One Friday, Soulé invited me to lunch at three o’clock. “Say you want les tripes à la mode de Caen,” he commanded. “It’s forbidden by my doctor. That damn Grangier won’t even serve it to me.” He instructed Chef Grangier to hand-chop his usual hamburger. When our food had been dished up from the copper casseroles, and the captain and waiter had backed away in respectful obeisance, Soulé switched plates, generously allotting me a plop of tripe alongside my burger.
I stared at the tripe, a scary nest of anatomical parts in a muddy sauce. It would be a while before my aversion to tripe would evolve into a passion for tripe in all its guises. I speared the tiniest nubbin on my fork, doused it with sauce, and swallowed it whole. “Hmmm,” I said.
Soulé looked up, fork balanced en route to his mouth. “So you are writing about the secrets of Le Pavillon. You won’t find the secret of Le Pavillon in the kitchen,” he said. “The secret of Le Pavillon . . . c’est moi.”
He puffed up his pouter-pigeon chest. “Le Pavillon, c’est moi.”
When Soulé was preparing to reopen La Cote Basque, my husband, Don Forst, encouraged me to offer the story to Clay Felker, an editor at New York, the Herald Tribune’s Sunday magazine. My docudrama of the countdown to the celebrity-riddled opening lunch was important, Soulé told me later: “The Trib . . . that means something to Soulé. Now you must come often. This is your home.”
He lighted up a cigar. I lighted up a cigar. We puffed away.
“I love a woman who smokes cigars,” he had said.
I never really liked that awful cigar taste in my mouth. I gave them up after a few months because I didn’t want to smell like my uncle Max. But I loved those gossipy lunches, the unfolding intrigue of the Food Establishment, Monsieur Soulé’s indiscreet confessions. The lies certain people told to get a reservation when Soulé insisted he was booked. The cosmetic titan who would stop short and refuse to budge if Soulé tried to lead him to a table beyond a certain line in the carpet. The great beauty who had so much to say to her walker and nothing to say to her husband. That’s how it was in the fall of 1968, when Felker beckoned me to the new New York. I had one foot in my kitchen and a finger already in the Manhattan dining stew.
Clint Eastwood had been working all day in the Mexican desert when I arrived on the set of Two Mules for Sister Sara, delegated by Helen Gurley Brown in 1969 to profile the charismatic cowboy. I felt awkward, too dressed for the desert dust, intimidated by being that close to a movie star. His manginess, the unkempt hair under his flat-topped leather sombrero, the sweaty rubble of beard, and a mangled stub of a cheroot clenched in his teeth dimmed his unbearable good looks, but not much. He seemed to be cashing in on the silent anti-hero image of the spaghetti Westerns that had rescued him from Hollywood’s indifference.
“At least it’s me doing my own bag and not someone trying to imitate me,” he said, defending himself when I asked.
Between scenes, he stripped off his shirt. His jeans rode low on bony hips. The man was clearly not into food. Six foot four of skinniness, he lay collapsed on a canvas chaise, silently stroking a baby rabbit, unwound, obviously content. Everyone I had interviewed in preparation for meeting him had alerted me: “He loves animals; he has a gentle reverence toward animals.” I interpreted this to mean animals are easier than people, especially nosy women with notebooks and tape recorders.
Suddenly, there was a commotion behind his trailer. Some locals had roped an iguana and were dragging it to the prop tent in hopes of cashing in. Clint recoiled. “I sometimes wonder who is the zoo. The animals or the people,” he said. He disappeared, returning with the writhing iguana, getting slashed by its whiplash tail.
“I bought it for five pesos,” he said, hitching the beast to an awning stake. “What do you think they eat?” After lunch, while setting the beast free, he backed into a cactus. The makeup crew was still plucking quills from his back when I hitched a ride back to the hotel.
I could see the man was exhausted by the time we met for dinner on the terrace in near darkness at Hacienda Cocoyoc, the resort where the stars were lodged. The terrace was not lighted, to discourage mosquitoes, I supposed. I wrestled in darkness with the pork chop I’d foolishly ordered. One bite told me it was almost raw. Clint tossed most of his food to the dogs ringing the terrace. I quickly got rid of my chop, too. I kept trying to draw him out. Nothing I asked provoked an insight, or even more than a bored response.