Three years ago tonight we were at our friends’ annual Beaujolais party. Rosenn and Jöel’s daughter Laetitia went to school with Kenzie. I had introduced myself to Rosenn at an end-of-school kid pickup early the first year, and we all soon became good friends.
Everybody brought a bottle; Jöel had also laid in a supply of Spanish red. Anne, at the suggestion of one of her friends back home, made some Southern-style ham biscuits, replacing the traditional Virginia country ham with Italian prosciutto. Everybody savored this little taste of American rustic cuisine; everyone agreed it belonged with the dried sausages and the terrines and the goat cheeses that traditionally accompany the new wine.
Beaujolais nouveau is a gulpable pleasure, and we pleased ourselves. Packs of children roamed noisily through the house, and eventually the grown-ups got to dancing. It’s kind of sweet dancing to old American pop standards with a bunch of French people. They know the words too; they just don’t quite know what the words mean.
Rosenn’s three other children were at the party: Cécile, Nicholas, and Juliette. Rosenn’s first husband had died of cancer when the kids were young; Juliette, who was very little at the time, had few memories of her father.
Cécile’s husband David had appointed himself DJ for the evening; he and Rosenn’s three older children stood near the stereo drinking and bemusedly watching the old dancers. As the empty bottles accumulated on the tabletops David gradually steered the mix toward his own musical tastes. The dancers, more adventurous now, went with it. At some point he put on the Doors.
“I heard the Doors play!” I shouted to David.
“No way! Fuck you, man!”
“Three times!” I yelled with pride.
“Fuck you! The Doors were great, man! Their influence on music just begins!”
In Paris we once found ourselves in front of the apartment building where Jim Morrison had died. There’s no plaque that I could see, but there is a bar across the street that looks like a gathering place for rock pilgrims. My best friend in high school had turned me on to the Doors. Cliff is dead too now, killed by side effects – Mayo diagnosed brain tumor, but it turned out to be an aneurysm instead.
The next year there was no party because Juliette got sick. The doctors thought the cancer was gone, but after five years it had come back. She took a leave from her pharmacy studies to undergo more treatments. A few months later she died. She was twenty-three.
Within a year Rosenn’s father died. The day I first met the old man and he found out I was American, he kept repeating solemnly: “Quarante quatre. Quarante quatre.” Forty-four: the year of the Normandy invasion. On the day of his grandfather’s funeral Nicolas’ wife told him she was leaving him. She got custody of their two kids. Last month, on All Saint’s Day, Rosenn’s mother died.
There will be no Beaujolais day party at Rosenn and Jöel’s this year.