“ A Toast…To the Next President of the United States.”

Pierre "Pitou" de la SalleTENACITY.  DOGGED, UNFLINCHING DETERMINATION. They are my most distinctive traits.  And, at Merrill, they would serve me well.   Yet, in spite of the theatre I had provided for the secretaries in the office elevator, in the fall of 1972, I had nagging doubts about my chances of ever becoming an Account Executive.  I lived under no illusions.  As pleased as Rosenthal seemed by my enrollment  in correspondence courses at the New York Institute of Finance, he exhibited distinct misogynist characteristics. I had trouble believing that, once I had completed the course work, he would promote me to the position I so coveted.

“Some things must be believed to be seen,” Pitou admonished. “Succeeding will be your first lesson in magic.”

What Pitou bargained for, however, was the white variety.

Webster’s defines Black Magic as an ancient art, designed for evil and selfish purposes. Over the next 7 years, I would come to the conclusion that, nowhere, is this art practiced more adeptly than on Wall Street.   At first, it was intoxicating, particularly given the circle of influence in to which Pitou had thrown me.  He floated among the wealthiest, the most celebrated people in Europe. Yet, at forty-seven, he took all of them with a grain of salt. I, however, was far more susceptible to the bane of taking myself seriously.  And, quickly, it began to worry him. I became so engrossed with the thought of “arriving,” for a while, I lost sight of the journey.

Tenacity. Dogged, unflinching determination. They are also my worst traits.

Fortunately, in those moments of obsessive focus, which had begun to rob me of my sense of humor,  he was there to take me by the hand while, gently, pointing my young face towards the sun.  His appreciation for the little things in life—the golden color of Parisian street lights at dusk, a telephone conversation with a long-lost friend, a walk through a park on a sunny autumn afternoon—served as my constant reminder of the truth of Allen Saunders’ memorable words: “life is what happens to you while you are busy making other plans.”

fontaine de medici, burnishedMari de Medici 2One of Pitou’s favorite parks was le jardin de Luxembourg, the garden created at the beginning of the seventeenth century by Marie de Medici, widow of King Henry IV of France.  My preferred spot in the park was the Médici Fountain where, in autumn, a collage of burnished orange leaves from the surrounding chestnut trees littered the surface of the pond. But Pitou preferred to sit in the chairs that encircle Le Grand Basin. There, he would talk, endlessly, while watching the sun hit the façade of the palace in front of it. There, he would remind me of the truly important things in life—not the possessions I longed for—nor the accolades of success; but the appreciation of beauty, the joy heard in a child’s laugh, the touch of the hand of someone whom you love. He liked to hold hands, my hands. And when he did, he would ground me in the only reality that matters: the certainty of being loved.

jardins de Luxembourg

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What can one say about a man whose eyes mist while listening to Charles Trenet singing Que reste-t-il de nos amours? Or Jean Sablon crooning Vous, qui passez sans me voir? How do you not fall in love with him? I was powerless.

Nixon had just been re-elected, crushing the Democratic nominee, Senator George McGovern, and carrying all states except the District of Columbia and Massachusetts. Yet, the presidential campaign circus had failed to hold my attention. For the first time in my life, largely because I was in the company of a man fascinated by European politics, I set my sights on world events—particularly those I did not yet understand.

Black SeptemberEurope was reeling from the Munich Massacres— the brutal attack during the 1972 Summer Olympics on eleven Israeli team members taken hostage and murdered by the terrorist group, Black September. The bodies of the five Palestinian attackers, killed during the Fürstenfeldbruck gun battle, had recently been delivered to Libya where they had received heroes’ funerals and had been buried with full military honors. I remember feeling morally disturbed by this seeming incongruity. But, then, my uniquely American perspective on the world was about to die a sudden death.

In mid-September, Israeli planes had bombed ten PLO bases in Syria and Lebanon, in retaliation for Munich, killing some 200 people including innocent civilians. In response, in late October, the PLO hijacked Lufthansa Flight 615 and threatened to blow it to pieces, if the three surviving Black September gunmen held in a German prison were not released immediately.

To my amazement, they were.

“How can they get away with this?” I lamented, while tightening the collar of my cashmere coat around my neck. The November sun was a bright white, but the air was chilly.

“How can they get away with what?” Pitou asked.

“The terrorism,” I remarked. “Eleven innocent men were just murdered in Munich, and the Germans are releasing their executioners ?”

Mon chou,” he laughed, “let’s not be hypocritical. Have you never heard of the Irgun?”

Whenever Pitou asked me such questions, I would freeze with embarrassment. I had attended one of the most expensive, exclusive schools in the United States—a school that had groomed the first American woman to venture into space—and yet, I could not remember having been taught, having heard a single word, about the terrorism implemented by the Zionist founders of Israel.  I had been lectured on the wondrous accomplishments in agriculture and industry of the Israeli people; of how they brought new life to modern Palestine; of the success of the UN in establishing Israel as a nation.   But of the methods?  Nothing.  Who were these revolutionary thugs ?

“Israel wouldn’t exist today,” Pitou continued, “had it not been for its acts of terrorism.”

“What are you saying? That what happened in Munich was not an act of aggression, but one of retaliation?”

“That’s exactly what I am saying,” he answered, throwing cold water on my indignation. “The Palestinian people have a real grievance. I disagree with their methods of dealing with it, but they learned from the best. Did you know that the first state-hijacking of a civilian airplane was by Israelis?”

Today, there is some dispute about that fact. But the point was well taken. In any event, already knowing the answer to his question, Pitou didn’t wait for one from me.

“No, of course you wouldn’t know that,” he added. “It was in 1954. You hadn’t even turned three. They also taught the world the effectiveness of truck bombs when they blew up the King David Hotel in Jerusalem in 1946—an operation planned by one of Israel’s foremost statesmen.”

RevoltBegin, mugshotsking David HotelKing David Hotel 2“Who?” I asked.

“Menachem Begin.”

“The Israeli politician?”

“He killed ninety-three people,” Pitou nodded, “including women. But the Israelis regarded the bombing as ‘justifiable’ because the hotel served as the headquarters of British officers they wished to expel. There wasn’t a second thought given to civilian life. The Irgun, the Haganah, the Stern Gang, the Lekhi. . . they were all Jewish terrorist organizations, commandeered by men who, today, serve in high posts of the Israeli government and who openly boast about the success of their murderous tactics.”

Through out my forty-years with Pitou, he never ceased to emphasize the importance of continuing, self-education.  He was suspicious of institutions of “higher learning” and saw them as the instruments of the élite.  As a journalist, he had learned to question authority—to critique the party line. Seeking out the lesser-known volumes of recorded history, many of which were out of print, he preferred to formulate his own opinions of the way the world works instead of, glibly, swallowing those versions dished out to the public on the nightly news.

I was taught that the Arabs had always been the “aggressors” in the Middle East. They were the ones to strike first in 1948, at the time of the Israeli War of Independence, and again in 1956 over the battle for the Suez Canal…or so I was told. Even in 1967, as a sophomore in high school, it was pounded into me that the Israeli strike had “only been pre-emptive.” But as I tried to point this out to Pitou, I was summarily interrupted.  He was about to make clear the two human practices he would not put up with: duplicity and manipulation.

“Hasbara,” he responded, stopping the babble he knew was false. Catching the shock in my eyes, he suddenly realized that he had slapped me.

“It’s Hebrew,” he added, with an unexpectedly compassionate smile. “Literally, the word means ‘explanation.’ It’s a form of Israeli publicity or propaganda meant for external, international consumption. The Israeli government wages hasbara as it wages its battles. They talk about hasbara successes and hasbara failures. And when you don’t buy the hasbara, well. . . then, you’re branded  as an anti-Semite.”

“So, you’re saying that everything I’ve been taught about the history of these conflicts is basically false? It’s just all hasbara?”

“I’m saying that you’ve been told one side of the story,” he responded, “the Israeli side.”

Today, awareness of how Israel rose to power is commonplace.  But, in the fall of 1972, few were telling the truth.  Given my education, or rather, the lack of it, I had trouble believing him.  And yet, each time I confronted Pitou with my incredulity, he pointed me toward his vast library, pulled the volumes backing his thoughts from his shelves, and forced me to educate myself.

“Stop looking at me that way,” he continued, while drinking up the late afternoon sun. “I am not an anti-Semite. I just won’t be silenced out of fear of being labeled one.”

Pitou de la Salle, as a young boyIt’s the last thing  I would have accused him of.  As an adolescent, Pitou had been subjected to the German ideology of Lebensraum. He had lived through the ensuing Nazi occupation, witnessed the horror of the Holocaust, and suffered the ignominy of a step-father who had collaborated with the Wehrmacht Kommandantur. Often, upon returning from school, he encountered a row of German officers’ caps on the entrance hall table of his mother’s house in the south of France. Turned upside down and topped with their proprietors’ gray leather gloves, they forewarned Pitou of the men in uniform who, regularly, came calling on the beau père he so detested.Wehrmacht Cap 2Werhmacht gloves, best

Paradoxically, while Georges Cazals conversed with SS officers in the living room of the Villa Florido, the woman of the house, Pitou’s mother, Ghislaine, laughed convivially—in their faces.  For, in the basement directly below her feet, she housed a hidden guest—one whom, over the course of the War, Pitou had come to know and love dearly.

Emile Fould 2Émile Fould derived from a prominent family and financial dynasty of French Jewish descent, originally founded by Beer Léon Fould, the son of a wine merchant from Lorraine who had moved to Paris at the end of the eighteenth century to establish a business in banking.  Émile had descended from Beer’s younger brother, Abraham—founder of the branch that, in 1872, had turned its attention to the manufacture of steel.  Fifteen years after its establishment, La Société des Hauts Fourneaux, Forges et Aciéries de Pompey would be placed on the world map by way of one exceptional and extraordinary purchase: 8,000 tons of steel ordered by entrepreneur, Gustave Eiffel, who wished to build a Eiffeltower,_Forges_et_Usines_de_Pompey,_Fould-Dupont_fournisseur,_Des_Fers_de_la_Tourtower for the exposition universelle of 1889. To this day, a steel plate acknowledging the company’s contribution to  the 1280px-Vue_panoramique_de_l'exposition_universelle_de_1900iconic landmark eiffel drawingrests at its feet. But, back in 1942, few were those willing to admit to even knowing the company’s président-directeur general.

GHISLAINEGhislaine was one of the few. Risking her life, as well as the safety of her children, she chose to venerate her old friend by secretly taking him under her terracotta-tiled roof—a particularly risky venture given Émile’s known collaboration  with the French Resistance.  During the day, he lived like a rat, buried in the subterranean area of the villa.  But, at night, he would emerge from the darkness to dine with the family. The windows of the villa blackened, the heavy silk curtains drawn, he would converse with Pitou while sparking the young boy’s curiosity of the true workings of the world.

“He was more of a father to me than Georges could ever be,” Pitou confided, while staring at the sun lit façade of le palais de Luxembourg–a palace that, during the German occupation of Paris, had served as headquarters for the Luftwaffe, as well as Hermann Göring’s personal residence.

Having suffered the humiliation of capitulation at the hands of the Germans, and having lost his true father to the War, Pitou was particularly sensitive to the horrors of Nazism. Yet, unlike many, he had not allowed the shame and the pain to cripple him mentally.  Later, as he watched the birthing of Israel, the killing in cold blood of women and children at Deir Yassin and Qibya, Sharafat and Houla, he retained the intellectual ability to view Israel’s Iron Wall policies objectively—recognizing that many of the same atrocities that the Germans had practiced on the Jews  were now being repeated—by the Jews on the Palestinians.

“They have blood on their hands, Bérénice.  Israel was founded on terrorism. It was an integral part of the Israeli strategy for frightening the Palestinians off of their land, so that it could be confiscated and developed.”

With my twenty-first birthday rapidly approaching, I felt as if I had spent my entire adolescence asleep. It got to the point where I became afraid to open my mouth, terrified of blurting  some ill-conceived notion, spoon-fed and swallowed by me while growing up in the isolated recesses of a nation known by the rest of the world for its inability—its unwillingness—to consider anything other than the policies of brutal repression and colonial settlements that had served its personal interests so well.  But, as Israel’s primary ally, the United States, and Wall Street as its financial center, were about to suffer as never before, due to the policies of Zionism.  I was about to witness the greatest challenge to US hegemony since Bretton Woods.   Pitou had much to teach me. In the months that followed, I hung  to his every word, read every book he dropped in to my lap, and questioned him, ceaselessly, in an effort to understand.

Essentially, I was coming to recognize what Zbigniew Brzeziński would openly proclaim some twenty-five years into the future: that most Americans are close to total ignorance about the world yet very susceptible to the simplistic slogans of the political candidates chosen for them.  I had been one of the ignorant Americans.  But, living with Pitou, political  illiteracy was no longer an option.

watergate-front-bigWatergate had not yet blown up, although, back in June, the six lines devoted to the DNC break-in at page ten of the Herald Tribune had not escaped my attention. Nor had the $25,000 cashier’s check reported in August that,  earmarked for the Nixon campaign,  wound up in the bank account of one of the Watergate burglars. Nor the fact that, in October, it was discovered that the break-in had stemmed from a massive campaign of political spying and sabotage conducted on behalf of the Nixon re-election effort.  Yet, early that November, as I sat at the edge of le Grand Basin, pondering Pitou’s words, Tricky Dick had just been swept back into the White House by one of the largest landslides in American political history.

“I have a surprise for you,” Pitou said, suddenly changing the subject, “…for your birthday.”

I love surprises, but I don’t like waiting for them.

“What? Tell Me!” I implored, with the glee of a five-year-old.

My twenty-first birthday fell on a Saturday and Pitou had made sure that it would be particularly memorable.

“We’ve been invited by Jean Caracciolo to his house in the country,” he answered.

marella-agnelli-avedonAffectionately known to his close friends as “il principe,” Jean’s true title was il Duca di Laurino e Patrizio Napoletano. A cousin to Marella Caracciolo Agnelli, wife of Giovanni, the heir to the Fiat Fortune, he was a jet setting bon-vivant with a girth as wide as his love for life and a little boy smile that endeared him to you, instantly. In his youth during the Fifties, he had gained a reputation as a bit of a playboy who, in addition to his womanizing, had engaged in a number of “swinger” pursuits—among them, race car driving.  He had participated in several Mille Miglias,  the famous 1,000 mile Italian endurance racesthe most noteworthy of which took place in May of 1957 due to the tragic death of the man who had been on the short list of potential winners that year: the marquis Alfonso de Portago.  Racing for Enzo Ferrari, Fon, as de Portago was known to his friends, was about 40 miles from the finish line and doing some 250 kilometers an hour when his right front tire blew—killing him and his co-driver, Gurner Nelson, instantly, along with nine by-standers who were watching the race from the side of the road.

Fon, with Linda Christian

de Portago

Fon in car, kissing Linda copy

to view La Leyenda

Fon in car

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Linda Christian

I’d heard a lot  about Fon by the fall of 1972. It seemed that everyone had known him and remembered him tenderly, especially Pitou. They had been close buddies during Pitou’s marriage to Suzy, when the Spanish dare-devil and aristocrat had an extra-marital affair with Parker’s older sister, “the Fire and Ice Girl,” Dorian Leigh. But Dorian hadn’t been enough for the rakish de Portago and, by May of 1957, after fathering her second son and fourth child, Fon had moved on to monopolize the attention of Tyrone Power’s beautiful young wife, Linda Christian.

FIRE AND ICE BEST

De Portago once told Pitou that he liked the feeling of fear, commenting that “after a while, a man becomes an addict and has to have it.” Treacherous addictions ran to the core of so many of Pitou’s close friends—from Fon to Donald Cammell to Paul Gégauff.  And yet, they were absent in my husband-to-be, a man as cautious as de Portago was reckless, as compassionate as Gégauff was selfish, as optimistic as Cammell was cynical.

Pitou de la Salle, Alfonso de Portago, Sebring 1955

Pitou with Fon, Sebring

On the day of the race, Pitou had been waiting in Brescia at the finish line to greet his two old friends, certain that, in so doing, he would be celebrating their victory. Gurner had been Pitou’s best man at his wedding to Suzy in New York, in 1955. Knowing of the tight-knit relationship of the trio, the owner of Paris-Presse, Max Corre, had flown Pitou to Modena on assignment to report on the race. Yet, when death finally came to the man who, all of his life, had courted it, Pitou was incapable of writing about it.

“I can’t think, I can’t move,” he told Corre. “I don’t know how I am going to get out of Milan. I’m just paralyzed.”

His pleas for understanding fell on deaf ears. The people at Paris-Presse wanted a man of steel working for them, a man who put journalism above his feelings for his friends. Not being such a man, Pitou never worked for Corre again.

“Who else will be at Jean’s?” I asked Pitou, as we exited the park and headed back to the little apartment on the avenue Foch we, both, called home.   Caracciolo’s  guest list was always stellar. He didn’t go for quiet weekends. He was a man in to gala events.

Ah, ça” Pitou teased, “you will just have to wait and see.”

He uttered his words while affectionately touching his index finger to the tip of my nose, a gesture that conveyed his enchantment at the thought that I would stay in a suspended state of excitement until my birthday.  We had only been living together for a year but, already, I couldn’t imagine life without him.

Papa Was a Rollin Stone and I’ll Be Around [1] were at the top of the charts in Europe.

As we hit the road in the mini-cooper early that Saturday morning on the 18th of November, I played the tape of the two songs over and over.  I am faithful to all things that,  and all beings whom, I love–to the point of sometimes nauseating those around me.

“Again??” Pitou lamented.

I knew the lyrics by heart.

“I’ll change the music if you tell me who Jean’s other guests are,” I answered.

SONY DSCTabu Ad, enhancedBut the most I could get from him were a couple of stories about Jean in his youth. Not surprisingly, Caracciolo had been very fond of Suzy—a fact that left me a bit uneasy. The thought of being compared to Pitou’s first wife by his close friends was an unpalatable one that always had me wondering if I was “enough.”

In any event, by the time I had met Caracciolo, his days as a Casanova had long since ended. For close to a decade, he had worked as a portfolio manager for the Paris offices of Edmond de Rothschild’s La Compagnie Financière.  I first set eyes on the jovial and rotund Italian aristocrat while feasting relais plaza, Gerard Bonnet's tablewith Gérard Bonnet at Le Relais Plaza, the Art Deco “it place” where the rich and famous conduct their power lunches while in Paris–a place that I would return to endlessly, mostly because it was Gérard’s  preferred watering hole and –what the hell—if you have to lunch everyday, why not with a young and ambitious American colleague?  Sharing office space with him at Merrill, I was at hand.  And, being a grand seigneur, he invited me weekly to the posh restaurant where the staff of the Hôtel Plaza Athénée kept a table for him, by the bar at the front of the establishment, allowing monsieur Bonnet to greet everyone as they passed through its glass doors.   Ever vigilant, Jean immediately noted the new-comer in Bonnet’s company.  From the second he learned of my intention to climb the financial ladder of Wall Street, he attempted to entice me into the arms of the Rothschilds.   Jean thought that the prestige from which I eventually could benefit, as a gérante de portefeuille at La Compagnie Financière, was infinitely greater than the status I would ever acquire as a stockbroker for “the American behemoth,” as he La Compagnie Financiere derogatorily referred to Merrill Lynch.  But then, the French Rothschilds, and those who work for them, are known for their snobbery.  For many young women, the offer would have been irresistible. Pitou and Gérard, however, adamantly counseled me not to accept it.

“Stick with Merrill,” they both insisted.

Yet, when I asked “why?” the most I got from either of them were pregnant pauses punctuated with disconcerting stares, suggesting that they knew of things they preferred not to speak of.

Baron Edmond de RothschildEdmond, considered the richest of the Rothschilds, created the bank in 1963, in an old and imposing structure situated on the rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré.  From its beginnings as a venture capital house, when Edmond was only thirty-seven, it had grown rapidly into a full-fledged investment bank and asset management company, acquiring size and prestige with the acquisition of la Banque Privée in Geneva and the opening of offices in South America, Hong Kong and–of course–Israel.  Jean served as a public relations magnate, attracting wealthy members of the international set to the plush private interiors of the banking establishment where, depending on the depth of their fortunes, they might disappear into the skillful hands of Georges Karlweis.

Jean with Anne and Andre Oliver

Jean (right), with Anne

With Anne de Royère, the last love of Jean’s life, he spent his time between his corner view flat on the rue de Rivoli, overlooking le Jeu de Paume in the Tuileries, and his commanding, and utterly enchanting manor estate, le Château de Drouilly,  not far from Vendôme in the central region of France. Each weekend, he held court at the 400 year old property as he entertained a jet-setting crowd of artists and actors, writers, politicians, and various other lesser-known individuals who, nonetheless, all possessed the required traits of beauty and wit.

As the mini came to a stop on the crushed stone pathway near the entrance to the property, I spotted Jean emerging from the horse stables to the side of the main house. Dressed in an English riding jacket with tan gaucho pants, he strutted toward the car with his signature cigar dangling from his mouth.

“You’re just in time for lunch,” he proclaimed while hugging and kissing us on both cheeks. “We’re all invited to Pierre’s house.”

Jean’s 133 acre estate was so magnificent that, not knowing who Pierre was, I was a bit disappointed to hear that we would be traveling elsewhere. The servants scurried to our car to take our bags and, after a quick welcoming drink in the main salon of the house, we headed out again.

“An eye sore!” Jean complained, as we approached the front of his old friend’s country home. “It would be bearable,” he continued, while lighting another cigar, “if only it was located in England.”

Pierre & Nicole Salinger

Nicole (Gillmann) and Pierre Salinger

Given that Jean’s wife was the assistant to the famous French interior designer, Jacques Grange, it was not difficult to understand il principe’s aesthetic exigencies. But, unlike Jean, Pierre and Nicole Salinger were less concerned with appearances than they were with substance—and their weekend retreat reflected this fact.

The house was an imposing nineteenth century structure about twenty miles due south of Caracciolo’s estate.  It lacked the graceful eighteenth century lines of Jean’s beautiful manor home, to be sure.  Missing from the gardens were the neatly trimmed hedges, the plush green lawns bordered with the rich tan hues of driveways filled with decomposed granite. Inside, the paint was chipping in spots, the furniture was a mish-mash of styles from differing decades, and the walls were covered in outdated paisley fabrics that left Jean to positively shudder. But there was an indefinable intelligence to the house’s ambience, a comforting aura of discordant harmony that spoke to its guests of its inhabitants. Book strewn and disorderly, it exuded a warmth obtainable only from the laissez-aller of people more concerned with the quality of the conversation that occurred between its walls than the caliber of the décor that adorned them. There were papers everywhere, atop the baby grand piano in the living room, across Salinger’s desk in his study, on the floor and in the shelves that lined the hallways. They had been dropped wherever the lord and master of the house had last seen fit to engage in his work–ready to be picked up again the next time he passed them by. This atmosphere of creative chaos left me a bit awe-struck.  And although I had come to love the elegant décor of the refined interiors to which Pitou had introduced me, I felt oddly at home at the Salingers’ that day.

Pierre Salinger in study, France“We’re part of the rooting party,” Jean said to me, as we entered the house.

“What are you talking about?” I asked.

“For Teddy,” he whispered. “He’s here with Joan… for the weekend. Didn’t Pitou tell you?”

Apparently, Nixon’s landslide victory had been proof positive to our luncheon host, and former White House press secretary, that the Democratic party was in dire need of the charismatic leadership it had lost with the deaths of Ted’s two brothers.  And the “rooting party,” Jean referred to, consisted of a number of friends invited to the Salinger home that weekend with the impromptu hope of, not only entertaining, but convincing Ted that his time was fast approaching.

Lunch was simple, but the wine was excellent.

In Salinger’s mind, there seemed no question that the youngest Kennedy, eventually, would step up to the plate. Yet, while Pierre stood to make a toast, Ted was conspicuously uneasy.

“To the next President of the United States,” Salinger pledged, to which Ted’s two sisters, Jean and Pat, immediately chimed in with a distinctly audible: “Here, Here.”

Joan, however, remained silent.  And, tugging at his collar to breathe more easily, Ted barely raised his glass.

Looking back on that afternoon, I remember viewing it more like a fly on the wall than an engaged participant.

He’ll be happy to lose, I thought to myself.

After all, having seen his two older brothers gunned down for trying to make a difference, why would he volunteer to be the third?

2ist birthdaywith Ted21ST BIRTHDAY, Pitou with JeanBefore sitting down for lunch, we had spent a half an hour playing touch football on the lawn outside the dining room windows. Salinger had to point me in the right direction to make sure I wouldn’t garner points for the opposite side. Dressed in one of my Jaeger suits from London, I hadn’t hesitated to kick off my shoes and run with the ball.  As a result, my pantyhose ripped at the heels, but who thinks about a thing like that when given the chance to  beat a Kennedy?

Berenice Stevenson de la Salle with Joan KennedyAfter lunch, we all gathered in the living area off of Pierre’s study. As I sat reflecting upon my good fortune, Joan made her approach. The beautiful blonde sat down next to me, on the arm of the sofa and, breezily, began talking of everything and nothing—as if we had been girlfriends for years. She drew me toward her by speaking with her hands, as if to grab my essence and bring it into her; she laughed while she spoke and I found her so captivating that it was difficult to focus on what she was saying.

We were all to have dinner at Jean’s that night, and Joan wasn’t sure of what to wear.

“I have a nice black cashmere sweater suit,” she said to me. “Do you think that would be dressy enough?”

Stunned by her uncertainty, it had been in this moment that I realized that the image we create of the rich and famous is just that: the image WE create.  For, as glamorous as the world thought Joan Kennedy, it wasn’t the picture she seemed to have of herself. I couldn’t help thinking that, deep down inside, she saw herself as just another American girl traveling through Europe with her husband, happy to find a fellow compatriot with whom she could talk.  I will carry that memory with me forever, of a larger than life figure—no different from you and me.

luis-miguel-dominguinWe got back to Jean’s in time to rest briefly before taking a bath in preparation for dinner. The walls of our bedroom were lined in fabric, stamped with a delicate floral design; the windows overlooked a stretch of green lawn to the rear of the property. While we had been at the Salingers’, a number of other guests had arrived at Jean’s for the weekend: Tyrone Power’s former wife, the French film star from the 1930’s, Annabella; famous French fashion model, and childhood friend of Pitou’s, Bettina Graziani. And the charismatic Spanish bull fighter, Luis Miguel Dominguín, one of Annabella’s former lovers. With the arrival of the Kennedy/Salinger clan, the dinner table proved lopsided with ultra glamorous women.  And yet, as the birthday girl that evening, Jean insisted that I sit at the head.

 

“I can’t!” I protested. “Me? at the head of the table?”

Given the number of illustrious characters present that evening, the thought seemed utterly preposterous. But taking my hand in his, Jean assured me that it was the spot where I belonged.

Pierre de la Salle with Ted and Joan Kennedy

Pitou, with Joan, Ted, and Annabella

“Viens,” he coaxed. “Honor me.”

I no longer remember the conversation that evening, although I do remember Ted laughing heartily as everyone joked and no one mentioned the possibility of his future bid for the presidency. But, mostly, it is the warmth of the candle light, the glistening sparkle of the window panes, the clinking of Baccarat crystal, and the pressed French cuffs of men born to elegance that remains in my mind. That, and the furtive glances from across the table from a man with whom I was now deeply in love.

Happy birthday, Pitou mimed to me with silent lips as Jean’s guests chatted, busily, about the famous and the infamous whom they had come to know over the years.

bettina-wearing-velvet-veiled-hat-by-paulette-photo-by-georges-dambier-november-1953In her warm and inimitable style, albeit after a number of glasses of wine, Bettina finished by inviting the entire room to the house that had been left to her in Sardinia by the late Aly Khan. Seated next to Pitou, she reminisced with him of their time growing up together in Nice, during the War. Then, suddenly, as I was eavesdropping on their conversation, Jean brought the table to attention by clanging his Sterling silver fork against his wine glass.

“We have a very special guest, tonight,” he announced. “A young woman who has graced my home and our table on this, the eve of her twenty-first year. Won’t you join me, in wishing her a very happy birthday?   A toast,” he added, while locking his eyes on to mine. “To Bérénice.”

 

“To Bérénice !” the table of guests exclaimed as, in unison, they raised their glasses to the chandeliers.

Jumping from his seat, it was—finally—a toast in which Kennedy happily could take part.   With Dominguín beating him to my side, and the light bulbs from Jean’s pocket camera flashing, Ted began to sing.

Berenice Stevenson de la Salle with Ted Kennedy and Luis Dominguin

 

 

[1] Go to the Music Player! I’ve added these songs to “Paris in the Sizzling Seventies, the Music

Next Post:  Paris–The Cinderella Years: “Bérénice…Wake Up!”

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

Humor me...the gold medallion is an exercise in positive visualization only

WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT THE STORIES BEHIND THE PICTURES?

Just click on them.

There are surprises behind most of the photos.

5 thoughts on ““ A Toast…To the Next President of the United States.”

  1. Quite possibly your best installment yet! I found your recounting of the historical data absolutely facinating! Please continue…..anxiously awaiting the next one! ~Emily M.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Quite possibly your best installment yet! Your recounting of the historical data was facinating! Please continue….anxiously awaiting the next one! ~Emily M.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Fantastic chapter, Bérénice! Quite simply incredible and refreshing for the reader in its written perspective of that time period. Pitou obviously possessed a remarkable sense of critical thought, which you conveyed with such talent through your prose. I love the historical context blended into your own experience. Such a rich and in-depth delight to read. I devoured it! I LOVED the surprise links behind some of the photos (the videos, websites, etc.) Such a delicious touch!

    Liked by 1 person

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