THE CAKE SHOP IN THE MARAIS

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George was in Paris. It was his first solo holiday: all previous trips had been with his ex-wives. Now he felt as though he had been washed up on the shore of the world. There were no comely girls to agree with him, to admire the cobblestones in the rain, to trace the Art Nouveau curves of the Metropolitain signs. It was dreary.

One day he took a guided walking tour of the city, which passed through Le Marais. It looked fascinating, with its art galleries and interlaced streets. A comprehensive modernisation had taken place, but George thought he could see bits of the old Marais beneath the surface. He learned that “marais” meant “swamp”: it had once been noisome, dank and foetid here. Good.

Next day he returned, to steep himself more completely in the area. He had been right: off the busier thoroughfares, there were little alleyways which were hidden from careless eyes. He decided to investigate one. Couscous joints, Chinese takeaways with plastic fowls hanging in the windows, jewellery shops with leather necklaces, a whole gallery of polished buckles, an old-fashioned ironmonger with chisels and saws. George began to feel hungry. He had a legendary sweet tooth, which was now making savage demands.

And then he saw the place. A tiny, dark emporium tucked away, with a faded sign hanging crookedly atop: “Délice des Dieux.”The windowpane was smeared, but he managed to peer through it. He saw a pyramid of small pink iced cakes, a tower of snowy meringues, a pile of Madeleines which seemed to hold memories of past happiness. This was just the ticket. It looked expensive but then, everything good had its price. He went in.

As he stood prevaricating at the counter, a little man came sidling up to him: “does Monsieur desire something special? Come this way.” Intrigued, George followed him down a staircase which led into a murky room. What he saw there took his breath away. Lying on an enormous metal tray was a woman. She was breathing softly. She was naked, but very little flesh could be seen, because her body was covered with confectionary. Candied peaches and plums were arranged on her belly. In her navel was a glacé cherry. Round her neck were strings of liquorice, and her breasts were covered with passion fruit and jelly babies. Over her pubis (but of course!) were fresh figs, split open and oozing pink juice down between her legs. A honeycomb nestled in each hand. Some kind of syrup had been poured over her glabrous body, and made it glisten.

She raised herself up on her elbow to look at George. Her gaze was calm: but was she looking at him of her own volition? She reached out her hand, honeycomb and all. The little man sidled up, and offered George a spoon: “aimez-vous les femmes, Monsieur? Aimez-vous les femmes?”