I first moved to Paris in 1963 following a messy divorce (in short – my husband didn't know how to please a woman).
It was my dream to become a star of the Parisian cabaret – I spent most of my time perfecting my craft, studying pantomime and singing wherever anyone would listen. However, I also had a hidden agenda . . . I wanted to be romanced by Frenchmen!
- Jealousy and steel balls – my year of dating French men in Paris
- Drag queens, cognac and divorce – 55 years as a cabaret singer in Paris
D'yan in the 1960s in Paris. Photo: D'yan Forest
One evening a group of friends and I went to a restaurant in the Marais.
In those days there were communal tables and we all spoke to the strangers that were sitting at the same table.
One young, cute fellow sitting next to me said he was an artist in Montmartre. When he said his name, I realised that I had bought a watercolor painting from him only a few days before. I was so impressed and charmed.
After dinner he suggested that we go back to his studio at the top of Montmartre. Ready for an adventure at my young age, I, of course, said yes. A real live artist – we don’t really have those in Boston!
We took a taxi to his studio which was on a beautiful French street, in an old French building, and a very small room on the very top of Montmartre near Sacre Coeur.
However, away from the conviviality of the restaurant, he didn’t seem as charming. The rest of the evening turned out to be a disaster. Well my ex-husband was great compared to him.
I couldn’t wait to leave but of course the Paris Metro stops at 1am and doesn’t start running again until 5am. So I was now stuck at the top of Montmartre with a man who had no idea what he was doing!
At the break of dawn, I slipped out quietly and started walking down the beautiful stairs of Montmartre.
The sun was just rising, there was nobody around, and it was so beautiful and quiet, and romantic that I immediately thought of the famous 1956 film The Red Balloon. In this short film, a little boy was followed all over Paris by a red balloon.
I felt like I was descending the stairs in this film and wished that this moment would last forever.
Oddly enough, this wasn’t the end of the story.
At the age of 84, D'yan Forest is still performing cabaret and stand-up in Paris. Photo: D'yan Forest
Over the years, I have developed a true love affair (pun intended) with Montmartre. I am friends with many of the artists that currently work on Place du Tertre.
One lazy afternoon, I was telling this adventure of my youth to some artist friends, and they asked his name. When I finally remembered it, they laughed and said, “Oh no,” he’s here now in his studio. I was hugely surprised.
They told me he had had a stroke and is very sick and asked if I would like to see him. I was astounded and said “okay,” and was led by my friend Kikie to the small courtyard and up the stairs to his studio.
There sat an old, frail man, who of course couldn’t remember me from 50 years ago.
I’m guessing he had invited many many young Americans to his studio. I wasn’t even sure myself that this was the same guy but after looking at his photographs on the wall from past eras from trips around the world, I knew it was him.
It was, for me, very poignant. I guess I really wanted to remember the young artist I had met in my youth.
It shows that you can’t go back. However, nothing will take away my memory of my descent down the stairway of Parisian Montmartre … Paradise.
At the age of 84, D'yan is still performing. Her next show Swinging on The Seine – looking back at her remarkable life – is in Paris on Saturday, May 4th at 5.15pm at La Nouvelle Seine, quai Montebello, Paris. Find out more and book tickets here.