Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?

Pitou with Sam Goldwyn064 (1)

With his fingers to his lips, as they always were, when he was in thought.

IT HAS BEEN SAID THAT THE TONGUE IS A FAR MORE effective weapon  than the sword.  And nothing amused Pitou more than a woman who knew how to wield hers.   As with most Frenchmen, the delicate game of wit never ceased to amuse him.  I’m not speaking of humor. There is a difference between humor and wit. One leaves you laughing; the other leaves you breathless.

It was November, now, of 1975. We had attended a dinner party the night before where we were offered a particularly brilliant display of repartee by an elderly woman who had arrived without her husband of fifty years.

“Sometimes I require what only he can give me,” she remarked.  “His absence.”

A variation of the witticism has largely been attributed to the English born cartoonist, Ashleigh Brilliant.  But, at the risk of enraging Mr. Brilliant, French women were verbalizing this sentiment long before he was ever heard of.  In fact, in France, requiring regular vacations from one’s husband is considered positively sane.

Pitou had laughed the hardest.  He was never one to cling, and understood the need for space now and again.  “Qu’est-ce que tu veux?”  he remarked to me the next morning, as he thought back upon the evening. “Les femmes sont plus intelligentes que les hommes.” [1] 

“Then, why is it still a man’s world?” I asked, confounded by the difficulties I was experiencing while attempting to make my way at Merrill Lynch.

“I said more intelligent,” he replied. “I didn’t say smarter.”

Flashes of wit that left a mark. If it didn’t surprise, it wasn’t worth saying.

“Which is better?” I asked him. “To be intelligent, or to be smart?”

“Smart brings you things. Intelligence brings you understanding. Which would you prefer having?” he asked.

We were still settling into our new apartment on the Avenue Frederic Le Play.  Many of the rooms were empty, and I was particularly preoccupied by the need for material things.   Nevertheless,  my answer to his question was swift.

“Understanding,” I replied.

Eh, voila . . . one of the reasons I love you.”

“But, I need things too,” I quickly added.

He gave me that guttural laugh of his, straight from the belly, the one that said,  I understand you, mon chou.

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It was the feeling I had the minute I met him; that he understood me. Pitou was my second set of eyes, always looking out for my best interest, always letting me know when I missed something. It was like having a guardian angel, only he wasn’t dead. In a world where every other man I met needed to be “on top,” I couldn’t imagine anything more precious. It seemed that all other members of the opposite sex were too busy focusing on what they needed, what they had to have, to spend any time contemplating the needs of their women. Like jig saw pieces, women had their place within their men’s grand puzzles. But rare was the male who could stand back from that puzzle long enough to ask himself: what will she want in order to stay there? what will I have to do to keep her?

That these questions were in the forefront of Pitou’s mind was clear to me—not through the grand gestures, that always involve calculation, but rather—through the seemingly inconsequential acts, the small signals that betray a man’s true bearing, and tell you who he really is. Every woman knows what I’m talking about—those telltale moments when an automatic reflex, or simply an oblivious act performed without thought, has her shuddering—wondering whether she will ever be a partner in her man’s grand plan, or just the witness to it.

Many people have asked me over the years: “How did you do it? How did you stay married for forty years and still love each other so much?”   It was hard work. It was a bumpy road. But, in the end, I think what kept us together was the mutual understanding, the knowing that, no matter how rocky that road got, we were committed to traveling it, side by side, à outrance.[2]  At eighty-six years of age, Pitou would still walk, in public, while holding my hand.

prophet 3Kahlil Gibran once said that the pillars of the temple stand apart so that, in the spaces of their togetherness, the winds of the heavens may dance between them. Ah yes. But, how many men truly wish for the woman at their side to be one of the pillars? And, if he doesn’t, why be with him at all? We all laughed at that dinner party as our senior female guest demonstrated the skill of her tongue at her husband’s expense. Yet there was no question that she adored him. In fact, had he been a fly on the wall that night, he would have been the first to laugh. He knew what we all knew. She had built a lifetime at his side and, that evening, was simply enjoying a momentary breeze.

What I loved most about French women was that, even when in the presence of their spouses, they could still enjoy the breeze. They never demonstrated that annoying American habit of insisting on sitting next to their husbands while dining with others. They engaged in light flirtation, knowing that it represented nothing more than one of the trivial pleasures of being alive, of being female. And when their husbands reciprocated, they never got upset.   Pitou was a terrible flirt. It was one his most endearing traits.   He appreciated women, and women loved him for it. He never failed to remark to a woman who had made an effort to be beautiful that she had succeeded, and that he approved. The smile that would come over his face as he took the time to notice her, and the gleam in the eyes of the woman as he did, created an energy, a magnetic field of adoration for a man who knew that all any of us really want in life is to be appreciated.

He never sought to be the center of attention yet, more often than not, ended up by being it. Ironically, he did this, not by talking, but by listening. He listened so intently that, in the moment, you knew his sole wish was to share the only thing that he had of any value to give: himself. It was as if he knew that his one true mission in life was in hearing others, so as to mentor, so as to love, and then let go.

To do so required the most difficult of all tasks for the ordinary man: shedding himself of his ego. I think it is why he was so appreciated by men and women alike. You could relax in Pitou’s presence; for, as necessary as the ego may be, he considered too large a display of it  boorish and uncouth.

2000px-3rd_US_Armored_Division_SSI.svgI remember reading a letter that my father had written to my grandparents just before the invasion of Normandy. He had been stationed on the Southern Coast of England,  and was waiting to be deployed.  As a first lieutenant in Patton’s Third Armored Division, he was assigned the task of reading, and censoring where necessary, all the out going mail of his troops.  Given a glimpse into the psyche of the average male, he wrote back home: “the pathos and the bathos of human existence enshrouds me.” My father would have liked Pitou. They shared an affinity for the absurdity of man’s order of self preoccupation—a revulsion for the banal, the petty, and the vulgar.

Daddy and Me

Daddy, at eighteen . . .

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. . . and me, looking particularly like him, at twenty-two.

Perhaps more than any other, this one characteristic was responsible for  attracting a stellar crowd of notables into Pitou’s life.  He was the unequivocal proof that like seeks like. One of those individuals was a towering man who imparted elegance and sophistication to women everywhere, while simultaneously raising their hemlines and bringing them “ready to wear”: Hubert de Givenchy.

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Balenciaga

Givenchy had begun his career working for Jacques Fath and, later, Elsa Schiaparelli. But his idol and mentor was an aristocrat from the Basque region of Spain, a man who had radically altered the silhouette of women in the mid Twentieth Century: Cristóbal Balenciaga. Thirty-two years his senior, Hubert referred to him as “my religion.” As did a number of Europe’s wealthiest women: loyal clients such as the Duchess of Windsor, Pauline de Rothschild, and Gloria Guinness, who appreciated the Spaniard’s discreet touches–collars that stood away from the collarbone to give a swan like appearance, and shortened bracelet sleeves that enabled the wearers to flaunt their expensive jewelry. His uncompromising standards had him dressing the Spanish royal family before the Civil War. And his success in Paris, thereafter, was nearly immediate. Yet, he never emerged to take a bow at the end of a runway show, and referred to his exquisite, ever so haughty, models as “monsters.”

Dovima in Balenciaga

dorian in Balenciaga

Dorian in Balenciaga

Suzy in Balenciaga 2

Suzy in Balenciaga

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When asked what the secret was to his talent, Balenciaga would quickly remind you: “elegance is elimination.”  In 1952, his influence upon the young Givenchy was unmistakable.

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Hubert

Although, today, Givenchy is acclaimed as a traditionalist, back then, he had burst upon the scene as an enfant terrible. His unusual  first collection, based upon separates in which even his evening-wear was conceived as a series of interchangeable pieces, generously enlisted the use of white cotton fabrics to impart an economic as well as an aesthetic rationale: fashion as inexpensive as it was fresh. Not surprisingly, his designs instantly appealed to young women everywhere.

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Bettina, in Givenchy

Pitou and Hubert first met in the early Fifties, at a time when Givenchy had just launched his maison de haute couture on the rue Alfred de Vigne. His close friend from childhood, Bettina Graziani, had collaborated with Givenchy, helping the young designer to launch the fashion house as his publicity director and first muse. No one could have done the job better. As Europe’s highest paid model—an icon in her own right—Bettina floated in a rarefied world of global elite.

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Lunch, on the rue de Grenelle

 

 

While lunching with Hubert a few years ago, at his spectacular hôtel particulier on the rue de Grenelle in Paris, he remarked to me that beautiful super models, who made their living in photographic print, were a dime a dozen. But the model who could carry off a runway show “avec présence” was a rarity. Bettina was that rarity.  It was a lesson I had come to learn decades earlier, while Pitou and I were living in Malibu. Hubert was visiting California and was scheduled to give a showing of his latest designs at the Beverly Hills Hotel where he had taken a bungalow. Sitting in our living room, with a view of the Pacific hovering in the distance over the tops of Eucalyptus trees, Hubert had turned to me for a favor.

“Bérénice,” he asked, “do you have any young friends in LA who model?”

As a matter of fact, I had a number of them.

“Could you give a few of them a call for me? I’m auditioning tomorrow, for the show.”

No sooner had he left for his dinner that evening with Connie Wald than I was on the phone.

“Do you want to try out?” I excitedly asked a number of girls who I believed to be nothing short of stunners.

Yet, systematically, the discerning Givenchy would eliminate all of them from the repertoire of hopefuls, lamenting to me after the show that “it’s so difficult to find a woman who knows how to walk. An entire year’s work, and she can destroy it in a few seconds!”

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Demanding to the point of obsession, he is a man who considers a lack of attention to detail intolerable. I remember once speaking to him about mutual friends, Alain and Aloma Demachy, who had recently divorced.

gruau5“It’s so sad. Why?” he wondered out loud.

When I explained to him that Alain had confided in me that Aloma’s need for perfection had finished by driving him mad, Hubert responded: “But, attention to detail is essential. You can’t achieve anything without it.”

“Yes, Hubert….but everyday? In everything you do? In every move you make?  Surely you can see how that might drive a man crazy, can’t you?”

He just looked back at me confounded and then, abruptly, changed the subject.

Was it any wonder that, twenty-four hours before his fashion show at the Beverly Hills Hotel, and in a state of complete despair, he  resorted to calling a half a dozen of his regular girls whom he flew in from New York for the evening?  From front row center seats, I watched as these gazelles floated across the runway, in satin and silk, jersey and tweed, their noses just high enough to signal to you they knew that, like Hubert, they were of another breed.

“How do they do that,” I whispered to Pitou.

Eh, bien, ils mangent le persil,” he joked. “Tout le monde sait que ça donne une jolie démarche.”[3]

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They can be quite intimidating, these ethereal beauties.  And yet, the best of them are hysterically funny, putting you at ease the second you enter their presence. None of them was more successful at this than the other-worldly Capucine. You might remember her as the less than faithful wife of Inspector Clouseau in The Pink Panther. But I remember her as the dear friend and oft house guest of Givenchy at his magnificent country estate, Le Jonchet, just outside of Paris.

Dining Room at Le Jonchet

Dining Room at Le Jonchet

She loved to cook, and jabbered constantly as she did so, commenting about everything from the spices she had added to the potage she was about to serve you, to your “dirty ears” that you had failed to wash properly and that she hadn’t failed to notice upon filling your soup bowl with her silver kitchen ladle. Extraordinarily, this exotic beauty, who was photographed by the best of the best during her youth as a fashion model, was content in her later years to work behind the camera, documenting the insignificant moments of her friends’ lives. She sent Pitou a few shots of us shortly after a weekend we had spent with her and Hubert at his country manoir in Romilly-sur-Aigre.

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Hubert at Le Jonchet

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Feeding the pets at Le Jonchet

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Pitou with May at Le Jonchet

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But, in the fall of 1975, I had not yet met Monsieur de Givenchy.  And so it was, with delight, that I sat by Pitou’s side on that crisp morning in early November when, reflecting upon the importance of making me a part of his puzzle, he decided to give his old friend a call.

“Can you come to dinner this Tuesday?” he asked. “I’m having a few friends over to warm the house.”

Biting my nails, I waited for the faint echo of Givenchy’s response through the telephone’s receiver.

Pitou with Hubert, Megeve

Pitou with Hubert, May Bouilloux-Lafont and the Countess of Suffolk & Berkshire–Megeve

 

“Avec grand plaisir,” Hubert replied, “à quelle heure ?

I couldn’t go to work after that. I called in sick and, instead, spent the entire day scouring my wardrobe for what I would wear.  I settled on a silk sheath dress that stopped at the knee and was imprinted with small blue and red flowers—by Givenchy, of course. It was sleeveless, and the waist tied in a bow at the back—everything that Balenciaga had taught the man about “elegance as elimination.”

Dining

Our dining room was small, and we couldn’t accommodate more than six comfortably. Giving a dinner party always took me a good week of preparation. From the menu, to the flowers, to the service and the guests, who were always chosen according to the tastes and affinities of the invité d’honneurthat is, if you wanted the evening to be a success. The silver had to be polished, the crystal had to gleam, and the people at your table had to represent that coveted mix of elegance and wit that would keep the room visually appealing, while maintaining the conversation alive and inattendu. It is no easy task to pull off a dinner party.  And the more of them I gave, the more I came to understand the wise sentiments of another of Pitou’s old friends: Coco Chanel. Each time she invited guests to her home for dinner, she thanked them profusely for taking the time to attend.

Chanel, at home

“One is so much more comfortable chez soi,” she once told Pitou. “I am always so grateful when a friend is willing to make the effort to meet me on my turf.”

We decided on our other guests: fashion designer, Philippe Venet, Hubert’s longtime companion; Hélène Bouilloux-Lafont,  who had offered the moral and financial support for Hubert’s first design house; and Wendy Rowe—a tall and magnificent Australian beauty, with whom I had been working at Merrill Lynch for the past couple of years.  I remember everything about that evening, from the gigot d’agneau I ordered from the neighborhood butcher, to the soufflé I had our Moroccan butler prepare.   I had vowed to leave the office that Tuesday by three o’clock—four hours earlier than any other day of the week. But a telephone call from Pitou catapulted me out of the building by noon.

Screen Shot 2016-06-15 at 8.11.07 PM Screen Shot 2016-06-15 at 10.54.53 AM“Hubert just called,” he told me. “He was so apologetic.”

Fearing the worst, I stood imagining the man’s last minute excuse for not being able to attend that evening.

“He  kept asking me to forgive him for a last-minute favor, but he didn’t know what else to do. A friend of his arrived, unexpectedly, from Rome a few hours ago, and he wants to know if he can bring her with him this evening.”

“Oh, no,” I exclaimed. “The table will only accommodate six comfortably. You know that.”

Oui, mon chou, I know.  But, what could I say when the friend he wants to bring is Audrey?”

audrey-hepburn-great shot“Audrey?” I asked. “As in  . . .”

“Yes,” he responded, “as in Audrey Hepburn.”

I just had time to forewarn Wendy to wear her best before dashing out the door to Pitou’s Mini-Cooper. Weaving through the traffic on the Place de l’Etoile, I was so excited I must have circled the Arc de Triomphe six times before exiting at the avenue d’Iena,  as I headed for home. Normally, in the hours before a dinner party, I would spend at least thirty minutes luxuriating in the bathtub, with a glass of good champagne as I thought of witticisms to bestow upon my guests. But that evening was different. I was frantic.Fortunately, Pitou was his normal calm and together self. He had come to know Audrey years ago, when she had worked with Fred Astaire and Suzy in Funny Face. He had accompanied Richard Avedon to San Francisco where the legendary fashion photographer had pitched the idea for the film to Stanley Donen.  Suzy, who some say served as Avedon’s inspiration for the star character, Jo Stockton, played by Hepburn, had a token spot in the movie’s Think Pink sequence. The cameo role was her first film appearance, and had turned her into one of Audrey’s fast friends.  The film wasn’t a hit at the time of its release, losing money at the box office.  Yet, today, it is regarded as a visually sumptuous classic.

hardback, Tiffany'saudrey-hepburn-breakfast-tiffanys-black-dressBut my favorite Hepburn film is Breakfast at Tiffany’s, mostly because of Audrey’s remarkable portrayal of Truman Capote’s Holly Golightly. Although he swore that his character was a composite of many women he had known, in the late Forties, Capote had lived in the same building in New York as Dorian Leigh, and had dubbed her “Happy Go Lucky.”  Coincidence?  I think not. Of all the women ever thought to be the real Holly—everyone from Gloria Vanderbilt to Suzy (who never struck me to be a bit like her) –Dorian is the dead ringer for the self-indulgent party girl who attracts nothing but “rats and super rats,” suffers from “the mean reds,” and won’t go to the powder room for anything less than “a fifty.” I love Holly for so many reasons.

She’s witty: “If I had her money, I’d be richer than she is!” she tells you.

She’s not afraid of old age: “It’s tacky to wear diamonds before you’re 40; and even that’s risky … they only look good on the really old girls … wrinkles and bones, white hair and diamonds. I can’t wait.”

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Dorian, shot by Suzy

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When her umpteenth billionaire fiancée dumps her in a Dear Jane letter, she’s armed for the hit: “Hand me my purse, will you darling? A girl can’t read that sort of thing without her lipstick.”

And, despite her constant need of money, she’ll never let anybody put her in a cage.

How can you not love her?

voltaire (1)The doorbell rang at a little past nine. Nobody dines in Paris before nine-thirty. Our apartment was on the second floor of the building—the entire floor of the building—and the palier just outside of its entrance stretched the width of a magnificent stairwell adorned, at its base, with an original plaster mold of Jean Houdon’s sculpture of Voltaire, shrouded in his dressing gown, tired, and ready for bed. As I opened the door, I expected to still find the image of Holly —a wisp of a girl in a little black dress with that magnificent bell-shaped hat crowning her perfect face.92de71627b69b464032f391868787a7d

But she was forty-six that evening, and had just finished filming Robin and Marian, with Sean Connery and Robert Shaw. Her hair was short and curly, she wore loose wool pants with a cashmere cape and, as she stood with her arm entwined in Hubert’s, his six-foot seven frame loomed above her.

“Hello,” she smiled, still in control of that girlish exuberance that had captivated Hubert some twenty-three years earlier. “How kind of you to have me to your home for dinner!”

The thought that I was doing her some kind of favor struck me as oddly comical. And yet, she pulled off the remark with the utmost sincerity.  Philippe Venet, who had worked alongside Hubert since joining the house of Schiaparelli in 1951, arrived with May a few minutes later, as did Wendy.

Frederic Le Play

Click to View the Park

We started by drinking champagne in the living room. Catherine Hennessy, heir to the cognac fortune, lived in the apartment above us and kept our home stocked with Moët & Chandon at ridiculously cheap prices. The apartment was still relatively bare, with no art on the walls. They were covered in beige cord—one of Alain Demachy’s unexpectedly fabulous ideas that gave the room soft indescribable chic.   He had created a décor of ton sur ton, with white canvas sofas and matching curtains framing ten foot windows that overlooked le Parc du Champ-de-Mars, a vast expanse of greenery and winding trails that stretches from l’École Militaire to the Eiffel Tower.  I love to talk. But, that night, I was content to listen to Pitou and Hubert as they reminisced of days past and old friends who had disappeared.

“How is Suzy?” Audrey asked as she turned to Pitou while placing her champagne glass on the lacquered table in front of her.

“Very well,” he replied. “She lives in Santa Barbara with her husband and their six kids.”

“Six!” Audrey exclaimed, in shock. She hadn’t seen Suzy in over a decade.

audrey hanson

Audrey with James Hanson

Pitou  and she had first met back in 1952 when Audrey was engaged to a friend of his, the wealthy English industrialist and feared corporate raider, James Hanson, who built an empire through the process of leveraged buyouts. She had called it “love at first sight,” but after having her wedding dress fitted and the date set, decided the marriage couldn’t work because of the competing demands of their careers.  Lord Hanson defined the term “jet-setter.” He once bumped into Pitou on the streets of Paris and, after giving him a hug and asking what he’d been up to, casually inquired:

“Got any plans for lunch?”

Eh, bien, pas grand chose,” Pitou replied, while thinking that he’d probably duck off to Le Drugstore for a croque-monsieur.

“Great . . . you’re coming with me,” Hanson answered as he signaled for a cab.

The next thing Pitou knew, he was in James’ private jet on his way to Rome to feast at Al Moro and catch up on some light shopping on the via Condotti.

Wilhelm+Kempff+Beethoven+The+Complete+Piano+S+539193As Wilhelm Kempff played Beethoven’s piano sonatas softly in the background, Hubert asked me about my career at Merrill Lynch and where I thought the stock market was headed. We were still in the throes of the oil crisis, and the Bretton Woods system falling apart. Inflation in the States was raging, at 9 percent.  But the market had bottomed over a year ago and was already up by some 42 %.

“I don’t think there’s much more upside here,” I answered, doing my best to appear the seasoned professional.   “The move has been too fast, and there is a wall of resistance at the 1,000 mark.”

In hindsight, that market now looks dirt cheap. But it would still be another seven years before the wall was, finally, broken.

The Beltway was in a state of upheaval; the memory of Watergate, still fresh. That morning, I had awoken to the news of the “Halloween Massacre”: Gerald Ford’s sudden move to replace Nixon’s cabinet with his own men. Kissinger was fired as National Security Advisor. CIA Director William Colby and Defense Secretary James Schlesinger got the sack, too, replaced by George H.W. Bush and Donald Rumsfeld.  And it was the day that we saw the emergence of another hard liner, bent on creating his own empire. With Rumsfeld now at the Pentagon, Dick Cheney moved up to become White House Chief of Staff.

romanee Conti Le Roy

As she looked that night

As she looked that night

Europeans love to talk world politics. Like them, the American obsession with “political correctness” has always struck me as a phony debate.   Americans talk about business and money at the dinner table, subjects that in Europe are regarded as positively gauche. In Paris, who will end up in the seats of power, and what the consequences will prove to be, fascinate far more than the future price of commodities or the projected rate of GDP.   History and politics are almost always the topic of good dinner conversation, and this evening would prove no exception.  As our Moroccan butler, Fahrid, bent to the left of each guest with a large platter of thinly sliced lamb resting on his white-gloved hand, Sterling silver sauce boats moved from right to left around the circular table as we each took our turn filling our plates with rôti de gigot d’agneau, baby green peas, and mousseline au céleri rave. Pitou had gone to the cellar that morning to choose the wine: two bottles of 1974 Domaine de la Romanée Conti that we had bought from La Maison Le Roy on the advice of Henri Tasso, my colleague at MerrillBack then, we had purchased the vintage grand cru for a mere fifty bucks a piece. Today, they would fetch more than $15,000—each. Oh well. I don’t regret drinking them one bit. My youth was glorious, filled with memories that I will carry with me to my death and beyond.

donald-rumsfeld-large_trans++qVzuuqpFlyLIwiB6NTmJwfSVWeZ_vEN7c6bHu2jJnT8As we sipped the divine liquid from Baccarat crystal stemware, everybody wanted everybody else’s opinion of the news from Washington.  I remember being surprised by Audrey’s high regard for Donald Rumsfeld, the staunch neo-con whom Henry Kissinger would one day describe as “a special Washington phenomenon: the skilled full-time politician-bureaucrat in whom ambition, ability, and substance fuse seamlessly.”  She thought the man highly intelligent which, of course, he is, and felt that his appointment might insure keeping the world  at peace.  Back home, Americans had grown weary of the well publicized feud between Kissinger and Schlesinger.  Still,  I couldn’t help but wonder if Rumsfeld’s toothy grin had clouded Audrey’s senses a bit.  It was always the chiseled hard stare you got from him in his off moments that had struck me.

The soufflé was perfect. It’s so difficult to make a great soufflé, and I winked at Fahrid to signal my approval.   He had no idea who the guests were at my dinner table that night. Standing at attention, in his gold buttoned white jacket over black pants, he smiled back at me.

vase etrusqueAfter dinner, we returned to the living room for coffee and cognac.  Fahrid brought us a tray with white porcelain espresso cups that Pitou had purchased from Au Vase Etrusque, the verreries on the boulevard Malherbes that had catered to the best families of Paris since 1887.  As I pressed the coffee, and poured it into each of the seven cups, I felt terribly self-conscious. I was so young, so desperate to make a good impression, and all eyes were upon me.  I still couldn’t quite comprehend how I had landed in the middle of this exclusive world of select personages. wildeI hadn’t planned any of it and yet, somehow, I had managed to fall out of the sky right into their laps. How bourgeois, you may be thinking.  And yet Paris would teach me that all the great luxuries, all the true domestic pleasures in life are decidedly bourgeois. To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, the world was my oyster, and I didn’t want to be caught using the wrong fork.

“Isn’t she marvelous?” Audrey suddenly blurted while taking the espresso cup I had just offered her. “Would you look at how graceful she is.”

She gave me a magnanimous grin, as if I was the star of the evening.

I don’t know how I managed to pour the next cup. I purposefully handed it, out-of-order, to Pitou with the fear that the coffee would be all over the saucer. The thought that Audrey Hepburn found me to be the “graceful” one, had left me stunned.

Audrey’s favorite poem was Rabindranath Tagore’s Unending Love. The first verse from it is particularly beautiful. It reads:

I seem to have loved you in numberless forms, numberless times…

In life after life, in age after age, forever.

My spellbound heart has made and remade the necklace of songs, that you take as a gift, wear round your neck in your many forms…

In life after life, in age after age, forever.

Perhaps that is how all of us meet. Perhaps all we are experiencing in this blink of time we call “life” is one of numberless times—one song from a necklace of songs—that we choose to wear over and over, forever.

My heart was spellbound that night.

Audrey Hepburn left us on January 20th, 1993, at the age of 63. She died peacefully at her Swiss villa, La Paisible, in Tolochenaz near Lausanne. To this day, when Hubert speaks about her, he becomes visibly emotional. Had it not been for him, she might have never made it back to her home from Cedar Sinai in LA where, only a few weeks before her death, she lay too weak from colon cancer to move.   A flight on a commercial jet was out of the question.   And so, Hubert set out to provide her with a private one.

Givenchy and Hepburn

One of Hubert’s favorite shots of him with Audrey

“We had to figure out how to avoid reporters,” he later confessed. “I asked different friends who had planes. I asked Bunny Mellon, as she had several planes. I wanted to know how to rent one from LA to Geneva, non-stop, that would leave very late at night.”

Bunny sent the captain of one of her fleet to fly Audrey back to Switzerland. When she arrived in Geneva,  Hubert was waiting for her at the airport.

“Thank you for the magic carpet,” she told him.

It is pretty difficult to imagine an act that could top Hubert’s last gesture of love for her.  But, in her inimitable style, shortly before her death, she managed to do so. She called him to ask if he could come to La Paisible. When he arrived, he found her in her canopied bed, wrapped in Porthault sheets.

“Do you see that big box on the floor?” she asked Hubert. “It’s for you. Open it, please.”

Separating the layers of tissue paper, he uncovered a superb solid cashmere overcoat.

“Put it on,” she said.

Dutifully, Hubert obeyed, covering his tall frame with the supple brushed camel fabric.

“Now,” she told him,  “I want you to promise that when ever you miss me, you’ll put on that coat and imagine that its arms are my arms, embracing you.”

Did you ever see the film, Always? It was Audrey’s last. It’s this glorious story of a man in love—Pete—who dies and, from another plane of existence, is forced to watch his beloved as she falls in love with another man.   Knowing what awaits Pete, an angel named Hap comes to guide him. Portrayed by Audrey, the angel tells him that, in his transcended state, anything he does for himself is “a waste of spirit” and that, as with herself, his only role now is to help others.

It’s how I like to picture Audrey, helping me by hovering over my shoulder, whispering into my ear to always stay as graceful as that moment, long ago, when passing her a demi-tasse, she stared straight into my eyes.  For, if the eyes are truly the windows to our souls, then I like to think that, in that moment,  Audrey Hepburn flew right into mine.

 

[1]  “What do you expect? . . . Women are more intelligent than men.”

[2]   to its end.

[3] “They eat parsley,” he joked. “Everyone knows that it gives you a pretty way of walking.”

Next Post:  Paris–The Cinderella Years: “The Circle”

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

Book Cover, Rev

Interested in the House of Givenchy?  Explore it Here

PARIS, FRANCE - 1960: French designer Hubert de Givenchy, 1960 in Paris, France.

French designer Hubert de Givenchy, 1960 in Paris, France.

7 thoughts on “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?

  1. Wonderful! Most charming entry yet — and I see more and more why the love affair grew as it did. That old saying “They broke the mold when they made him” — fits. Pitou was extraordinary and found in you an extraordinary reflection. Loved the dinner party — felt as nervous reading it as you were preparing for it! More, please, Berenice! Do not keep us waiting!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is absolutely the best chapter yet, Berenice! I loved it from beginning to end. It was so beautifully written. You made me feel as though I was dining with Aidrey and Hubert, et. al. 😘

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Have just finished binge-reading your blog beginning to end. Beautiful! I even love the economics lessons. Can’t wait for next post!

    Like

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