Monday, November 26, 2007

Paris capital of love: Outdoor cruising and (sex) clubs

Older gay men always talk about the “good old days.” Same in Paris. Conversing with these men, I got the impression that Paris city was a veritable gigantic cruising area full of beautiful buildings and parks. They talked about different corners of Paris where one, having made eye contact with another, could consume their (momentary) love right there and then. I imagine Paris then as full of happy smiley gays prancing about without a care in the world, waving and giggling at handsome policemen who smiled in return and saluted the flamboyant mass.
Bizarrely, I also start thinking about the good old days in Paris and having only been here for not even 10 years, my good old days are not that old. So things must have changed pretty fast then. Here, I attempt to list changes that I thought are significant ….
What it used to be
Outdoors, for a number of years already, the trend seems to be to light up sombre corners of Paris like a stage, and cut down any bush above half a meter tall. This means that outdoor sex is becoming nigh impossible. And this I have observed throughout Paris. The canal Saint Martin (Métro Jaurés) used to be one of these dark places where men come to meet other men, allowing them to imagine the other to be whoever they wanted him to be. This is not possible anymore with bright lights flooding every furthest corners and nooks and crannies. This place used to be teeming with men from all corners of Paris (and whose origins are from all corners of the world). The square Narvik also used to be one of the cruisy spots, but now they have cut down all the bushes leaving no possibilities for anyone to find an intimate spot out of the public view. Gone are the brushes (or bushes depending where you come from) that could tell many stories about quick love or sex that nonetheless I am sure had brought happiness to some.
Another by the river spot known to many and is still somewhat ‘doable’ is the quay along Jardin de Tuileries near Concorde. Known as Tata beach, you may feast on sights of delicious masculine bodies during the summer months here. There used to be an underground pedestrian tunnel here that at sundown turned into a veritable meat market. A gay artist friend of mine introduced this place to me. So, there I was in his beautiful apartment full of classic paintings, eating dinner in the most civilized way one can imagine (he sat on one side of a 5 m long table and I opposite him), and half hour after coffee, we were in the tunnel brushing against men leaning against the walls breathing the stale air heavy with the odor of sex (and the bourgeois queen that earlier sipped his coffee daintily turned out to be a very hungry animal indeed. Miauuuuu).
Now I walk around Paris with a sense of nostalgia of these places of nature where a bit of love might have been expressed even if only for a few minutes: Along the river Seine from Gare d’Austerlitz to Place de la Concorde, the park in the extremity of Ile St. Louis, Canal St Martin and Place de Stalingrad, the little park on the Canal going from Jaures to Republique, the curvy bridges that dotted the canal Quai Jemmapes, and many many more.
And sex clubs
It’s not surprising thus that sex clubs do great business these last years. Nonetheless, many of these places have also disappeared. In my neighbourhood le Marais and just one street from my apartment there is now a supermarket. Well, this supermarket used to be a gay sauna. Granted I never actually went there to use the sauna but only to visit the shop where one could buy edible undies, condoms, and sex toys, it is still a bit disconcerting that I now go there to buy bananas and wine. I thought there was something very weird when yet another supermarket appeared and replaced a cinema frequented by gays. The cinema used to show porn, with a small non alcoholic bar in the lobby. Aside from the rows of seats that you usually find in cinemas, to the side there were cubicles some of which could be sort of private as they had a door. Visiting the supermarket, I fondly remember the nameless strangers (that is, they did not even bother to give me a fake name) that I had met in what is now the frozen food area. Is this a cruel joke?
Back to existing clubs: the Depot has flourished and, I must admit, rather fun. They used to have a tea dance with gogo boys performing on a small stage. And on the basement, the labirynth still holds possible mysteries for unexpected encounters. Other sex clubs abound though they tend to be too ‘thematic’ for my taste. Often they have nude nights, leather night, shorts night, underwear night, fist night…oh well, me, I just like the good old fashioned roll in the hay that does not necessitate costumes nor a bucketful of lubricant.
Aside from the usual Marais area, there are clubs near Anvers or Pigalle. I like these places as they tend to be frequented not by stereotypical Parisian gays, but more like your neighbourhood kind of guys (remember the heterosexual neighbor you fantasized about? Or your sister's boyfriend?)! At MZ near Anvers, it seems that the word timid does not exist. You walk down that curvy stairway and you will be faced with men bearing it all as the day they were born (except for the obvious sign of their being excited). Nonetheless, people are friendly if a tad drunk, but good ambiance is sure to be had.

Hints for gay visitors: Check out the small format free gay weekly magazines and guides that you can find in gay bars to explore gay life in Paris (listing bars, sex clubs etc. or, of course, web sites). The bookstore Les mots à la bouche may be a wise first stop in Paris...this bookstore located in the 4th arrondissement at the corner of Rue Vieille du Temple and Rue St. Croix de la Bretonnerie, Metro Hôtel de Ville (Guides, english and french books, and free magazines by the entrance near the cashier). The bar Central (the oldest gay bar in Paris is just next door).


Miranda said...

A touch of flair and nostalgia (already ?). You are an artist...

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