Posted by: vlibrizzi | May 29, 2009

Discussing Marilyn Monroe, Gary Cooper, and the German Occupation over a Blanquette de Veau

Last night, our 85 year old French neighbor, Denise, invited C., his mother, his sister, and me over to her house to have dinner with her and her sister.

The invitation came very much out of the blue; as I was leaving my apartment the other day, she popped out of her home to ask us if we would like to join her for drinks at her house. Then, that evening, she left her calling card in our mailbox (yes, an actual calling card! So cool! I need to get some of those!) inviting us to share a blanquette de veau with her for dinner last night. Never one to turn down home cooked French food by a woman who gave French cooking lessons to INSEAD students for over ten years and even wrote a French cooking book, I jumped at the chance. 

So, at 8 pm last night, we knocked on Denise’s door. She and her sister greeted us with a traditional bottle of champagne and amouse bouches (or, in this case, potato chips). As we sipped on our champagne in her salon (living room), she started telling us stories about her life.

First she told us that when she used to live in the U.S., she worked for a short time at a boutique in the Hamptons. As a young French girl in her 20s, she was shocked to see none other than Marilyn Monroe walk into her store one day, and then audaciously try on bathing suits right in the middle of the room! Then, Denise said, she noticed an older man with big black-rimmed glasses stalking around outside—-it was none other than Marilyn Monroe’s husband at the time, Arthur Miller! 

She told us another story about how Gary Cooper also came into her store once to buy something for some woman whom he said had everything! I wonder who it was?!? Poor Denise, who was eating her lunch of radishes, salad, some fruit, and, of course, some French wine, began to help him when….he started eating her food! She didn’t know what to do, so she offered him a glass of wine…and the two of them sat in the store eating her lunch and drinking her wine while he shopped around. Apparently, he bought over $600 worth of merchandise in the store…the biggest day of sales the store had ever seen. 

Denise then told us about a time when she lived in Sugarbush, Vermont and was helping an architect design a new ski lodge. She ordered blue toilet paper to match the blue and green turkish bath towels she had picked out, but the manager ordered incorrectly, and one snowy evening when she was all alone, a huge truck pulled up to her door with over 10,000 rolls of blue toilet paper! The drivers didn’t know what to do with all the toilet paper, so Denise told them to put it in the lodge. Well, when the manager returned, he couldn’t leave a room full of toilet paper that could have used as a hotel room, so he rented a barn where he put the toilet paper until it was all used up! 

After telling these stories, Denise ushered us into her dining room to serve the main course: a blanquette of veal with couscus. It was so tender and pefectly done! Seriously, I think it might have been the best meal we’ve had yet in France. 

After the main course,  Denise brought out a huge bowl of salad for us to pass around the table, and also a plate of three different types of French cheese! (Our goal today is to go to the cheese store to try to find the one that we liked so much and buy a whole barn load of it!). Then, for dessert, we had a fruit salad with passion fruit water on top to make it sweeter. 

Finally, we retired to the salon for an after dinner drink of a very strong prune liqueur that Denise said she got from the pharmacy owner next door who is one of the only people she knows who has a license to make his own alcohol. It was actually quite good….but very strong!

Over dinner, Denise told us about the German occupation of Fontainebleau during WWII and how respectful the Germans were to the town’s most famous landmark: the chateau. She also told us that they took over the hotel that her parents owned and lived in , the Aigle Noir, and so she, her sister, and her parents were literally living with the Germans during the occupation.

She then told us about the one year period when the Americans set up shop in Fontainebleau after the war and how she, a young girl in her twenties, got to know many of the Americans. She told us how one day she took a general’s wife into Paris to see the Mona Lisa, and then was invited to have dinner with the General and his wife where she made a faux pas when translating that she needed to take a bath. And, she also told us about how all the gossip going around town was that General Eisenhower’s wife drank too much (they even named a type of red carnation after her because it looked like the red wine she drank so often!).

She had so many stories that I bet we could have stayed all night listening to her. She is truly a fascinating woman! 

All in all, I think it was a night that I’ll remember for a very long time. I had no idea that the little old lady that lives next door had such a truly amazing life, and I wish I had gotten to know her sooner.

Denise is actually writing a book about her life (in French only), so when it comes out, I’ll definitely buy it. Until then, I hope to hear many more of her great stories in the coming months.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: