This is the third in an occasional series of posts about the social and cultural world inhabited by Calypso Bergère. This post focuses on the third novella in the series, Calypso and the Accidental Recording, set in Paris in the spring of 1932.
The story opens when Calypso and her friend Olivia, both keen record buyers, find a unfamiliar record store in the Left Bank district of Paris.
Uncertain whether or not to enter the store, they hear a snatch of Louis Armstrong and his Hot Five playing ‘Savoy Blues’, coming from inside and decide that this is place worth exploring.
Calypso and Olivia adore French chanson and Amercian jazz. Olivia finds copies of Fréhel’s ‘Comme une fleur’ and Fats Waller’s ‘Valentine Stomp’, and buys them both.
Calypso is browsing a bargain bin when she finds a pair of amateur recordings of ‘Parlez-moi d’amour’, a song made famous by Lucienne Boyer. She buys the pair on impulse and later finds out that of these records contains the ‘accidental’ recording of the story’s title.
Before they part, the two friends arrange to see a screening of the film Blonde Venus, directed by Josef von Sternberg, and starring Marlene Dietrich (this is a slight anachronism as the movie wasn’t released until the autumn of 1932, but I’m claiming poetic licence here…).
Blonde Venus opens unforgettably with the song ‘Hot Voodoo’, during which Dietrich appears in a gorilla suit before removing the outfit’s head to sing, eventually removing the whole costume. The photograph of the top of this post shows Dietrich in gorilla garb. The one just above shows her at the end of the scene, glamorous and gorilla-less.
I haven’t been able to find a clip of that sequence, so a recording of the song will have to do. If you get the chance to see it, you really should — it’s a remarkable cinematic moment.
Later in the story, Calypso visits Les Halles, Paris’ central food market, with her Aunt Nina. Les Halles, dubbed the ‘Belly of Paris’ by author Émile Zola, was demolished in 1971. The photograph above is from the 1950s.
The story mood grows more sombre as the story progresses. Calypso begins to imagine and to draw a murder scene that is at the heart of the mystery. When I was thinking about the kind of drawing that Calypso might conjure up, I remembered Walter Sickert’s painting The Camden Town Murder. In the story Olivia says that Calypso’s imagining of the murder scene, specifically its atmosphere, reminds her of Sickert’s work.