DO YOU REMEMBER the Countess de Lave in Claire Booth Luce’s 1939 classic, The Women?
“L’amour, l’amour,” she exclaims while drowning herself in champagne. “That’s French for love.”
But, what is it? L’amour, for which everything must be sacrificed. L’amour, in the name of which everything may be justified. Is it an emotion? An ineffable feeling of affection so tender that one cannot live without it? Is it an attraction? An intense desire so strong that it justifies any conduct necessary to satisfy it? Or is it a meeting of the minds, so apparent that it leads to a sense of oneness with another? The sense that, in looking into the eyes of your beloved, you are in essence looking into a mirror, allowing you to know yourself?
Whenever I hear someone say that the past is dead, I ask myself, what if everything is happening all at once? If time is a misconception and the dividing line between past, present, and future is an illusion as postulated by Einstein, if the laws of physics are fundamentally reversible and life is nothing more than an opportunity to experience sequentially moments of existence that, in reality, are occurring simultaneously, then perhaps a memory is the chance to relive the past as present, and destiny is the knowing of what is to come because it is already here.
The older I get the more I wonder if the capacity to hold, ever-present, our memories of the past along with our instincts for the future is precisely what creates our reality. Have I changed all that much from the nineteen-year old girl who had her entire life before her? I still can see her when I look into the mirror. I still can feel everything she felt —the wonder and the thirst for more, the insecurities mixed with the knowing that she is perfect and always has been. Could it be that the ability to live in the past, present and future all at once is the gateway to knowing thyself? Could it be that, in knowing thyself, one can answer my question? “What is love?”
The ancient aphorism has been attributed to a number of Greek sages from Heraclitus to Pythagoras, Socrates to Plato. Inscribed in the forecourt of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi, it is more likely, however, that it was merely appropriated by these men from the Egyptian proverb, “Man, know thyself, and you are going to know the gods;” or the Hindu Upanishads that, centuries before, affirmed “Enquiry into the truth of the Self is knowledge.” Hinduism claims that the Self is the goal of life. But before you misconstrue those words, note that the word Self is capitalized. It is knowing this Self—this Higher Self—that is the true goal.
Pitou loved telling me that the unexamined life is not worth living. Yet, how can you hope to examine it if you believe your past is dead? Often I have thought that, in writing this memoir, this is all I am attempting to do—examine my life in order to arrive at the truth of mySelf. For if the soul is a helpless prisoner, as Plato contended, “chained hand and foot in the body, compelled to view reality not directly, but only through its prison bars,” I like to believe that writing allows a panoramic assessment of oneself through the soul’s all-seeing eye—the wide format lens that captures the sequentially experienced moments of one’s life with horizontally elongated fields of view stretching both into the past and the future simultaneously. Attempting to view my life through this lens is my way of looking within and of turning my back on a world that, too often, would have us forget our true goal, would keep us ignorant of ourselves.
Someone once said that if ignorance is bliss, why aren’t more people happy? Perhaps it is because ignorance serves as the fertile ground from which evil flourishes. Ignorance is a weapon that we wield against ourselves. But, if my late husband taught me one thing, it is that the remedy for ignorance is a simple one, available to anyone, irrespective of upbringing, access to formal education, or rank in the societal order. For if wisdom is the antidote to ignorance, it is conferred upon us—not by birth nor University degree—but by the safeguarding, throughout our lives, of one basic human characteristic: the propensity to question.
“Question everything,” he admonished. “Question the apparent; question the unquestionable. Never stop questioning.”
He had an unconventional definition of nobility. He often told me that it had nothing to do with the family you are born into—a surprising remark, given his lineage.
“If you can leave people and places as well as you found them or better,” he explained, “than you are noble.”
Of course, to leave a place better than you found it is a relatively simple affair; but people? Pitou left me a better person than when he found me. But not without shattering a number of illusions acquired during my youth, and not without forcing me to question everything I thought I “knew.”
I thought of my schooling as the best that money could offer. He referred to the twelve-acre private estate in the middle of Holmby Hills as “the country club.”
I thought of my country as the land of the free; he thought of the area from sea to shining sea as “the land of the somnambulant.”
I thought of my mother as the one person I could always trust. Yet, stopping to stare straight into my eyes, he had only three words for me.
“Be careful Bérénice.”
I knew that his warning was not objective—it was colored by the unfortunate circumstances surrounding his relationship with his own mother. But, even as early as 1978, I also felt that there was more to his cautionary advice than just a knee-jerk reaction to a personal memory.
There was his instinct for my destiny.
His capacity to hold ever-present his memories of his past along with his instincts for my future would usher in a reality ominously feared by my mother. And, as a result, I would slowly come to understand the reason she disliked him so much.
I have no doubt that my mother and my husband knew one another in a past life and that, in this one, they recognized each other the second they met. I took my mother for granted, never knowing who she truly was. As a child, I loved her too much to see her faults. And, as an adolescent in search of my identity, I distanced myself from her too much to see her qualities. Yet, she taught me a very important lesson: that while it is possible to know thyself, you can never, never truly know anyone else.
But you can love them.
Tall, slender and utterly beautiful, my mother possessed the haughty disdain of Linda Darnell coupled with the aristocratic finesse of Merle Oberon. Yet, as a girl, I didn’t see even that. I wanted her to be like the other moms of my parochial fifties world: dressed in Lilli Ann suits with white cotton gloves and discreetly neutral make up that blended seamlessly into my affluent Protestant surroundings. Instead, my mother arrived at our Episcopalian church on Sundays clad in solid black, her raven hair covered with a lace mantilla. The regal young widow still in her thirties, with her pale white skin, fire-red lips and charcoal painted eyes, turned every head in God’s house—especially those of the married men.
She was smarter than she was intelligent; more cunning than she was creative. But she knew what she wanted from life, and she was convinced she was worth it. So, too, was my father who first laid eyes upon her in the accounting department at MGM where they both worked after the War. Growing up with only the shadow of my father to cling to, my mother spent so much time speaking to me about her undying love for him that I never doubted it for a second. And yet, today, as I sit here asking myself what love truly is, I wonder.
He was wealthy beyond her wildest dreams. Dad was also elegant and educated—a “catch” in every sense of the word. He had been formed in boarding schools—Yale, and before that, Taft, where as a member of the “Senior Eleven” selected by the student body and faculty on the basis of character, he was fondly remembered for his amusing stories written on the fly and told in the winter evenings during late night bull sessions. My love of the written word comes from him. A gifted artist and fabulous horseman, uncharacteristically with an eye for the ladies, his classmates voted him “Handsomest, Best Build, Wittiest, Biggest Line, Most Pessimistic, Worst Chimney and Last to Marry.”
Yet, despite his popularity, his years in Connecticut had not been happy ones.
As a child, he resented having been shuttled off to the élite Watertown institution where one master was assigned to every ten boys, instruction in Greek and Latin was mandatory, and no one could leave campus “except to attend his father’s inauguration as president of the United States.” And as a Yale man in 1929, caught in the throes of the worst market crash in U.S. history, whether he wanted to be there or not, he knew that his days in New Haven were numbered. For while the poor were definitely getting poorer, suddenly, the rich were no longer getting richer.
He couldn’t have been more different from Mom—the absolute proof that opposites attract. Yet, before their meeting in 1947, there had been no sign of the sophisticated New Yorker ever having demonstrated any fascination for the Latina element. While at Yale, Dad was found in the company of Anglo women who conformed to his mother’s sense of East Coast propriety, the most notable of whom he would re-encounter years later at the studio. When Kenneth Stevenson Jr. first met Virginia Katherine McMath, she was not yet the star portrayed in Top Hat, sliding across the dance floor in ostrich feathers and the arms of Fred Astaire to the mellifluous supper club sounds of Irving Berlin. During the fall of 1929, the ice-cool beauty had yet to have made her first film. Still, her image of waspish perfection—a young girl the world would come to know as Ginger Rogers—was everything my paternal grandmother would have loved to see her son marry.
Instead, six months after meeting my mother, he married Ginger’s antithesis.
Spying Rogers as the newlyweds meandered through the studio alleys back in the summer of 1948, Dad commented in his typical self-deprecating manner: “She wasn’t all that interested in me. She spent most of her time on the phone with her mother.”
I began this memoir by evoking the image of Fred Astaire sweeping across the dance floor in coattails with Ginger Rogers in his arms. It is fitting that I should end this first part of it with the vision of her in the arms of my father. My father, who through his absence in my life had more impact upon it than he ever could have had he lived.
He had bumped into Ginger a couple of times at the MGM commissary—the legendary Art Deco watering hole that could seat over two-hundred and had its own bakery in the basement. There, you could sip on soup for 20 cents a bowl or gorge on a banana split for half a buck. Rogers was filming “The Barkley’s of Broadway” after replacing a suicidal Judy Garland who, during the first months of shooting, hadn’t managed to get to the studio in time for crack of dawn make-up and rehearsals. While growing up, Mom spoke incessantly to me of those years spent in the sound stages and false front streets of Metro—a witness to the icons of her era.
“Lana Turner was always overweight,” she’d comment cattily. “They had to lock her up and deprive her of food weeks before every film. And Hedy Lamarr! She thought nothing of going down on a guy under the linen cloth of a restaurant table.”
Envious of their success, she was nonetheless wary of the price they had paid for it. But that was Mom: sensible– while wondering if she should be.
There is nothing more difficult than writing about your mother. For me, it’s like writing about the three faces of Eve. My mother was never one person. She was one person to the world—one person to the rest of my family—and multiple persons to me. Like a multi-faceted diamond with flaws, her sharp edges were capable of dazzling to the point of blinding you—or shredding you to bits. Perhaps it was the light I placed her in, but I saw my mother as no one else did.
“Kennnny!” she’d laugh, while miming Ginger’s excitement over crossing paths with her ex-beau. Making the star appear as ridiculous as possible, my mother’s voice would reach shrill extremes as she mimicked the drawn-out intonation given by Rogers to my father’s knick name.
“That’s how she’d talk to him,” Mom continued. “She was effusive! She’d see him in the commissary and gush all over him, while giving me the eye. You know, that eye that runs from head to toe, that eye that says, ‘What’s he doing with her?’”
I must have heard the story a hundred times and, after about the tenth, concluded that it wasn’t Ginger who was wondering what my Dad was doing with Mom. It was my mother who was wondering.
Despite her beauty, her impoverished childhood had left her deeply insecure. She didn’t fit in my father’s moneyed world. Yet, she had seen what poverty had done to her mother, and was determined not to experience the same fate. When I was born, Mom didn’t think twice about which grandmother to name me after; only the wealthy one would do. She looked at the gesture as insurance. Ironically, it was a policy that would backfire in her face.
Fear, more than any other condition, served as my mother’s guidepost to life. And, as I would mature and come to realize this fact, I asked myself: when we are governed by fear, is it possible to love? Perhaps not. But I do believe that it is the attempt to conquer the one that can push us toward the other.
It wouldn’t be until the end of the eighties that I would face such a challenge. By then, my mother’s fears, as well as my own, would finish by ripping the two of us apart. The eighties marshaled a period of personal transformation in sharp contrast to the Galatean makeover I experienced throughout the seventies. The Cinderella years were coming to an end.
Our house in Brentwood had been rented to John Lodge, the bass guitarist and vocalist for the Moody Blues. The lease would be up in the Fall of 1979. Deep inside of me, I knew that my days in France were coming to an end. Each time Pitou and I had left California, it had been with a heavy heart. The land he had once disdainfully referred to as “Tahiti” had grown on him. The easy life style, warm climate, and sun drenched beaches had offered a respite from the constant grind of Paris. California was beckoning; he was happy there.
This Frenchman, whom I had prayed to as a fourteen-year-old, whom I had begged to appear in my life, to extricate me from the tedium of my West Coast existence, was showing signs of succumbing to a mode of living I had thought I had left forever. Years later when I would speak of the irony that I should bring my rescuer to the very place from which I had been rescued, Pitou just smiled.
“Mais, mon chou,” he remarked. “Don’t you know? The Blue Bird of Happiness can always be found in your backyard.”
The Blue Bird of Happiness. With all that has been laid at my feet, why am I constantly looking for her elsewhere?
Of course, had I not been in search of her, I would have never found Pitou. And as I contemplated the return to my roots, I worried about uprooting his. But we had another reason for leaving Paris—a two-year-old whom we both yearned to raise naked and free on the beaches of Southern California.
She was gorgeously chubby, with rosy round cheeks framed by golden locks of blonde hair. She was also all consuming—demanding—the kind of child who would cry all night to monopolize your attention, never giving up until she literally dropped in her crib from fatigue. Like my mother, she knew what she wanted. In her case, it was the undivided, complete and total attention of her parents. Observing her, I thought often of my father, of his antipathy toward his mother for not having consecrated her total attention to him during his childhood. Devon Berenice Thoreau de la Salle was not one to be ignored. And, by the time she was walking, she had already made that fact crystal clear to the both of us.
Her adorable baby smile was deceiving. Behind it laid the focus of an eagle. Peering at me, from the earliest age, her eyes registered her rate of disapproval.
“She won’t let me pick her up,” I commented to her father as she purposefully ignored me one evening after her nightly bath—punishment for having spent my day away from her at Merrill.
And yet, she was tender, endearing. I remember sitting with her in my lap with a cookie in my hand. Giving it to her, she took a bite only to watch as I snatched it from her fat little fingers. As I ate the whole thing, she gave me a startled look before laughing, confident that the world is abundant, that she didn’t have to fight for what was rightfully hers.
“How do I keep her this way?” I thought. “How do I protect her from the groveling that, inevitably, seems our due?”
I pulled out another cookie from the box on the kitchen table. Waving it in front of her, I asked, “Can I have a bite?” She giggled before shoving it into my mouth and waited to see the expression of pleasure that it brought to my face.
What do I want to keep with me when I find myself letting go of life? This innocence she possessed, this fearlessness, this confidence in Good. I realized that she had more to teach me than anyone I had encountered while searching for success. That night, at dinner, I spoke to Pierre about leaving Merrill Lynch.
“But, what will you do?” he asked. “You’re not one to waste the day lunching with the girls. I know the baby is a handful. But if you don’t have a goal of some sort, you’ll go crazy.”
“I don’t want her raised by strangers,” I answered. “I don’t want her thinking that we didn’t have time for her.”
He paused for a second before taking a swig from the glass of Johnnie Walker Red he had brought with him to the dinner table that evening. Grimacing as the cold liquid ran down his throat, he stared at me.
“You mean, the way Georgia thinks of me,” Pitou said.
My fork dropped, making a loud clanking noise against the Wedgewood plate. Picking it up, I regained my composure before answering him.
“I want her to be proud of us as parents, Pitou. I want her to grow up knowing that she’s loved. I don’t need to work in an office for others when we can work together while having her by our side. The real estate market in California is booming. With your taste, we can easily renovate properties for a living. ”
Suddenly, he smiled. It had been years since he had left Régie Press Publicis as the Chef de la Publicité Littéraire. Yet the thought of another nine to five job in an office in Paris had proven too much for him. The creative possibilities of working outdoors in the California sun while renovating property lit up Pitou’s face.
“Okay,” he said.
When he was truly happy about a decision we made, he had a way of saying “okay.” It was chipper, like a small bird singing. His blue eyes would light up, becoming a crystal turquoise, as if he had flipped the switch to an incandescent light behind them.
“Besides, I don’t want to raise Devon in Paris,” he continued. “I’m tired of this city. I’m tired of the noise and the traffic. I’m tired of the cost and, above all, I’m tired of its expectations.”
I knew what, secretly, he wanted: to re-discover the carefree existence that, ironically, he had experienced growing up in the South of France during the War—the best of times and the worst of times when he had been able to live from day-to-day content with the simple pleasures life offers: a stroll on the beach at sunset with bare feet in the sand, the sound of sea gulls and laughing children, the warm breeze of summer in your hair. It took very little to make Pitou happy. I sometimes think that is why he was given so much.
For the next few months we planned our departure from Paris while spending our weekends at the country homes of friends. Back then, Arielle Dombasle, a diva in every sense of the word, was still an unknown—some five years away from becoming a vedette with her breakthrough performance in Éric Rohmer’s Pauline à la Plage. Although we couldn’t be more different, the parallels we share have preoccupied me on more than one occasion. Her childhood was troubled by the early death of her mother, an event which affected her with every bit of the force that the death of my father had upon me. Faced with her father’s infidelities, a man described by Arielle as “extraordinairement beau. . . comme un dieu,” she says that she watched her mother “die from love” while abandoning Arielle at the age of eleven to deal with the consequences. How does one die from love you ask? Arielle will tell you that her mother was “a slave” to her love for her husband and that it led the woman to the unthinkable: to allowing the mistress of Arielle’s father, “une femme remarquable mais très écrasante,” to live under the same roof with them.
Our parents create the road maps for our lives without ever realizing it. Faced with the disturbing consequences of her father’s decision, and her mother’s acquiescence, Arielle’s attitude toward love was predictable.
“I decided to live for my mother, to avenge her life,” she told Mireille Dumas in a 2008 television interview for Vie Privée, Vie Publique, exposing a “secret” that she had spoken of to me, freely, before touched by stardom.
Of course, we never end by avenging injustices wrought upon us; instead we finish by affirming our state of victimhood. By wallowing in our pain, we bring clarity and focus to it, attracting the very condition we seek to eradicate from our lives. It is perhaps because of this that Arielle’s life long battle with her father has fascinated me. That, and the fact that we both chose to vanquish the injustices inflicted upon us by our fathers by marrying men who reminded us of them.
It has been seventeen years since I last saw Arielle, but it really doesn’t matter if I ever see her again.
“Dans la vie, on commence en se voyant un peu,” Pitou would remind me, “puis beaucoup, puis plus de tout.” 
By watching Arielle from afar, however, by observing the life of this old friend, this lost friend, a friend who has grown in an opposite direction from mine, I have come to understand the aspects of myself that have most troubled me. Like Arielle, my obsession with my father would determine my destiny. Like Arielle, it would teach me the meaning of love.
She was born Arielle Sonnery de Fromental, and has been characterized as everything from l’éternelle petite fille to a “psycho senior” –a national treasure “more French than the Eiffel Tower” for whom all the world is but a stage. Yet, she hails from Connecticut and was raised in Mexico—the daughter of an ambassador of aristocratic French lineage and an intellectual who surrounded Arielle in her youth with the notable literati of his era. Taking her maternal grandmother’s name in memory of her mother, I can’t help but wonder if, in so doing, she was also attempting to eradicate her father whom she describes as “seigneur, méchant homme, égoïste, mais en même temps, très intéressant.”
Early in life, she privately announced her decision to become a femme fatale, “le contraire de ce qui était ma mère.”  Today she is public about that decision.
“I would be the woman who would annihilate men,” she says when asked about the resolutions she made in the formative years of childhood. “I would make them suffer; I would be a sort of unobtainable woman for whom they would die. It wouldn’t be me who would die for them.”
It is easy to see why she made up her mind to adopt the life of a seductress. Growing up, she had two images of women upon which to model herself. Her mother, who was the image of douceur, la charme, “who dies and who is, thus, vanquished;” and then the other image, of her father’s mistress, dominatrices, an Aztec princess—a warrior.
“I asked myself: what should one be in life? Should one be a victim? Because it is also a temptation, and sometimes we let ourselves be devoured.”
These tidbits of truth she so readily metes out seem uncharacteristically profound. And that is what makes her so interesting—an enigmatic starlet, derided by many while loved by most. Yet still a teen, she flew to Paris to set about conquering the one species of man who appeared to her to be unconquerable: the playboy. And, by the time I came to know her in 1974, she had succeeded in capturing the undivided attention of one of the city’s most notorious womanizers.
Paul Albou was a man whose reputation in Paris was anything but stellar. In fact, there were a number of well-intentioned society matrons who warned me about frequenting this man’s company. I was told on more than one occasion to be careful about being seen in his presence. Described by Vanity Fair as “a Jewish playboy society dentist” 32 years Arielle’s senior, I had first met Paul in 1971 while seated by the dance floor at Castel’s where he hadn’t hesitated to make his feelings about me known, irrespective of the fact that I was with a friend of his: Pitou.
“Wow!” Paul exclaimed while staring intently into my eyes.
Leaning over the table, he took my hand to kiss it while keeping me in his line of sight. Nor did it seem to bother him that he, too, was in the company of another—a young and beautiful French girl who seemed visibly annoyed by her date’s ploy of seduction.
Arielle’s eventual marriage to this Algerian Casanova would stay a secret for decades to all but a handful of Paul’s friends, of whom Pitou was one. Yet, word of his reputation must have traveled to Mexico, for when Arielle’s father heard of the nuptials, he refused to have anything further to do with her.
“He was the first man of my life,” she would explain some forty years after having married him. “He was also a man who had the most beautiful women in the world in his arms.”
It is true that, in the sixties and seventies, Paul had been seen about town in the presence of sirens like Brigitte Bardot and Jane Fonda, Raquel Welch and Jean Shrimpton, as well as a bevy of other fashion models regularly seen in the pages of ELLE and Marie-Claire. As if to tame her unfaithful father, Arielle took him on—a challenge to be conquered, a man with a frame of mind to be dominated. It couldn’t last. Paul failed to meet the first criteria for being considered one of Europe’s true playboys; for while he had the chutzpah, he possessed neither the money nor the required affinity for risk. You’d never see Paul on the back of a Polo pony or weaving a Ferrari through the streets of Monaco. And, unlike Porfirio Rubirosa, Fon de Portago and Gunter Sachs, he didn’t have the connections—the carte blanche to the world of the affluent and the elegant. Rather, Paul resided on the outskirts of society, the edges of le Tout-Paris where he remained marginalized, albeit, in one of the most spectacular apartments in the city—one he couldn’t afford.
It was situated on the rue de Tilsitt, one of two streets that form a circle around the Place de l’Étoile, the other being the rue de Presbourg. On the first floor of one of les Hȏtels Mareschal overlooking l’Arc de Triomphe, Arielle would later characterize the apartment as “so enormous, we had to burn the furniture in winter to keep it warm.” My memory of the place, however, was that its heating bills were paid by Bernie Cornfeld–the con man of the seventies and Madoff of his era who, before its fall, built the mutual fund sales company, Investors’ Overseas Services, into a two and a half billion dollar empire. Paul and Cornfeld were good friends and, as a result, Bernie had an entire wing of the apartment as his personal pied-a-terre while in Paris. Besides, it was a sparsely furnished place, and even if Paul had burned the furnishings they would have scarcely kept Arielle warm for a week.
Paul was always on the prowl, for the next combine. God only knows what he engaged in with Cornfeld. There were rumors.
“He has always needed to resort to trickery,” Pitou told me early on in our relationship, “to call attention to himself, to get whatever it is that he wants.”
It was a phenomenon completely foreign to Pitou. Attention had always fallen to him effortlessly, the natural consequence of having been born possessing grace. Paul, however, had to work at attracting attention. But then, a person’s faults can just as easily entice. Pitou was leery of Paul. With reason.
This was the man whom Corinne Buchet had purposefully omitted from her list, the womanizer known for slipping Quaaludes into the champagne flutes of unsuspecting young girls; whose dinner invitation I had accepted in the early days of my courtship with Pitou and who had caused his eyes to burn with fire as he sat astonished—perplexed by my lack of judgment.
“Give me an example,” I asked, “of calling attention to himself, I mean.”
“Do you remember when we were pool-side at l’Hôtel du Cap last summer? And Paul was standing at the top railing, overlooking the cliffs while gazing out to sea?”
The image of the trim, tanned figure in a white Lacoste shirt, his thick dark hair perfectly combed, had stuck vividly in my memory.
“Yes,” I said. “ I remember. He was under the loud-speaker. He was called to the phone several times that day.”
In fact, it had been the voice of the hotel operator paging Paul that had alerted us to his presence at Eden Roc where, sunning on the raft off of the cliffs, we had spent a hot August afternoon.
“He was waiting for his secretary to call him,” Pitou continued. “She was under instruction to do so at the lunch hour, to make sure that he was paged when the restaurant was packed.”
To be paged over the loud-speaker at Eden Roc, one would have to convince the management that there was an emergency of sorts; small feat for the assistant to a doctor—even if he was only a dentist.
“It’s Paul’s way of announcing himself,” Pitou remarked, “of saying to the world ‘I’m here.’ ”
And yet in spite of his unrefined machinations, Pitou liked the man. He seemed to understand him, his need to count, and his willingness to go to extremes in order to meet the need.
“I was his Lolita,” Arielle would later say of him. “He adored me.”
Knowing Paul, of that I had no doubt.
One of my most vivid memories of Arielle is of a day in Paris when we spent the afternoon at a private spa where, completely naked, we took a sauna together. Besides the fact that she was utterly spectacular, there is something about the condition of nakedness between two women that brings their most intimate revelations to the fore. Before long, as the sweat trickled down our legs, we were speaking of our husbands, and of sex. She wanted to know what it was like to be in bed with Pierre. Almost as if conducting a survey, her curiosity was aimed at provoking my most personal and explicit confessions. What were his techniques? Was he attentive to my desires? How often did we engage in making love? Pitou was a very attentive lover and I wasn’t shy about candidly answering her questions. But she shocked me when my turn arrived to inquire into her sex life with Paul.
“I never initiate it,” she confessed. “If we make love, it’s because he wants to. It has to be that way –when the man wants to—don’t you think?”
These were her pre-B.H.L. years, the days before her love affair with France’s celebrity philosopher, Bernard-Henri Lévy, a man who has acquired intellectual gravitas by speaking up everywhere about everything all the time and, in the process, demonstrating a belief in a thought expressed by Oscar Wilde: “There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.”
Arielle would divorce Paul in the mid-eighties, an event from which I think he never recovered. Instead, he succumbed to the temptation of being devoured while she went in search of her next victim. I doubt that she believes that she was ever in love with this man, although she certainly loved him. In her quest to vanquish the ghost of her father, he was a necessary first step.
Her marriage to BHL would have made Oscar Wilde red with envy. Mockingly referred to as “The Genius of Judaism,” a title owing to Chateaubriand’s “The Genius of Christianity,” with Arielle at his side, he would become the most talked about writer in Paris, feeding the tabloids for decades. Like Albou, an Algerian-born Jew, he first became noticed in the early 1970s as one of the Nouveaux Philosophes who repudiated Marxism. Unlike Paul, his adoration for Arielle would come without the loss of his strident independence. And, in the end, the woman men would die for, the femme fatale who used all of her cunning to defy their control, bizarrely became Bernard Henri’s submissive pet. As if corseted, destined to stay attached to his puppet strings, she justifies the contradiction by stating simply:
“Moi j’aime être une femme soumise; ça me plait. Parce que c’est voluptueux.” 
Are all women condemned to eventually become their mothers? In attempting to avoid their fates do we, unwittingly, take them on?
In Daphne Guinness, Arielle would meet her Aztec princess: BHL’s exotic mistress and the woman who would remind her that we can never change the fundamental nature of the men we choose to love. The heir to the 18th century Irish brewer, granddaughter of Diana Mitford, and iconic fashion trend setter whom Levy claims “is no longer a person but a concept,” it would seem that her purpose is to taunt Arielle, just as her mother before her was taunted by her own goddess of Rhamnous–the nemesis from whom there is no escape.
“Love is a sort of madness,” she sings. “Your fatal flaw, your imagination. No imagination . . . Love is forgiveness. In the end, in the end . . . love is forgiveness.”
As I watch her, I think to myself that, perhaps most importantly, love provides all of us with a stage upon which to act out the trauma of our childhood. If so, then it is not the feelings love engenders that matter as much as the lessons it can teach.
With August upon us, the heat of the city became unbearable. Gérard Bonnet had recently sold his chalet in Verbier for a villa in Marbella. We ditched Paris to spend a week with him on the Costa del Sol. Now divorced from Lorraine, he had married a woman some twenty years younger who Pitou quickly tagged as la coule douce—the soft flow. She had come to know Gérard in the early seventies as a guest at the chalet. Pitou loved Marica. She had a mellow quality to her. Svelte, with brown hair and eyes like melted chocolate, she sauntered through life with the grace of a gazelle, bestowing kindness upon those whom she met by simply agreeing to be in their presence.
Sometimes I think that I have chosen everyone whom I have met in this lifetime for the lessons they could teach me. Marica taught me an important one. Gérard’s divorce from Lorraine was complicated by the fact that she was still very much in love with her husband. Yet Marica would end up becoming one of her closest friends. Refusing to allow her married life to become a cliché, she rejected the stereotypical image of the hateful ex-wife and, instead, set about winning over Lorraine.
My definition of destiny is life conforming to purpose and I believe that Marica’s was to help those who touched her look past appearances in a quest for the possible.
She brought quiet grace to Gérard’s new home as well as to his life.
Like the chalet Helora before it, the house in Marbella was populated with jet-setting characters, one of whom has actually been credited with coining the term. Igor Cassini, younger brother of fashion designer Oleg, arrived one evening with his fifth wife, Brenda, then seven months pregnant with their first child. Known under the pseudonym of Cholly Knickerbocker, the eminent columnist for the Hearst newspapers during the 1940s and 1950s spent the evening doing what he did best: entertaining us with society gossip.
Gérard had come to know him in the Fifties as a result of his close friendship with Rubirosa. But the world would come to remember him as a result of his picking Jacqueline Bouvier as 1947’s debutante of the year. Three decades later as we dined with Cassini, her image tarnished by the tabloids, it was difficult to think back on Jackie as that upper-class young woman making her first formal appearance in fashionable society. Her marriage to Onassis had so shattered her carefully constructed myth of Camelot that she was barely remembered as a Kennedy. Instead, as “Jackie O,” snide remarks circulated as to the nickname’s true meaning. Did the O refer to Onassis? Or to the string of zeroes he had contributed to her bank account? Did JFK ever really listen to Camelot before going to bed at night? Or was that last line of the reprise just too good to let go to waste.
“I felt like I was buying a prize horse,” Ari told syndicated columnist, Jack Anderson, as he recounted to him the terms of the pre-nuptial agreement Ted Kennedy had negotiated with Onassis on Jackie’s behalf. Yet another example of love providing the platform upon which to work through childhood trauma.
“L’amour, l’amour . . .” stronger than death and yet like La Rochefoucauld’s ghosts that everyone talks about and few have seen.
Caught between the vise of her father’s lack of money and his incessant need of it, Jackie spent her youth auditioning a succession of affluent eligible bachelors in a mercenary search for the right, rich husband. In Ari, she had finally found him. But even one of the richest men in the world couldn’t erase the scars from her youth. While squirreling away her two million plus pre-nup proceeds and her $30,000 monthly expense account, she still felt the need to sell the clothes from her notorious shopping sprees, never wearing the garments, instead choosing to pocket the profits that came from her mere ownership of them.
Once again, I found myself watching from afar a woman who had briefly touched me personally while pondering the profound importance of the paternal figure and wondering: is a girl’s father the only man who has any real influence upon her? Black Jack Bouvier had the kind of influence upon Jackie that another man, well versed in the trade of beautiful things for profit, was surprised he had to explain to me.
Upon our return from Marbella, I was invited by Alain Boucheron to view a new shipment of diamonds. In the late seventies, the House of Boucheron was still a family owned business. Situated on the Place Vendôme at number 26, it has been a favorite jeweler of maharajas and queens for over one-hundred and fifty years. I had been introduced to the great-grandson of the house’s founder by a client of mine at Merrill who had known him since childhood. Alain wasn’t yet thirty but, already, he shared the stern presence of his great-grandfather, Frédéric, as well as his receding hairline. I expected to be received by the joaillier in a ground floor salon where, surrounded by mahogany walls and dominated by crystal chandeliers, a few stones would be discreetly viewed from within glass encased display tables. Instead, Alain greeted me with a kiss on both checks as he led me to a side elevator.
“I’m taking you to the vaults,” he said.
I don’t remember how many floors we descended, but when the elevator doors opened, I had the impression of being deep in the bowels of the Place Vendôme. The room was richly carpeted yet dimly lit. And, rather than viewing the rare stones from under glass, Alain poured the diamonds from velvet pouches into my bare hands. It is a rare experience to hold millions of dollars between your fingertips—to let them slither through your extremities and watch the flawless jewels as they fall on felt pads the color of royal blue. Alain smiled as he observed me. It gave him pleasure to see the warm reaction of a young woman to their cold touch.
He was a bavard, a man who loved to chat with woman—as if understanding what makes them tick could help him in his inherited profession. He wanted to know all about my vacation and everyone I had seen on the Costa del Sol.
“I really don’t understand the attraction,” I commented. “To Marbella, I mean. There are so many other places in the world that are far more beautiful. Why is it so popular?”
Alain looked at me surprised before employing my misconstrued term in its correct sense.
“Marbella is anything but ‘popular,’ Bérénice. To the contrary, it is the opposite of popular. It is where the rich congregate. And, above all, the rich love being in the presence of the rich.”
In that moment I felt extremely foolish, while coming to understand what it means to be in a world but not of it.
That fall, as Pitou and I prepared for our new life in California, we leased our apartment to the ambassador of Italy for the OECD. I remember thinking he didn’t deserve it. He was the kind of man who rubbed his hands in anticipation of their receiving remuneration, a less than elegant bureaucrat with a conniving smile and a frumpy wife. His suits were badly tailored and the soles of his shoes were too thick. In the cool chic backdrop created by Alain Demachy, he didn’t fit. But he benefited from the unlimited bank account of the Italian government, and he quickly agreed to the ridiculously large security deposit that Pitou demanded of him.
We spent that Christmas in the little town of Detilly in Touraine at Demachy’s manoir, retreating into a sixteenth century existence of mornings that began by stoking fires in the hearths, afternoons of long walks along abandoned country roads dotted with village houses of white stone and slate roofs, and evenings in the kitchen where, as I cooked, Pitou uncorked bottles of Chenin Blanc and Gamay while entertaining me with his endlessly interesting thoughts.
The house was not far from Chinon, the town where the Knights Templar were imprisoned and Joan of Arc had acknowledged her king; from Blois, where the duc de Guise was murdered; from Chenonceau, where Henri II had housed his mistress, the lovely and intelligent Diane de Poitiers; and from Amboise, where François I had welcomed Leonardo da Vinci. For the entire month, to an interior backdrop of refined haute luxe and Neo-Gothic architectural details, where all sorts of styles were comfortably mixed, we did nothing more than give over to the simple pleasures of life. Reading and talking and playing with Devon, our weeks spent in the garden of France, the land of Gargantua and Pantagruel, eased our transition from the fast paced life of the city we were leaving to the slow suburban roll that awaited us in California.
On the morning when we left Paris for the Loire Valley, the hired help for the entire building on the rue Frédéric-Le-Play lined up outside its imposing glass and wrought iron doors to bid us farewell. It was a bit like a scene out of Downton Abbey—an emotional moment where, shaking the hands of the servants, it hit me that not only was a chapter of my life coming to a close, a way of life was ending. There were tears in the eyes of le gardien d’immeuble, an elderly man who throughout the years had knocked on the kitchen door in the mornings to see if I needed him for grocery shopping. With his hat in hand, politely he would ask if I had a list for him just before I had managed a mad dash for my office at Merrill Lynch. His niece, Babette, held Devon in her arms as I loaded a few last things into the trunk of the mini-cooper.
“Come on, Devon,” I said to my two-year old. “It’s time to get into the car.”
Still upset with me for months of perceived neglect, she feigned disinterest while clinging to Babette’s neck.
“Bon, okay,” I said as I moved toward the shotgun door of the car.
Thinking I might leave her behind, suddenly, the little girl sprung out of Babette’s arms and jumped into the back seat of the mini. Gazing out the rear window, she waved to the servants while gleefully squealing:
“Bye, bye! Bye, bye!”
Then, heaving a sigh of relief, she giggled nervously as they all waved back to her.
As I closed the door of the car, I glanced at her father who was turning the key to the ignition.
“Ah, oui “ he whispered. “I told you that she knows where she belongs.”
After two months in the Loire Valley, we drove to Meribel where Pierre had rented a chalet for the season. The winter of 1979 was the happiest of my life–a blue sky holiday. The chalet was perpetually filled with guests and when it wasn’t, we would ski to neighboring Courchevel where we spent time with Jean and Anne Caracciolo. Living in the French Alps was so magnificent that, years later, when Pierre would suggest that we move to Mammoth Lakes, I would instantly agree. Waking up each morning, my only worry was of what to serve our friends for dinner that night. More often than not, they wouldn’t let me cook. Relieved of my role as hostess, I would collapse in front of the television set, exhausted after eight hours of skiing Les Trois Vallées.
With the rumble of friends’ laughter and Devon’s gleeful chatter in the distance, I sat mesmerized by the black and white images of the Ayatollah Khomeini and his triumphant return to Iran after fifteen years in exile. The shah and his family had fled the country two weeks before, and jubilant Iranian revolutionaries were clamoring to establish a theocracy based upon strict adherence to Islamic fundamentalist law. Each night, I watched in disbelief as a revolution caught fire, sending women back hundreds of years into the dark ages. I was young. I still had no understanding of the underlying causes– no knowledge of the coup orchestrated by the CIA in 1953 in order to overthrow Iran’s democratically elected prime minister, Mohammad Mosaddegh. That winter, as I contemplated my country’s unquenchable quest for oil, I began the second phase of an awakening. Unfettered by the demand to perform at Merrill Lynch, with time on my hands, my interest shifted– from the mechanics of money to the mechanics of power.
But Pitou never let me dwell too long on the negative. He was acutely aware of my penchant to retreat into a cerebral world where, often, I would lose myself. Pulling me from the depths of darkness into the light, with his smile, his inimitable sense of humor, he would remind me of all I had been given while imploring me not to take it for granted.
We were a family now. And, while the trials of the near future would test our resolve, for the moment, adherence to the vows I had taken back in August of 1976 when we had married had yet to probe the depths of my courage and devotion to this man. As the Cinderella years came to an end, I didn’t yet have the faintest clue of what real love is. Looking back, while these years were glorious and, if given the chance, I would relive them in an instant, I am the most thankful for the pain that was still to come. L’amour, l’amour –what it still had to teach.
By the time we would board the plane for L.A., Pitou and I had been together for almost eight years, defying those who had felt that, because of our age difference and cultural dissimilarities, we wouldn’t last. Instead, our admiration for each other had only deepened.
“Why do I love him?” I whispered to myself under my breath as I watched him teaching our toddler how to ski.
Other than the physical attraction, the chemical reaction that ignites an incendiary wave of irrational emotions which invariably die out, I have come to define love as mutual respect born of abiding affinities, so strong, they virtually tie you to another for eternity. You are bound together because in viewing one another, you see yourself—or at least a part of yourself. In that sense, love is narcissistic although few of us would like to admit it. We want to idealize it, pretend that we are sacrificing for it when, in reality, everything that we give to it is a taking. Those in love, even when unrequited, are the lucky ones. For the bittersweet sadness experienced from the loss of love is still preferable to the hunger from never having known its taste.
My father charted my course in life without ever realizing it while my mother navigated the wake he left behind as best she could. As an adolescent who grew up amidst the wealthiest families in L.A., le Tout-Hollywood if you will, I witnessed a world that had nonetheless remained just beyond my reach—as if membership to this club had been denied me due to the missing element of my existence that had differentiated me from the pack, always leaving me with the uneasy sensation that I was not good enough, that I did not belong. Was it a coincidence that I had chosen to fall in love with a man who had been married to “the most beautiful woman in the world”? that he could open the doors to a scintillating society whose access is, more often than not, determined by the family one is born into and the social position of its paternal figure?
Much like Arielle, drawn to men whose love appears unobtainable so that she can prove to herself that she will not be made their victims, I drifted into Pitou’s arms to prove to myself that I merited them.
Looking back on those early years, with the 20/20 hindsight of a woman now in her sixties, I see where I took from Pitou, all the while thinking I was giving. I see why he stressed to me that the unexamined life is not worth living; that in failing to look as objectively as possible at my past I might miss the point of experiencing it. I was drawn to him, not simply for his wit and elegance, his charm and good looks, but because in filling the void left by my father’s death, he gave me the opportunity for absolution. He forever released the child in me from the notion that she was less than perfect, that she merited being abandoned—that her destiny was to be left bereft.
During the next three decades I would be showered with difficulties. The years ahead would leave memories unlike those of the twenty-something girl who lived the decade of the seventies in Paris. They would be filled with upheaval, challenges, great pain and great joy. But, by standing by me, Pitou would solidify himself as my rock, my safe haven in a sea of change that, at times, would leave me reeling in confusion and self-doubt.
The life that I had lived up until our departure from Paris that morning had been a fairy tale. Yet, if my time with Pitou had ended at that point in our forty-year love affair, it would have been for naught. For I was still living its myth, the one I had spun to better tackle the void that my father had left when he died.
Thomas Aquinas said that it is the things we love that tell us what we are. But I believe that it is the people whom we love that tell us who we are. It is the people whom we love that allow us to know ourselves. It doesn’t happen right away. I don’t believe in love at first sight. And, when I speak of love, I am not talking about the affairs that, inevitably, end in disappointment. In my opinion, Ricardo Montalban got it right when he said that love is “an ever-growing process; it develops after you’ve gone through many ups and downs, when you’ve suffered together, cried together, laughed together.”
When that happens and you’re still together, when the ego has been sacrificed to a relationship in which the two of you have become one, when you can repeat to your beloved the words of William Blake that “I am in you and you in me,” then you will begin to know the meaning of love.
In thinking about how this happened to me, I can only say that some men command us to love them.
Pitou was such a man.
End of Part One of Pitou My Love
Memoir of a Twenty-Something Girl in Paris—The Cinderella Years.
Stay Tuned for Part II:
The Malibu Years
To be Posted Soon!
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 A remarkable woman who was, at the same time, crushing.
 “In life, we start by seeing our friends a little; then a lot; then not at all.”
 “. . . seigneur, cruel man, selfish, but at the same time, very interesting.”
 “. . . a femme fatale, the opposite of what my mother was.”
 In French, combine means trick or ploy.
 Personally, I like being a submissive woman. It pleases me. Because it’s voluptuous.”
6 thoughts on “L’amour, L’amour”
Superb!…..simply superb…..Those William Blake words, just say it all……when she is in your blood, and you are in hers…..then you just know…..no words can describe the feeling that you have for each other…………but no one ever said that love was easy……it is not!!!
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Ah, you have painted a masterpiece here, Berenice! You’ve used bold strokes and deftly defined your enlightening years in Paris! Detailed, yet poetic. You show us what it is to have been loved so fully and by a man who showed you how to question yourself and see and understand what he saw in you. Now you have spoiled this reader for what is yet to come….
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I have so much more to say, And I am guessing that the next phase of my life with Pitou will come as a bit of a surprise. But, that’s love. Stay posted.
I just came across this blog accidentally and got hooked. Is there more to the story?
There will be more, Toni. I am turning the Blog into a novel. It is called “The Bargain.” I will keep you posted on this site.
I’ve missed reading your wonderful chapters here! Looking forward to so much more! Happy Birthday, too!!