Frozen Memory: A True Story

Paris: Bordel, Bazaar

In French, as in English, a “bordel” is a brothel. A “bazar” in French, or “bazaar” in English, is a chaotic marketplace. Both terms are also used in French as slang for a place in disarray, one more so than the other.

Walking in Paris on a bright spring day, I stopped on the curb next to an elderly lady. On the far end of the crosswalk, the little man glowed red. A motorcyclist approached the light. He rode slow in a diagonal across the street and onto the zebra-striped crosswalk, turning toward the lady and myself. We stepped apart as the motorcycle passed between us, onto the sidewalk.

The lady and I looked at each other across the now vacant space.

C’est interdit, vous savez,” she said to me. “That’s illegal, you know. Paris is a bordel.”

The little man turned green. As we stepped onto the crosswalk, she had a second thought. “No, a bordel is more organized. Paris c’est un bazar !