A Memoir FromParis

Reads: 64  | Likes: 0  | Shelves: 0  | Comments: 0

More Details
Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Booksie Classic
Continued from A Memoir From Soho

Submitted: September 12, 2019

A A A | A A A

Submitted: September 12, 2019

A A A

A A A


 A MEMOIR FROM PARIS

 

“If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.” 

 

Ernest Hemingway.

 

Paris June 1967. The year now dubbed the summer of love. French cuisine was being acknowledged as the finest in the world. Discotheques, jazz clubs and cafes were sprouting up all over Paris suburbia and students and workers were protesting for their right to wear long hair and sleep together.

 

As I continue to pen my memoir, I find it intriguing how over time our memories become interwoven with perception and imagination. How things disappear without permission, then come back again without permission.

How certain songs or the smell of a room can instantly bring you back to a moment in time. 

 

Having recently read John Updike’s ‘The Same Door’ one of his quotes really hit home. 

(Originally coined by Henri Bergson in his book called ‘Laughter: An Essay on the meaning of Comic.)

 

‘And yet, how many of our present pleasures, were we to examine them closely, would shrink into nothing more than memories of past ones?’

 

Time had flown so quickly since my early days of working in Soho. I was now able to speak French with confidence. My cooking skills had exceeded my expectations and I played a mean game of Pétanque. During this period of my life I had had several girlfriends all without commitment on my part. I worked too many hours. Well, that was my excuse. 

 

It was against this backdrop that my story continues. I was now twenty three years old and had been living and working in Paris for around five years. In those days it was unusual for an English chef to survive more than a week into a French kitchen. I hadn’t just survive, I had flourished and was now Sous chef at the highly renowned Café de la Paix. 

 

The Café de la Paix had been opened for over one hundred years serving the residents of the Grand-Hotel. It has been a popular high class eatery ever since, feeding visitors from all over the world.

 

At the time, Pierre Louise-Rue was the maitre chef de cuisine. He was a huge man, slightly greying and the hairs on his moustache bristled when he was furious, which was often. He ran his brigade with military precision. He would use a frying pan as an extension of his fist. Ruthless.

 

We worked hard. Every night after a hard service became party night. I loved it - the banter, the pressure, the sense of achievement in pulling off a great service. It was like a drug all by itself. 

 

During this time, we had achieved the highest accolade in cookery, winning Three Stars from Egon Ronay. Life in a Paris Kitchen in the mid 1960s can only be described as a way of life. There wasn’t a day when I didn’t have to deal with drunkenness or someone burning or cutting themselves. Not that there was any sympathy. Bullying was prevalent and almost encouraged as a means of toughening up new recruits. In fairness for the majority of chefs there was no bravado about the way they cooked. They cooked because they loved it. 

We were creating luxurious dishes such as langoustine and truffle ravioli and slow-cooked pigeon with foie gras. 

But one of his most famous and beloved recipes was for the humble mashed potato - or pommes purée - which, was a 60 to 40 mix of potato to butter. 

 

I had just moved into a sheik attic room on the top floor of a town house overlooking Paris streets, just off the affluent Avenue de Champ Elysees. Looking out across my balcony gave me a clear view of the lined oak trees, chic restaurants, shops and boutiques.

 

It wasn’t long before I caught sight of young

woman dressed in a floral mini dress entering the main entrance of the house.

As our eyes make contact, she smiled. 

She was very beautiful. Very Parisian. Fine boned and slender with bold blue eyes, shining wavy black hair and a smile that would brighten up your day.

 

over the next few weeks we exchange pleasantries as our lives crossed paths.

 

“Bonjour, Mon nom est Suzanna...

 

I can still remember our first meeting as if it was only yesterday. She was so full of life. So  impulsive. so full of energy. 

I soon learned she was married and lived in the Penthouse apartment below my room. 

 

Her husband, Gabriel DuPont was a successful corporate lawyer, who was often away on business. I would occasionally bump into him whilst waiting for the lift and as time went on he would invite me in for drinks and canapé. 

 

He was a short stocky man, with a  large bald head and brown protruding eyes. He looked much older than his wife. He was always impeccable dressed in bespoke dark tailored suits with a pink and sometimes white carnation. Whilst he had a Stern french demeanour, I always found him friendly.

 

Suzanna and I continued to exchange friendly gestures.

 

“Bonjour, comment allez-vous?”

 

Then, one morning as we crossed paths, she invites me to join her for a light supper in the evening. She insisted I joined her; not that I took a lot of persuading.

 

On arriving, my eyes nearly popped out of my head. Suzanna was wearing the most tantalising outfit I had ever seen. A black see-through dress with just one row of pearls around her neck. She looked so alluring and attractive.

 

I sat at her table as she fetched the charcuterie starter. I couldn’t keep my eyes off her, black panties, black bra. She was looking at me and her eyes were sparkling.

Well, we have been in each other’s company for about ten minutes when she said,

“Would you rather fuck me now, or can we have supper first?”

 

It transpired that Suzanna’s husband was twice her age and whilst still only sixty his libido had wained to virtually zero. She had tried many times to rekindling their sex lives but Gabriel would always find an excuse.

For Suzanna who was only in her late twenties and with a rampant libido this was a big problem. She was frustrated. She had needs and they were not being met. 

 

Our secret affair played out between her husbands and my work commitments. 

Our relationship soon became full on. I was even becoming jealous of her husband even though I was the predator.

 

Suzanna had made it very clear from the start that she would never be prepared to leave her Husband. She was not waning in her decision. Gabriel held the purse strings to the life she had become accustomed to.

 

vignette - Holidays in the south

 

I would return to England once or twice a year to visit my parents. And two years back my Mother came to Paris and I spent a week showing her the sights. 

But in truth Holiday times were spent checking out the opposition to get inspiration and ideals for the restaurant. 

 

Last year Pierre and I Traveled nearly 300 miles to Lyon to check out the highly renowned

L'Auberge de Collonges. 

 

Paul Bocuse’s reputation was becoming part of the gastronomic gossip columns. 

He had just gained three Michelin stars  for the high quality of his restaurants and his innovative approaches to cuisine. 

 

Having recently taken charge of his fathers village inn restaurant ‘L'Auberge de Collonges-au-Mont-d'Or.’ His innovation had taken the restaurant to the highest level.

 

One thing I had leaned from the French is if you want to stay at the top of your trade you must eat in all the best Restaurants and Inns.

 

Born into a family of cooks since 1765, Mr Bocuse started in the kitchen at 14 and was renowned for his epicurean appetite for fine wine, food and women.

 

One of his favourite dishes was the classic ‘pot-au-feu’

 

vignette - Conrad Méndard Operatics morning 

 

One Character I must mention in my Paris memoir was the maitre d’hotel’s understudy. His name was Conrad Méndard. Conrad was popular with the ladies with his muscular physique, intense blue eyes, charming smile and easy on the eye features.

 

At this particular point of time, the maitre d’hotel’s was on sick leave which meant Conrad was in charge of the restaurant. 

When soba, he was without doubt a great host with an outstanding knowledge of food, wine and hospitality. Problem was, he seemed to be under the influence more often than not.

 

Conrad’s flamboyant behaviour was beginning to over step the mark. One of his antics was singing at the tables. Surprisingly, some of the customers quite liked it; but most didn’t. He fancied himself as a tenor and would brake out into his operatic mode as the evening went on. And, If that wasn’t enough, his other party trick was going on all fours under the tables and nibbling the ladies ankles.

One evening Maria Callas was having dinner in the restaurant. (For those of you who don’t know, she was the worlds best operatic singer of the time.) She was eating with Aristotle Onassis when Conrad interrupted with an announcement that he could  sing ‘Carmen Habanera’ even better than Maria. He then burst into a pathetic rendition.

 

Quand je vous aimerai?

Ma foi, je ne sais pas,

Peut-être jamais,

peut-être demain.

Mais pas aujourd'hui, c'est certain.

 

The room went silent with dismay. If that wasn’t enough, Conrad then rips into Aristotle.

 

‘tu es un gros pouf’

 

By now, Chef Pierre Louise-Rue had got wind of the commotion and escorts Conrad off the premises. He was never returns. A few months later, I heard he had left Paris and was working in London.

 

vignette - A liaison with Brenda 

 

It was a typical autumn Paris early morning, grey, dreary, leaves on the pavement the smell of sulphur in the air. Suzanna and Gabriel were away on holiday in Mont Blanc Chamonix.

 

I was sat in cafe Maxim’s (Not the now famous Maxim’s restaurant with all its Art Nouveau interior decor - but a small insignificant cafe just off the Eglise Saint-Eustache)

enjoying an expresso coffee before work when I heard a voice from the past. Isn’t it strange how as we get older our appearances change with age but our voices rarely do.

 

“Michael how are you, all these years. Unbelievable. What are you doing here in Paris?”

 

I turned. It was Brenda. I know this is becoming a bit of a cliche, but I didn’t recognise her. Not at first.

Although we hadn’t spoken in nearly five years the moment I knew it was her my feeling returned. I was struck for words, not that that mattered,  as she had plenty to say.

 

“Let’s catch up, have dinner with me for tonight.”

 

That morning, I call in a few favours and managed to arrange to get the evening off.

 

I waited for Brenda outside the hotel lobby. 

The sun had already begun to set, its final rays fading into the variegated shimmer cast by a long procession of dim Art Nouveau lamps and bright storefront neon.

I lit a pre-rolled joint and inhaled. Flashbacks of our time together in London gave me butterflies in my stomach.

It wasn’t long before she arrived in a smart looking Mercedes-Benz. She looked very elegant as she walked towards me. Like royalty. She wore enormous Chanel glasses, the chic lace headscarf, a tailored dress, preened gloves and fitted coat.

 

Yes, I had been infatuated by her. I still was. I had never felt like this about anyone else.

I think it is all a matter of love; the more you love a memory the stronger and stranger it becomes.

 

We embraced and kissed. Within minutes both of us had decided to skip dinner and headed straight to the hotel suite.

We quickly shed our cloths. Our love making was tender and passionate. It was as if we both knew every part of each other’s body. Our primal instincts took over as we shared each other throughout the night and into the early hours of the morning, only stopping to smoke a joint or snort a line of coke.

 

As I woke up, I rolled over and reached for her.  I felt so happy and excited. She wasn’t there.

I called, but no reply. My heart began to sink.

I went down to reception to find her. I was informed she had left in a limousine two hours ago. I was handed a letter.

 

Dear Michael, 

I hope your expectations of me have been fulfilled. It was wonderful finally having our night together. 

It is hard to say goodbye to someone who you think could be so right for you. Sometimes life just gets in the way. I didn’t wake you.

I had to go. I have a flight to catch.

Maybe one day our lives will cross paths again.

Love B x

 

vignette -  Brenda, Christine and the Profumo Affair.

 

It is now a few days before Easter 1968. A group of us from work had decided to go for a glass or two of Beaujolais nouveau at the near by Café de la Paix.

 

That evening I vividly remember hearing “Poetry in motion” playing on the grammar phone. It made me think of Brenda. I wondered what she was doing at the precise moment.

It brought me back to London, memories of L’Escargot, Soho life, My friends Tiago, Anton and John Paul.

 

I thought about the so called Profumo affair and how the repercussions had affected

Aloysius ‘lucky’ Gordon. He had been found guilty of assault and was sentenced to three years imprisonments. I thought of how the Fleet Street version of events against Aloysius were blatant lies according to Tiago.

Aloysius was subsequently vindicated when Christine Keeler withdrew her accusation. He was released the following month after an appeal; Christine however was jailed for Perjury. 

 

The Profumo affair became the talking point of the evening as well drank. Having known Lucky Gordon, I felt a kind of connection and had followed the story throughout 1963 as it unfolded. I guess the breaking point to the Scandal followed after Johnny Edgecombe was arrested for firing gun shots at Stephen Wards flat where Christine Keeler and her friend Mandy Rice-Davies were hiding out. The case went to crown court. The press covering the story were now onto something much bigger. The spot light had fallen onto Stephen Ward and Christine Keeler.

 

Fleet Street was rife with rumours and speculations. The journalists soon learned of Christine’s affair with John ‘Jack’ Profumo (A government minister) and Eugene Ivanov

(A Russian Attaché - later dubbed a spy) 

Things happened quickly after that. 

First, John Profumo resigns from the government after admitting he had lied about his affair with Christine. 

 

This was followed by Stephen Ward being arrested and charged with living off immoral earnings. A month later the case was being heard in court. (It would later become clear that police intimidation, threats and blackmail lead to key witnesses providing false evidence, ultimately swaying the final verdict.)

Towards the end of the trial Stephen Ward 

Is rushed to hospital after taking an overdose of barbiturates. He died three days later.

The knock on effect was the downfall of the Conservative party and a power change to a Labour Government under Harold Wilson.

By now, Christine Keeler had served her time and by all accounts is doing very well for herself. 

 

June 1968: My liaisons with Suzanna had been going on for a year by now. I had even become quite good friends with Gabriel DuPont. I felt sometimes he almost encouraged Suzanna to flirt with me. Whether he know about the affair or not, I wasn’t sure.

 

The problem with habits and routines is first you make them but before you know it they are making you. The diminutive chain of habit is scarcely heavy enough to be felt, till it is too strong to be broken.

 

 

I had been living by the dictum:

 

“You’re only as good as your last dish.”

 

Propping myself up with Gin to helped “come down” from the adrenaline rush of food service. 

 

Alcohol was a social way to unwind after work, drinking became a daily routine from daybreak to day’s end. Wind-down drinking after service was the spring-board to alcoholism. I had been hard drinking for four or five years and it had becomes the norm. 

 

The high that you’re on because you’re busy, you’ve really been moving and you’re being successful and you’re being creative and you’re making people happy, it’s like wow, wow, wow 

 

I never thought I had a problem. I never missed work because of my drinking and parting so I didn’t have a problem. Right?

 

Next thing I know, I find myself In Hospital. The doctor says I’m burnt out and reliant on alcohol. An alcoholic.

 

I am advised to return to England. I find myself back in Cobham. My parents seem pleased to see me and advise me to retrain in another profession. The local press run a story about my work in Paris.


© Copyright 2019 pfb. All rights reserved.

Add Your Comments:

More Memoir Short Stories