Very few people know this, but the song Gigi sung by Dalida was inspired by a story about my mother who, in the seventies, when she had separated from my father, lived from odd jobs in the south of France, in Cannes, the city of poodles and scrunchies.
In those days, she had to improvise as a nail artist, hairdresser and fortune-teller in order to survive. She shared a dressing room with a janitor, an old friend from boarding school, in a beautiful mansion perched high above the city, known as the California district.
Every day, she took to the streets of the city with her briefcase full of her equipment. She went door-to-door, and since she presented herself well, people accepted her services, which she offered free of charge at first, just to build up a clientele. While she did hair and nails with great ease, she was much more adventurous when it came to fortune-telling. But since she never charged for this service, people never minded, never. Among all her customers, she had very few guys, including one, an old gay man in his seventies, named Gino, who worked as a singer at the Palm Beach casino nightclub at the end of the Croisette. She'd hit it off with him, and since he lived alone with his Chihuahua, he'd ask her to come and shampoo his hair every other day, to make sure his color never changed, and that of his dog, which he'd dyed Venetian blond.Even though he was well aware that she didn't communicate with spirits, with the future or with anything else, Gino liked to ask my mother if, one day perhaps, life would reunite him with his lifelong love, Sergeant Corporal Willer, a black American GI who had taken part in the Normandy landings and in his first love affairs. She invariably went to his place at two o'clock in the afternoon, when the sun fell right on the apartment's bay window, and he was obliged to calm the ardor of the rays by masking them with his thick double curtains, plunging the room into a soft half-light. There he would tell her how they had met in Caen, in an underground men's club, some time after the armistice, and how they had loved each other intensely in lust and volutes of opium. But when Corporal Willer was called back to his homeland because members of his family had fallen victim to the Ku Klux Klan, he let his lover down in the throes of passion. Gino was left with only one thought: to join him and try his hand at a Maurice Chevalier-style career to earn a living and support his soldier.
It wasn't all plain sailing, however, for when he arrived he found a completely different Sergeant Willer, married to a macho, muscle-flexing woman who pretended not to recognize the lover whose back he'd seen so often during his comings and goings. So as not to raise any doubts in the eyes of his friends and family, he gave the man who tried to hug him a severe beating. Humiliated and disfigured by the rain of fists that rained down on him, Gino boarded the first liner bound for France. Yet, after nearly thirty years and one last calamitous interview, he was still convinced that his sergeant was still thinking of him, frustrated at having had to live the dreary life of a straight man, doing without the pleasures of the penis. So he asked my mother to give him news, to pass on subliminal messages of white magic to his handsome black sergeant.
Gino, whom she came to call Gigi, was certainly her favorite customer, for she had a great deal of tenderness for this being bruised by love but always ready to plunge back into it with the first person who came along. She never divulged her clients' personal stories to others, but when Gigi died, she was very saddened and upset, and she told only one person, another client, who lived in the manor house where my mother shared the dressing room with her childhood friend. That other client was Dalida. She had been looking for a new story with which to end her shows for a very long time. The story my mother told her touched her deeply, and she asked her if, by changing a few elements, a few details, she could use it as the plot for her new closing song.The rest you know, a song we've all hummed, sober or drunk, on a beach with a glass of warm sparkling wine in our hand.