My Night with Pierre Boulez and the Béjart Ballet January 1976


I thought about this little episode after Pierre Boulez’ recent passing.

Years ago, while working in Paris teaching ESL to middle managers at a French language school, I splurged and bought two tickets to the Béjart Ballet.  I wasn’t making great money so this was a big expense.  I had a hot first date, however, and wanted to have a special night out.

Michele Kinloch–I still remember my date’s name–and I arrived at the venue, which I recall was the Palais des Congrès, and the first piece had music by the late Pierre Boulez, which I hated.  It was angular and awkward and irritating, and took away from the dancing and choreography.   I just will never like this sort of modern music, sorry.  I like Boulez as a conductor, but find him a little cold and analytical for my taste.  Give me Bernstein or Monteux or Previn instead.

The next pieces were romantic pieces done to the music of Mahler, I think the gorgeous slow adagios / adagiettos from the 3rd and 5th symphonies.  This was sumptuous and romantic music, and with the dance it was overwhelmingly moving.  I was moved to tears by it all.  My date seemed to enjoy it.  I, however, was totally smitten and was in sort of a puddle at the end, and forgot to bring Kleenex.

We went out to a nice restaurant after that, where I spent the rest of my money.  I had just enough to take the metro back to the 16th arrondissement, where Michele lived with her parents.  Did I tell you I met her at the school I was teaching at, the École Universelle, also in the 16th, the Beverly Hills of Paris?  There we drank some of her parents’ cognac.  Some cork fell into my glass and I drank it, as I was told that swallowing a little cork was good luck.

The problem was that I had to walk all the way back from the 16th to the 14th, where I had a tiny cold water flat.  The metro stopped running at 12:45, and I didn’t even have enough change for the bus.  And so I walked.

I checked my guidebook, my Plan de Paris, and decided on a shortcut, taking side streets instead of the bigger boulevards.  This proved to be a costly mistake.

In a little while I was stopped and asked directions by a group of men who seemed a little out of it.  I thought they were drunk.  I dutifully obliged them, spreading out my Paris map on the top of a car.  They kept asking me questions as if they were not understanding my directions.  What they were really doing was checking out the gold watch on my outstretched arm and exposed wrist that my dad had given me.

A few minutes later I was approached by a group of men, hit hard in the head, and fell to the ground where I was kicked in the head some more.  I was unconscious when I heard the sound of a gun going off.  I thought to myself “So this is the way I’m going to die”.   A 24-hour plumber was working nearby and saw the assault and mugging.  He picked me up off the pavement, helped me stagger to his little deux chevaux camion (small truck) and, handing me a pistol, told me that we were going to go get those bastards.  I folded the window up and waited for directions.  I was still pretty out of it. I don’t like guns, never have, but would have pulled the trigger if the plumber told me we’d found the guys and told me to fire.

We didn’t catch the culprits and the good Samaritan plumber took me to the nearest police station.  I sat in the waiting room.  A working woman was sitting near me, and came over.  “Ah, mon pauvre cheri, vous êtes blessé”.  She wiped some of the blood off my head with her mouchoir.  Suddenly she turned on me and started hurling expletives.  She also hit me on the head and re-opened my head wound.

I had a small amount of useless Congolese ganja in my pocket and panicked that the police would arrest me if they found out.  I went into the bathroom and was about to toss it into the urinal when I noticed the big convex wide-angle mirror with the watchful eyeball of a policeman watching my every move.  Great. Now I won’t get a work permit. Maybe even get deported.

Eventually the police took me to the indigent hospital nearby, run by l’Assistance Publique, rue Vaugirard.  I should have requested the American Hospital in Neuilly but didn’t.  I was x-rayed by a technician for a long time…he just kept taking x-rays.  Eventually I noticed that he was taking hearty swigs out of a wine bottle.  No wonder he couldn’t get it right.  After that another man came, sprayed my forehead with antiseptic spray, and stuck a horse needle in with some very crude stitches.

I was led up to a room filled with people and assigned a cot.  Trouble was, the man in the cot next to me was moaning and wheezing like he was about to expire.  I couldn’t stand it, but when he stopped wheezing, I was even more alarmed, fearing he’d died.   I wanted to escape this medieval hospital and got up to leave.  A large woman stopped me and sent me back to my bed.

In the morning I signed some papers saying I was refusing doctor’s care.  I walked to the nearest metro and took a seat.  People who saw the blood matted in my hair and on my clothing moved away from me.   It was nice having a little space on the morning commute to myself.

I never saw Michele Kinloch again.   And I still don’t care for Boulez’ acrid music. Not bad for a first date. But I still have a scar to prove it wasn’t all just a crazy dream!