Strolling over Pont Neuf on a sultry summer’s day in Paris many years ago, I crossed paths with a writer-acquaintance, Jean-Pierre Barrou, who had made a splash with his book, Gilda Je t’aime, a Bas le Travail (Gilda, I love you; Down with Work) for which he had been interviewed on television (the French maintain a superior hold on diligently interviewing writers on all their channels until today). Jean-Pierre had subsequently become an editor for Le Seuil publications in Paris, a reputable house that has been around for decades and has published many fine books. Though he was much my senior and spoke from experience, I did not believe him when he said that my first book, which I was then writing, would never be published. (As it happens, he was right. I threw it in the trash.)
Seeing I was not to be talked into a visit to the local swimming pool, he invited me to something far more interesting: a dinner in the 16th arrondissement. The chef/hostess was a well-to-do lady who had written a book Jean-Pierre was considering. When I asked him if he liked it, he looked up at the sky and said he didn’t know yet, but added, “She really wants me to publish it.”
The lady and her husband lived in a penthouse apartment, tastefully decorated and redolent with odors that grace the finer French restaurants. (My talented mother ran a superlative “French” restaurant at the very same time, named Le Mouton Noir, in Saratoga, California, and had been attempting to cultivate her children’s taste buds for years.)
The talk that evening in the 16th arrondissement, beginning out on the balcony and moving into the dining room, was all literary. I enthused about the British writer Lawrence Durrell, and the lady who hoped soon to be published smiled patiently upon me. In hindsight, I imagine my presence was a bit annoying since we talked very little about her book. But Jean-Pierre had the book, didn’t he? He was reading it, or having done so already, was thinking about it.
In the meantime, the writer had knocked herself out shopping, cleaning and cooking. The masterpiece of the evening was handmade Cassis Sorbet. Its memory makes my mouth water. I wish I were able to relate the ending to this tale—whether her efforts were rewarded by publication—but I have no clue. Make of it what you will, with a cooling sorbet on a warm summer evening.