We French people have lots of metaphors and puns to insert (whoops) sexual innuendos in our daily conversations. These usually make me giggle. Despite years of living among cheeky fellow citizens, I did not expect to find a series of such innuendos in an obituary. On December 21st last year, Madame Claude died, aged 92. The name definitely rang a bell. I learned later that she had been the most famous pimp France had known: she had been at the head of a network of women who satisfied the needs of many rich and influential people, including (or so very loud rumors say) J.F.K, Mouammar Kadhafi and Marlon Brando.
But upon seeing that piece of news pop-up in my feed that day, I did not know who Madame Claude was. What attracted my attention was the title of the piece:
Madame Claude, la célèbre proxénète, a cassé sa pipe à l’âge de 92 ans.
Famous Pimp Madam Claude Pegs Out Aged 92.
In French, “casser sa pipe” literally means “to break one’s tobacco pipe” and translates in English as “to pop off, peg out, kick the bucket”. Just like in English, it is a rather cavalier way of announcing someone’s death.
Should I add that, in French, “faire une pipe” (literally “to do a tobacco pipe”) also means “to do a (children out of the room please) blowjob”?
Anyway, when that unusual obituary popped up in my feed, I frowned at the lexical association between the words pimp, “tobacco pipe” and the notion of death. I clicked.
The article opened and I could immediately see that the title had been changed (although it had not been changed in the article preview): the blowjob innuendo had been plainly replaced by the verb “die”.
However, the innuendofest continued. The first sentence of the article mentioned December 21st as Orgasm Day (ReelCarina if you read me) and then announced that Madame Claude
has reached (the seventh) heaven.
(French people go to heaven when they die, but they sometimes skip heaven itself to go to a seventh heaven when they reach orgasm — which they used to call “la petite mort”, i.e. “the little death”).
When reciting the number of times Madame Claude was sued and imprisoned, the article made a point in mentioning that not only was she imprisoned, but
handcuffed and imprisoned.
The cheeky article concluded on Madame Claude “breathing out her last breath”.
I remember moving my fingers up and down (not intended!) on my trackpad in disappointment. Was that all?
That woman, who was born between the two World Wars, left her hometown with an unclaimed child in her womb. She settled alone in Paris with her child and adopted a new, gender-neutral name (Claude). She built up a network of 500 women, many of them ex-models, that she dressed in Dior and Vuitton and whose services she sold to rich, famous and influential men all over the world. Upon her first condemnation, she fled to Los Angeles and lived well. She returned to France years later, was imprisoned, but tried to start a new network as soon as she got out. In addition to the many secrets that she always refused to tell about the influential men she was servicing, she rarely told any true fact about her life; many of the things we “know” about her were in fact invented by her.
I still have a lot of questions about this woman. Who was the father of her child? Did she love him? Did he love her? Why did she change her name? Why did she invent a life that she never had? Why and how did she become a pimp? How did it feel to evolve in the backstage of the world at a time without the internet and real-time media? Who were the women she enslaved? Were they actually enslaved? How did she feel about them? How did they feel about her?
That woman may have been an awful person. Or maybe not. She may have made many women miserable. Or maybe “it’s complicated”. But there surely is a story behind all this? A story of women, sex, love, money, crime and unhappiness. Movies have been made about those kinds of stories. Books have been written. Al Capone, Jack The Ripper, Charles Manson, John Dillinger. So what’s up with the cheap innuendos? What’s up with the silence, the lame jokes, the non-existent attempts to know more?
Is it because Madame Claude was a woman, and female criminals (except Calamity Jane) don’t sell?
Is it because behind Madame Claude’s infamy lies a greater infamy, that of the men she serviced?
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