The Moulin Rouge

[3 MINUTE READ] Love in the time of cabaret

Moulin Rouge (© Francis TheBlueRoom)

On my first visit to Paris, my mother suggested I visit the Moulin Rouge.

On the taxi drive to the airport Rafi was on the radio, returning the city into an era of old fashioned friendships, where people sat on desks and wrote inland letters to each other. I travelled with my eyes glazed to the present. Not experiencing much – so remembering little.

I landed at Charles De Gaulle and picked up a tourist pamphlet. On my way to the hotel, I saw the ad for the oldest cabaret in town – it was called The Moulin Rouge. I felt a pang of respect for my mother. And an obligation to be free-spirited.

The next morning I discussed the visit agenda with my host. Along with a checklist of engineering designs and technical clarifications, I mentioned I was a vegetarian and had to visit the Moulin Rouge. He duly noted them both down and scribbled ‘mother’s instructions’ next to the Moulin Rouge.

Jacques Menetrier was assigned to take me there. He was a veteran engineer who made equipment hand sketches with the precision and character of an artist trapped in a fabricator’s body.

I wore suspenders and felt a sense of occasion. I recently found a Moulin Rouge matchbox with my picture on it from that trip. It reminded me of enthusiastic young men in tight suits, with bouquets in their hands, posing at the send-off of a cousin at the Santa Cruz airport. As we were about to leave the office for Pigalle, Jean Marie the matronly office secretary, opened the office vault and returned with a set of condoms which she tucked into my pocket. It was like a mantra whispered into my ears. Beneath my gratitude lurked the spell of uncertain anticipation.

The inside of the Moulin Rouge was bathed in thick red carpeting and bright neon colours. A pulsating rhythm of lust hung in the atmosphere. Not the hesitant furtive kind that centuries of colonial rule and self doubt had left as their residual imprints on the East, but a more normative Parisian one enjoyed with a sense of culturally acceptable abandon.

Dinner was first served. I was offered a flute of champagne and a plate of fish. I mentioned to the fully dressed waitress that I was a vegetarian who did not eat fish. Her face was bathed with the strange happiness that descends on us when we experience something completely alien but not threatening. I felt the same way just being there so did not complain.

Soon enough the lights were dimmed and the show began. Perfectly proportioned women poured onto the stage and bounced around like their leg muscles had been retrofitted with springs. Their scant clothing framed in bright plumage rising from behind their backs, regal headgear and aristocratic straps that allowed their bodies to become swaying pieces of animated art. Music soaked the room into a whirl of shifting lights, bursts of smoke and orchestrated legs that kicked and rolled in tandem.

I watched them closely to see if anyone caught my fancy. They all looked interchangeable. The audition process must have involved precise specifications and a measuring tape. The initial joy on seeing so many women performing on stage persisted for a very long time. But there was also something else. As the spectacle unfolded, I felt entranced by the natural beauty that centuries of modesty had cloaked behind decorum but suddenly unleashed before me on stage. Drawn into this enchantingly risque spectacle were the unnecessary secrets and irrelevant angst of every teenage history, stomped by a hundred tapping feet. The dancers turned into a frozen extract from another time, when men and women danced around tribal fires below a phosphorous moonlight. My heart began to fill up with lightness as unacknowledged barriers of guilt slowly crumbled.  I hoped the music would never stop.

After the show we shuffled along the sidewalk towards the metro station. Pimps offered us invitations to the peep show booths skirting the Moulin Rouge. But the cabaret had left me with a feeling of patient love. I carried that back to my hotel room and went to bed.

All of us have an ageless observer inside us. Whose constant voice watches over us as the body ages, circumstances evolve and a sense of where we can find our peace takes root.

Sometimes we listen to that voice. It keeps us quiet and allows us to be alive to what we experience.  On occasions it converges with our mother’s advice and gives us a chance to enjoy the cabaret.

24 thoughts on “The Moulin Rouge

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  1. Again, enjoyed every single word of your lyrical prose. You seem to be at your introspective and humorous best here! Continue writing…


  2. At the out set, The Moulin Rouge is a new word/term for me. I had rush to back up material like Google’s world.I am delighted , You ordered for Veg meals and you got non- Veg stuff. For me it was like a going to Bharat Natyam performance and witnessing actually Carbaret .Hats off to your mother telling you to embrace new thing
    Your mother should get an Award for Modernity.
    You are a lucky one.


  3. Anand your continued “obligation to be free spirited” has resulted is something wonderful ! Enjoyed it! Am typing without my specs, so please read right even if I spell wrong


  4. I have been to Moulin Rouge with my friend who was not keen. Somehow I felt it was a must. You have described it very poetically and I enjoyed it. Many thanks. Bhuma


  5. You are a seriously classy writer Anand.
    Have you thought of writing a novel?

    Your wore suspenders ? Lol. Some effort huh in getting dressed to kill and thrill 🙂 Fully dressed waitress was tongue-in-cheek. what did you expect? 🙂

    Man- you must be so lucky to have a mom like that.

    Your post kept me glued all the way till the end ……until it I exclaimed ‘ patient love ? what a bummer ‘ 🙂

    Why kill a free spirit/ free spirited adventure like that?. Maybe you just stated the facts on what happened 🙂

    I can see the deep thinker and philosopher in you reading this .

    All of us have an ageless observer inside us. Whose constant voice watches over us as the body ages, circumstances evolve and a sense of where we can find our peace takes root..

    But coming to think of it, must one philosophise n deeply think every time one writes?

    (A few years ago,,my daughter observed this in my writing. She said dad why are you trying to end every piece of yours with a msg to ponder . Why can’t you let things just be . She made me sit up n think that day. )

    I hv not read all your posts to make that statement Anand. So,this doesn’t hold true for all your posts. Just sharing.

    Btw- I was in Paris too 4 years ago. Missed Moulin Rouge. Watched Lido show though. My Deja vu moment reading your post 🙂

    Here is the para that I loved most. Anand at his evocative best.

    “The inside of the Moulin Rouge was bathed in thick red carpeting and bright neon colours. A pulsating rhythm of lust hung in the atmosphere. Not the hesitant furtive kind that centuries of colonial rule and self doubt had left as their residual imprints on the East, but a more normative Parisian one enjoyed with a sense of culturally acceptable abandon.”

    Thanks for enthralling us Anand.
    Keep writing! looking fwd to the next one already 🙂

    Warm Rgds
    Your namesake


  6. I was so amused by your host scribbling cabaret alongwith mother’s instructions!

    Your post sounded a bit free flowing like Osho!

    Every thing is changing in the last few decades. Compare your childhood and today’s children. Mine was totally different with plusses + minuses. We retained our innocence for a longer time due to a protected environment and obedience was the foremost virtue. So lot of things were either suppressed or got expressed in some other way – positive or negative, depending on one’s earlier vasanas and desires.

    Arranged marriages were preferred to love marriages. The fact of the matter is marriage is a karmic settlement from the past which gets manifested in either one of the two matrimonial choices .

    Today financial security has become the main focus which directs ones education and life instead of ones natural interests. So people listen less to themselves and rely more on aptitude tests to identify their potential. 

    How do we put every thing in a proper perspective with a flexible mind set that embraces the basic and eternal values that do not change with evolving social structures? How do we escape the mistakes of the older generation and the present ones, integrating the good in both and flowing with the energy without resistance?

    Two powerful parameters for me are – they should be in sync with nature and dharma. Other variables are irrelevant.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Life is a rainbow…. Experiencing the spectrum of colours of life enriches and expands our minds and hearts to the to the unity in diversity in this world ….. This writeup was short sweet and a gentle recalling….. Of human emotions


  8. So beautifully descriptive! Jagu and I went to the Moulin Rouge a long time ago. At the end of the show one of the girls threw a pink scarf at the audience and it happened to land on me. I kept this memento for so many years! You brought back the atmosphere of that day vividly.
    I agree with your namesake, the philosophy dampened some of that memory.


  9. Well Anand! A lovely little vignette of an article after a hiatus! Based on a slightly unconventional suggestion from a mother to her young adult of a son, and a timeless received wisdom from the episode. Beautifully expressed with a feather light touch!

    We too gently flow along with your budding experience. Single sentences pack a lot. Entire character sketches are conveyed in a single snapshot like from a candid camera – that of the stoic host marking down ‘Moulin Rouge – mother’s instructions’ in the agenda for the day, of the matronly office secretary tucking a pack of condoms in your pocket, of the waitress witnessing with a fleeting happy surprise the vegetarianism of an alien…
    And finally ending with the repleteness of a day well spent in one more learning experience in the process of growing up.

    Well Anand, like Jacques Menetrier, an artist trapped in a fabricator’s body, you certainly seem to be a writer trapped in an engineer’s body!


  10. Anand ,as usual I am at a loss of words to express my admiration for your brilliant writing.
    Your ability to weave a beautiful, poignant story is a gift you have .
    You are an amazing writer , extremely gifted and your stories are so vivid that the reader feels part of the plot .
    Just like Jacques you too are a fantastic writer trapped in an engineer’s body.
    Your mom too is such an amazing writer, that I feel it runs in your family.
    Your effortless skill of using words in your narratives never seize to amaze me.
    All the best , Anand, You must seriously think of writing novels.
    Bless you.


  11. Anand,
    “An artist trapped in a fabricator’s body”.
    I will remember this phrase for a long time.
    I know a couple of engineers that it describes,

    But it surely fits the author most.

    Mike H


  12. Anand,

    It may be true that we have an ageless observer inside us. But it is only few who can describe the experience so well. Your mother’s advice / recommendation to visit Moulin Rouge is so well described by you that it looks as if a child is narrating the same in exuberance. The whole visit and the show itself is so beautifully penned by you that for a moment I could feel if I am physically present there. Though in reality I have never been there.

    Many years back when I was in Paris in a course at European School of Management, I visited many places in Paris. However, I was advised by our guide and professors at the school not to visit Moulin Rouge Area, since there were many incidents of Mugging. I therefore, visited Lido along with my wife. Like you, I am Vegetarian, so had very limited access to food. One bottle of Champagne was kept on our table which we never consumed. The waiters advised us that we could carry the bottle with us. But we declined since we had no use for the same. Though, we enjoyed the programme yet your description of the show enjoyed by you makes me feel as if I am present there now. You have described the show girls and their moods etc. so well.

    Thanks for making us part of your show well described to us.


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