I met Claude on the hill of Montmartre in Paris while waiting for a friend. He looked so peculiar, so unreal, so as if straight out of an impressionism painting that I couldn’t resist the urge to go and ask if I could take his picture.
The man didn’t look surprised: ‘I get it all the time. People say I look like a Monet character!‘ he added proudly with a smile. I nodded in assent. ‘You know, photo modelling is a job...’ I nodded again but couldn’t help asking a tad cheekily ‘Do you mean people pay for your good looks?’ -‘Yes, that’s what I mean‘ he answered with a grave face ‘ A man has to eat‘. So we agreed that I wouldn’t just take a picture and run. Straight after that, his wrinkled face cracked into a wide smile and he started to talk to me.
Claude had lived in Montmartre all his life until the rising rent prices forced him to the suburbs. But because he couldn’t afford to live there any more didn’t mean he had to really leave. So he comes everyday, sits on a bench, watches tourists passing by and often poses pleasantly for their picturesque greedy cameras. For Claude is part of the landscape. He knew every bar and everybody in the neighbourhood: ‘Montmartre was a village at the time’ he started to recall ‘ see that place over there?’ I turned around to spot a little café with red curtains ‘I use to know the barmaid. I even kissed her once!‘ And his eyes were sparkling at the memory of it.
Once he got started there was no stopping Claude story-telling and it felt like a waste to have to go without having heard even a hundredth of what he had to say.
But when we parted, he gave me his home address and I intend to send him the pictures I took… I’m kind of hopping a pen-friendship will ensue!