Commonplace Book: The Tabernacle

Compelling passages, notable quotables, bon mots, disjecta, ephemera, and miscellany.

At the top of the Rue Lepic is the little cabaret of which I have already spoken, The Tabernacle, where the habitués practice sorcery, concoct mixtures, consult the cards, question the bottoms of teacups, decipher the lines of the left hand (when questioned, fate tends to answer the truth, Divine used to say), where good looking butcherboys are sometimes metamorphosed into princesses in flowing gowns. The cabaret is small and low-ceilinged. Milord the Prince governs. Assembled there are: All of them, but especially First Communion, Banjo, the Queen of Rumania, Ginette, Sonia, Persifanny, Clorinda, the Abbess, Agnes, Mimosa, Divine. And their gentlemen. Every Thursday the little latch door is closed to the curious and excited bourgeois visitors. The cabaret is given over to the “pure few.” Milord the Prince (she who said, “I make one cry every night,” speaking of the safes he cracked which the jimmy made creak) sent out the invitations. We were at home. A phonograph. Three waiters were on duty, their eyes full of mischief, lewd with a joyous lewdness. Our men are at the bar playing poker dice for drinks. And we are dancing. It is customary to come in drag, dressed as ourselves. Nothing but costumed queens rubbing shoulders with child-pimps. In short, not a single adult. The make and the lights distort sufficiently, but we wear black masks or carry fans for the pleasure of guessing who’s who from the carriage of a leg, from the expression, the voice, the pleasure of fooling each other, of making identities overlap. It would be an ideal spot for committing a murder, which would remain so secret that the fluttering queens, in a state of panic (although quickly one of them, startled into maternal severity, would be able to transform herself into a rapid and precise detective), and the little pimps, their faces tense with terror, their bellies drawn in, huddling against the ladies, would try in vain to know who was the victim and who was the murderer. A crime at a masked ball.


From Our Lady of the Flowers, by Jean Genet (Grove Press, 1963); from the French Notre-Dame des Fleurs (L’Arbaléte, 1943).

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