A Ticket for Your Naked Bust

A Ticket for Your Naked Bust

My newest Parisenne friend Paola works temporarily in a lovely magasin around the corner from my apartment. It’s a pretty little boutique filled with everything I want in my closet and everything I have no room for in my suitcase. The relationship with Paola started off quite simply. I had a need for a long cardigan because I refuse to close my windows in Paris. I feel an anxiety about cutting off the connection to fresh air and noises around me. What if a truly talented pianist started practicing a new piece and I missed the tune floating past my window? What if I couldn’t smell the fragrant spices wafting from my neighbor’s oven? What if the noises of construction on my rue ceased to give me a mild headache? And what if the flies could no longer find a peaceful respite in my apartment? For all of these reasons, I need to prop open my windows every waking moment, but because living in Paris in septembre is a bit like living in your refrigerator in a swimsuit, I was in desperate need of a long cardigan, or as Paola put it, a blanket.

While selecting my très chic portable blanket, we started talking a mixture of French, English, and Portuguese. She is une femme of many languages with stories as colorful as her heritage and beaucoup d’énergie. This fashionista who styles fashion shows for the rich and famous and teaches dance to teenagers to tame her own free spirit enjoyed my company as much as I enjoyed hers. So it was no surprise when I popped into her shop less than 24 hours later that we picked up right where we left off.

Paola was in the process of redressing the mannequins in the vitrine when I arrived. Despite the tiny sign propped on the floor of the window display that read “Vitrine en cours” (see photo above for proof!) to inform passerbys that the naked mannequins were only temporary, Paola was in hustle mode. She’d already thought long and hard about this week’s display selection for her three mannequins – could not be black because last week’s theme was black; two plain outfits for every one pattern outfit; a skirt and a dress must flank a pair of pants in the middle; the collared dress to the left was for the secretaries and would sell in a heartbeat; the middle floral pattern was a hit with the older ladies; the mini-skirt ensemble to the right was for la Parisienne socialite; and jeans – pourquoi pas?! – everyone loves jeans!

As dresses were tossed over headless bodies and arms strewn about the floor, Paola explained the real reason for such haste was because a shop owner can be fined in Paris for nude mannequins. A ticket for your naked bust? At this point, I’d just like to address the fact that I’ve seen more nude women on “vintage” magazine covers and posters for sale near the Seine in Paris in one week than during my entire life in the United States (excluding a weekend in New Orleans), but I suppose that’s besides the point. It just seemed so truly laughable – was this a modesty issue or a fashion issue?

As the shop emptied out for her late afternoon lunch, Paola suggested we stash the halvesie, naked bust under a rack of clothes and steal away for a drink and cigarette at a nearby café. Over a glass of rosé and a shared salad, Paola told stories of the excess her sister experienced while interior designing in the Middle East. She relived memories about famous clients that she styled and her own trips of wanderlust some 20 years ago where she experienced the best parties in Los Angeles, lounged about on ranches out West, and jetted off to Milan for weekends of excessive shopping. My eyes prickled with tears while laughing at her stories and truly enjoying her company until it was time to part ways for the afternoon.

I picked up a gym membership today to justify the excessive carb-loading I am doing for the marathon I’m not running. I’d no sooner walked out of the gym in my school clothes, having not worked out, when a boulangerie came into sight. Because I’d stepped into a gym with intentions of going back soon, I treated myself to a chocolate croissant because when in Rome/Paris, right? (December Ashley will hate this train of thought). Alors, I continued on my walk home past Paola’s shop. She popped out right away to have a smoky chat and suggest, “If you are libre at 2:30 or 3:00pm, maybe we take a drink at my lunch?”

There are many things I’ve taken for granted in life. Moving to a new city with basic knowledge of the language and no friend network has increased my gratitude tenfold for the friends and family in my life at home and abroad. Such a pleasant thing to have a mid-afternoon rendez-vous with a friend in Paris and a soirée in a new part of town this evening with another friend.

Paris, you are a beautiful city of many invitations and temptations. Tempt me to use my gym membership eventually, s‘il vous plait.

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