Gay Paree

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We’re back in Paris…but in a new office. As we write we are sitting at a sidewalk café having a cup of tea and "une tartine" — bread and butter.

A motorcyclist, characteristically dressed all in black leather, just stopped right in front of us. Dismounting, the helmet came off and a swish of bright, blond hair came out. She shook her head like a Clairol model…and then began to take her pants off. Well, actually, she was stripping off her riding pants, underneath of which were a pair of blue jeans…but our pulse picked up for a moment.

…And now she’s packed her pants into a backpack and headed off down the street.

Every neighborhood has its charm.

This morning, we thought we saw Audrey Hepburn re-incarnate. This time it was a motor scooter that brought her before us. The scooter stopped in the middle of the Rue Royale. A sprightly young woman got off the back, she took off her helmet…and gave a kiss to the man in front of her. Then, she set off across the street.

This is a professional neighborhood. In the morning, men are almost all dressed in suits. Women wear elegant work outfits. They all bustle around until about 9:30 AM; by then, they have taken up their jobs and the tourists and shoppers take over.

It is nice, but this "quartier" — near the Madeleine — is much more businesslike…and more chic…than our old digs on the Rue de la Verrerie. We miss the geriatric whores…the flamboyant poofters…and the mentally deranged street people — we loved them all. Near the old office, for example, an old man lived in a cardboard box. He had been there for years…and sported a long gray beard. We used to ask him for financial advice occasionally…but he gave us only cryptic replies. Is the economy improving, we had asked? "Strawberry raincakes," he replied.

And the prostitutes…what a delight it was to sit in the Paradis Café and drink a glass of cheap rouge with them. One always wore a black, lacquered rain coat and carried a white lapdog with her. We never saw her with a paying customer…and we couldn’t imagine who would pay for her services…but it was a pleasure to be in her company. For there was a woman who understood the financial industry. “If they don’t pay…well, f*** ‘em,” we overheard her say to the bartender one day. It was a phrase so rich in paradox…yet so sure and to the point…we could tell immediately that she might have had a nice career on Wall Street if fortune had taken her in that direction.

But she probably began business long before women were admitted to financial careers. In fact, she was so old, she probably started out before women could even vote in France.

We’re not joking; women only got the vote in France in 1945. Since then, the country has been going downhill, as any Frenchman will tell you.

Of course, it’s not women’s fault. The system degrades naturally and ineluctably. Feminine intervention is not needed.

"As soon as women take over a profession," said our neighbor yesterday, "the profession is discredited. The first women to enter a formerly male profession are seen as pioneers…they are highly regarded. But when women dominate the profession, the profession itself is downgraded. It is taken less seriously. People earn less.

"That’s what happened to school teachers…and now it’s happening to medicine."

Our neighbor is a doctor. And a woman.

"Women are not able to invest the kind of time and energy into a profession that men can, because women have other interests and concerns…family, usually. So people take them less seriously in the business world. And when they take over a profession, the profession becomes less serious. I guess that’s just normal."

We don’t know. But we’re ready to believe anything…or nothing at all.

"And now it’s even happening to the military. More and more women are being permitted to do more and more different jobs in the military. So the whole image of the military service is softening. I don’t know whether that is a good thing or not.

"But the one area that is still very much dominated by aggressive, ambitious men is finance. Men in finance work 80 hours and week…and they earn millions. And as far as I know, very few women can compete."

u2022 Here’s an interesting headline: "Labor shortage leaves fruit rotting." So there you are, dear reader, a new career path. Isn’t this economy amazing? It can produce an almost unlimited number of low-paying jobs.

Bill Bonner [send him mail] is the author, with Addison Wiggin, of Financial Reckoning Day: Surviving the Soft Depression of The 21st Century and Empire of Debt: The Rise Of An Epic Financial Crisis.

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