12 Hours of My Life inside the Red Light District of Geneva, Switzerland
There is a scene at the end of the 1983 movie “Risky Business” and it goes like this:
“Joel meets Lana at a restaurant, and they speculate about their future. She tells him that she wants to keep on seeing him; he jokes that it will cost her. In a final voiceover, Joel reveals that, for his Future Enterprises class, he "deals in human fulfillment" and it has turned quite a profit. Eight thousand dollars in one night to be exact. He ends by quoting Guido the Killer Pimp: "Time of your life, huh kid?"
I wish life for a prostitute would end like this movie or even better like the movie Pretty Woman but who am I kidding. I walked the streets of the red light district for 12 hours and saw no Prince Charming. What I saw was carnage, despair and a dollar based religion. I saw a macro-economic situation that was derived from economic depressions in regions of the world and maximized by individual entrepreneurs. That specific 12 hours makes me no expert but I got a lot farther than most, if not all journalists, who go there for a story. Bring a camera into the district and the girls will scatter. Moments later “someone” will want to speak to you about “the box (camera)” in your hand. The focus of my time in the district was not the “professionals” as in the girls who are regulated by the Swiss Government and city ordinances of Geneva. These are the girls who have medical cards, are licensed and pay taxes. Those girls have a plan. Some are there to make money and some are there to enjoy themselves as they stated to me. In my opinion, all are there for the money and they have limited time inside this district because it “wears you down” and has an effect on your head. It also wears on your body as the pace extracts its toll over a short period of time. A woman can only take so much of a physical pounding before her body starts to break down.
For 12 hours my focus was on the “shadow girls” or rather those girls who are in the district illegally. Most come from foreign countries on visitor’s visas and then decide to simply go to work. They don’t dare mingle in with the professionals, as this is a “turf” situation. You don’t simply show up in the district and remove “food from someone else’s mouth.” Like the sparrows that pick up the crumbs after someone has finished their croissant at an outdoor coffee shop, these girls compete for the crumbs. They are there for the “johns” who don’t have the “full tilt” to hire the professionals or for the men who are turned away because they are not trustworthy in the eyes of the licensed girl. I define “not trustworthy” as dangerous and often sexually rough. That was my take on the situation first hand and that is my story.
I didn’t put myself on a street corner because I had nothing to do or that I could not find a dinner date. I trained for this like an athlete would but in short order. I am not young and I have “been around” as they say. Spending many years in Vegas I know how it works for a man to get a call girl. These girls are the farthest thing from that situation there is. I have watched the shadow girls for years but now noticed more and more were arriving each time I came to Geneva. The district was becoming literally overcrowded. Most of the new girls were from Spain, Greece and even Italy with a fair amount from Ireland and England. They came to Switzerland for the Swiss currency as they are not dumb. They can count and they know the Euro was in trouble so they reached out for the hard currency that could be depended on as the Euro slipped in value.
I began this venture by hiring a photographer who I was told was connected to the district. He shot photos of the better looking licensed girls and then sold them to web content providers. For him and the girls it was a business arrangement. He had the equipment and he knew people. We agreed early on that he needed to be known in the district or he was of no value to me. Next, I hired a second photographer who was simply a gentleman from a country where he had been a special ops guy. I have known him for a bit and he is good at his work. I stuck a camera in his hand and showed him where to press the button to make it work. He had my back and that is all that mattered. Through the first photographer, whom I call Pete, we arranged to meet a “woman of influence” within the district. She had quoted Pete a price to be my “wingman” which is the person who would be introducing me to the girls and get me close to the unlicensed girls. Mica (not her real name) had been down in the district for years and although she still “worked” she was more like someone who brought the new girls into the fold. When we met she immediately doubled the price of her services telling me I was not what she expected. She asked my age and I told her. She told me it would never work but that she would enjoy every minute of taking my money. I agreed with the new price but with that the terms would now change, half now and half at the end when I am completely out of the district. She demanded full payment. I had Pete show her to the door. At that moment, the smell of easy money was intoxicating and Mica reconsidered quickly. She accepted my terms but said she was the “final word.” If she risked her reputation to put some “housewife in the red zone just so I could be getting all hot for some young boy” then she would want the final word if it was to be “a go.” “If you back out you still owe me Domino. That is what we will call you rich girl. Domino because you speak like those rich and fancy French girls from Paris.” stated Mica in her new found swagger. “But of course …. Domino it is.” I said softly. We agreed five hours later we would meet and I asked Pete to pick me up in four so I could get a feel for the area which lay outside the district. I got undressed and slipped under the covers for a nap. When I woke up from the wake-up call I began to prepare. I took a shower and arranged my clothes and shoes. I was nearly automatic like I assumed the girls form the district were each day and night. I asked myself out loud “is this really worth it? Do I need to know ‘the why’ just now?” No answer came. As I finished dressing there was a knock at the main door. It was Pete and our second photographer slash “ops” man, Karl. I looked in the mirror and whispered “Domino livre ou elle est libre (translation: Domino delivers or she is free.)” Nice! Already I am considering my marketing strategy to outclass my competition, as I thought to myself in a moment of humour. This was surely a copyright infringement on the pizza company guarantee back in America.
Karl was a middle aged gentleman but he was battle tested. I could tell by his questions that he had been in some hostile situations in a battle zone in his day. I had confidence in him from the start and he had eyes in the back of his head always knowing who was on the move towards me. Hand signals were the mode of communication and we had a few basics that we agreed upon. Time was close and it was time to leave.
When we arrived we took a walk around the area. I would not have this option later on when I was in heels and shorts because of the cobblestone walks. For now I was covered in a London Fog trench and Ugg boots on my feet. About 45 minutes later Mica arrived and I was dressed in heels and ready to go. When she saw me she was “I don’t believe it. Where is the big diamond ring and nice dress? You look like a working girl! Good! I like this so now we see what you got Domino. Are you afraid girl?” “Of what…doing this? Walk in the park honey” I added as we were actually standing in the park near the lake.
Mica gave me my instructions which included “watch out for plain clothed police.” Better late than never on that one I guess as I thought to myself. What Mica did give me was instructions on the brush back and how to move a potential customer on his way while holding him long enough to make the other girls believe I was seriously doing business. No sooner as I landed at my spot I realized the other girls were actually gurls as in transgender gurls. It was their area as they tended to stay out of the red light district and more in the high end areas of the shops. I was seriously underdressed and figured this was a cakewalk because of that. No action, no problem! Moments later a women dressed very well approached me for a date. I switched the subject to how much I loved her cologne; “is that number 5” I asked? “Why yes, do you know it?” she responded. “Know it? Honey I buy it by the drum”… I caught myself as no streetwalker is going to be wearing No. 5. Coco would be rolling in her French grave if she had heard the “buy it by the drum” comment. We chatted a bit more and she then made another approach to bring me home. I thanked her and said “Pas ma tasse de thé” or “not my cup of tea.” She understood and we said our good-byes. At that moment I realized how close to me Karl actually was and it gave me some comfort. He was on his game. Peter began to click off some pictures and several men approached more out of curiosity than anything else. In six inch heels I am tall and this interested them. By now Mica was pensive and she told Karl “it is time to get serious!” We moved to the tunnel walkways and as it became later more men there walking by as the Euro Cup soccer match was just ending. OK, I thought, this is the best she can do then this is what we will do. Against the wall of the tunnel I went, fielding request after request, all with the same answer “Je suis en attente de ma mère pour arriver par le bus!” Translation: “I am waiting for my mother to arrive by the bus” became my standard answer. Men came up to me and men walked away but in the end I could see Mica smiling and nodding her head. Finally, she waved me back. I had convinced her I could think on my feet and with that we had a deal. The next night I would be brought to the district and slotted with the shadow girls.
I did what I do “second best” the next morning, I went shopping. The day flew buy and after a few telephone calls being answered upon my return, I knew it was time. Karl and Peter were making some tactical plans and arranging for a “john” who would be Peter to pick me up upon my arrival in the district just to show the girls I could do the job. Peter promised a French pastry and black coffee. I agreed to the date. It was time to go and Mica was clear on where we would meet. “If it goes bad and you get beat up, I don’t know you Domino” she stated firmly. I agreed and with that she gave me a kiss on each cheek three times as is done in Europe. As we parted I asked her how I would pay my taxes on my Swiss earnings? She rolled her eyes and wagged her finger and stated “you are too honest Domino. Taxes are for rich people not people like us who actually work.” Welcome to the Red Light District I thought to myself.
The edge of the district is directly behind the Grand Kempinski and I never realized just how close it was until it was my time to go. As I exited via the lower level car park I handed off my trench coat and several personal items. I had my lipstick and some money in my inside coat pocket. As I arrived in the district there was Mica dressed for the evening. I told her she looked great and she laughed and said “I do not look great but I am great.”
Approaching the shadow girls would have been impossible but with Mica it was like having the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval on your upper thigh for all to see. She introduced me as Domino and I was “just visiting” so not to be fighting about her and all that. Most of the girls spoke no French or English. They were not just young girls but some in their 30’s and even possibly older. Most were Greek and Spanish. One bleach bottle blonde was from southern Italy and she could have been a model but instead she was here in the shadows. One girl in particular stood out. She spoke English well but with an accent from Greece. The Spanish girls called her Bebé and she looked to be 15 or 16 years old as she dressed in a private school girl skirt and top. She could barely command the movement of her legs in the high heels and I knew this girl didn’t belong here.
The timing was perfect as all the girls were arranging where they would be standing when Peter pulled up and signaled for me. My first reaction was the girls must have thought we were related but I could see them watching my every move. I spoke to him in English and asked him if he wanted a date? He said “yes” and I gave him a high price in response to his question to lay the groundwork for the rest of the night. If the girls heard how much I wanted then as I brushed off the other “clients” they would not become suspicious. They may not speak French but they understand Swiss Francs. I got in the car and we drove off out of the district for 30 minutes. One pastry and coffee later, a few pictures and we were back. I looked every bit a pro as I reapplied my lipstick which I had previously whipped off. The girls looked and spoke amongst themselves.
I was very hard to miss on a summer night, me dressed in a white leather jacket and white mule high heels. From the headlights everyone could see me as I stood close to 6’4” in height. Bebé made the first approach to me as she asked if she could stand in my area. I told her sure, no problem and we began to talk. I was starting to attract a lot of “lookers” and it was good as the girls saw this as potential clients coming from the licensed girls over to the shadow side of the district. Several of the girls asked me to move to the corner and I did so to be more exposed to the traffic. Bebé came to talk for a bit but because of the pecking order she had to return back to her place soon. Bebé was not complex in her speech. I could tell she was educated and after a brief moment I noticed she was not 16 but older. She told me of the economic collapse, which was the greatest since the Nazi invasion of Greece. I asked her how she knew this was the case and she said she had been a teacher’s aide but had lost her job through government cutbacks. Her father was not well and her mother could not find work. Looking at the ground she said “this is what I must do to survive and for my family to survive.” As she completed her sentence and before she could move back a car with a large man stopped and called her. I whispered “be careful Bebé.” She said nothing and moved slowly towards the car in a childlike playful manner. In moments she was in the car and out of sight. I could not “connect the dots” as I was looking at 6 maybe 7 Bebé’s standing next to me. I stepped back off the corner to catch my breath as this had affected me more than I thought. I started to think about her and if she would be ok. At that point, one of the English speaking girls came up to me and said “You need to move back up. Don’t worry he is a regular with us as he wants the girls for less money.”
I moved back up and cars were now starting to queue as the bars were emptying from the soccer match on TV. It was like Time Square in Manhattan and drivers were blowing their horns at each other trying to get ahead to talk business with the girls and me. Because of my location, no car could stop as it was like a right on red. Strategically, I had placed myself just ahead of the backside of the curve of the corner so by the time the car got to me there was someone else behind him blowing the horn to move up beyond me. I was in heaven, all the attention, none of the action but then the men got “wise” and they came at me on foot. I had my work cut out as the “my mom is on the bus” excuse wasn’t going to work. I stepped up face to face and made believe I could not understand their language and that I was talking to a guy in the next car who had circled back. Finally, Karl came up to me and said “why did you not come to the car as we agreed when I paid you bitch?” I said “Oh, I thought we were done in the alley?” Karl was thinking quickly and he was able to move me out of the scrum. At that moment I was grateful I had his arm around my lower backside but I whispered in his ear “don’t get to comfortable back there sweetie.” As we walked I asked him to please tell me there were 9 other guys who he had hired to do the same thing here for the balance of the night. He said “No one else and we need to go.” I responded I simply wasn’t ready to go and I was making some technical adjustments. He looked at me and said nothing but I could read what was on his mind.
We sat for a moment in an outside café and Karl came up with an idea. “Are those legs in as good as shape as they look?” I said “of course.” “Then we keep you moving against the traffic flow and we will be ok” Karl added. The plan was simple, I would keep moving or “strutting” as they say the rest of the night. As I agreed with the plan my thoughts turned to Bebé. She had been gone for some time and before we started the move I was going back to talk to her.
I arrived back to find Bebé getting out of the car. It was a different car and a different driver. “What gives?” I was thinking. I approached her and saw she has having a little trouble gaining her balance. I asked her if she was ok and she said “yes.” She then told me it was more than one man and he negotiated for only one but she had no choice. “I am alright and I have the original money” she said. She was tough but the sex looked to be rough as she had marks on her neck. I took her to the back alley of the building and cleaned her up with some rags a cook at a restaurant sold me. “We need to go” I said but she refused “No-No, I am fine.” I told her we were going to get some air and walk a little so that she could get her legs moving. She agreed and we began to move towards the edge of the district. As we walked, we came to a small restaurant that was still open and we decided to sit and eat something. Bebé started her story and I listened intently looking for the part where the limousine rolls up and a young Richard Gere steps out to take Bebé away. No such car was coming tonight or any night for her and this made me sad. I asked her “what if someone rich came and gave you money and a plane ticket to go home? Would you go?” Her response was slow and drawn out; “I cannot because I will be back in weeks in Geneva so that I can take care of my parents.” Our conversation went on for over an hour and finally I could see Bebé was not going to ride the night out sitting outside a now closed restaurant with me. “We have to work” she said. I looked at her and said nothing. Finally we went back to the shadow girls. Bebé was quick to answer the girls who had grown suspicious. “We did party with Domino’s friend and other men at Warwick. Well, she did all the work but we split the money” as she looked over at me for confirmation. I nodded my head and went back to the corner where traffic had died down. I was not sure how many of the girls understood but I could now hear her speaking in Greek and the Greek girls looking in my direction. It was late but a steady flow of clients was coming through again much to my dismay. Some older men who looked to me to be mostly German and more inquisitive than sexually driven to pay my price. We chatted as I know some Swiss German. Some wanted “something special sexually.” My reply was “I too want something special and for your something special you’ll have to pay my something special price which for that is extremely high.” I’d simply priced myself out of the marketplace each time until one gentleman of South African dialect asked “would you take a cheque as I must have you?” My response was “do I look like I’d take a check?” His jaw dropped and he then moved on to one of the Spanish girls.
It was time to move as again I could see traffic lining up for the cheaper fair (shadow girls). The later it gets the cheaper they go with prices. In reaction I kept raising my prices. All night I had seen Peter and Karl who kept giving me signals to move. Now it was time to listen. I went over and checked Bebé to make sure she was doing ok. She said she was fine and as we spoke I heard her drop her price to rock bottom just to turn the trick with some Nigerian guy. He had “gamed her” by saying he could get oral sex down the street cheaper. I thought to myself this didn’t just take place did it?
I started my move away from the herd but I stalled a little and waited for Bebé who was now walking towards a car with the same man. I froze for a moment and called to her. She was in the car and it was too late for her to hear me. The sun was breaking so it would be best to keep moving Karl said. I was going numb, part from the adrenaline rush subsiding and part because I was out of my element. I could not get my bearings in this world. I could not make sense of why these girls were here. Bebé was not a victim, but like me, she was a businesswoman and that is how she saw the district, as one big business enterprise with few restrictions. She knew that by not playing by the government rules she could absorb business from the licensed girls. She had the ability to drop her prices in a moment and yes, she took some “hits” in the form of her body by not being built for too much sexual activity. She was a small girl but smart which brings me back to the original statement which is “What we see in the darkness of light.” Bebé is educated and as the sun was rising I waited on her just to close out our relationship. She was a “no show.” It was time for me to go. Couple last pictures, my eyes bloodshot from the night air and the cigarettes I put to my red glossy lips were now covered with sunglasses.
I settled my accounts in full and then found the bathtub. I had no fond memories and no regrets. I had my answer and that is “not everyone is forced into this world of the district.” Some people enter this type of world for profit and we should understand that it is simply about money.” I toweled myself off after my hot bath and crawled into bed. Tomorrow I would leave Switzerland for London. I saw what I came to see in the district. I was absolutely spent emotionally.
The driver arrived at the hotel and my bags were packed. As we pulled out from the lane I asked him to head down into the red light district. He informed me there is nothing worth seeing there but I insisted. It was late in the afternoon and after a couple of turns here and there I saw Bebé in a pair of cut off jeans, a t-shirt and black pumps. I asked the driver to pull to the curb and like a moth to a bright yellow light on a warm summer’s evening, Bebé appeared ready to do business her hands cupped against her eyes to look in beyond the sun’s reflection on the black tint window. I push the button and rolled down the window to the screech of “Domino! What are you doing in this car and in those clothes?” I responded “Bebé, my dar’ling, what we see in the darkness of light is not always what is real now is it?” I reached in my clutch and removed some large denomination francs and pressed them into her small hand. “Go home or wherever you may be welcome before you can’t. You simply are not that good at this and one day the professional girls will figure you out and they will beat your good looks completely out of you. “No, No, Domino. This is not so…” I started to roll up the window and stopped “Bebé, life is a bitch and then you become emotionally ‘like me’ dear…stone cold……think about it.” I finished raising the window and asked the driver to proceed leaving Bebé curbside still clutching the bills. This is what is called “tough love” and there was no other way to deliver it. Bebé was already on the licensed girls radar as someone who was taking money out of their pockets. I saw it all night as they kept watch on her from a distance. I knew in my heart Bebé was going nowhere. She would not be leaving until one day she would be trapped. Beaten, bloodied and comatose walking these streets until she could no longer see through her swollen eyes. Mica had predicted it when she first saw Bebé standing next to me. “She is evil, get away from her!” she yelled. “You don’t get paid to talk Domino as you are not her mother! Move over there!” She was right, I was not Bebés mother nor did I know who Bebés mother was. I was simply some late in life woman who wanted to know the why these girls came here. I could afford to take a look and the only way to look was to get inside the arena. I owed Mica for her commitment to me. As I paid her the last of the money she told me jokingly “if you ever need a job……no I guess you probably don’t.” She apologized for her earlier statement about me and I didn’t respond. I brushed it off as I often do with a heartless glance. The boys took the last of their pay and each kissed me good-bye. We spoke about the Red Light district in Amsterdam but that won’t be happening any time soon. Karl told me there were times he was concerned but that he knew I was capable. I thanked him for watching my back and he responded “for that, I should be paying you.” He caught himself and said “sorry.” I laughed and said “I don’t take cheques Karl.” We both smiled and parted. Peter then handed over the film and I gave him his final payment. He was a great guy and a little scared as several times he tried to talk me into not going in. In the end “it was good” and everyone was safe. There is more to the evening than I have written here but those events are best left unsaid. Some things a girl need to not “kiss and tell” about in her life. It’s the way Domino would have left it. A “run on sentence” about her private life with no period in sight simply is never an option when a single word or two will do.
We look at images daily and often we think of the worst. The media makes our lives this way in my opinion whether we are looking at pictures of WMDs in Iraq that no one can find or some reality show. I am not saying all of the girls in all of the red light districts are there of their own accord. I know better than to say that. What I do know is that prostitution is a business, an old business and there are some who understand this. They treat it as such. They maneuver to stay at the fringe of the money flow. As Irish Mom said “we all sell something” and in life it’s just a matter of if we realize it or not. For me, this was something I wanted to see up close. I consider myself someone in life who expresses what they see first hand. My careers have travelled along those lines. I hope Bebé took my advice but something tells me she will not. It’s in her veins and she needs that fix every single day. The fix is money and I saw it first hand where she would not walk away from the trick that was gaming her. I wish her well but I will most likely never look for her again. I am that way in my personal life as I never look back to a past relationship. “I make my cuts, they usually bleed and I forget about them” as I always say.
On December 17 th of 2010, a Tunisian street merchant, Mohamed Bouazizi, had several crates of fruit and a second hand scale taken from him by the municipal regulators. An hour later he set himself on fire. This event ignited a revolution in the mid-east. A person does not have to approve of this act in order to understand the state of the world right now. Concrete ways of doing business are now being reduced to rubble. Important people are being questioned on their knowledge and understanding of financial events past, present and future. How many more Mohamed Bouazizi’s are there in the world today? Do we know any? Do we choose not to know of any? Do we understand his motivation to do what he did? In the scheme of things does his life really matter to any of us? Does it? Maybe if someone would have walked in Mohamed Bouazizi ‘s sandals for half a day and wrote about it we would all understand his motivation and his final choice. I cast no stone upon any man and I am truly humbled by my experience in those 12 hours. I thought about many things. The crucifix that my son had made for me in Peru on his 16 th birthday as he worked in the ghettos to help rebuild a nursery for small children. It hung around my neck and made me think of him often. I thought about my mother and how she kept me on my path and how much I missed her as I walked along the district streets. And about my guy, who never questions me and gives me a great deal of room to be simply Christina Saint Marché. Somewhere in my body he knows I have a reason to do what I do. He truly has my back 24/7 even when I don’t see him, he is there as he never misses a beat. In many ways he is a ghost but he is my ghost.
Humility often levels the playing field of life. I must say my playing field now looks somewhat more level then it did before I began this venture. I wish for a better day and that these girls may one day soon return home to their countries as normal people who have simply been abroad working at normal careers. Its the way I wish to see this end.
I am Dômino for those 12 hours of my life. On the Street ...surviving as one of them, the "shadow girls."