Tuesday, November 13, 2007

My Night at the Moulin Rouge

I just love it when the phone rings and it's Mary Blake. I never know what to expect. One minute she's telling me about appearing on TV while being thanked by the Mayor of the 18th arrondissement (complete with bisous!). The next minute she's unwittingly solving my technological crisis. Lately it's been pretty mild -- downright cute and wholesome -- all about the antics of her adorable puppies (well, their mom is actually the blonde chien-par-excellence Nina.).

So last week when Mary called and asked me right off the bat, "What are you doing Thursday night?" I replied that, um, if I was still in town, I had no plans. "You have to come with me to the Moulin Rouge," she stated. Simple as that. "I have tickets for the 11 o'clock show."

Whoa, the infamous Moulin Rouge! Who am I to turn down an invitation for a night at a world-renowned Paris tourist mecca? An icon! Mary has already painted a number of tableaux of the Moulin's exterior, like the one above, and in anticipation of doing a series of paintings of the dancers -- yet to be confirmed -- she was comped two tickets for the show. Needless to say, I jumped at the opportunity.

Mary and I conferred a lot by phone on Thursday afternoon about what to wear, how to accessorize. "Don't kill me for saying this, Polly, but you shouldn't dress like you're going to a church social."

Hah! Was I going to surprise her! I wasn't even insulted.

We each got tastefully dolled up and arrived at the Moulin Rouge just as the crowd from the 9 o'clock show was exiting. The line waiting to get in stretched down the block. Inside the theatre it was bustling. A well-oiled machine. Escorted to our tables by men in tuxedos, we quickly soaked up the scenery. I pulled out my camera and instantly got tsk-tsked by a polite waiter -- no cameras allowed. "Okay, Mary, if I can't take any photos, you better start drawing and I better start writing pronto, before the lights go down," I insisted. Twice I couldn't resist the urge to sneak my camera out to attempt a quick photo on the sly. "Please, don't," said virtuous Mary both times. "We're guests." So I scribbled notes while Mary quickly sketched the lamp on our table.

Looks a bit like a topless dancer in a flouncy dress, don't you think?

The huge terrace-stepped dining room is a sea of damask-topped tables for six, each with one of these lamps casting a deep pink glow through the shade's soft fabric. A faded red-and-white awning is tented along the ceiling, held up by columns resembling Parisian tree trunks, complete with the wrought-iron fences. To add to the exotic flavor are rows and rows of Chinese lanterns dangling from the awning. The air was cool and clear -- no smoking at all.

Lights down, music up, the show began! It's really pitch black in the audience; the waiters scurry about with mini-hi-beam flashlights in their mouths so they can see where to deliver and pour champagne.

"But the show -- the naked women -- what was it like?" you're begging me. I know. You think I'm trying to keep you in suspense. Not at all. Stop drooling. Here's what it was like.

It was surprisingly fun, lively, entertaining. Amazingly tamer than what I had imagined. Lots of beautiful women, and plenty of flesh, to be sure. After one or two numbers, you don't really even notice the bare breasts any more. I think I expected more feathers and can-cans and girly-girly come-hither numbers. There were certainly those. There were also many more male dancers in the show than I anticipated. But the overall impression was one of energetic dancing, some incredible acrobatics numbers, some comedy scenes reminiscent of Red Skelton. I don't want to disappoint, but there was nothing steamy or suggestive or even that erotic. (Oh, except for the woman writhing with huge snakes in the aquarium.) The show was mostly a lot of impressive physical talent, sequins, glimmer and upbeat music. More glossy glitz than glamour. Very toned bodies. Gravity-defying naked boobs? Sure, lots of them. But this is France, after all. We don't blink an eye.

If you go to the Moulin Rouge by day, it's closed, but there is a handy Moulin Rouge boutique around the corner on rue Lepic where you can view Mary's paintings, and buy all sorts of Moulin Rouge souvenirs.

Bal du Moulin Rouge
82 boulevard de Clichy
75018 Paris
Metro: Blanche
Phone : +33 (0) 153.098.282

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