Paris People #1
Every time I
go into an English supermarket and see a Crespo
jar of olives, I secretly smile and think of my
old friend Lucette Corviaux, the owner's mistress.
I never met Henri Crespo but I heard all about
him, how he and his brother had begun to import
olives from Algeria into France in tins in the 60s,
even his virile manhood in his late 60s despite
being at least 20 years older than her in the
early 80s and even saw a completely naked photo
of him which Lucette showed me lying on her bed!
I first met Lucette about 1980 when I was living
in Paris and stalling out at Marche Montreux on
Saturday and Sunday mornings. My neighbours were
Max and Andrea and it was she who first
introduced me to her friend, the VAT inspector
Lucette, a top investigative administrator,
pursuing business people who avoided paying their
VAT or IVA in France.
Lucette lived in the 5em in 2 chambres de bonnes
(maids rooms) on the fashionable rue Monsieur Le
Prince, near Odeon, right in the heart of the
Quartier Latin. I would often clamber up the
stairs to the third floor where she would warmly
welcome me and cook a tasty hearty meal.
Her whole life was controlled by Henri, her
lover, who would call her on the dot of 8.50 am
to say 'Bonjour' before she left for work
and at 10.00 pm to ask how her day was and tell
her his day too. They would then be on the phone
for at least an hour. She had first been
the mistress of his brother Antoine for a couple
of years. The two men were originally from
Algeria and both lived in Marseilles. Where they
met Lucette, I know not.
Lucette would fly to Marseilles and elsewhere
just for lunch when he needed to entertain
clients. It would be engineered so she could
conveniently take time from her important job on
a Friday or a Monday so they could spend the
weekend together if it was not just for the day.
He appeared to be a 'mean' man apart from
expensive lunches and air tickets which would
have been on his large expense account. It took
her years to persuade Henri to buy her a fur
jacket after I had introduced her to my Polish
furrier on the Blvd Saint Germain, the charming
Monsieur Kummelrich. Later she would tell me he
would discuss his business problems with her and
ask for her advice! He had a wife somewhere who
he would never divorce and children who were
destined to take over the family business but
Lucette was the one woman in his life who he was
faithful to and passionate about despite being
very possessive. French Mediterranean men are so
practical when it comes to the affairs of the
heart and in his case, money!
Eventually between Parisian flats, I stayed with
her. She gave me her bedroom which was next door
to her room while she slept in the bigger room
with the kitchen and shower where her phone was
so Monsieur could phone her at his regular hours
like clockwork. She was like a bird in a gilded
cage. He knew her every move and who she was with.
Moi! I think we did speak on the phone to
say hello a few times. I suppose he wanted to
make sure I existed.
Over the years she would moan to me that she was
fed up living in two rooms, like a student, on a
third floor and, as the official mistress of an
older wealthy man, needed security for her
advancing years. A practical French woman was
Lucette and quite rightly so. In my eyes Henri
was using her as an unpaid executive on the board
of Crespo. She started to drop a big hint
that he wouldn't have to go to expensive hotels
when he came to Paris if she had a two bedroom
flat, bien sur, bought by him in her name! The
ruse finally worked. The penny dropped or should
I say the Franc and eventually Lucette became the
proud owner of a modern conventional 2 bedroomed
flat on a third floor with a lift in a
respectable block in Plaisance, 15em but at least
it was hers for ever.
I recall I stayed with her a few nights and she
would cook me a delicious Normandy dish with veal
in a creamy sauce with oyster mushrooms and a
fresh green salad with the perfect vinaigrette.
Then the phone would ring and I would have to
disappear into the second bedroom so she could
talk in private at length. Ooh la la and it
was thus every day and night.
I recall she came to London once with Henri on
business after I had married Martin in 1983.
Andrea came to our midJune wedding but not
Lucette but my memory is blurred as to why not. I
just recall photos of her at my dinner table
wearing a blue sweater with her short boyish
ginger cropped hair and lovely smiling green eyes
but without Henri.
The years passed, I hardly went back to Paris
after Martin became jealous of my unknown French
lover - Paris! She and I drifted and eventually
lost touch. Then in the 90s at some point I
looked her up again but she had aged. Her winning
smile had gone. She had a cute little fluffy dog
who went to work with her. The child she never
had. She had the same job and was heading
for retirement. Now she wore metal framed glasses
all the time and two piece suits so she really
looked like an executive office worker. Gone was
the vivacious Lucette I had known and laughed
with. In her place was a conventional rather
boring middle aged woman, who had never married,
and still only spoke about Henri this and Henri
that. I was so bored when I took her out for
dinner, that she must have seen I was detached
and nodding off after a few glasses of good wine.
No, you can never rekindle a friendship.
I am surprised to see Henri is still alive and
President of the family Crespo business. I wonder
if Lucette is still his lady after all these
years. I will never know and I hope he never
reads my vignette but if I recall correctly, he
never spoke or read English which was another
reason why Lucette was necessary at all those
business meetings. I wonder if she liked eating
olives! I never once saw a glass jar of them chez
in the Villa Perla, Kaleici, Antalya, Turkey on 7/3/17.
Crespo olives website - our history