The funniest of the many writings of Karl Marx is The Holy Family, the boisterous attack on the so-called Young Hegelians by Marx and his colleague Friedrich Engels. My favorite passage is Marx’s faux serious discussion of The Absolute Fruit, his hilarious send-up of Hegelian metaphysics, but the book actually begins with a lengthy anatomization of Les Mystères de Paris, Eugène Sue’s interminable romantic novel. [Back in the day when I was plowing through as much Marx as I could manage, I actually bought a three-volume edition of Sue’s novel, but it sits, chastely untouched, on my shelves in Chapel Hill.]
Susie and I have our own mystère de Paris, and yesterday evening we got a clue as to its solution. Our little 330 square foot pied-a-terre is on the ground floor of a copropriété, the French version of a condominium association. The entrance is a pair of grand French doors off an interior 17th century courtyard, but the one window looks out on rue Maître Albert. Directly across the street is a little shop, and when we fold back the shutters and open the window, we are looking directly into it. Over the ten years that we have owned the apartment, the shop has undergone transformations. First it was a real estate office, then a general handyman shop offering plumbing, carpentry, electricity, and twenty-four hour locksmith service if you locked yourself out of your apartment. Last year, two gay men opened a very upscale boutique called “Hug and You” that featured seven hundred dollar scarves, thousand dollar jeans [made to measure] and to-die-for two thousand dollar purses. We have struck up a neighborly friendship with the proprietors, who spend hours out on the street gossiping with friends who come by in a seemingly endless stream. The two of them live in the apartment just above the shop and have a large cat, whom Susie talks to when it pokes its head out of the window.
We have now spent eight weeks in our apartment during the lifetime of Hug and You, and we have not seen a single solitary person actually buy anything in the shop. Lots of people walking by have paused to look at the mannequins in the window. A few have even stepped inside to look around. But no one, to our knowledge, has ever left carrying a Hug and You shopping bag.
So, our own personal mystère de Paris is this: How on earth do these two nice men make any money?
Last night we got a clue. We had walked across the street to have dinner at the pizza place just to the left of Hug and You, and since we were early and the restaurant was empty, the patron wandered over to our table to say hello. [He knows that we live across the street.] I leaned forward and said to him softly that the shop next door did not seem to have any customers. He nodded knowingly and said, “Internet.”
Sure enough, when I Googled it, up came an attractive website with graphics and a video featuring the two proprietors. So maybe they are making out like gangbusters online, and the shop is just for show. I certainly hope so. Susie and I are pulling for them to make a go of it.