My first thought was to interview one of the girls from the Moulin Rouge, the stars of Paris’s red light zone, the Place Pigalle. Two huge bouncers tell me it’s out of the question, as a group of Chinese tourists, men and women, are waiting behind me to get in. These big guys are wearing (big) tuxedo’s: Moulin Rouge is chic, it is not a sex show; it has even transcended the erotic. The show is stylish, artistic and sensual – so they claim. Other vendors of adult entertainment have emerged in the slipstream of their famous neighbour. Shops selling erotic clothing, toys, and X-rated films, peep shows and lap dance parlours. They have names like Sexodrome, Toys World and The Millionaire. The smaller side streets are lined with massage salons where chubby Chinese girls offer Thai massage. No luck with the stars, but Angie, from Le Cha Cha Cha, did not object to an interview. Nor did her boss, a large fifty-something woman, dressed in leather. ‘You can interview her, it’s not busy yet.’ It was 6 o’clock. ‘It’ll cost you 400 euros.’
400 euros? Just to talk for 30 minutes?
Madam suggested she was familiar with my kind of talking and that a tête-à-tête with one her girls is quality-time and should therefore be rewarded with the standard price. ‘But you’ll get a free drink too,’ she said.
I agreed to pay 50 euros and ask for a glass of water.
‘Shall we sit in the back?’ Angie asks. She’s a stripteaseuse, quite small, dark-haired and about 40. Behind a curtain there’s a small stage and 5 tables and chairs.
‘Is this where you dance?’
‘Yes, but of course then I’m not dressed like this.’
She’s in jeans, wearing a ski-jacket: it’s cold in Cha Cha Cha’s little theatre.
‘We’ve just opened for the night,’ Angie explains.
She works 7 days a week, starting at 1 in the afternoon.
‘No, till 7 or 8. Then the other shift comes in.’
‘Do you have a family?’
‘Of course! I have a normal life, I have a husband and children.’
‘I’ve been doing this job for 7 years. Before that I worked in a clothing shop.’
‘Why did you switch careers?’
‘Because I really love to dance.’
She’s a bit nervous, but at the same time serious. She could easily have passed for a primary school teacher.
‘Is it just dancing?’
‘Yes,’ she says very decidedly. ‘Dancing, and talking with the clients. That’s all.’
‘There are no private rooms you could go to with a client?’
‘No,’ she says, ‘that’s not allowed. By law.’ And she explains again, slightly annoyed and rather insulted: ‘It’s dancing and talking, c’est tout. It is possible in other places, but this is a club, not a brothel.’
‘Are you naked when you dance?’
‘Not completely: I won’t take off my knickers.’
‘Do your friends know what your job is?’
‘And what do they think of it?’
‘Well, at first they had some problems with it, but after I told them that it was just dancing, no sex, they accepted it.’
‘But do you understand their reluctance?’
‘What do you do to keep in shape? Do you train or practise?’
‘No, I go on stage, forget what’s behind me and attack the day. It’s psychology.’
She has a cold and she sniffs every so often.
‘What do you like most about your job?’
‘Dancing, but the contact with customers I like too. It’s a big part of my job, because after my performance I chat with them, if a customer offers me a drink.’
‘Yes, of course. That’s normal, right?’
‘There’s a difference between a 20-year old and you,’ I say.
‘What do you mean?’ she asks suspiciously, prepared for another insult.
‘The talking, I mean. That’s more fun with you, than with somebody so young.’
‘Ah, yes, you’re right,’ she says, flattered.
‘But on the other hand, you probably can’t be a stripteaseuse for another 10 years.’
‘I could, but I won’t,’ is her breezy reply.What will you do when then?’
‘I’m going to spend time on me, I will travel.’
‘Do you make a lot of money?’
‘Yes, I make a good living.’
‘And your friends are probably a bit jealous of that?’
‘They are, yes. A bit.’
‘Do you make more than your husband?’
‘Yes, I do. He’s a police offer.’
‘Has he ever seen you dance?’
‘No, I don’t want that. Work is work.’
‘When you met, were you already a stripteaseuse?’
‘Yes,’ she laughs.
‘Let’s talk about Europe. Are you 100% French?’
‘No, I’m not. Papa is Lebanese, mama is French. But I was born here.’
‘Is there a difference between an Asian, an African, an American and a European?’
‘No. And yes, I mean: every village is different, has got its own mentality and habits.’
‘Do you feel European?’
‘I feel French, not European. This European thing is something I didn’t choose. I accept it, but I’ve never chosen it. The president has never asked me: “do you want Europe?”
‘But if he had asked, what would you have said?’
‘Because, because… I don’t know these people on the other side. In these other countries. Especially all these new Eastern European countries. They shouldn’t have joined; it’s already complicated enough as it is. It’s not good for us or for them. They come to France and they live in the slums, they don’t have a proper life. They sleep outside, their children don’t go to school.’
‘But do you have confidence in the president, or the government, making the right decisions?’
‘Yes, I do.’
‘Do you vote?’
‘No, never done that,’ she laughs. ‘It doesn’t interest me. I’m busy with my work and family and that’s more than enough.’