“Elbow-to-Elbow, Wall-to-Wall Fun Femmes and Happy Hommes”
Many years ago, one Parler Parlor (French-English Conversation Group) member told us he was a performer at “Michou.” He was a small-boned handsome fellow, and in spite of the carefully plucked eyebrows, one might never have known that by night he was a female impersonator at the city’s most famous drag artist cabaret!
Michou in Montmartre has been an institution on the Paris cabaret scene for 51 years, yet in all these years of living in Paris, the opportunity hadn’t presented itself until visiting friends suggested we go. Making reservations early is key, as Michou is still packing them in nightly elbow-to-elbow to the tune of about 100 fun-seekers sandwiched into a line-up of long rows of tables in a room about 60 square meters (100 square feet). ‘Elbow-to-elbow’ is no joke — at one point, my friend was spotted cutting the meat on her newly acquaintanced neighboring diner’s plate because if he had used his right hand, his elbow would have bruised her left breast!
Entering at 80, rue des Martyrs, under the pink and blue sign, only after ringing the buzzer on the door, we were escorted in by a tall handsome fellow in a “Toile de Jouey” printed vest and full make-up. At once we were greeted in person by Michou himself, wearing a blue jacket, large sunglasses, perfectly coiffed blonde hair and understated make-up that did a great job of hiding his true age. He blew ‘hello, darlings’ kisses and wished us an enjoyable evening. Being the last to arrive thanks to the rain and scarcity of taxis, it was no easy task to wedge us behind the table onto the banquette, much like easing a heel into a shoe with a shoe horn.
The room is wall-to-wall with gilded mirrors hung frame-to-frame like a puzzle, painted a glossy deep red, Moulin Rouge-ish Baroque. All the waiters wear the same vests and in full mannequin-ish make-up. Ours had a perpetual smile on his face and was full of coquettishness. Was he really as happy as he seemed squeezing among the narrow rows of diners serving up champagne and “Salade Michou” of foie gras and smoked Magret de Canard or in pain and hiding it well? They all seemed to be enjoying themselves immensely.
Surveying the room, we guessed this was no ordinary crowd of foreign tourists. In fact, we may have been some of the very few. Everyone around us was French and without a doubt was having a ‘gay’ old time. It was a surrealistic experience, virtually incomprehensible gender confusion and sensory overload.
The meal served for 99€ was really a bargain considering the quality and the spectacle. It was amazing how efficiently our adorable smiling troubadour waiter was able to attend to so many with as fine a meal as we had — four courses including an apéritif, wine and coffee. The show starts normally at 10:30 p.m., but Michou didn’t begin his introductory song until about 11:15 p.m. and by that time, we had matriculated to a bottle of champagne after already having had the coffee.
With his arms out wide, he sang the proverbial Michou song, written by Jean-Claude Brialy:
Tu as su partager avec tes filles
La folle envie de nous amuser
Tu aimes la lumière, tout ce qui brille
Tu détestes les gens tristes et fermés
Tous les soirs rue des Martyrs
C’est le rendez-vous des amoureux
Tu ferais fondre des visages de cire
Tu donnerais du courage aux peureux
Marylin, Marlène, j2999éphine, Dalida
Mireille, Sylvie, Nana et Barbara
Toutes te font des signes d’Amitié
Fidèles, elles ne t’ont jamais renié
Celui de l’amour
Celui de l’amitié
Nous serons là toujours
A jamais nous sommes liés.
C’est un prénom charmant
Il semble un peu fou
C’est celui d’un enfant
Il voulait distribuer du bonheur
C’est un ange du Paradis
Il choisit son clan : des soeurs
Celles qui aiment et qui rient
Merci, merci Michou chéri
Tu es notre bel ami
Celui qui fait croire au paradis
Tu es devenu grand mon petit
Then the show began! Waiters turned female impersonators, ‘les femmes fameuses’ sang their songs and took their bows…Cher, Tina Turner, Céline Dion, Mylène Farmer, Betty Boop, Maria Callas, among others and of course, Dalida, who as a Parisian icon is being honored right now at a special exhibition at the Hôtel de Ville (http://www.paris.fr/portail/accueil/Portal.lut?page_id=1). The performances were superb! Fun, funny, charming, incredulous, outrageous and delightful — in no way vulgur or tasteless.
We recognized our waiter under the wigs, exaggerated make-up and costuming by that perpetual smile of his realizing there was nothing phony about it. We were not the only ones having fun at Michou!
A la prochaine…
Editor, Parler Paris
P.S. We had an overwhelming response to last week’s report on the concept of Fractional Ownership! The Living and Investing in France Real Estate Conference July 7 and 8 in San Francisco, a Special Event of the Alliance Française of San Francisco, is a perfect opportunity to learn more about it during Steven Navaro’s presentation, “Paris Home Shares — The Fractional Ownership Solution!” Click here to learn more and register before it’s too late: /frenchproperty/conference/LIF_SF_AF_July_2007/home.html