Ever Been To The Congo?

Some time ago, when going through my secretary’s drawers, looking for some stuff for my tax declaration, I found an old wallet of mine, made of Louis Vuitton’s nice Épi leather, in a yummy chocolate brown, I instantly had to eat some, luckily I always have some bars at home, but that’s not the interesting part of my find. Inside the empty wallet was a single note, issued in February 1962 in the Congo, shortly after it had become independent, after the Belgians had lost their colony, and many, many a year before Hergé’s comic book “Tintin au Congo” had become ever so politically incorrect. A friend of my mother’s gave the Congolese note to me after giving account of her African adventures when I once visited her in Munich. She had spent some time in the young country in the early sixties, and during dinner she had all these funny anecdotes to tell, all of them much to her husband’s disapproval, who was sitting next to her when she talked about her African years but wasn’t part of any of the stories, she had only met him many years later. Males must feel important. Anyway, I remember most vividly the one about her arrival: picture a very young woman, very stylish, very vain, very concerned about her looks, having left Europe in mid-winter, in a top notch red bouclé wool ensemble with matching coat, made of the same red bouclé wool that one, too, and finding herself all of sudden in the tropical heat of Leopoldville, on a gangway and an airfield ever so close to the equator, lost even more in perspiration than in translation. You have to dress destination appropriately when you travel, she told me with great gravity when she handed me that note as constant reminder of her wisdom. I wouldn’t know. You see, I’ve never been to the Congo.

The Chocolate Diet

If you want to gain weight, for whatever reasons, do the following: buy eight to twelve large packages of assorted chocolates, pick your favourites from each package, arrange them casually in a bowl (you want to refill the bowl with chocolates as soon as it’s emptied) and start devouring them during at least four episodes of any show interesting enough to make you stay put in front of the TV no matter what happens or who’s at the door. I do recommend Killing Eve for such purposes, watching people kill other people always gives me an appetite. With that show (season 1 and 2), you have Sandra Oh (oh so gorgeous) and Jodie Comer (she’s gorgeous, too) in sixteen thrilling episodes, offering the most fattening effect. Do not forget to wash each chocolate down with a generous helping of caffè latte with non-skimmed milk in it, or a huge glass of Baileys, or, (or “and/or”, why not), some protein-infused banana milkshake. Repeat. Bon appétit and bonne chance!

The Day I Met A Fashion Legend

Victoire Doutreleau started working with Christian Dior in 1953, at the height of his fame, when everybody from Marlene Dietrich to Princess Margaret wore Dior. Merely twenty years old, she had become one his models, one of his mannequins. In these days, every single look of a collection, all of these wonderfully elegant day-time dresses and suits, all of these lavishly adorned evening and ball gowns were created on a mannequin’s body before they were finally presented to the press and the designer’s customers, in a rather modest surrounding compared to today’s over-dimensional fashion shows whose costs often exceed China’s GNP (well, maybe not China’s, but definitely the one of some African state), in these days a simple room filled with lots of chairs would do, in Christian Dior’s case, however, the walls were painted in some fine grey, a shade of grey so exquisite, that a Dior perfume now bears its name, Gris Dior. The people that were sitting in these chairs had fine names, too. Victoire Doutreleau paraded past le tout Paris, the international press, Harper’s Bazaar’s Carmel Snow, the one who in 1947 came up with the iconic expression New Look for Dior’s very first collection, photographers like Richard Avedon, and at one time Hollywood icon Audrey Hepburn with husband Mel Ferrer. This is where I came in.

I posted this photo on my Instagram account, writing a little story in French about this fashionable encounter, about Audrey Hepburn’s infidelity, she was Hubert de Givenchy’s muse after all at the time and not Christian Dior’s, but all in all it was rather a tribute to Victoire Doutreleau’s charme, her smile and grace in this photo had amazed me much more than the chicness of the Dior dress she was flaunting. And just by chance, or divine intervention, who knows, it just so happened that Victoire Doutreleau read my story on Instagram and found it most amusing. And by that, she won my heart.

Many a story later, I had moved from Zurich to Berlin in the meantime, and had written little somethings about her friendship with Yves Saint Laurent whom she followed when he left the house of Dior to open his own couture house in 1962, her best friend Karl Lagerfeld whose death she mourns deeply, and the great dresses she has worn, we had become sort of acquainted, and this December she invited me to tea in her Paris apartment, an elegant pied à terre where she stays when she’s not in Switzerland or at her 18th-century mansion in the South of France. I arrived the day Paris went on strike, my flight was over three hours late, there was no métro to take me any place near or far, it was raining heavily, but Boy, did I not mind! Imagine the joy you have when you learn all about Christian Dior, Yves Saint Laurent, Pierre Bergé (that one not so charming as one might have thought), Françoise Sagan, Helena Rubinstein, The Duchess of Windsor, Marlene Dietrich, Princess Margaret, Jacques de Bascher, Karl Lagerfeld, nights at the Paris opera with Alain Delon at her side and Maria Callas on stage, showing Olivia de Havilland, one of Dior’s most loyal customers, how to walk tête haute, learning about all that straight from the horse’s mouth! However, no expression could be less fitting. Straight from the goddess’s lips, this has a much better ring to it… A goddess dressed in a red Chanel, too. Designed by Karl Lagerfeld, that one, not Coco, who she has met as well, of course, un génie et un monstre, so she told me. She wore Mademoiselle’s suits in the years between, between being dressed by Dior and Saint Laurent, the time when Yves Saint Laurent was hospitalized during the Algerian war. We talked for hours, over champagne and snacks, only disturbed by texts from her sons and my mother. Both our closest family weren’t so sure about this internet connection of ours and wanted to be sure nothing awful had happened—who the hell had she invited? Who the hell was I seeing? But we told them to trust our guts just like we did. Unless all of it was a dream, I can only say that one meets the most wonderful people on Instagram.

Red Pears For Dessert

Some days ago, we cooked some pears in red wine, in some Rioja, just to be overly precise, but it doesn’t really matter, I think, the minute you put in the cinnamon stick and the cloves, it would be a little casting-pearls-before-swine-ish if you had opened a bottle of Château Pétrus especially. Not having one of these fancy bottles in the cellar anyway, I was quite secure not to spoil the swines I don’t own either. Anyway, whichever red wine you use, let the pears simmer at an almost boil for quite some time, just to make sure not only the aromas are allowed enough time to infuse properly but also the red wine’s red colour. I’m sure, these red parts are especially high in flavonoids and antioxidants so you can tell yourself poires au vin rouge is a very healthy dessert. Works with me. Maybe too well. Health and dessert appears so very contradictory a combination… Maybe that’s why I completely forgot about the pears twice: first on the oven, I only thought of them when it was way too late for dessert and by then most of the red wine had diffused into thin air (or rather rich air, the whole kitchen smelled of wine and spices), I had to add some fresh Rioja, and then a second time in the fridge, where subsequently the wine was allowed three whole days to infuse ever so completely. They tasted divinely! And as far as I’m concerned, it’s one more recipe to make it to 100. By the way, you don’t need a steak knife to cut them like in the photo, they’re ever so mellow and soft. It was just the only knife of our household not yet in the dishwasher… Anyway, Bon appétit, or rather Santé!

Christmas Gardening

Starting December 1st, at the very latest, everywhere you go everything is red and green. Or green and red. It’s not very original, but when it comes to traditions, I say to hell with originality! And so our front door gets decorated one more time in red and green despite being blue. Our garden shares this point of view, I think. There is no other explanation why all of a sudden everywhere in our garden everything is red and green. Or green and red. Isn’t it lovely?

The Boy Who Cried Pasta

There’s pasta and there’s… nothing! If it comes to pasta, I lose all objectivity, I forget all about any other meal, I always declare I will never ever eat anything else again. Like the boy who cried wolf, nobody believes me, but it’s true, nothing beats pasta, nothing is better, believe you me! As a proof, I stop writing right here and now, there’s nothing left to be said.

World Fruit Salad Day

When you’re on Instagram, you learn that every day is a very special day, there’s a day to remember everything and anything, the earth, cats, mothers, turtles, France, tattoos, allergies, beer, butterflies, and bamboo. Today, however, should be World Fruit Salad Day as I made one of my chaotic fruit mixes, consisting mostly of a giant ananas, two pears, a banana, an orange, rum raisins, walnuts, and some defrosted blueberries from the freezer that turned everything not-blue blue. For dressing, I consequently chose a blue one: a blend of Cointreau and crème de cassis, which turned out a strange chemical experiment. The blue blackcurrant liqueur just wouldn’t mix with the orange liqueur, just like oil and vinegar they stayed apart, and when I tried this bi-phase-mélange, it didn’t taste like neither of the liqueurs but like some old school cough sirup from some very secluded pharmacy somewhere high in the mountains, run by some old bearded fellow with a bow tie, like Breinmeier’s Est. 1543, do you know what I mean? Anyway, maybe today isn’t World Fruit Salad Day but World Bi-Phase Day…