A close relative asked me to take her wristwatch to Hermes, whose premises are just up the hill from my work.“The battery is dead,” she said. “The watch is covered by warranty, so they should exchange the battery.”
I googled Hermes, found the address. The website announced the opening of their store on March 3. Today was 29 February; would they be operating prior to 3 March?
I spent some time trying to imagine how a French person might pronounce Hermes. I wrestled with my palate until my vowels sounded like the note of a foghorn. I stretched my lips into a sneer. (A French name is both an enigma and a travesty. Try pronouncing the name of the supposedly great novel, ‘Le Grand Meaulnes’. People declare the book great simply to boast of their ability to say the last word in the title. The book put me to sleep.)
I called the number and asked: “Is this Hermes?” A voice said yes. Perhaps I had the pronunciation right. And, yes, they were open.
I walked up the hill, striding, hastening from the care of the sick, the dying and the unsick. I arrived at 0927 hours to find a small woman with bronze skin perched on the steps, obstructing my ingress. She was polishing the metal grille of the gate. I asked, “May I enter?”
A smile from the crouched person, still polishing: “No. It is not ten o’clock.”
Three minutes passed, the polisher uncrouched and joined a further four Burmese women in the foyer. (When was the last time I entered commercial premises in this country where the cleaner does not come from Asia?). The women conferred, one locked the gate, another handed a slip of paper to a large man wearing a morning suit and the women disappeared into a lift. Morning Suit Man descended to the gate , unlocked it and opened. I asked might I enter, he assented and I did.
In the course of my twenty minutes on the Hermes premises, I learned quite a lot about very little.
Mister Suit reminded me strongly of the strong men who guarded my patients at Christmas Island. He looked like a weight lifter. He looked Iranian. He looked like the Basiji – the Iranian Secret Police – would step off the pavement to make way for him.
During my twenty minutes as a guest of the House of Hermes, Mister Suit attended to his duties assiduously. These consisted of standing just inside the front door and the polished gates. He did this conscientiously.
A young woman in demure and elegant black asked could she help? It turned out she could and she did. Her discreet silver lapel badge told me she was Serene. And she remained so, even when she told me the battery replacement – yes, it was covered by warranty – would take twenty days. “Or so.” Her serenity was proof against the soaring of my fiery eyebrow at the news of that delay. She asked me to sign a document I had no opportunity to read. I was to tick three boxes. I did so: even the box that preceded the avowal, “I accept that data will be processed for commercial solicitation purposes by Hermes Group of companies.” I took the precaution of inserting “do not” before “accept”. Thus I outsmarted the House of Hermes. Not.
While waiting twenty minutes as the Serene – and truly pleasant – One went somewhere behind the public area to consult with her superiors, I looked and admired and did not admire. A horse’s saddle was displayed proudly. And a saddle cloth. These did not excite my admiration. Neither did numerous saddle bags, a riding helmet, some polo playing apparel. They looked remarkably plain, functional , tidy and dun. Next to them a sign read, “Hermes Sellier”. I bethought myself of my Anatomy studies and I recalled “sella turcica”, the Turkish Saddle, and I understood. (The definition is to be found at the foot of this post.) At last, this tiny datum had become of service to me. I admired my virtuosity as an amateur linguist but I had no admiration to spare for the saddlery that would certainly cost more than my car.
I gazed at two brilliant scarves displayed on the wall opposite me. They were a pair, depicting a full frontal African elephant, escorted by a pair of giraffe in profile and a couple of crocodile underfoot. All were backlit and presented in glorious colour. These silk squares must be collectibles.
I noticed too that in the course of my twenty Hermes minutes no other customer entered the store. A second sales lady stood and adjusted a scarf knotted around a horizontal brass bar. This movement constituted her sole exertion during my tenure at Hermes’. For the remainder of the time she imitated the doorman. I too spent much time at leisure. I recalled my one previous Hermes encounter: back around 1972 Australia’s dollar plummeted and foreign goods leaped in price. I listened to the words of our Great Leader who explained the correction and I farewelled all future prospect of purchasing foreign-made goods. As a farewell gift to the world I purchased an Hermes tie. I still have it and it remains lovely. I have just finished paying it off.
After all was signed, after I surrendered the timepiece, after thanking Serene – I left and returned to real life – out of Hermes’ way.
The sella turcica (Turkish Chair) is a saddle-shaped depression in the body of the sphenoid bone of the human skull and of the skulls of other Hominidae including chimpanzees, orangutans, and gorillas.