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  • Writer's pictureSimon Howard


Updated: Mar 15, 2020

In the city of love, by the banks of the Seine, she screams at me. ‘I HATE YOU! I WISH YOU WERE DEAD! I DON’T LOVE YOU! I LOATHE YOU! I NEVER WANT TO SEE YOU AGAIN! DIE, PLEASE DIE! JUST DIE!’ Inside the Musée Picasso I find myself staring into the unassailable old wall-eye of La Celestina. There must be a bit of a battle between sex and art. To some extent the artist has to sacrifice one for the other as there will usually be a smaller audience for his or her orgasms, however promiscuous the artist. Sometimes, though, people are more curious about artists’ orgasms than their art. It’s not surprising that Picasso triggers thoughts like these: people are fascinated by his sexual power and look into his sexual mind through keyholes in the canvas. If they’re lucky they see him looking back, holding a mirror towards them. La Celestina’s unassailable wall-eye gives nothing away. The image of an owl is looking down at me from above the door, and children’s voices ring through the vaults. Upstairs I find them spread across the floor, chattering and full of joy in front of Femmes à Leur Toilette which covers most of the wall. They’re about five years old and busy pointing at parts of the picture. A teacher calls two of them to the front and they shyly examine the painting: flowing hair, a mouth, a pair of unbalanced eyes. She gently helps them discover more faces, and the children grow bolder as they search. In the sunny courtyard outside I sit on a bench and spread my tired feet across the cobbles, as pigeons swoop down on abandoned cigarette butts. Next to me are two bespectacled schoolmistresses eating sandwiches, writing postcards and being teased by their teenage pupils. One pretends to be angry, but it’s clear that she and the pupils love each other – and, while the kids appear to aim their mobile phones at each other, they’re really snapping the teachers. The walls and cobblestones ring with the screams and chatter of the five-year-olds as they pour out of the front door, relaxed and gossiping or kicking a perspex lamp cover cemented into the cobbles which makes a wonderful popping sound. A little girl kicks it too many times, loving the pops, until she is scolded and sent to sit on the steps, where she sulks and sucks her thumb until she joins the others chasing the pigeons around the courtyard. When they can’t reach the birds, they chase their shadows. In the street loud voices are raised against the noise of a drill, and I see two boys of about eighteen shouting and laughing, one of them gripping the other’s shoulder. I realise with deep jealousy that they’re in love. Only yesterday she and I were like that. The boy nearest me is dark-haired and beautiful. He laughs loudly at the story his friend is telling him. She laughed like that at my stories. I pretend to look in a shop window. Reflected in the glass I see the boy’s beautiful mouth and eyes, dark like Picasso’s, and I see hers in them. He grips his friend’s shoulder again. They’re still shouting, oblivious of the drill, the traffic, the passers-by – and my jealousy. It’s time for them to part. The beautiful one checks his reflection in a shop window before walking away slowly. Then he does something which will make his image stay with me for the rest of my life. As he walks along the pavement he skips. It’s just a little skip, but it defines him. He’s a boy with a skip in his step. And it makes him unassailable. He’s in love and unassailable. He’s the boy with a skip in his step.


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