January 25, 2013



Jean-Claude had befriended Hemingway in the late 1950s and had taken wonderful pictures of Papa with the great matador Ordóñez. He gave many of them to me, plus some very naked pics of Brigitte Bardot, whom both of us dated long ago. He married three times, and all his wives were named Brigitte. His end was very sad because it took him almost two years to die, four to six different hospitals, plus the nervous breakdown of his wife who watched him slowly fade away. I spoke to him often, he never complaining, me always making plans for the two of us knowing damn well nothing would come of them.

On a brilliant sunny day, another great friend of his and mine, John Sutin, a descendant of the great Soutine, flew from Geneva to Paris and proceeded to get wrecked at a dinner before the funeral, one given by John and attended by close friends who had flown in from all over Europe.

That’s the night I stumbled late around the Left Bank streets, thinking back over my younger days in Paris with JC. The next morning in brilliant sunshine we drove to the great church of Val-de-Gr”ce, an early baroque marvel built by Queen Anne of Austria, mother of Louis XIV. The French queen of Louis XIII had difficulty becoming pregnant, but once she did, she lay the cornerstone of the church and named it after Jesus born of the Virgin Mary. The original plans were of Mansard, and it is one of the most imposing churches in Paris.

The mother of my children had arranged for the flowers and the singing by a lady that managed to break down even some of the toughies attending. I held out as long as I could, but Schubert’s Ave Maria got to me. Behind me sat a toothless man with a beret, a Foreign Legionnaire who had fought under the great Colonel Bigeard in Dien Bien Phu. “This is probably my last funeral,” he told me, then handed me a book of poems he’d written. I pointed out to my young son all the friends I hadn’t seen in many years, men and women who had come for le dernier adieu to a brave and fine man with whom I never had a cross word. Goodbye mon vieux ami, we’ve had some damn good times.



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