If there were flags they would be flying at half mast in the little river town in which I live.
I would rather write something amusant about the restaurant – I really would. But André’s passing has touched us all.
André was a chef who ran a little place in the next town. Actually, he did more than that. He ran the town.
A Frenchman with a porcelain complexion and periwinkle blue eyes, he had a coterie of admirers, the likes of which I haven’t seen since Gaetan DuVal ruled the roost in Mauritius.
Despite being twice their age, André would party with them until rosy-fingered dawn drew back the coverlet of night.
I remember dancing at his seventy-fifth birthday and thinking that I had underwear older than most of the people there. He would come to the restaurant and bring Billecart-Salmon champagne and eat like a bird. He always offered me a glass.
He called me Coco because I used to wear a Coco Chanel brooch.
He was like a Pied Piper. The jeunesse dorée trailed him and sat at his knees and learned from him. He was both wickedly naughty and fiercely kind.
He would turn up at parties parenthesized by a pair of glamorous girls or boys. I used to pester him to marry me. “Ah oui! Maybe when I am zeventy-six,” he would laugh.
For more than a quarter of a century he was mentor to our executive chef.
Occasionally he would make a guest appearance at our resto and cook. He claimed his bread pudding was the best in ze world.
Perhaps it was.
During Hurricane Sandy, we all converged on the chef’s house. He had electricity and we didn’t. As always André was the magic that kept us mesmerized. He would stay overnight, but then leave. He knew that one must maintain one’s mystique.
I would see him at the odd supper party. He was always the one to bring the most interesting salad and have the most interesting stories to tell. Stories about his life in France. He knew what chic was. He knew how to behave. He studied people. Once when I was setting up a party he said
“You should not put ‘im on zis table. Zees people are not the zame people as zose peeple.” I knew exactly what he meant.
Of course he could be sharper than a serpent’s tooth, but who worth their salt isn’t?
When cancer threatened to overwhelm him, the river town banded together. Within a couple of days enough money was raised to fly André back to Nice. He died four hours after touching down in France. His sister was holding his hand when he passed.
Somehow André’s passing has muffled us all in a cotton wool of grief.
Why, not ten days ago, he came to the restaurant. When it was time for him to leave, he had to make a sixteen point turn to exit. He bumped into a flashy BMW with his old battered jalopy.
With a shrug and a giggle he drove off.
We will continue to swap André stories for years. He was an original. A kind of French Quentin Crisp.
I pray that death came to him like a delicious sleep with the fragrance of magnolia blossoms.
Finally, no column – oops – blog – would be worth its weight in air guitars if it didn’t mention the Lawson/Saatchi spat.
Many years ago I had a fiery relationship with an Italian. The rows, which took place in Italy, Mauritius and Africa were Wagnerian. I would lock him out. He would climb over the wall. There were guns involved and broken noses.
I would call my mother sobbing hysterically.
“It sounds quite romantic to me,” she said placidly. “You don’t understand! He is pazzo – MAD!” I would shriek.
Many years later, I was in an abusive marriage. I became cowed and frightened. Even my tone of voice altered.
I determined that I would write about my experience to encourage other women trapped in abusive relationships to leave, to seek help and support.
Many years later, I am entrapped in a mule-like existence. I have to earn my living by dint of physical labour. The abuse is now ambient.
I wouldn’t mind Charles Saatchi – or any other seriously wealthy man – clapping his pudgy hand over my mouth – if it meant going home to a Knightsbridge townhouse with original Paul Klees, a butler and a housekeeper.
The wheel has turned full circle.