Though it reeks of it in that grand sequence of prose poems, Paris Spleen, Baudelaire uses the word prostitution only three times. He seems to equate the phenomena with generosity of spirit, a creative sharing of the self with the crowd. I suppose most of us are secretly fascinated by it, through our propensity for idealization of it as much as that for Love. In one piece of his, The Beautiful Dorothea, sun beats down on everyone in the seaside town. At noon dogs yelp for mercy from the heat, but Dorothea, cool in her billowing dress, as if the waft of air were a wave of water. Walking, she's working. In Nice once, as a young man, I watched my own independent like a study for weeks. Her routine, clockwork. A five-day week in fact. At 11:00 sharp she'd roll out her rattan mat on the pebbles of the public beach. Red bikini, black, white. She's etched in a young man's cortex exactly thirty-five years to this coming summer. Classically Nicoise, dark, petite, she may have come from a long line of ladies & sailors. I was always close to her on the beach. No one ever approached her there. Not a Soul. She never entered the Mediterranean. Drank water, perhaps a piece of fruit. Certainly never read, but the sun, the horizon. At 1:00 she'd put her white shirt back on, gather her mat, ascend the stone stairs home. From the bar on the street she owned, I'd watch her stroll from the corner halfway down the street, then back. Many men, some as young as I, approached, talked, made offers. She was selective, or expensive, I'll never know. If I was jealous, it wasn't of the men, but of Baudelaire himself, who'd written his woman into history. More than speaking to her, more than touching, I wanted to transcribe her grace, her spirit that cannot be wizened with time, my anonymous woman married to the sun & wind of Nice, I desired what I have here.
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