Saturday, February 22, 2014

Degrees of Seperation - Part One of Three - Edith Piaf

During my days in San Francisco, sharing a flat with 2 others, one was never sure who one would discover hanging out when returning home. One evening I discovered 2 gentlemen I was unfamiliar with seated in the kitchen with both my roommates and the younger roommates boyfriend. The boyfriend was studying film in L.A. while our roommate was studying nursing in S.F. while working part time at an organic grocery. They were both rather "natural".  The 2 visitors were friends of the L.A. boyfriend who had dropped by while he was in town for the weekend. One of them, in his middle 40's, had the somewhat leering nature that can occasionally be encountered in middle aged gay men. Myself, being occasionally referred to as "reserved", has found over the years that this behavior generally creeps me out. However, as he had led a fascinating life, traveled the world and began to regale us with tales of his adventures, I , for the moment at least, choose to overlook his lascivious nature.

He mentioned, quite casually, "Did I ever tell you about the time I met Edith Piaf and Katherine Hepburn during a trip to New York?"

 Having never met him I was quite certain that I had never heard it. Had I known him I am quite certain I would have remembered this story had I heard it before. All agreed that we were not familiar with the tale and so he began.

He was in New York, attending a conference. It was a medical conference, he was an editor of a medical journal at the time. Edith Piaf, the French chanteuse, was performing at one of the supper clubs common in posh hotels of the era. Sadly, most of these spaces are now used for storage. One evening, on a drunken dare, he was challenged to see how far he could get to seeing Ms. Piaf perform using only his wits. No money could exchange hands. Affecting a Texas accent he phoned the club saying that when he was in Paris he missed seeing Piaf by only a few days, he continued, saying he was in town on a per diem arrangement with a Dallas newspaper he currently worked for and could not afford the cost of seeing her at the hotel. Could something be worked out? Perhaps he could use his imaginary position at the paper to write a story about the performance.

He expected to hear a click as they hung up the phone, however, to his surprise he was instructed to come to the hotel and ask for Bruno.

Arriving at the hotel he saw a large bald man with the neck and shoulders of a bull. He approached him and said "Bruno I presume?"

"No" the bull like man replied, "Come with me, I shall take you to Bruno."

Bruno turned out to be a man of ordinary proportions seated in an office behind a desk. Bruno also, as it happened, had just married a woman from Texas and was in love with all things Texan, including, apparently,a certain Dallas newspaper where our storyteller had an imaginary job as a writer. Bruno mentioned several names at the paper. Familiar with their bylines our storyteller said of course he knew them and expounded on what a great group of guys they were. Bruno told the bull to escort him to the supper club saying, in French, "On the house." Our storyteller knew enough French to figure out what was said by Bruno and once seated in the club ordered an excellent champane and pheasant under glass.

The room had a lower level by the stage and raised levels on either side. He was seated in one of the upper levels. Piaf came onstage. She sang 7 songs. He said he could recite, to that day, which 7 and in what order. When she was finished she left the stage, ascended the steps to the area in which he was seated and disappeared behind a door just a few feet from him. A woman was seated outside the door. Dropping the affected Texas accent he approached the woman. He introduced himself saying that he had written the cover story in a fairly well known magazine of the time, showing her a copy of the issue, which he happened to have in his jacket pocket, and asked if Ms. Piaf would consent to an interview. The woman told him to wait and disappeared behind the door. Shortly the tiny figure of Edith Piaf emerged.

"Tonight" she told him, "I am very tired. This woman, she is my secretary. She will tell you where we are staying and how to reach us. Call me tomorrow and you shall have your interview. "

We sat about the table in stunned silence.

Finally one of us said, "And the interview?"

"I never followed up on it" he replied. "I felt so bad about the way I had scammed my way in I just couldn't!"


1 comment:

  1. what a great story. The fact that we was working as an editor implies to me that he was, in fact, a writer of some time so his statement that he opted not to follow up tests credulity. It is a great story none the less