“Elle Est Bien”

Galatea, AntiqueIN OVID’S NARRATIVE, the Cypriot sculptor, Pygmalion, carved a woman out of ivory and named her Galatea. So fair was his work of art that he fell in love with it while quietly wishing for a bride who would be the living likeness of his ivory girl. One day Pygmalion kissed his ivory statue and found that its lips were warm. Kissing it again, he touched its breasts and found that the ivory had become soft.

I have always loved stories of surprising transformations, Pygmalion’s fable being one of my favorites in keeping with Emerson’s belief that our chief want in life is to find “someone who will inspire us to be what we know we could be.” Galatea, while only inert stone, represented the marvelous potential of what she could be, once kissed by the man who created and adored her.  All of us are Galatea, hoping to find the one person who, through love and adoration, ignites that spark of inspiration within us, allowing us to discover what we are truly capable of; forcing us to stretch into everything we know we could become.  Og Mandino, one  of the most beloved authors of all time,  once said that “most humans… are no more than living deaths confined to cemeteries of their choice.”  Like Galatea, they gasp for breath under the stone veneer of their imposed identities, unable to see the wonder inside of them.  If I fell in love with Pitou it was because he held up a mirror and said: “Look…look at the wonder that is you.”

On the evening of Debbie’s departure, I arranged my clothing in Pitou’s closets, trying to keep as much of it as possible in the large orange trunk I had brought with me from California.

“There’s plenty of space,” Pitou remarked while placing the last of my suitcases on the entrance hall floor. “Don’t you want to unpack more of your things from your trunk?”

“No, no,” I answered. “I’ll be leaving in six months. I won’t need most of the things in it anyway.”

“Okay,” he smiled, as if knowing some secret I had not yet caught on to.

Lenotre cakesThere is a marked difference between a man and a gentleman, one that I fear few women today experience. In the days that followed my settling into Pitou’s apartment, I learned what it means to be courted. Having never lived with a man, and with nothing to compare him, it is only now—some forty years later—that I realize how exceptionally he treated me. Have you ever opened your eyes from an afternoon nap to find someone so deeply in love with you that, while you slept, his only thoughts were of ways to evoke your glee upon awakening? Still shivering from the wintry cold streets outside, his trench coat drenched in rain, he would stand hovering above the bed with his offering in hand—a pink box tied with ribbon, laden with macarons and petits fours, millefeuilles and vacherins, from Lenôtre.

“Stay there,” he’d say. “I’ll make you some tea.”

And while I licked the raspberry cream filling from my fingers and attempted, in vain, to entice him to take the last bite of an éclair au chocolat, he would fire off his questions in a never-ending effort to discover what made me tick—what would ensure my staying with him in Paris.

Dis moi,” he asked one afternoon late in November. “Why do you want to study economics?”

“Because I’m interested in finance,” I answered. “My grandfather had a seat on the New York Stock Exchange…in the Twenties. It has always fascinated me. You know… the Crash, and how the world came tumbling down as the result of the crowd’s delusional exuberance overriding economic fundamentals.”

“How did your grandfather fare in ‘29?”

“He lost eleven million dollars in one week,” I said.

Crash of 1929

stock-market-crash-of-1929-newspaper-Headline

“Did he ever tell you what he thought caused the Crash?”

“I was only ten when he died. I never got the chance to ask him.”

“Well,” Pitou responded, “I doubt he would have blamed the Crash on delusional exuberance. That was just a symptom of the real cause.”

And so began the first of thousands of multi-hour long conversations that would mark our relationship—the cement that would keep us together, the tinder that would fire our forty-year love affair.

“What do you mean when you say the exuberance was only a symptom?” I asked. “It was what led to the speculative excess that sent the stock market into the stratosphere. It had to crash.”

Pitou, in 1971, Pierre de la Salle“What goes up must come down. Is that what you think happened?”

“Well…yes.”

Eh bien,” he said, “if you want to understand the real cause of the Crash, you need to be asking yourself what the reason was for the exuberance in the first place. Speculators need fuel. Ask yourself what the fuel was, who provided it and, most importantly, why?”

I didn’t know it at the time. But, by constantly intriguing me with questions, instead of providing me with answers, Pitou was teaching me to think for myself—paving the way for me to accept that, if I truly wished to understand anything in this world, I would have to abandon the notion that it could be taught to me by others. Understanding comes only from our ability to reason critically. Pitou reasoned critically. And, each day that I would spend with him would serve to impart his ability to me.

“I’ll give you a hint,” he continued. “Think cartel.”

“Did you study economics?” I asked.

“For a bit, yes…at the University of Pennsylvania after the War. But, I promise, you don’t need to go to university to understand economics. In fact, doing so may just cloud your brain. Tiens, let’s go to Brentano’s this afternoon, and browse the shelves.”

“For what?”

“A book,” he answered, “…in Economics 101. Rather than waiting to start your classes in the fall, you can begin to teach yourself everything you need to know.”

I find it fitting that Ralph Waldo Emerson was a regular browser at the Union Square store of Brentano’s in New York City. And that its twentieth century President, Arthur Brentano, without having attended a single day of high school nevertheless gave himself a remarkable education merely through the books that he handled daily at his shop. Offering to its cosmopolitan patrons an extensive array of foreign editions and periodicals unobtainable elsewhere, by the end of the nineteenth century Brentano’s had become the most respected bookseller in the world. On the day I first set foot in its Paris store on the Avenue de l’Opera, I lost all sense of time as, browsing through row upon row of stacks that extended clear through to the rue Danielle Casanova, I attempted to find the one book that, without possessing any prior knowledge of the social science, would give me an understanding of the processes that govern the production and consumption of goods in the economy. I settled on what would become the gold mine of elementary economic instruction—a first edition of Donald Nichols and Clark Reynolds’ Principles of Economics. It was the first sentence of the book that caught my attention. It read: “The purpose of this text is to provide an analytical framework that can be used to simplify and guide one’s thinking about economic problems.”  The prior evening, Pitou had said something to me that I have never forgotten.

Nicolas Boileau

“Ce que l’on conçoit bien s’énonce clairement et les mots pour le dire arrivent aisément.”

It was a quote from the seventeenth century French poet and theologian, Nicolas Boileau-Despréaux.  A lawyer, who quickly had become disgusted with the law, he preferred to write satires about his contemporaries, gaining him the reputation oft-repeated by Madame de Sévigné of being “tender in prose and cruel in verse.” His quotation literally translates as “whatever is well conceived is spoken clearly, and the words to say it flow with ease.” If I were ever to clearly conceive the debacle of 1929, simplifying my thinking about economic problems would be essential.

Handing the book to Pitou for his approval, I smiled.

“Bon, he responded. Allons-y. Now we’ll see if you can figure out by yourself what really caused the Crash of 1929.

I devoured that book, each day reading only a small amount of it in an effort to assimilate everything it taught, each night talking with Pitou about what I had learned. By stressing basic economic concepts, instead of algebraic models and formulas, it made even the most esoteric principles understandable. The answer to the debacle of ’29 fell within the first few pages of the book. Still, it would take me months to assemble the pieces of the puzzle; months during which Pitou would watch me struggle while waiting for my moment of illumination.

“I want you to meet someone,” he said,  soon after purchasing the text.

“Who?” I asked.

“A friend of mine,” he replied, as he picked up the phone to dial his number.

“Allô, Gérard?”

Gérard Bonnet’s laugh that morning traveled loudly from his office at 96 avenue d’Iena to our living room on the avenue Foch.

“Pas mal…et toi?” Pitou responded to the inquiries of his old friend now echoing through the apartment.

Dis moi… Je veux te présenter à quelqu’une —une jeune fille charmante. Es tu libre cette après-midi? ”

By their laughter, I gleaned that nothing could have pleased Gérard more. He had made it one of his ambitions in life to be constantly surrounded by young and charming women.

Pas de problème,” I could hear him holler from across town. It was his motto. Nothing was ever a problem for Gérard. It was an attitude he carried with him through life.

Rubirosa with Zsa Zsa Gabor

Rubi, with Zsa Zsa

DubonnetMarried to the daughter of André Dubonnet, the heir to the apéritif fortune of “Dubo, Dubon, Dubonnet” fame, some of his closest friends had been the most notorious playboys of the Fifties and early Sixties. A bit of a Romeo himself, during his insouciant twenties, Gérard had quickly dissipated his inheritance while carousing with his close friend, Porfirio Rubirosa, the infamous Casanova once married to Doris Duke, Zsa Zsa Gabor and Barbara Hutton. Rubi’s charm was so legendary, it was rumored to have made each woman whom he met feel as if she was the most important person in his world. Unquestionably magnetic, while exuding a sense of danger and restraint, there were others, however, who had a slightly different explanation for the man’s potent charm. In his book, Answered Prayers, Truman Capote attributed it to “an eleven-inch café-au-lait sinker thick as a man’s wrist” which, in constant erection, had gained Rubi the nickname, Toujours Prêt: Rubi with HuttonPorfirio_Rubirosa“Always Ready.”  Six years after his death, his legacy lived on, as I would learn at lunch that day when, asking the waiter for a giant pepper mill, Gérard would refer to it as “a Rubirosa.”

Unlike Porfirio, who had escaped from his wives with marital gifts that included a fishing fleet off the coast of Africa, several sports cars, two B-25 bombers, a 17th Century hôtel particulier on the Rue de Bellechasse in Paris, a coffee plantation in the Dominican Republic, numerous polo ponies, jewelry, and a reported 2.5 million dollars in cash, Gérard had emerged from his youth penniless…flat broke. Nevertheless, by the time I met him, although, admittedly, after reality had dampened his uninhibited spirit, Gérard Bonnet had metamorphosed into the most successful stockbroker at the Paris offices of Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith. Which was why Pitou wanted me to meet him.

Hotel_Napoleon They decided to lunch at the Hotel Napoléon on the avenue de Friedland. It was within walking distance of Gérard’s office, where we went to pick him up.  The offices of Merrill Lynch were enviably placed at the point where the avenue Marceau and the avenue d’Iéna are joined by the rue de Presbourg, directly behind one of les hôtels Maréchals – the nineteenth century grand mansions that encircle the Arc de Triomphe.  My first impression of Gérard would not live up to the man I would come to know so well over the next eight years.  Although the same age as Pitou, he appeared older due to a shock of thick and prematurely gray hair. And yet, I can safely say that never in my life have I met anyone younger at heart than him.  A grand seigneur, in love with life, next to Pitou, he would become the most important other man in my young existence.

He was checking the Reuters tape when we entered the trading room on the fourth floor of Merrill.  A vast open space with windows looking out toward the place de l’Etoile,  it spanned the  distance between the avenue Marceau and the avenue d’Iena. Numerous desks populated the room, but Gérard’s was front and center, with a view to the Arc, in recognition of the superior standing he held on the totem pole of account executives at the firm. His status bothered many of his colleagues, les agents diplômés who, believing that success in the business world should somehow depend on educational merit, couldn’t comprehend his réussite phénoménale. It was simple enough to understand. The wealthiest people in Paris preferred doing business with a man who possessed, not only a keen sense of humor, but also one of the most beautiful chalets in Switzerland where, often, they would congregate on the weekends.   There–the chalet stocked with good food, le Fendant, and a healthy array of fashion models–Gérard held court for his Wall Street comrades.

Gerard Bonnet

He had a fondness for Cuban cigars from Davidhoff–Punch No. 2.  He walked with a swagger, partly due to spirit, partly to a hunting accident that had left him with only half of his right foot.  A careless socialite, who hadn’t kept her gun broken while walking in between shoots, had tripped and set off the firearm, sending its loaded barrels straight into Gérard. It was his burden to bear in life, the one hindrance that had held him down and, I am convinced, prevented his boundless zest for life from otherwise burning him out. Sauntering toward us, he grabbed Pitou’s arm in a two-fisted embrace, laughing with the joy of seeing him once again.   There was a magic to their friendship—one that was instantly conveyed to me simply because I had accompanied Pitou that day.

Gérard wanted to know everything about me, so much so that more than once I wondered whether he and Pitou had spoken in private about their plans for my future. Where did I grow up? What schools had I attended? What did I intend to do with the rest of my life? My paternal grandmother had left me a bit of money and my sense of responsibility to it and to her had been my principal reason for switching my college major from art history to economics. As we lunched on filet of sole and white wine, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average approaching 900, the thought first entered my mind: what better way to learn about finance than to simply enter the belly of the beast? With Pitou’s gentle prodding, Gérard Bonnet would help me to do just that.

Panorama of Paris, in color

View from the Arc, toward les hôtels Maréchals. Merrill is to the extreme right.

“Elle est bien,” he pronounced to his old friend at the end of the meal.

I did not yet know it, but that afternoon I gained my future entry into the world of international banking, without any experience, without a college degree—with only the approval of one man who could pull the necessary strings and make magic happen.

“Qu’est-ce que tu fais pour Noel ?” he asked Pitou as we walked along the rue de Tilsitt back toward the avenue Marceau.

Eh bien, pas grand chose,” Pitou answered, full knowing what would come next.

“Then, come to Verbier,” Gérard said. “And bring Bérénice.”

Over the next  few weeks, I pondered the inadequacy of my California wardrobe. I had only a suspicion of the social world I was about to enter, but I knew that, as pleasing as my girlish attire had been to the man I was quickly falling in love with, it wouldn’t pass muster among the women who would appoint monsieur Bonnet’s table. Rummaging through my orange trunk, I panicked.

“Don’t worry,” Pitou said. “It doesn’t matter what you wear. You’ll look better than every woman in the room.”

“You don’t understand…it’s not how I will look that matters,” I said to him. “It’s how I will feel.”

I had already passed enough time in Paris to experience the dour glances of disapprobation from women who, differentiating between last year’s hemline and this year’s cut, pegged you on their sliding scale of “fashionably acceptable or not.” The look on the street was quickly moving from skirts that barely covered your ass to knee-length jerseys, with a decidedly Thirties bent, and a tailored men’s look. In Paris, clothing is a woman’s armor. I was not equipped to do battle.

Seventies FashionMens Look for Women in the Seventiesthirties look of the seventies

“I won’t go,” I said to Pitou, “unless you help me to dress the part.”

His experience as an editor at Marie-Claire was invaluable. I knew that he could open the doors I needed to pass through in order to fit into Gérard’s world.

He chose everything, from the material for my jackets to the costume jewelry that would adorn them, from the hats and the bags, to the shoes and glittered stockings. Taking me to Celine and Renast, Dior and la Bagagerie, he tutoyered the women who managed their hallowed halls, knowing just where to plunk down a dollar for maximum effect—and where to spare it.

confiserie_ecrin_marronsglaces (1)We drove to Verbier in the mini, through a light snowfall while listening to Riders on the Storm—the first of many journeys in a little car that would hold huge memories. Before leaving Paris, Pitou stopped at Hediard, on the Place de la Madeleine, to buy a box of marrons glacés for Lorraine, Gerard’s brown haired pixie of a wife. Reigning over her seven-bedroom retreat, complete with indoor swimming pool and a slate terrace overlooking the spectacular snow-capped Swiss Alps, Lorraine, although French, appeared oddly familiar to me. Her English was perfect, and she had an easy, matter of fact way about her that struck you as almost American. Managing a household of guests, her husband, and their thirteen-year-old daughter, Catherine, who had arrived for the holidays with the grand-daughter of French media titan, Jean Prouvost, it left me out of breath just to watch her. But then, Lorraine was born to host. And the Chalet Hélora provided her with the perfect vehicle.

Terrace, Chalet Helora, Gerard Bonnet Chalet Helora, Verbier pool at the Chalet Helora in Verbier, Gerard Bonnet

 

It was built in 1959.  To give it authenticity, Gérard had purchased the exterior wood from a nineteenth century Swiss abode that had been demolished. Today, it rents for a cool £22,000 a week and recently served as the Alpine love-nest where Prince Harry romanced girlfriend Cressida Bonas. The sumptuousness of Hélora in the Seventies, however, is indescribable when compared to the concept of luxury today. Rather than assassinating you with granite counter tops and marble bathtubs, Hélora’s luxury resided in the attention to detail conferred upon her by her maître. To this day, I can remember the smell of the essence that burned each night in the foyer as you entered the chalet, Extrait de Pot-Pourri aux Plantes Marines de chez Guerlain. And the soap in the simple but luxurious bathrooms, Fleur des Alps, also from Guerlain. Lorraine had draped every bed in the house with sheets from Porthault and there wasn’t a towel in the chalet that wasn’t perpetually heated.porthault pillows

Upon our arrival, the servants immediately took our bags to unpack them while Lorraine ushered us into the living room where a dozen of Gérard’s guests sat by a crackling fire—some drinking good scotch as others, the richest among them, lost amiably to the lord of the house while playing Gin. Gérard was a master at the game and I quickly learned to avoid the card table at all cost. It was known among his guests that, if you risked playing with him, more often than not, you would end up paying the cost of his kitchen for an entire week.playing-cards

There was a jukebox in the corner of the room. Just a Gigolo was playing, one of Gerard’s favorite songs. It seemed to remind him of the insignificant part we play in life: it is brief, and he knew it. Gérard wouldn’t let one minute of his slip away without extracting from its belly a hard laugh. For reasons I will never fully understand, he took an enormous liking to me and, as a result, would become one of my most important and treasured mentors. When we lie on our deathbeds, and look back upon our lives, I am convinced that there will only be a handful of people for whom we will be truly thankful to have met. For me, Gérard Bonnet will be one of them.

In the years to follow, the Chalet Hélora would become the spot where my path would intersect with some of the wealthiest people on the planet—not all of whom I would come to appreciate. Some of Gérard’s guests struck me as unusually cold—powerful and calculating in a reptilian way. He would warn me before their arrival, as if to say they were not of his world by his choosing, but rather, a necessary imposition to succeed at business.   That Christmas, however, the chalet was inhabited only with Gerard’s closest friends and relatives. The atmosphere was warm and intimate, the conversation humorous while fascinating.

Pierre with Berenice, Verbier Pierre de la SalleAfter dinner each evening, Pitou and I fucked like rabbits, with me always tiring out before he did. He even had the attire to commemorate our wild lovemaking—a blue satin chemise with yellow cuffs and turquoise stars that he affectionately referred to as his “fucking shirt.”

“One day, you’ll look back on this weekend and wish you could recapture it,” he told me.

But, at twenty, how can one possibly know how preciously fleeting such passion is?

napoleon III

The wooden walls of the chalet were thin and, at breakfast, we were greeted by the jovial snickering of other couples who, nonetheless, thanked Pitou for reminding them that, once upon a time, they, too, had known such bliss. My fondest memories are of a striking young blonde, Armelle Achille Fould,  the great great granddaughter of Napoléon III’s four-time minister of finance, Achille Marcus Fould.   She had recently married a charming Frenchman, Dicky Dassonville, who spent too much time in London on business, for her taste. Always impeccably dressed, even at seven in the morning, in her piped dressing gown from Dior, she laughed at the thought of her fond friend, captivated each evening by a seemingly innocent young American.

A trip to Verbier was always a reunion for Pitou, a place where he was sure to meet up with some of his old buddies from his days at Paris Match, his youth spent in Nice, and even his years in New York when he had been married to Suzy. Everybody knew Suzy and always asked about her. Yet, for me, she would stay a figure shrouded in mystery.

Andre DubonnetDubonnet, Hispano SuizaThe guests at the chalet were always colorful, engaging and, sometimes, even darkly mysterious. That weekend, Pitou laughed with Armelle’s whimsical mother, Mounette, who couldn’t pass a haberdashery without purchasing a dozen cashmere sweaters; with photo journalist, Jean Claude Sauer and his vivacious Danish wife, Birgitte; with André Dubonnet, better known as a World War I French flying ace and designer of the breathtaking 1938 Hispano Suiza Dubonnet Xenia, than the heir to his father’s apéritif fortune; with André’s wife and hostess of renown, Elise Curtis Hunt, who, in a single conversation, could find out everything there was to know about you, quickly and effortlessly dragging the skeletons right out of your closets; and with an important regular at the chalet, a man of particular interest whom, whispering to me, Pitou advised I should  “pay close attention to.”

elise hunt

Elise (left), with guests-1953

“Now there is someone who can tell you the real cause of the Crash of 1929,” he winked. “Get to know him, Bérénice. And you just might finish by truly understanding this chimère of a world we live in.”

His name was Georges Coulon Karlweis, and he served as the vice-chairman and top investment strategist for Edmond de Rothschild’s Banque Privée—the super-rich man’s enclave in the land of secret numbered accounts.  A Viennese Jew, who survived  World War II under false papers, in 1969, he invented the world’s first fund of hedge funds—Leveraged Capital Holdings—pioneering an industry that, late in his life, he would look back upon with a healthy dose of disdain.  A man gifted with the extraordinary capacity and competence to anticipate the future, he once told a young subordinate curtly :

«Ne m’appelez plus jamais pour me dire quelque chose que j’ai déjà lu dans les journaux.» (“Don’t ever call me again to tell me what I have already read in the newspapers.”)

Georges Karlweis

Karlweis, shortly before his death

A bit of a pince-nez, he was married to a woman who seemed to enjoy the company of her Pekinese more than of Gérard’s guests. One got the distinct feeling that Cynthia Karlweis had learned to rely on the little pure breed for the companionship she could no longer expect from her busy and successful husband. Most came to know Georges in a dark suit, as he parsed out carefully weighed phrases. I, however, remember him in wool sweaters and corduroy pants, openly and breezily speaking his mind. Relaxed, in the company of close friends, he exhibited a candor that only a rare few were allowed to witness.

In addition to his exceptional talent to see clearly into the future, Karlweis, as Gérard always referred to him, also knew a thing or two about the past. He was amused by the young and inquisitive, traits that, luckily, I possessed that weekend when I first met him. And, being that he loved to talk about the stock market, I didn’t hesitate to steer the conversation to the one financial event that fascinated me more than any other: the Great Crash.

One evening before dinner, while Dicky Dassonville winced over the plunder he had just lost to Gérard at the card table, and Armelle grimaced at the thought of the new Saint-Laurent dress she would now have to forego, I tried to entice Karlweis to enlighten me as to the true causes of the boom and bust cycles that seem to rule the economy.

“Things are rarely as they seem,” he commented cryptically as, seated on a plush down sofa next to the fireplace, he swirled his glass of Scotch. “It’s the great weapon of the rich and powerful. They can make the masses believe just about anything they want to. And they do…regularly.”

Like Pitou, he would only scatter clues, leaving me to ultimately figure things out by myself. And yes, you will have to read much more of this story before I divulge what I discovered.

Yet, just before his death in March of 2012, Karlweis would be exceedingly blunt. In commenting about the “too big to fail” banking industry of today, “devoid of all common sense and consumed by greed,” his last prediction for our future, although dire, was characteristically marked by his most well-known trait, simple common sense:

“I look aghast on what has happened since the turn of the 21st century,” Georges said. “Times ahead do not look pretty. We will need a full reinstatement of the Glass-Steagall Act which made it impossible for a single legal entity to conduct or control all types of financial business.”

Sitting with him that Christmas Eve, Glass Steagall had yet to be repealed although, already in 1971, many a Merrill executive was screaming for its abolition. It was enacted in 1933 to prohibit commercial banks from participating in the investment banking business and, had the division remained, the credit collapse of 2008 could have never occurred for the simple reason that, according to the Act, banks would have been prohibited from packaging and then securitizing mortgage loans. Glass Steagall was another piece that I would have to carefully study in order to place it properly within the puzzle.

Pierre de la SalleDuring the day, I would lose Pitou to Armelle and Dicky who would whisk him off to ski with them. A champion at the sport, he had honed his ability in the company of des amis sportives such as Jean Claude Killy and Toni Sailer—otherwise known as the “Blitz from Kitz” who won all three Gold Medals in downhill skiing at the winter Olympics of 1956 in Cortina d’Ampezzo. A gentleman, even when on skis, instead of schussing—a technique he was particularly adept at—Pitou would slalom, elegantly and effortlessly, with everyone from the chalet trailing him as he carved out the best path down the face of the Mont-Gelé. It was torture, watching him leave in the morning, waiting for him to come back for the lunch Lorraine always had ready for her guests at one. I vowed that weekend to learn to ski.

Yet, while most of Pitou’s encounters at the chalet were exceedingly pleasant, a few of them were decidedly not. One winter weekend in particular, shortly after the New Year, stands out in my mind. An unwanted guest of dubious character, who happened into town, appeared unexpectedly on Gérard’s doorstep.  I had quickly learned to differentiate between the tones of voice that intimated his joy when encountering un vrai ami and those that were born solely from politeness. Gérard wasn’t happy to see this man, but he nonetheless managed to insert himself into his house full of friends.

His name was Michel Hochard, and I quickly came to understand that the money he had managed to accumulate emanated from less than honorable endeavors. He was burly —a man of Germanesque architecture who had clearly been around the block in more than one undesirable neighborhood. Unhappy with the traditional fare served nightly at the chalet, he thought nothing of ordering Beluga caviar and champagne from the Verbier merchants, while directing them to “charge the account of monsieur Bonnet.” The man was a cad and, while I could not understand how he had gained entry to Gérard’s world, his appearance was instructive. Because of him, I learned of Pitou’s demons—of the events in his childhood that had shaped and continued to haunt him.

Pitou's grandparents, Julia and Jules Rols de Rop

Pitou’s grandparents

Pitou with his mother Ghislaine de la Salle“Pitou,” Hochard said one afternoon with a wicked glint in his eye. “I heard that your grandmother left you a fortune and that, as a jeune homme, you gave it all away to your mother. Is it true?”

Grandma Bernie, Berenice Buck Stevenson

My grandmother

Without waiting for a response, Hochard began to roar with laughter—as if proclaiming to Gérard’s guests his utter contempt for a young man who, in a moment of weakness and believing in the love of his mother, had made the mistake of his life.   Pitou’s face turned ashen white as, in horror, he was forced to relive the defining moment of his youth. It would be years before he would open up to me and explain the bizarre set of events that had led to his being fleeced by the one woman in the world whom he had trusted the most.   That afternoon as, one by one, our conversations from the past few months about finance, Wall Street, and the role it could play in my life, reentered my mind, I suddenly came to understand their import. The little money my grandmother had left me was precious. Pitou wanted to make sure that what had happened to him would not happen to me.

During the summer months that followed, the chalet became my launching pad—the stage where little by little, Pitou and Gérard  cemented the foundation for my future in Paris. Searching for my summer clothes in the closet of the apartment on the avenue Foch, I noticed that my orange trunk had vanished.

“Where is it?” I asked Pitou, confused by its sudden disappearance.

“In the basement,” he replied. “You’re staying.”

Pitou and Berenice de la Salle, Verbier

on the terrace of the Chalet Hélora

 

Next Post:  Paris–The Cinderella Years: “Oh Yeah?….Just Watch Me.”

To be taken to the post, click on the dust jacket of the book, below.

Book Cover, Pitou My Love

3 thoughts on ““Elle Est Bien”

  1. Brilliant Bérénice! A completely engrossing and all absorbing chapter. I love the way your story is taking on deeper dimensions – if only for the “wow” factor (and I mean that only in the most flattering sense), it’s all so incredibly interesting and intoxicating to read. I’m SO hooked!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I get a hearty chuckle from Capote (!) and I see that a certain American was in good company with Elise in 1953 and I am once again, feeling your feeling as you received your education in the best way possible. Everything is as it should be….your path was chosen for you to embrace. But above all…you had the most thoughtful teacher/lover/best friend to take your hand and watch you evolve before his eyes, filling his heart with joy. I find, too, that the Berenice in the first blog, is not the Berenice in this blog…you have grown up before our very eyes! (A smile here!)

    Now don’t tease for too long….we are all awaiting the next blog!!

    Liked by 2 people

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