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"You and your blonde decide to go your separate ways; she's to mingle with bald small-press poets and acne-ridden prose-stylists; you've got this column to write, which means muchos name-dropping."

By Laurence Remila


You could have guessed it'd stink to high heavens, but you had to go and find out for yourself.

Early evening, Thursday March 20. You're at the Salon du Livre, Hall 1 of the Paris-Expo conference centre, Porte de Versailles, and not one of the hundreds of conversations buzzing 'round this sprawling hangar mentions the war. It's all "have you seen" and "is he coming" and the such. Paris' literati has come out in force for the opening night bash of this annual book-fair, the country's biggest. They're here to share industry gossip and drink champagne. You're here to do, uhm, exactly the same thing.

You and your blonde decide to go your separate ways; she's to mingle with bald small-press poets and acne-ridden prose-stylists; you've got this column to write, which means muchos name-dropping. But first, she introduces you to Claudia Tavares, known for being born a hermaphrodite (operated since) and telling the tale in a couple of books. She moans that the last one didn't sell enough. "I wasn't invited on a single TV show," she laments. "Wasn't like that when I was published by Régine Deforges." You take your leave and head for the stands of a few smaller publishers (read: wines red and white available, as well as savoury snacks, but no champagne) you're fond of. At Allia's (publisher of the current Prix de Flore, Grégoire Bouiller's Rapport sur moi), there's no drinks whatsoever. The sign of a "serious" outfit. (That dour institution, Les Editions de Minuit, goes one step further; it refuses to hold signings for its auteurs at the Salon.) Allia's fabled publisher, Gérard Berreby, tells you of the various rock-write books he's bringing out and informs you that French rights to Richard Meltzer's prose have been sold to another publisher.

Having said some hellos, you leave these quiet climes and head for the glitz. This means pushing through the crowd to the Champagne Triangle made up of the Gallimard, Grasset and Flammarion stands. On the way, you spot Amélie Nothomb (Albin Michel) sans trademark chapeau, Tonino Beniquista (Gallimard and the Sur mes lèvres screenplay) in animated conversation with two elderly women and sundry other writers. Chez Grasset, Stéphane Millon, editor of (Flammarion-backed) lit-review Bordel, and Technikart journo Pascal Bories are lapping up everything Valérie Tong-Cuong (Grasset) says; thing is, she don't seem to be saying much. You'd been hoping to catch up with "Podium" author Yann Moix (Grasset) and Paul-Eric Blanrue, president of the Cercle Zététique, but they're nowhere to be seen. Chez Gallimard, the Cancer gang are boisterously flogging their "special Iraq issue", which features pieces by Marc-Edouard Nabe (Editions du Rocher) and Maurice G Dantec (Gallimard). Overhearing some Gallimard flunkey praising (NRF ed) Maurice Braudeau's prose, you loudly speak ill of the man, thus drawing looks of indignation from the middle-aged authoresses he was lecturing. Remember to note: épater la bourgeoisie is as fun as it ever was.

As you're queuing up for some of that fine Flammarion champagne, someone grabs you by the cuff. 'Tis open-bar habitué and all-round cad Cedric Lagandre (writes for Mouvement). You both go by the Technikart stand, where you bump into the mag's lit-ed, Jacques Braunstein, the only man you see who doesn't seem to be drinking alcohol. After a brief sojourn there it's back to the Champagne Triangle. On the way, winsome Inrockuptibles art ed Jade Lindgaard asks about your upcoming "La Maman et la putain" performance. Before leaving her, you make sure to badmouth one of her colleagues, that barrel of laughs Marc Weitzmann. Once she's out of earshot, you and Lagandre marvel at just how nice this Jade girl is. Aw shucks.

The evening draws on. People complain: not as good as last year; too crowded... You're now well past tipsy, on your way to plain DRUNK. Sirens sound. It's gone ten, the thing's all but over. You quickly grab yourself some of that Albin Michel champagne. All about you, frantic calls between attendees. All asking the same question: where to next? By the Flammarion enclave, a group forms around Frédéric Beigbeder, the man recently hired to be its "directeur littéraire" (and convince star-author Houellebecq not to go off chez Gallimard). You exchange a couple of pleasantries with him and introduce yourself to one of his friends, Christophe Ono-dit-Biot (Plon) whose last book Interdit à toute femme et à toute femelle you've actually read (woah). Pouting Normal-Sup poster-boy Florian Zeller is also present, and tries convincing the assembly to finish the evening at the Brasserie Lipp. You don't bother introducing yourself to him; figuring you'll never read a book of his. Instead, you busy yourself with a far nobler activity: flirting with a trio of Flammarion copy-editors. Also looking to party on: Millon, Bories, Thomas Bouvatier (formerly Le Rayon) and people whose names you don't know.

Once everyone's outside, you meet up with your blonde. It seems the Beigbeder gang is going to do as Zeller suggests. You figure: why not? As the metro's down, the group disperses and it's a race to see whose taxi or ingenious bus route will get them there first. Your companion wants to quit the whole thing, making out she's not impressed by these lit-stars. Still, on your way back to the Right Bank, you stop by the Brasserie Lipp ; no one's there save for Zeller, calling to see where the others are. Okay, let us knock this night on the head, you concede, and in next to no time you're walking her back to her boyfriend's, which is cool (SLHKKKKCRRRKKKRRR) [The sound of LR's nails scraping across the desk - 3AM proofreader], before walking along the Canal back to yours. It's one, the apartment across from yours seems neon-lit, thanks to the non-stop war coverage oozing from the TV. Buenos Noches.

Laurence Rémila has been living in Paris for six years. A freelance journalist, he writes for sundry serious titles he won't list here, as well as The Idler and French monthly Technikart.

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