I have no idea if F. Scott Fitzgerald or any of his protagonists ever had bratwurst for dinner, leastwise the Divers should have eaten this teutonic meal at least once when staying in Zurich, the Swiss make such fine bratwurst, but since I happen to own Jay Gatsby’s personal napkin ring, discovered it some years ago in an antique store in West Egg, Long Island, I can tell you that his spirit is still with us and was with me tonight, when I had bratwurst for dinner, accompanied by some savoy cabbage. This curly leafed vegetable surely would have put a smile on Scott Fitzgerald’s face, savoy has such a nice first class hotel ring to it, doesn’t it? I think, I can say sans rougir that tonight, Jay Gatsby and I had a bratwurst as big as the Savoy.
There are books that just won’t let you go, you find yourself turning page after page—I guess, this is why they’re called page-turners—and all of sudden you faint from hunger. You’ve had no meal since breakfast which was, wow!, ten hours ago. No reason to get alarmed though: this is why snacks were invented. You see, you just can’t eat spaghetti with a book in one of your hands. It’ll end as a disaster. Snacks, however, demand much less attention while eating them, you probably won’t miss a word of the book you’re having with them. There’s just one thing to be aware of: The more stylish the protagonist of the book, the more stylish your snacks should be.
The eye has to travel, so said Diana Vreeland once, and Gleb Derujinsky followed that instruction of hers quite literally. His fashion photography for Harper’s Bazaar did not take place in a studio, with perfect lighting, and a bar-tabac or a diner nearby that comfort zone, but outside in the world, in the streets, in the urban and not so urban jungle, his eyes travelled everywhere, and as much as we might know some of the locations, let’s face it, we’ve all strolled along the Seine and took shots on or under its bridges, some of Derujinsky’s destinations I have yet to discover myself, like the wine cellars of Maxim’s, I haven’t even ordered a steak au poivre there yet, nor have I been to the Nara Deer Park in Japan with its thousand-year-old trees. This photographer demanded a passport from his models and broke boundaries all over the world, he took them to nature, you’re born free, he seems to say, so act on it. Sometimes you can’t tell whether you’re looking at some exotic scenery in an old issue of National Geographic or at Lanvin-Castillo’s ideas for the next summer. With “Capturing Fashion”, Flammarion and Derujinsky’s daughter Andrea make our eyes travel over and over again, I just hope they won’t suffer from jet lag.
Sometimes, when it’s really hot, strenuously hot, like right now with these 36 degrees Celsius (or 98 degrees Fahrenheit), I really don’t care for company. I like to suffer by myself, indulge in cold lemonade, refresh it with ice cubes every thirty seconds, these things melt in no time, like zero point nothing seconds, and try to read more than one sentence at a time, as War and Peace might refresh you with all these scenes in snowy Russia, but it wears you down with its obsessive joy for details, Tolstoy could never just let the little things go, the heavy lifting of these 1,200 pages, the one thousand and two hundred pages the details took to be described on, really kill you. Preoccupied with all these activities, I really don’t care for entertaining anybody else but me, I mean it, and please do take this hint: don’t ever come over for a drink! However, there are exceptions to this my summer rule: birds, dragonflies and bumble bees. They are the only houseguests I appreciate this time of year. They help themselves with drinks and food, nectar, pollen or whatever they are having, they don’t ask for the latest gossip or a reflection on the latest political events, they just tweet, fly about and hum, softly, pleasantly, and ever so soothingly.
In the summer of 1980, after having visited friends of my parents in New York and San Francisco, my mother and I sent my father back off to Europe and continued our journey to Port-au-Prince, Haiti, where we stayed at the Grand Hotel Oloffson, a 19th-century Gothic gingerbread mansion, set in a lush tropical garden, a place once described as the darling of the theatre people, the literary set and newspaper men. And a literary place it was indeed. The moment we sat down on the Hotel’s beautiful porch to have a cold drink, we were directly transported into a novel, all of a sudden we were part of the set of Graham Greene’s The Comedians. None other than Petit Pierre approached us, ever so elegantly, just like in the book, wearing a fine double-breasted suit despite the Caribbean summer heat, his perfectly knotted tie seemed to be mocking the indolent temperatures, a walking cane with a silver knob gave him even more grandezza, as he strutted from table to table, looking for some material for his columns. Of course it was not Petit Pierre, but Aubelin Jolicœur, so my mother explained to me, as I at the age of 12 was not that familiar with Graham Greene’s work, the Haitian journalist and columnist that was the inspiration for Graham Greene’s character who then took a place at our table, started chatting with my mother, even flirting a little bit, totally ignoring me, leaving me to sip my icy lemonades for ever and ever. And so, before he took us to his gallery with Haitian naive paintings, in a black limousine steered by one of his sons, I started to write one of the hotel postcards to my best friend Daniel in Luxembourg. For some reasons, I never sent it off but took it home with me, as a souvenir maybe, just like my mother took one of the ashtrays. Looking at it now, it makes me smile that while somebody taken out of a famous novel was sitting at my very table, I had no other things to tell him about than the beautiful hotel pool and its cool water. But I can somehow get my 12-year-old me – the pool situation was gorgeous indeed. I must return soon, this time with the book…
Some time ago, in 2015 to be precise, when photos on Instagram were all square, I mistook myself for a food stylist and arranged everything I ate and drank in a fancy manner—a manner Marella Agnelli played a big part in, or the book on her I had just bought the same year at a Zurich book shop. I arranged müesli, tea or some cake from Sprüngli’s on some fine china, placed it on dear Marella, took enough shots to choose a best one from, and posted it on Instagram—not very successfully though, the New York Times food section never called, 23 likes just don’t turn you into an influencer, I guess. Anyway, I would have forgotten all about it, if these very pictures hadn’t attracted somebody’s attention again just now, today, after all these years, after all these billions and billions of photos we see on Instagram—it must be a sign. And so I give you the 2015 Marella Agnelli Food Shoot.
Some weeks ago, I posted a photo of Babe Paley on Instagram and one of my followers, a great Parisian lady named Marie, suggested a novel on that famous style icon in her comment, she gave me the title of a French book about her and the other swans from 5th Avenue, the very book you see on the photo. I was intrigued instantly and replied that I’ll read it asap, but truth be told I forgot all about it very soon, mainly because one is totally overexposed to information these days, but mostly because my list of books to read is already overextended as it is, ironically including the book this book’s based on, Truman Capote’s Answered Prayers, which I started some weeks ago and then forgot all about it, anyway, this very afternoon I was looking for some leftover cigarettes, I keep storing half-emptied packs in a particular s.o.s-drawer for nicotine droughts when there’s no fresh pack left, I keep forgetting about buying those, too, and on that side table a book was lying, a book I don’t recall buying or ever having seen before, but its title was so familiar, looking at it, I found myself in one of those moments when you wonder if you’ve lost your mind, but it then occured to me that not only Marie had told me about that book but also Katja, a friend from real life, as a matter of fact she had given it to me when she last visited, she had just finished it and recommended it highly, I, however, had all forgotten about it. The moral of the story? There is none, just that forgetful people are people, too, and that coincidences happen to work in mysterious ways, C. G. Jung had some theories about it, I must look them up one day, I forgot the details, but first things first, it’s tea and swans for now.
It’s hot, the air’s humid, you’re desperately looking for some shade because you don’t care for sunstrokes, and even if the sun weren’t about to addle your brain, your book’s white pages reflect the sunlight so damn straight into your eyes you might well end up blind, so you carry one of the benches, thank God, teak’s so light a wood, into some shrubbery, followed by your tea table, yes, tea, I know it’s hot, but the hotter it gets, the less any cold drinks are advised, least of all iced ones, believe you me, your circulation goes berserk and you’ll overheat like a motor in an Abu Dhabi traffic jam, if you had any relatives that served in the colonies, you’d know, and by the way, tea is from India not from Norway, the Indians should know what they are doing, shouldn’t they, but I digress, anyway, once in the shade, I started to enjoy myself, finally I was able to read without sunglasses; Evil under the sun, Agatha Christie’s lush novel, that I started some days ago while it was raining, finally was an approbiate choice. I wonder who’s done it…
I did the impossible, I finished Proust! I finished! I finished Marcel Proust! I am so proud of myself!
Well, as you might have found out by now, I didn’t finish À la recherche du temps perdu, no, of course not, I’m still trapped in one of those extended Guermantes reflections of his, I only finished Jean Santeuil, one might call it Proust for beginners, it should set them at ease as Proust himself didn’t finish that one either, writing, I mean, not just reading it. So, obviously he was a quitter, too. Ha! But I don’t give up that easily, and from now on, I’ll start wearing this Étrivière Double Tour by Hermès to remind me of my literary shortcomings. If ever I succeed in finishing Proust’s masterpiece, all volumes, all of them, all of these three thousand pages, I shall take it off again. Until then, it’s going to serve as a scarlet letter for everybody to see what a quitter I am — damn, I have to finish Hawthorne, too. Damn!
I hate new things. I love things with a history attached. Fragrances, for instance. Bois des Iles is from 1926, the year The Murder of Roger Ackroyd was published, Agatha Christie’s first ‘whodunnit’ story featuring Hercule Poirot, her Belgian detective, and reformulated or not, it still smells like Coco Chanel, au petit jour in the backseat of a black Rolls-Royce, wrapped in her sable coat, on her way home from a delightful sexual encounter with some of these men way out of her league, socially speaking, they were all of such noble birth, rich as hell or nouveau pauvre – très nouveau, très pauvre, but in fact, they all were out of hers, they just had names, names they were just born with, she had made herself a name, a name worth millions then and now, she chose her lovers like others chose jewelry, and was hated for it, envied at least, but to hell, she was no bourgeoise, she just dressed them. The dresser it stands on is from the same time, by the way. It belonged to a pharmacist, so the antique dealer I bought it from told me, considering it’s art deco, it wasn’t even new when he bought it. Inherited, maybe. Or a pharmacist who was into art deco, sounds like an interesting man, somebody who had looked out for something special, who wanted to enjoy opening his sock drawer, suavely, pulling it open with the gentlemanly grip burl wood demands. On the other hand, he might have hated it. Too many memories attached. It might have belonged to his wife who left him for another man. A younger one. Although he was only 36 when she left. He waited all his life for her to come back. Didn’t touch her personal things, her silk stockings, kept them as if she would come back for them, or him – as if, she’d reply – maybe it was just one of those things, he kept telling himself. Or maybe not. Maybe he was just way out of her league.