Montpellier, in the Hérault. The caption on the advert says: "Lesson #13: Unveil to him his line of opportunity" [click on the image for larger view]
"What they [the French] were still good at were the arts of intimacy. Eats still rated high…In every other quartier, the fresh produce markets, the good bakeries, the charcuterie with its cold cuts. Also the great displays of intimate garments. The shameless love of fine bedding…It was wonderful to be so public about the private, about the living creature and its needs. Slick magazines in New York imitated this but never got it right…Yes, and then there was the French street life. "American residential streets are humanly nine-tenths barren. Here humankind is still acting up," said Ravelstein.
—Ravelstein by Saul Bellow
[acknowledgement and thanks to Rick Cohn for sending this quote along]
There is a feature of every provincial market (that is, the out regions, where we are, where the locals depend on market day, the one day a week, or two, when presumably fresher and better, and more local, goods are for sale, and they get to see their friends face to face and chew the fat, have an expresso, or something a little stronger, and immerse themselves fully in the culture — Ravelstein was talking about Paris, his French bailiwick, where it’s an everyday occurrence; the biggest cities in the south also have a market day every day, purely a matter of, well, marketing). It would make for a good short subject, or, I suppose, in my hands, a good long discourse. Ravelstein alludes to this feature in "shameless love of fine bedding." He’s probably talking high thread count Egyptian cotton or even linen bed clothing.
In the markets around here, summer and winter, at least one stall is taken up with beds. Mainly mattresses and box springs, or all in one units. Many are attended to by women, and, being French, more often than not, comely women. The other day, in Aups, one of them, one of these femmes des literies [women of bedding; I simply will not say "bedding women"] held a small crowd, mainly of men, transfixed, as she bulled a mattress, which she picked up two handed and hoisted off the ground, to another location in her stall. To paraphrase a great line from "Damn Yankees," — many minds on a single thought.
Ravelstein [read: Bellow] speaks of the "arts of intimacy." To me, rather, it is a matter of the arts of culture and society, and a much finer tuning of the ensemble as they play much more appealing melodies of the quotidian — a very much different experience than that in the United States. And on that, clearly, we both agree.
I’d expect Bellow to take the thread up that he does here, and weave it into this transfixing, compressed, yet poetic social commentary. He was a sensual man, and, fathering a child in his 80s, obviously, like another great artist, a Spaniard who transplanted himself to another Catholic country that was far less repressed in that regard—Picasso, I mean—he was fortunate to be highly sexed and able to do something about it until several years near the end.