and rationality. I might not have found someone to love – but Paris was the next best thing.

The Berlitz administration liked my style, so hour-long classes at the school, of up to ten young shop assistants desperate to learn enough English to keep their jobs, soon gave way to private lessons for the wealthy. In the morning I'd be whisked in a private lift to the St Cloud penthouse suite of the man who designed and built the Mont Blanc Tunnel, then after lunch Prime Minister Pompidou's wife told tales about her husband. The Personnel manager of Chausson, a spare parts factory for cars (who, to please me, gave a job to a Spanish boy with whom I was having an affair) offered me rides home in his large Citroen and stroked my leg.

The wives of two film directors in a grand apartment just off the Champs Elysées took me to the cinema and for walks in the park instead of lessons. Bank managers served me tea during private lessons in their sumptuous offices. Obscenely wealthy wives would weep on my shoulder at the banality of their boring lives and the fact nannies wouldn't allow them to see their children more than twice a day. One poor soul dissolved in tears every time she had to go to dinner with President De Gaulle. After six years of marriage to the richest man in France, she'd realised it was no compensation for losing the simplicity of her previous life in Marseille.

Everyone I knew had problems. Jacqueline wanted my babies. When Barrie realised I didn't want to sleep with him he went on a desperate search for a boyfriend who would treat him as if he was royalty. Bill bought me presents and hosted 'Joan Sutherland' breakfasts for friends, when he played her records and no one was permitted to speak. He handled my rejection of a physical relationship like a man, but confessed he desperately wanted to be a woman instead of a dumpy, extremely hirsute young man. He later became one of Texas's best-loved drag queens.

Fernando spent all his money on beautiful clothes and nursed espressos for hours in expensive cafés, hoping to be rescued by a wealthy sugar daddy. Miguel wanted not to be bald, so he wouldn't have to do a total comb over just to keep his job as a butler. Jacques wanted to marry an American girl even though she didn't love him, so he could escape the oppressive restrictions of his Jewish family. Annette hated her nose and was saving for a nose job. Beryl's Catholic indoctrination had convinced her that every natural joy and pleasure is a mortal sin.

Jerry was in love with Paco, a young Spanish guy who was in love with me, but whose Catholic upbringing made him terrified someone might guess he was queer. Arthur was a failed journalist who hated everyone. Marc was a Canadian harpsichordist in love with a Portuguese boy who had stolen all his money. No one I knew admitted to being happy to be themselves. Everyone let their perceived problems eclipse pleasure and blight their lives. It seemed I was the only one who didn't drink or smoke, had no inhibitions, got enough sleep, and was more or less happy with the hand fate had dealt me.

The only improvement I could imagine to my life was a permanent lover to share it with. Students invited me home to dine with their families; others took me to plays such as Les Escargots Meurent Debout, (Snails Die Standing Up), a farce as silly as it sounds. Alone, I went to the theatre, but the French style of acting seemed false – it was twenty years before I could go to a play and not criticise every production 'fault'. Bill took me to the Comédie Française to see Les Contes d'Hoffman five times. Barrie decided I was too gauche to be seen with at the opera and concerts, so I went alone.

Jacqueline insisted on coming swimming with me to the large public pools constructed in barges on the Seine. I wore a semi-transparent black nylon backless pouch that attracted a fair bit of attention, so I imagined I was going to be ejected when a life-guard approached while I was waiting for the diving board. He took my arm, raised it, and loudspeakers blared. The crowds on the tiered seats stared and clapped and whistled. Instead of throwing me out for indecency as I'd imagined, I was handed a dozen free passes: I was the lucky-spot winner for the afternoon. To Jacqueline's chagrin, I went home with a particularly delicious Spaniard instead of her.

Jacqueline let me maintain my all-over tan on the flat roof of her apartment block, where we were usually overlooked by half a dozen binocular wielding men. She had been titillating them for some time, but as there was no access between roofs she was safe. Her intentions were sexual, I discovered, and I admit it was rather arousing to have my penis fondled in the sun on a roof top in Paris with a view of Sacre Coeur on one side and the Eiffel tower on the other. On one such afternoon the surreal sight of lone men on rooftops masturbating with one hand while holding binoculars to their eyes with the other, was sufficiently stirring to permit me to manage intercourse. I had no condoms, so intended to pull out in plenty of time.

It began to rain, so we finished off inside on the floor of the sitting room. Although the carpet was a bit rough on bare skin, the novelty was sufficient to keep an erection until Ruth and Beryl walked in, watching in shock as I withdrew, ejaculated, and rolled onto my back grinning up at them. Jacqueline cheekily asked Ruth to pass a face flannel so she could wipe her belly clean. Beryl woke from her trance, took out her rosary, and began loudly chanting – never taking her eyes off my crotch.

In winter I discovered a men-only underground swimming pool near Place de l'Etoile. Inside was like a Roman bathhouse smelling strongly of chlorine. The incredibly expensive price of entry was prohibitive, but as I turned to go I saw a discreet notice: Jeunes hommes sympa – libre (Young, friendly/sexy men – free). I entered, accepted a locker key, and submitted to a thorough inspection in a small clinic-like room for lice, sores, disease, scouring, bad breath, rotten teeth… it was a relief to know I wouldn't be picking up any bugs.

In the pool area a pride of sparsely clothed men older than thirty wallowed in the heated blue waters or lounged on chaises longues, casting covetous glances at about a dozen slim, naked youths, some of whom appeared to be in their early teens, sitting by the steaming pool, swimming, diving, or standing in elegant contrapposto against the columns.

I'd stumbled upon a very upmarket, public pick-up joint that would have been raided by police in England, and the owners, clients, and rent boys would all have ended in court. Thanks to Napoleon, homosexual acts were not illegal, but thanks to the church they were severely frowned upon. A pleasant looking but slightly overweight fellow of around forty gave me a wide smile full of perfect teeth and beckoned me over. I slipped into the deliciously warm water beside him to be greeted by, "Combien?"

I said I wasn't on the game, having decided I'd done my bit for the sad guys who had to pay for it. I was beginning to feel repelled at the idea of close physical contact with anyone who wasn't slim, clean, young, and sexy. He frowned, shrugged and swam away; not interested in a friendly chat. I guess he had a wife and friends for companionship, and when sex is a simple commercial contract there are no strings attached – neither person imagining it's a love affair with all the complications.

I had a lot of acquaintances, but could never think of them as friends. Other people collected 'friends', cramming address books with the names and addresses of every person they met, sending Christmas cards and landing on their doorsteps to stay if in the vicinity. Too often if I make a 'friend' I soon wish I hadn't because people who think I'm their friend always seem to expect me to like what they like and be interested in the minutiae of their daily lives – while seldom evincing the slightest interest in mine. They demand too much attention for too little reward. It's the same reason I've always disliked team sports and parties. There's an expectation of conformity to which I'm unable to subject myself, along with a concomitant dilution of intellectuality.

Julie, the boss-lady, invited me to join the "English Club", where ex-pats played tennis and frolicked. It was an honour, I suppose, but thirty-eight-year-old Julie was going to be part of the deal. She was an attractive woman and her Renault Capri sports car was alluring, but… At least she hadn't guessed I was queer! That cheered me up for a day.

The Spanish boy I met at the swimming pool offered to share the rest of his life with me, partly as a means of escaping his tiny Chambre de Bonne and being at the beck and call of wealthy masters who treated servants like a lower species. But our only commonality was sex. I wanted a lover with the same sort of education, the same values, hopes, and desires as I. Not someone too afraid to be seen with me in public in case their brother or cousin or aunt saw us and put two and two together! I wanted someone with whom I could discuss the 'meaning of life', disagree and argue about an opera performance or tennis match. As Professor Higgins might have said: "Why can't my lover be like me?"

Friends who went swimming didn't like reading. Readers didn't like sleeping rough. Opera-goers refused physical exercise and dressed unfashionably. Those who enjoyed walking for miles through the parks and forests that surround Paris, liked pop music and B-grade films. Everyone seemed two-dimensional with little depth to either interests or character. They were Mr. Sole the fishmonger, or Miss Silk the couturier. Never was Mr. Gross the Grocer also a poet, hiker, opera buff, handyman, and creative dancer.

Parisian male fashions were more daring than those of London. Tight trousers very low on the hips, worn with abbreviated, fine woollen sweaters exposing several inches of bare flesh above and below the navel. Berlitz management demanded jacket and tie, but on the streets and in the dancing clubs, fashion ruled. However, no matter how much or little I wore, there seemed no hope of finding Mr. Right in a gay club, because they're meat markets, not meet markets. Furthermore, I was 'out of fashion'!

Young, cute and androgynously boyish was 'in'. Over twenty-two and butch was 'out'. At twenty-four I was already over the hill! The men I fancied no longer fancied me. Wilting flowers casting lovelorn glances my way were two a penny, but they didn't appeal. I might as well have searched for hens' teeth as look for love in those places.

And then I danced with a wild twenty-eight-year-old Yugoslav at Club Caesar, a gay venue run by a couple of ageing lesbians, with a cosy bar downstairs and a large dancing floor above. Broad shoulders, narrow hips, large hands, straight brown hair, strong jaw, amused eyes, he danced like the professional stripper/dancer he had been in a club near Place Clichy. We danced as if we'd been partners for years, and when he learned I'd had similar employment he took me to a nightclub in a cellar a few streets behind Théâtre Odéon.

The entrance price was steeper than the stairs – three hundred franks! (At least $500 in today's currency). He apparently enjoyed a surfeit of money because he didn't turn a hair, paid for me, and bought mineral water at twenty times the normal price. The rest of the audience were not only well heeled but overtly, elegantly, and ostentatiously worldly. Everyone sat on comfortable café chairs around a large, solid wooden oval table.

A trapdoor opened at one end of the table and a naked couple stepped up through it and began to dance. The music was vaguely classical. They didn't dance well, and after about five minutes ran out of ideas, lay down, and fucked gracelessly. They were followed by four other equally uninspiring acts. Frankly, it was boring. They weren't athletic or artistic or original, and although the girls were pretty, all five guys were heavy, no longer youthful, and physically unattractive. The audience seemed as jaded as us by the time the last couple did their thing.

"Do you miss performing?" Yugoslav asked.

"Desperately, sometimes."

"One of the great pleasures in life is ritualised sex. It frees us mentally and physically, turning us into gods," he said as if reciting a mantra.


"Choreographed dance." He grinned. "Don't you reckon we could do better than them? Are you game?"

And then I realised why he'd brought me there. I pointed out that they were heterosexual couples and, although I'd quite like to perform with him, I wasn't going to be fucked on a large table – or anywhere else for that matter! He laughed and said that would be his role. Unable to think of any other difficulties I accompanied him backstage where he told the producer the show needed more originality, more artistry, more athleticism; offered our services to liven things up and arranged an audition for the following afternoon.

I had no classes on Sundays, so spent the morning at his luxurious apartment in the fifth arrondissement where he lived with his partner, a Chinese doctor a few years older than him.

We decided on a sequence of ten erotic positions, then worked on dance routines to link them seamlessly, emphasising our strength, flexibility, energy and technique: lifts, back flips, pirouettes… all things our competition lacked! It was crude, funny, and fast. But then I realised I'd be so busy concentrating I'd never get an erection. Yugoslav's doctor partner had solved that for him when he was performing at the nightclub, with an injection of poppy extract before he went on. It seemed a bit drastic, but he was a doctor so should know. I didn't know then of the dangers inherent in such interference.

The audition was a formality. They must have been desperate for new acts, so on the Tuesday night we shaved ourselves smooth and Yugoslav gave himself an enema. At the club we oiled and polished the bodies, plunged a tiny needle into our cocks, pressed the plunger and scarcely felt a thing, then waited nervously in the tiny underfloor dressing room while the others performed – we were on last.

Success. The audience didn't stop gasping, clapping, and laughing throughout a performance that liberated, exhilarated and indeed, made me feel godlike and added appreciatively to my bank balance, especially as Yugoslav gave me his share of the money, reckoning the pleasure of the performance was reward enough.

I told no one about this, of course, they'd have thought it disgusting, being unable to comprehend the fact that we weren't having sex; we were performing an elaborate dance in which sexual intimacy played an intrinsic part. It was no different to a stage kiss, or the sex that is almost de rigueur in films today if they want to attract an audience. I felt purified, not defiled. What the audience felt was their concern, not mine.

I still had not had a French boyfriend, so when at the local swimming pool a pleasant, 'typically' French young man smiled and invited me to his room near Place de la République, I accepted with alacrity. He made coffee then excused himself for a few minutes, returning dressed in a sumptuous blue taffeta ball gown, wig and tiara. I felt sick. If I wanted a woman I'd have one. I didn't want a man/woman, and he looked gross. What could I say? He was such a nice person and had gone to a lot of trouble, but I couldn't stay. I suddenly remembered an appointment and ran to the nearest Metro.

Unusually for me, I'd kept in touch with Pamela, in Holland, who came with Mike to stay for a few days. Then a few months later, Mike's mother arrived from California and I escorted her around Paris and sorted her hotel problems. Prue brought over a class from Scotland for a week, and Jeffrey and his boyfriend visited.

Paris remained perfect, but I was becoming a little morbid so accepted a month-long job in Scotland teaching drama, going via Amsterdam where I spent three nights with Pamela and her parents. Their somewhat unrestrained welcome suggested I was considered a better suitor than Mike, who had been drafted to Viet Nam.

On the second night, a lean and fit young man with lank blond hair and grey-green eyes peering critically through black-rimmed glasses, popped in to return a book he'd borrowed. I liked his intensity, so after a few rubbers of bridge we chatted in a corner and discovered we liked the same music; enjoyed science and nature; the same sort of art; and walking. He too disliked parties, smoking, alcohol, crowds....

"Have you a girlfriend?" he asked.

My heart stopped beating. I managed a casual, "No."

"Boyfriend?" there was an edge to the voice. Was it a sneer? My heart sank. This sharp, smart biology student had sorted me out. I quailed, terrified of exposure and changed the subject.

As he left he turned at the door and said he'd organise three tickets for Coppelia at the Opera House the following afternoon.

He managed to convince Pamela she'd see better in the outside seat, so he could sit between us high in 'the gods'. When the lights dimmed he slid his fingers into my shirt and caressed my belly. I returned the compliment, revelling in the feel of firm muscles and smooth skin. Afterwards he invited me to his room while Pamela went shopping. Within seconds our clothes were off, and I discovered he was the sexiest, most interesting, most handsome, most perfect young man on the planet.

As we lay chatting after an hour of gentle, non-invasive, sensual gratification that to my amazement was his preference as well as mine, I realised that this was the first time in my life I had unreservedly enjoyed sex – and I am being very careful not to exaggerate. Until then it had always been a compromise – a way of getting my rocks off that, if I'm honest, was usually little better than wanking. To celebrate, we took a tourist boat ride on the canals and kissed in public! This was Amsterdam, the gay capital of the world.

The following day I flew to Scotland. We wrote every day for the entire month. It's true: love's a disease. One lives in constant fear that something dreadful will happen to the loved one. A week after returning to Paris I took the train to Amsterdam for the weekend. We wrote daily when apart. I sent him a train ticket so he could visit me in Paris and we walked everywhere. On subsequent visits we went to concerts with Narcisso Yepes, Joan Sutherland, Victoria de Los Angeles, Nureyev… talked, made gentle love and walked everywhere. We shared a delight in walking! All day from one side of Paris to the other. A whole Sunday walking from one side of the forest of St. Germain en Laye to the other, getting lost, photographing each other dancing naked in the snow. After an exhausting day hiking in the forests of Fontainebleau where we made watercolours that still grace our walls, we decided to stay the night in the forest, so made a hut of ferns. Thin clothing was no protection against the coldest September night ever recorded. We nearly froze despite wrapping our arms around each other. Our small stash of biscuits was stolen by squirrels overnight, but a breakfast of wild blackberries restored tempers and love of life.

Was it possible for two people to be so in tune with each other? Surely it couldn't last?

After more than a year of daily letters and shuttling back and forth between Paris and Amsterdam every time we could afford a weekend away, Jürgen passed his Doctoral Exams and decided he now had to use the qualification to start earning money. My small savings wouldn't last forever!

It was time to sit down and seriously consider our future.

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