So why did I suggest that we have dinner in his apartment atop the hotel that evening? To escape the dining room’s constant intrusions, of course. Burt looked relaxed. We stood on the terrace, watching lightning cut fissures into an elephant-gray sky, when the buzzer sounded. Oh. Yes . . . a female wanting photo and autograph. Then another.
“Do you think we could pretend there’s no one out there?” I asked. He agreed we could ignore the buzzer.
“Want to see the horse I bought today?” He handed me a photo of a spindly freckled colt. “I bought him by telephone.” Burt called room service. Two vodkas and tonic for Burt. Two glasses of white wine for me. “That’s what money is for,” he confided.
“Room service. Horses. Flying your friends in to visit the set.” Money had bought the 180 acres of Florida ranch, the house built by Al Capone, where his parents lived, the land in Tennessee, the California house and its gate with the giant fretwork R.
This time, the knock announced room service. The waiter wheeled in a table covered with a white cloth. Burt lighted candles.
“I called Clint Eastwood to check you out,” he told me, leaning back on the sofa, sipping his vodka.
“I guess he said I was okay.”
All the time I was listening, taping, sipping my wine, and analyzing the man, I was trying to remember why it had seemed so important to stay vertical. Suddenly, instead of a smart-ass cocksman, I was imagining some element of insecurity in this hypersexuality. Oh no. Vulnerability.
My weakness. His conversation was sexier than the actual seduction moves of most men. And I let him talk, let him alternate between superstud and sensitive Mr. Wonderful. “I’m getting talked out,” he warned. “I told my agent I can’t do any more of these interviews. I don’t want to talk about anything for three months. I’ve just been so f—— honest.”
I was talked out, too. To hell with denial, I thought. If my life depended on it, I couldn’t remember why it was I was not going to make love to this adorable man. I moved toward him and offered my mouth.
He let me kiss him. Oh, what a wonderful surprise. He really knew how to kiss—and everything else.
Maguy Le Coze was a saucy, flirtatious sylph in a futuristic jumpsuit, with a shiny Dutch bob and thick black bangs drifting into dark-kohled eyes above a turned-up nose, and Cupid’s-bow lips so red and perfect, they might have been painted on with enamel. This was the first time I saw her, fussing playfully over the Parisian regulars who’d brought me to the original little cubby Le Bernardin on the Left Bank in the spring of 1977, a few years after its launch. So she might have been just 32, and Gilbert, the handsome swashbuckler in blue jeans and a fishmonger’s apron, too shy to come out of the kitchen at first, was just 31. He had a thick shock of shiny brown hair, significant sideburns, and a mustache below his straight pointed nose, which he would twitch like a truffle dog in the heat of the hunt. For me, it was instant infatuation. I had a crush on them both, and on the stunning simplicity of the seafood, as well. Tiny gray shrimp nesting in a crock, delicate and sweet. Saint Pierre set raw on a plate, then bathed in a coriander-spiked broth before reaching the table opaque and sublime. For me, it was a delicious package, a find for New York readers—this adorable brother-and-sister act in an out-of-the-way spot on the quai, and Gilbert’s brilliantly minimalist fricassée de coquillage, the barely cooked salmon with truffles, and his riff on raw fish lightly slicked with olive oil. Because Gilbert was untutored, he had no choice but simplicity, Maguy has written. The idea of raw fish, she says, came from Uncle Corentin, at sea off Brittany, who would take a fresh-caught cod, skin it, and eat it on bread.
Maguy and Gilbert had moved in 1981 to a bigger space on rue Troyon by the time I returned. Gilbert was infinitely less shy and cooking more confidently than ever. Now at dinner in the Brittany sky-blue nook off the Champs-Elysées, I was that writer who had followed the Le Coze star for New York’s impressionable readers, the properly smitten Pied Piper whose lyrical waxings had prompted a flow of impressionable mouths from America. Small saucers of new dishes I must taste punctuated the meal. Gilbert urged me to join him after the kitchen closed that night at Castel, the late-night hangout for chefs and food-world habitués, Gilbert’s usual haunt, where he smoked relentlessly and downed cognac after cognac. And we danced—disco but tight—rubbing into each other, provocative vertical seduction. Suddenly, we were in a taxi, kissing, caressing, zipping, unzipping. I hugged myself together to get through the lobby of my hotel.