Short Story: Wine Days (aka La vie en rosé)

Wine Days (aka La vie en rosé)

Tout seul dans mon placard
Les yeux cernés de noir
A l'abri des regards
Je défie le hasard
Dans ce monde qui n'a ni queue ni tête
Je n'en fais qu'à ma tête
Un mouchoir au creux du pantalon
Je suis chevalier D'Eon – Mylène Farmer, Sans Contrefaçon

“First stop at Hannibal-qui-n’est-pas-Hannibal for the wine, then Place Victor Hugo for Berlioz!”

“It’s been too long; we have so much to tell Berlioz, so much!”

Red wine for the winter days: dark and warm, stains your lips red and leads to a darker and thicker drunken state. Red wine to warm the soul while running around the streets of the town in the cold days, sometimes Port on a rich day, but mostly red wine of low quality, no more than 15 francs a bottle from the usual épicérie on the corner of Les Halles. White wine for the spring and the summer, fresh from the fridge if possible, but it’s not too much of an issue if it’s warm as it’s all going to be gone pretty fast. One bottle for now and another for the bag, as you never know how long of a night it is going to be.

It’s always important to eat before drinking, because you don’t want to get sick, especially if you don’t have much money and are leaning towards the cheaper bottles, or even the plastic bottles of near-vinegar if the finances are severely dire. Bottle opened in hand? Ready to go!

Place Victor Hugo, where our old friend Hector Berlioz resides in the form of an imposing statue, looking over the fountain and the people who walk through on their way elsewhere. This is where the Christmas market is held in the winter and where children jump through the fountain in the summer (as well as the occasion child-adults such as me). Who hasn’t jumped into a fountain and walked home soaking wet but laughing gleefully? Or maybe that is just me…

Mélusine and Marie-Antoinette, off with her head, skipping hand in hand down the old streets of the city, a bottle of wine in each hand and hundreds of ideas and thoughts racing through our mind. Berlioz is the beginning and the end; he listens without judging, never moves and never leaves us. The first bottles are opened at his feet and the race towards l’ivresse commences.

Sometimes in life we are lucky enough to find that perfect friendship that makes you feel free. When I met Mélusine she was shy and hid behind her hair in the corner of the bar. My friends would try to get her to join us, because she was beautiful and sweet, but she would not say more than one or two words at a time, until I gathered her up and took her with me along my own journey on a path I didn’t know existed. We discovered a mutual love for female-fronted punk and grunge bands, strong coffee, wine, 19th century literature and decadence, as well as playing hilarious pranks on men and women who we found annoying, insensitive and stupid. There were many of them around at the time, and they tended to congregate around us and our little group of misfits.

I had grown up with my group of friends, mainly men with a few girls who came and went as time went by. Mélusine appeared out of nowhere and stuck with us, becoming my best friend and favourite companion, someone who I could talk to about things that I couldn’t talk about with the guys. Crushes, love, sadness, fear and loneliness: the topics of misplaced childhood and youth. We were both shy and suffered from low self-esteem alone, but together we thought we could conquer the world, reaching the lowest pits of despair and the highest peaks of happiness together. Mélusine listened to me cry as I comforted her through her darkest days. I listened to her laugh as she held my hand when we skipped through the sunshine, picking daffodils along the way. Did you know that there is a fine for each public city flower picked? We are lucky that we were never caught because we would walk around with bunches and bunches of daffodils in the spring, leaving a trail behind us.

We were like polar opposites physically. Mélusine with her long, blonde hair and green eyes, me with my long, brown hair and dark brown eyes, but we were of the same height and similar skinny builds. We both dressed alike, although Mélusine was more understated than me and liked to hide underneath large layers. Ribbons in our hair and long red nails on fingers covered in fountain pen ink from all the writing we would do. Letters to others, letters to each other, university papers and diary entries were all written by hand in ink. Babes in Toyland in our ears and Fluffy lyrics flying from our mouths when we were angry drunk, Mylène Farmer when we were happy drunk. We liked to sing to Berlioz when we started to feel warm and fuzzy inside, before going on our way towards the adventures of the night.

Si je dois tomber de haut
Que ma chute soit lente
Je n´ai trouvé de repos
Que dans l´indifférence
Pourtant, je voudrais retrouver l´innocence - Mylène Farmer- Désenchantée

Café St Germain and then wine by Berlioz. One bottle finished, the next one opened and then en route pour l’aventure! Every night was different, we never knew where or what the stars would lead us to. Some nights we would roam the streets of the town, looking for parties to crash, other nights we would meet our friends at one of the local hang-outs, some nights we would go to the coureur de jupons apartment and invite everyone we knew to join us and other nights we would sit by the river talking about how much we despised everyone and everything and how life would have been so much better if we had been born in a different century.

“I want to kick that door down and tell them to stop hanging around those awful people. I want to punch that girl in the face and tell her to stop trying to be my friend because I despise everything that she stands for, stupid fucking hippie!!”

“Why do they all hate us so much? What the fuck is wrong with us?? I wish I had enough strength to tell people how I felt. I mean, I wish I could tell HIM how much I love him. All I can do is watch him out of the corner of my eye and listen to you and him talking about natural things and I don’t even dare open my mouth.  I hate myself!”

“Oh darling, stop beating yourself up about this, you know what he is like. He only goes out with girls who he can manipulate into doing what he wants. Those girls are like Rapunzel in their towers, waiting for him to come home after he has been out all night drinking with us. Do you want to be that girl? At least we are free to do whatever we want and say whatever we want… N’est-ce pas?”

No one had cell phones at the time, and we all used to find each other at some point during the night. There were a few spots where we would always end up, usually besides one of the many fountains or statues in the city; or at the barDock for an electro-goth night or at the venue if there was a concert on, smuggling our wine into the venue and drinking it in the toilets. If we found a house or apartment party going on somewhere we would wrangle our way in, pretending we knew one of the people there, make a beeline to the fridge and walk out with any alcohol we could find. The town wasn’t that big, and the center, although full of winding streets, was small enough to find whoever you needed to find, and big enough to hide from those you didn’t want to see. Mélusine and I tended to read each others’ minds, and our first concern was always the welfare of the other. Our friendship was one of such closeness that we could always feel when the other was in difficulty or danger. We loved the same men but never fought over them; we hated the same people and pushed each other to find the biggest and best pranks we could play on people.

I was a wild shy child, alcohol helped me lose the cloak I shrouded myself with and gave me the power to be myself in front of everyone. Alcohol gave Mélusine the force to lose her inability to speak in public and brought out her real personality that you would only see when she was completely comfortable in a group of people. It took her a while but she ended up feeling comfortable with all of us, throwing witty and funny comments out here and there, and surprising the people who had already put her in the “blonde-who-doesn’t-talk” box. I was just completely erratic, sometimes nice and friendly and sweet, other times sad and depressed, other times angry and sarcastic and rebellious. People tried to analyse us, judge us, become friends with us, tag along with us because they were feeling adventurous or talk shit about us because they didn’t dare be us. Most of the time it was Mélusine and me against the world, often with our male counterparts, poets, rebels, musicians, full of ideas and despair, discontented and angsty, wondering when the world would change for us.

Slutkiss girls
Won't you promise her smack?
Is she pretty on the inside?
Is she pretty from the back? – Hole, Pretty On The Inside

Mélusine came from a strict family and would constantly lie to her parents about her whereabouts and her friends. She stayed at my house whenever we went out, as I benefitted from a very free-spirited mother who trusted me to be safe and not to end up in a ditch somewhere, and, however much I drank or however much I smoked, I always ended up home, safe in my bed. We avoided drunken one night stands and we avoided dangerous situations, preferring the company of each other, our bottles of wine, our friends and our songs. There is really nothing to match that slow but steady warm and tingly feeling that starts in your stomach and rises towards your head once you start drinking, and once you start there is no going back… One, two or three bottles and the party is on.

My lie is true, My lie is true
It is I swear to you
My lie is true, My lie is true
It is I swear to you
You don't want to
You don't want to see me crawl
Do you know how hard I try
To never let you see me cry
I seem to have too much control
and now I feel cold – Fluffy, Crawl

“I want to leave this godforsaken city and move to Paris. There is nothing for us here except the deep, dirty waters of the Isere and the unrequited love of the boys who consider us to be just that: female versions of them. At least in Paris we can fade away into the crowd and not have to put up with all of this crap every day.”

“Let’s plan on moving there once we have finished university. We won’t tell anyone, we will just go and find new lives there. A little apartment in Montmartre, jobs in the bars around there, maybe we could sell books by the Seine and meet the loves of our lives there? I’m so bored of this town, nothing ever happens here, no one ever changes and no one ever falls in love with me. Or if they do I don’t know about it, because I’m obviously still single.”

“Dreaming… Dreaming… Dreaming of something else. But is there anything else?”

Every day was filled with written words, every night filled with singing and shouting, laughter and tears. Freedom was easy, but we still felt trapped in the town we had grown up in. Brothers and sisters in happiness and despair, so far but so near. Wine days make everything so much better, and wine nights are full of surprises. La Décadence.

 « Le vin, la moyenne de facilite de partir, partir loin d’aujourd’hui. Tout le monde il est beau, tout le monde il est beau… Le lendemain est moins euphorique, mais il reste toujours le lendemain soir et le soir après etc, etc, etc. Devenir fou ? Nous le sommes déjà… L’alcool aide à libérer nos grains de folie, de les faire voler, voler au-dessus de tout, dans le ciel noir et nuageux. Tout est mieux que la lucidité affreuse. » M.V.

Music: Mylène Farmer

I moved to France in the early summer of 1991, flying from the flat suburbia of Apeldoorn in The Netherlands to the small city of Grenoble, nestled in the valley in the Alps and surrounded by three different mountain ranges (the Vercors, the Chartreuse and the Belledonne). For the first couple of months, while we were looking for a home to rent, we lived in a small unit in a temporary housing building in the suburb of Meylan. Our days were spent getting used to the heat, playing outside in the grass until late in the evening, taking French lessons  and watching French TV in the morning. To our absolute delight there was a whole channel on network TV that seemed to play only music, M6, a bit like MTV but for the French population. There were some weird songs and videos (like the one with the dancing mummy that I used to reenact for my sister, and finally just found online), some terrible ones, some American and/or British ones that I recognised and one that I couldn't get enough of, not only the song itself (even though I could hardly understand a word of it), but also the video, which appealed to my romantic-I live in the land of 19th century literature-13-year old self.

Even though the Mylène Farmer song Désenchantée was actually high in the charts that summer, I am pretty sure the first Mylène Farmer video I saw was for the song Pourvu qu'elles soient douces, a Barry Lyndonesque recreation set in the 18th century. I could however, be completely wrong, because my research tells me that it was censored for TV as it contained nudity and sex. It would have been edited anyway, because the full-length version is about 20 minutes long, and would have never been shown during regular TV hours. So it is possible I am right. I just know that a few of her videos were on regular play during that summer, the two above, and Libertine. The Pourvu qu'elles soient douces video is actually a sequel of the Libertine video, in which Mylène plays the same character (named Libertine). You can pretty much imagine what a young woman named Libertine would get up to amongst a group of debaucherous characters in 18th century France.

I fell in love with the videos. They were mini movies, shocking, beautiful, something straight out of one of the novels I was so obsessed with. It wasn't until a while later that I also fell in love with the music, because I needed to understand the lyrics before I could really appreciate the songs. So dark and intriguing. It was pop music mixed with something a lot darker and artsy, with a voice both fragile and strong at the same time. Over the years I spent in France Mylène Farmer became one of my favourite contemporary French artists. I would forget about her for a while, to fall right back in love with her again, always because of the amazing videos that she put out every time she released a new album.
After dropping out of high school in 1995 I was working as a chambermaid at the Hotel Ibis in the centre of Grenoble and at the time M6 pretty much played the video for California on a loop. In the video Mylène plays both a rich woman with her lover and a street hooker in California. She witnesses her double being threatened on the streets of LA (her double is then murdered in the video), so goes back there, dressed as a prostitute herself to avenge her double's death by murdering her double's pimp. There was something about the song, the many puns in the lyrics and the beauty of the video that kept me dreaming that there was something more out there for me, even while I was cleaning someone's mess up just so that someone else could make their own mess in the same spot.

The next year Mylène went on one of her extremely rare, but extravagant, tours, and a double live disc of her show at Bercy (Live à Bercy) was released. That year I listened to it over and over and over again, the most poignant part probably being when her voice breaks during Rêver and she stops singing, just for the crowd to sing the song for her until she regains control. I know her voice breaks a lot during the show, and that she has a hard time hitting all the high notes, but there is something so human and heartbreaking about that, especially when you understand the lyrics properly. OK, I was going through a hard time back then, so it helped to listen to songs that were just as sad as the way I felt, and were a great counter to everything else I listened to on a loop (everything being The Cure).
There were many nights that my best friend during the late 90's and early 2000's, Maud, and I would roam the streets of Grenoble at night, drinking wine from the bottle and singing "Je je suis libertine, je suis une catin", to the most probable horror of anyone trying to sleep. I think we thought we were being daring and annoying at the same time. Actually, we were. All the time. Other times we would sing Sans contrefaçon to the statue of Berlioz on the Place Victor Hugo. I'm sure he enjoyed it immensely. Je t'aime mélancolie was another favourite, not that that should surprise anyone. We would run around dressed in suits and ties and Doc Martens with dark ribbons in our hair, a bottle of wine in one hand, a cigarette in the other. Cendres de lune...

In 1999 Mylène released the song Je te rends ton amour, a single off her (then) new album, and it immediately caused a huge scandal as the video depicted a church, blood, naked woman, the devil and a crucifixion pose. Super goth, super controversial and immediately banned on most TV channels. When it was released as a video single Maud and I made sure we were able to purchase one. It's still one of my favourite Mylène songs to this day. After that album I kind of lost touch with Mylène, especially because she didn't release anything for ages after that, and also because I left France and came to the States. I did try to find her 2005 album, but it was impossible to purchase in the States, so I gave up. I'm sure that with the help Spotify I can now discover her new songs, like or dislike them, and listen to the old songs I used to love so much again. It's strange, she's one of those artists that I adore, I love her image, her videos, her words, but I don't love every single one of her songs. There are some amazing ones, and others that just don't really do much for me. She's one of those artists that I could make my own "best of" playlist and just listen to that (although it could end up being pretty long). I think it's mainly the whole image, the long-standing artistic partnership with Laurent Boutonnat and the magic they create together, the wonderful videos, the darkness, the melancholy, the beauty and ultimately her reluctance to share her life with the Press, and her desire to remain as private as possible. All I really know about her is the image that she has portrayed through her music over the years.

Additional information on the artist HERE
Also - disregard the subtitles on the video of Je te rends ton amour above - they are terrible.