Issue 158, Spring-Summer 2001
Each day I walk to the Polo Club while my wife is at work and my children at school. I have my lunch at the club, a little wine, and I walk home. I don’t work anymore; I worked long enough, and very hard. I could have a horse at the club, well groomed and cared for. I would not get any better, at my age, but I could ride. But I like only to ride in the country—going somewhere—not in a hall in the middle of Paris, going in circles. I would rather walk. So I walk to my lunch, I watch the horses, I walk back.
Last week at the Polo I saw a woman I knew. She would not have been allowed before: she is a black woman from Martinique. But the club now lets many people in, and she was an actress in films for some years. I knew her when she was young; her husband and I were like brothers. It was strange to see her that day at the club because she had not changed in thirty years. She was still beautiful, still sexy. A bright girl, with energy. I remember her always laughing, swinging her legs on the dock at Cap-Ferrat, or sitting on a boat or in a cafe, but always laughing, showing the gap between her front teeth. She was not laughing so much this time, but when she did it was the same laugh, the same gap.
She had the good skin of black women, the face and hands still young. She called herself Mia. We watched her granddaughter do vaultige: the girl stood on the back of the horse at a petit gallop around the ring. Eleven years old, a little older than my daughter, with light brown skin and brown curls flying out behind her. There were other children trying to stand on their horses, but none were so accomplished as this granddaughter. She turned upside down and stood on her head.
It was thirty years ago that I knew Mia, the grandmother, and we were not so careful about what we said thirty years ago; Mia had three bambini, all with a German father, and we used to say they were not black or white, they were gray.
They were green, we said. We called them les petits verts. But you see—the eldest of les petits verts grew up to be a film actress like her mother, and had this daughter who can stand on her head on a horse in the Polo Club in Paris. The little girl came from the horses and kissed me hello, on the left and right, with a shining face and blue eyes. Life is long, when you live a long time-that seems a simple fact, but you don’t know it until you have a lunch like this one.
Mia’s husband—my dear friend, my brother—was called Renard. I played guitar then, and I was young. You have to be young to play the guitar, unless you are very great. It took me ten years to discover I had no ear, and five years more to discover I had no head to remember the words. My fingers, my technique, they were above the rest, but I was not gifted.
Renard was gifted. He played the piano more beautifully than you have ever heard, with no music, all by ear. He could play anything. He used to help me, writing down the music, working out the harmonies, teaching me songs. We played at parties-not for money, because that was not our aim, but people asked us to come, and we had a trumpet and bass and clarinet and the whole thing.
Renard had some money, and he was raised with a rich life. Because of the music he met a girl, Elsa, who was a little blonde operettiche singer, with a little voice. Elsa had a daughter, and she and the child were always with Renard.
After some years, Renard said, “I have to marry this girl. I can’t not marry this girl.” We all said, “Why? Keep on like you are.” But he had to marry her, for his soul maybe, I don’t know. He adopted the child and I became godfather, and then Elsa became jealous of Renard’s ability, of his success and his friends, and she started to drink.
At this time I married my first wife, and I could not impose Renard and his family on my wife. I loved Renard, and the child was my goddaughter, but Elsa was too much. When this happens, you grow apart, and I did not see him for some years. Eventually he divorced her.
We were close again, when he divorced, and we had the same friends at the Travelers’ Club and in the south. When he met Mia, the actress from Martinique, we all understood.
She was so sexy, and he loved her, and she was fun. But she had the not-black, not-white bambini from the German, and this was Paris, and Paris was not so generous. It was not so well accepted then, to have these children. They all moved south to a big white house in Cap-Ferrat, and Renard had some money still, but he was gambling it away. My wife would not go to visit there, but I went. It was like a colony.
The girl Mia and the green bambini were only the beginning.