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Monday, January 31, 2011

P'tit Cadeau


My mate, Anel Viz, has just had his novel P'tit Cadeau published.   A p'tit cadeau means (literally)  little present, but it's what a hustler asks from his trick to let him know he expects to be paid.

I thought you might enjoy this excerpt:


[Ben, (the artist) is back in France on his 2nd sabbatical; J-Y is (was) living in Dijon with his aunt (Tatie Hélène); was because she has just died. Léon is her son, J-Y’s cousin, & Alain is his long-term partner. Arnaud is a friend who owns a gallery in Dijon. The rest is self-explanatory.]
We converted his — that is, Léon’s — old room into a makeshift studio. It had a high ceiling and two tall windows, and was well lit in the afternoon. I undertook no new pieces until I went to Geneva to work on Léon’s commission. Instead, I finished those of Jean-Yves I’d begun in Port-Pin and helped Arnaud sort through what I’d done since my arrival in France to choose the pieces for the exhibit I’d promised him. He decided to make it exclusively of nudes, his included. “A few more females wouldn’t hurt,” he said, “just to round it out.”

Jean-Yves was sure he could get Coralie to sit for me. I had my doubts, both about her agreeing to it and my wanting to do it in the first place. After all, she’d been one of his lovers. On the other hand, why not? She’d seen my nude self-portrait. She was probably looking right at it every time Jean-Yves screwed her.

After Jean-Yves had returned to work and was too busy to mope, I spent a weekend in Geneva doing the portrait of Léon and Alain.

Don’t stay a day longer than you have to,” he said. “Remember that I’ll be without the two people I love most,” meaning me and the painting of Tatie Hélène.

Léon hung his mother’s portrait in their living room across from an empty space on the wall he’d reserved for his and Alain’s. “So she’ll be able to look at it,” he explained.

I took out my sketchpad and watched them undress. My art shows how much I like seeing naked men, and I especially enjoy seeing a gay couple naked. It helps me understand how they fit together. Removing their clothes brought out the twenty-odd years that separated them. The age difference was striking: Alain fit and toned, with a full head of dark hair and a close-cropped beard; Léon with a noticeable paunch and flabby thighs, the skin on his face puffy and pinkish. Representing them as the couple they were would raise suspicions, even look unhealthy.

My mother was appalled at how young Alain was the first time I brought him home,” Léon said. “For three years she wouldn’t let us have the same bedroom when we came to visit. She made me sleep on the sofa.”

Alain added, “She changed her mind when she realized our relationship was going to last. That I was older now had nothing to do with it.”

But we want her to feel good about it, don’t we? What if instead of a joint portrait, I paint you as two men in the baths at the gymnasium in ancient Athens?”

They were uncertain until I sketched in my idea. Léon would be seated on a bench with a sheet draped over his shoulders; Alain would be at his feet looking up at him, one leg crossed under him, the other dangling in the pool. The only question was where they could pose for it.

That’s how I came to paint my first and only canvas in the sauna of a gay bathhouse. The conditions were far from ideal. Though the heater was turned off, the oils turned almost liquid, and the stench of turpentine in the small, enclosed space made it impossible to breathe. Léon almost passed out twice, though he downed liters of water,and we couldn’t take a break because the manager allowed me a single afternoon to paint it in.
Le vieux sage et son disciple is one of my little-known masterpieces. I talked them into letting me bring it to Dijon for Arnaud’s exhibit. They could come down the day it closed, see my work, sign the guestbook, and take it home with them.

After the heat and humidity in the bathhouse it took forever to dry. I expected Jean-Yves to whine about the delay, but he said, “Then I’ll be able to see it right away. That’s good.” 

His acquiescence made me uneasy. “Don’t you miss me?” I asked.

Of course I miss you.”

There was more to it than that. I was jealous. His last girlfriend, Coralie, had attended the funeral and shown herself extremely solicitous of his grief. She called to check up on him a few times and twice stopped by with a selection of Teuscher truffles, saying that chocolate increased the flow of endorphins and was good for fighting depression. She’d been at the apartment when I called to tell him my Greek gymnasium idea. And then there was his suggestion of my using her as a model. On top of that, we’d made love less frequently since Tatie Hélène’s death, and I knew he was basically heterosexual and only involved in a gay relationship because of me. My fear that it wouldn’t last was one of the reasons I resisted getting a PACS.
I couldn’t have hidden my feelings very well, because Alain asked, “What’s wrong? Has something happened to Jean-Yves?”

Jean-Yves is fine.”

Something isn’t right. I can tell.”

I’d rather not talk about it. I think he’s losing interest in me.”

Léon snorted loudly. “That’ll be the day! You know Jean-Yves better than we do, but he did live with us for a year, and on this subject we can be more objective. Vous êtes scotchés, vous deux. Oui, grave.

Alain laughed. “He’s trying to hide his age again. Don’t ask me where he learns his argot. I don’t know half the expressions he comes up with.”

He spoke passable English, so I tried translating for him: “We’re stuck to…or on…or with each other. Big time.” It turned out he’d understood Léon perfectly. My slang would have gone straight over his head anyway.

When I brought the double portrait back to Dijon, Jean-Yves said it reminded him of us and called it one of the best things I’d ever done. He named it for me: The Older Sage and His Adoring Pupil. I thought it wiser to leave out the “adoring”.

Is that how you see me?” I asked. “As an old man?”

Don’t be ridiculous. What’s got into you?” And he literally dragged me into the bedroom and we made love.

You can buy P'tit Cadeau as an e-book from Silver Publishing.

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