It had begun in the fog of time and San Francisco, in an office with views of sparkling water and a bridge that led to Berkeley.
Claude had exploded into my office that first day, a mustachioed statue of a man with a French accent so thick you could hide the Eifel Tower in it. “Come on. Vee go to Jack In Zee Box.”
He cracked up, because of course he was a wine connoisseur who swirled choice vintages in Napa Valley. He was a gastronomic guru, confidante to celebrity chefs in the celebrity-chef laden restaurants of Marin and San Francisco. Even his wife Dani was a chef and caterer, immersed in all things food except, perhaps, actually eating any herself.
So that day, we never made it to Jack in Zee Box. We went to Fog City Diner. And later, we would go to Colorado and film Les Paul for Coors. Later, we’d go to the Mississippi Delta and film a 90-year old bluesman for Levi’s. (“Vy are zere so many black people in Mississippi?”)
Later still, we’d go to Cannes.
We were supposed to drive to Paris when the festival of frivolity ended, stopping off at a hotel in a chateau in Burgundy. I didn’t catch the name or address because Dani and Claude were in the car in front and we were following. Except one second out of the driveway in Cannes, I lost Claude in traffic. This was before cell phones and texting and French people speaking English.
So that’s the last we saw of them. We looked for a hotel in a chateau in Burgundy. How many could there be, I thought? A million, it turned out.
So we traveled to one and hoped by a stroke of French lightning that Claude and Dani would suddenly be there, but they weren’t. And the next day, we set out for Paris alone
Who knew that diesel fuel doesn’t combust so well in a gasoline engine? I’m here to vouch for it, and not far from the gas station, our Peugeot shuddered to a pathetic halt, right beside a highway squawk box I was linguistically barred from using.
Broken down in France, we stood there wondering. When suddenly a car swerved off the highway and stopped dramatically behind us, nearly crashing into our car. It was Dani and Claude. They had been calling the national police all night, assumed the worst, even discussed having to adopt our children. And now, French lightning had struck, and we were re-united.
The burly Frenchman carried on an impassioned conversation with the metal box beside the highway, and while the car was attended to, Claude ordered fine wines and lunch for everyone at a medieval village France had conveniently placed right near the scene of breakdown.
At a recent stop off in San Francisco memories were rekindled by the news of a passing, somewhere in Europe, people weren’t sure exactly where, of someone who was already gone.
To who I was back then, to who he was back then, au revoir.
As Jean Cocteau said, the true tomb of the dead is the heart of the living.