When I think of our thirteen years in Paris, what comes back to me more than anything else is my stepfather Arne’s rather frequent visits form Sweden. My visit to Helsinki when Arne had a very serious heart attack is part of the story about my much beloved stepfather. Arne died in 1986, the year we moved to Lyon (well, to Genas). I went alone to his funeral, probably because of our animals and the need to babysit them in Paris.
Arne’s visits were always accompanied by theater, opera and good restaurants. If we just stayed home we most likely had something interesting for dinner since both Arne and John were pretty good chefs – and John is a very good one. Arne cooked his own version of sweetbreads one time in Paris at rue Jean-Marie Jégo and I still remember that he put a bit of cayenne pepper on top. I am not very fond of cayenne pepper but it was done discretely and his culinary feat was very much appreciated.
We very soon concluded that Arne preferred to go to a restaurant of his own choosing. So rather than going to Chez Allard (two stars at one time, later one star) in the 6ème arrondissement, we tried to go to restaurants that had been recommended to him. In one case I believe it was Arne’s good friend from his childhood, Lars Schmidt, Ingrid Bergman’s last husband, who at that time lived in a château south of Paris. Ingrid had then moved to an island that she owned close to Fjällbacka, Bohuslän on the west coast of Sweden. Lasse, as Arne always referred to him by his Swedish nickname, owned a couple of theaters in Paris, and he always gave Arne tickets for the three of us to the Théâtre Montparnasse in rue de la Gaîté, where we went several times when Arne was in Paris. It was usually good, and I remember a performance with the excellent actress Annie Girardot in the role of Madame Marguerite de Roberto Athayde, a one-person show. This kind of show might seem risky, but Annie Girardot carried it off wonderfully well. This must have been already in 1974, probably Arne’s first visit with us in Paris.
The performance was a tour de force by this excellent actress, all alone for a couple of hours on stage playing a school mistress in front of her 6th grade class. “”Mais, cette “Leçon” va être complètement baroque : tour à tour absurde, tragique, cynique, comique.” 1 Annie Girardot was splendid, a very memorable evening for the three of us, even though Arne didn’t understand much of her French flood of tempestuous words, and I don’t suppose John and I got all of it either.
Arne’s and my culinary experiments had started in the fall of 1953, my first term at the university in Lund when I lived at home. Mother, sadly, was in a clinic after a breakdown. Arne and I quite often enjoyed eating gourmet food. Veal kidneys and sweetbreads were some of our favorite experiments. Calf’s liver was a more common delicacy. Oh yes, and Wienerschnitzel, veal cutlets first dipped in eggs and then in bread crumbs – delicious if cooked right. We invited Arne’s very best friend from his youth, Curt, an army afficer who was then the head of Ystad regiment, a colonel at the time. He was going to go very far.
Once he was invited for dinner with his family, wife and two sons. I don’t remember what Arne and I had cooked up that time, but it was a very pleasant evening. A couple of more times Curt came over alone, and I remember those evenings well. Curt was a true charmer and when he laughed with his eyes shining from sheer joy he was irresistible. One Wienerschnitzel evening stands out in my memory. Arne and he had been close friends ever since high school, Nya Elementarskolan in Stockholm. and they now went over old memories. I can still see Curt laughing heartily and contagiously. I was quite smitten.
Now, Arne’s childhood friend, Lars Schmidt was most likely also responsible for what must have been one of our most memorable culinary experiences in Paris during all those years. The restaurant was an old-style restaurant in the 3rd arrondissement, Chez l’Ami Louis, close to la Place de la République. It was the most memorable Paris restaurant visit I can remember. It was most likely thanks to Lars Schmidt that we found our way to this historic restaurant in the heart of old Paris, the quartier of the Ars et Métiers.
Arne was the host and he outdid himself in a way I will never forget. We had ordered a lamb roast that was supposed to be one of their favorites culinary masterpieces. Arne ordered a Bourgogne vieux to go with the lamb. When he was offered to taste it, he shook his head and said No, this was not the wine he wanted to go with this excellent lamb roast. He asked what would be the really good Bourgogne vieux and the sommelier recommended a presumably very expensive wine. Arne had never been very spendthrift but he wanted this evening to be memorable and the wine to be perfect. We were ready to eat and I tasted this very special old Burgundy wine. I closed my eyes and sighed from sheer happiness. I had never tasted a wine like this. I said so to my very dear stepfather and he agreed. It was perfect. The lamb was perfect and everything was like heaven. As we finished our superb meal, Louis himself came into the dining room to greet his customers and of course he stopped by and chatted at some length when he found some regular customers. This is a wonderful feature of the best old restaurants in France. Once the main work is done with in the kitchen domain, the owner and chef himself comes out and walks around the dining room chatting with everybody and making sure that everything was perfect.
Our very good friend Jean-Max, a true Parisian of the old school (and who is also the president of DEVA Europe), told us the other day that l’Ami Louis is one of those authentic old Paris restaurants in the quartiers Ars et Métiers and le Marais that are the most genuine to be found in terms of old gastronomic palaces. In fact, far from being a ‘palace’, like la Coupole in Montparnasse 2 , l’Ami Louis is a rather small, intimate and very Parisian old restaurant. It started with Louis himself coming to Paris from the provinces, like the chefs of many other top-standard Paris restaurants in those old quartiers that form a periphery around les Halles. Those were once called ‘the lungs of Paris’– les poumons de Paris. 3
This unforgettable dinner at Chez l‘Ami Louis took place in the early eighties, after many other pleasant dinners with Arne, in restaurants or at home.
However, on the negative side, I remember a dinner at ‘Chez Allard’ – in the 6e arrondissement, in the quartier St Germain des Prés – when we had especially ordered suckling wild boar for Arne and myself and were expecting a culinary feast. We were served pork chops. I am surprised that I didn’t tell them to take it back, but somehow I didn’t. However, we never went back to Allard after that extreme disappointment.
In fact it was the second time I was really upset at Allard – the first time for extremely bad service when we were with our American friends, Wes and Patsy, who now live in Nijmegen, Holland. They wanted to place the four of us at a small corner table for two, but there was no way I was going to let them get away with that since we had clearly reserved a table for four people. We got a bigger table, but the bad service continued throughout the evening. However, we thought we might try the usually very much appreciated restaurant once again on the evening of the suckling wild boar. That was the last time for Allard. I do believe that when you reserve a table under the name of O’Neall they think they can fool you because you are probably American.
At another top restaurant, Chez Benoît, close to la Place du Châtelet in the 4th arrondissement and behind Le Théâtre Sara-Bernhardt (now Théâtre de la Ville) we have noticed something of the same thing. However, as far as the food goes there is nothing but the highest praise for this very chic restuarant. Chez Benoît is another jewel in the area bordering on les Halles, southeast of the former Halles and close to the Seine. John found out about this exceptional restaurant after the Computing Center 4 was invited to a luxury dinner at that gourmet restaurant by the Control Data Corporation (who supplied the Center with their hardware). The few times we were there, we always ordered in advance lamb roast stuffed generously with veal kidneys.
Parismarais.com says “There is no place a more Parisian bistro than Benoit. The only bistro in Paris to have a Michelin star, this restaurant located in the heart of Paris near Les Halles and the Marais is a true champion of the tradition.” As far as eh Michelin stars are concerned, Parismarais.com, however, is wrong since there is a site on the Internet that says “The 15 Best Places with Michelin Stars in Paris”
One evening, however, we had the misfortune of being placed in the inner room and we realized right away that it was a disaster. The room was teeming with noisy Americans who spoke to each other loudly across the room. People who had never seen each other until this evening talked about places they had been to, dominating the entire room and without the slightest consideration for the people who were not involved in their shouting match. The next time we reserved for rôti d’agneau aux rognons de veau, we made very sure that we said ‘in the outer room’ Oh well, some Americans do deserve their reputation as being loudmouthed and vulgar tourists.
We have so many good memories of Arne’s visits to Paris and one of them was Arne’s and my long walks through Paris. I worked very short hours at l’Ecole Centrale de Paris and two days a week I didn’t have any classes at all, so I could often come with Arne on his long walks. I could barely keep up with this elderly man who had the most unbelievable stamina as far as walking goes. We walked kilometers in Paris, and once Arne was looking for a somewhat special restaurant where he wanted to invite me to a really good meal. We didn’t find one and when we at last ended up at Avenue de l’Opera, we had to make do with a merely touristy place set back west of the avenue.
Another time Arne had the idea of going to the back of l’Opéra de Paris, le Palais Garnier, to visit the old library and museum. It was fascinating and we certainly spent over an hour looking at old costumes, instruments, sheet music, books, more books and handwritten manuscripts, sculptures and everything imaginable in a museum of this kind.
“The modern museum has five rooms which display three centuries of the Paris
Opera’s history through paintings, costumes, drawings of scenery and models of set designs. Altogether, the museum conserves 8,500 objects.”(Wikipedia)
“Around 1863 Charles Nuitter had begun cataloging the Opera’s archives, and on 15 May 1866, he became the official archivist. He also published several books on the history of the company. Théodore Lajarte was appointed librarian in 1873 and embarked on the systematic organization of the Opera’s scores and instrumental parts. In 1876 he first published his two-volume inventory of the library’s holdings covering the period from 1671 to 1876″ (Wikipedia)
Kalioujny was a Czech dancer of Russian origin who spent most of his artistic life in France 5
In May 1981 there was an emergency call from my sister Gun about Arne who was in Helsinki and had had a serious heart attack. I took the first possible flight to Helsinki and found Arne already out of intensive care. The whole thing is quite an amazing story that finished well for us and for Arne who lived five more years after this scary event.
In Sweden they now write dates starting with the year, then month and day. So Gun wrote 07.07.21. In Finland they interpreted this as if he was born in 1921 and they did almost the impossible to save his life. In fact they brought him back to life after his heart had stopped working. They would most likely not have worked as hard on him if they had known that he was born in ’07. They actually resuscitated him. I spent three wonderful days in Helsinki after Gun and Per had gone back to Lund. Masses of rhododendrons were blooming in front of the hospital in this late month of May. I went to see Arne at least once a day. I held his hand and we talked. I felt the life taht had come back in this beloved body.
I walked around the city, went to Sibelius Park and past the extraordinarily beautiful Sibelius monument.6 I went on down to the bay that Helsinki is located on, a bay off the Gulf of Finland, which goes all the way to Saint Petersburg in Russia.
It was a cool and windy day and I was standing looking out over the water with white crests on the dark blue-grey waves and a few nicely heeling sailboats. My whole being was immersed into the scene. It was a true epiphany moment. I have rarely been so one with nature. I didn’t exist as a separate human being but just as a part of the drama that surrounded me. From the impressive Sibelius monument in the park to the sailboats on the white-crested water I was totally overwhelmed by the force and beauty of it all.
We had quite a few more visits from Arne after he had nearly died in Helsinki. He now said that he was not afraid of death because he knew what it was like. He had been there.
We went to the opera a few times with Arne and I remember one time when we were getting ready to leave for the opera and Arne who always bought the same Italian shoes because they fitted his narrow and long feet was desperately looking for the newest pair which he was sure he’d packed. Eventually he found out that he had actually been wearing all the time one new and one older shoe. Arne would always be properly dressed for theaters and especially for the opera, but gone are the days when he loved to dress up in tails and even a top hat for the premieres in Malmö. He once said that only the mayor of Malmö and he were wearing top hats at one premiere.
I have leafed through all the programs I have from l’Opéra de Paris and even though some are missing, it is quite a bunch. However, I can not remember for sure which operas we saw with Arne.
In 1986 Arne became very seriously ill after having suffered from angina pectoris for a few years. It was clear this time that he was not going to recover. He was 79 years old. I traveled to Sweden in all haste in the early summer of ’86 and I saw a dying man in the hospital. I hugged him and I was crying. He could speak only with great difficulty, but he said some warming words to me, which made me understand that he knew who I was.I am getting all teary-eyes as I am writing this. There was no telling how long he was going to last, but not very long after this, My sister Gun told me that the end had come.
The funeral was, as Arne had said he wanted it to be, a happy event, not a mourning event. He was directing the play of life and death to the very last and beyond it.
His much younger brother Birger was there of course and made a very moving speech. His best old friend Curt, a retired general now, was there. He had once been Arne’s and my dinner guest a few times in Malmö in the fall of ’53, when he was the head of Ystad Regiment. His presence quite moved me since I knew that he was taking care of one of his two sons who had severe psychological problems. Curt came up tome just to shake hands and I’ll never forget the way he looked at me. I said I am Siv, Arne’s daughter. You came to see us quite a few times when you were in Ystad. He said “I know”, but he looked at me as if he was saying “Where have you been all my life?” He had been divorced for many years at that time and his entire life had turned into a mass in minor. I’d had a crush on Curt ever since those days in Malmö and I was extremely moved. My cousin Agneta (Lydén) was there and she cried so hard I had to try to console her. I held my arm round her shoulders, and she cried her heart out. I tried to calm her down with soothing words, which she has never forgotten. Apart from those couple of incidents, the entire event was not marked by any ‘tristesse’. It was the way Arne would have liked it with much happy talking and a few very nice speeches.
- “But this ‘lesson’ is going to be completely baroque, in turns absurd, tragic, cynical, comical” ↩
- Mentioned in Chapter 22 ↩
- Les Halles, in the 1st arrondissement, which used to be the gigantic wholesale food distribution center of Paris were closed down in the early 70s and in the place where they used to be there is now a green area on the ground level and a monstrous huge underground shopping center called Le Forum des Halles, which very soon became a hangout for noisy and destructive youths. The police may have taken care of that problem by now though. ↩
- CCPN, Centre de Calcul de Physique Nucléaire ↩
- Alexandre « Sacha » Kalioujny, né à Prague le et mort à Paris le , est un danseur étoile et pédagogue de la danse tchèque, ayant vécu surtout en France. ↩
- Sibelius Park & Monument ↩