Upper Sixth Form

While my diary makes no mention of it, an event occurred in the summer prior to my return to St. Andrew’s College for Upper Sixth Form (1966) which I have never forgotten. One of my friends from St. Andrew’s was Ricardo Schmeichler, whose family was Austrian, but they lived and operated a business in Caracas, Venezuela called PAR (named after their children, Pedro, Alfredo and Ricardo). Ricardo told me that he was going to be in Paris, France for the summer, and since I knew I would be returning to Europe for the summer to spend a month on the Spanish riviera (Costa Brava near Barcelona) with my family before making our way eventually through the Pyrenees to Paris, Copenhagen then Stockholm, I told him to wait for me to arrive in Paris before going up the Eiffel Tower (which he had never visited before).

My father and sister returned from Spain in one car together. Mother, I and a Catholic Priest (whom mother had invited along to Spain) returned in another. The Priest was driving. His faith must have been enormous, since he decided while we were climbing a mountain on the Spanish border to pass a truck. As we reached the crest of the hill, another truck was coming the other way. We had a mountain cliff on one side of the road, and a rock face on the other. There was nowhere to go but straight ahead, which we did. Fortunately the two truck drivers had the presence of mind to shift as much as possible to the edges of the road, and our car was buffeted between them, cushioned to a degree by the large rubber tyres. No one was hurt in the accident, but I was very shaken up, and I decided that when I got to Paris, the last thing I wanted to do was to get back into a car for another long haul to Stockholm.

The evening of our arrival in Paris was filled with the glamour that one would hope for and expect in such a magnificent city. Ricardo, Lindy and I went out together for dinner, then took a horse-drawn carriage about the centre of Paris, along the Champs Elysees, around the Presidential Palace (where we almost became part of a gathering of people attending a soiree), and so on. The next day, at Ricardo’s invitation, I discussed with my parents the possibility of my staying with Ricardo at his uncle’s place in Mont Martre. Dad came to look at the place, which I think he found a bit strange by comparison to most residences in North America, but which I instantly recognized as simply over-done French decoration. The uncle owned a Jaguar automobile dealership in Paris, and seemed to be generally trustworthy. So the deal was done, but to the chagrin of Lindy, who was told she would have to return to Stockholm.

When the occasion finally presented itself for Ricardo and me to visit the Eiffel Tower, we struck gold. Completely innocently, we had chosen the evening of July 14 (Bastille Day) to see the sights of Paris from the Tower. We must have arrived at the Tower fairly early in the evening (having no doubt finished our customary meal of escargots, bread and pounded horsemeat), but already things were getting busy. And when we reached the top, we heard that no more people would be allowed up until people started leaving, which nobody appeared to be doing. It was then that we discovered we had inadvertently picked the supreme sight to view the fireworks which would soon be lit all over the city! Soon we were seeing fireboats on the Seine, pumping jets of water into the air, illuminated by back-lights of red and green and blue. Then, in the distance, the great cathedrals were seen to come ablaze with light, and fireworks were popping off all over the black sky of the city. The streets fanned out below us, ablaze with light and bustling with activity. When we finally descended, and headed for the Left Bank, the traffic was like honey. But we managed to make the rounds, twirling in and out of cafes, and then back to the Trocadero, the fountains in front of the Eiffel Tower. It was here that we met Jean-Luc Meyer.

Ricardo had always been interested in photography, so it was not the least bit unusual for me that he should have taken a notion to photograph the fountains. It was at this point that we became aware of a mocking voice behind us, speaking in French, words to the effect, “Look at these stupid Americans, taking pictures of the fountains!”. Ricardo and I both spoke sufficient French to understand what was being said (and in fact we were both attending Alliance Française to improve our skills), so we turned on the gentleman and informed him, first, that we were not Americans, that Ricardo was Venezuelan and I was Canadian; and, second, we did not see what was so stupid about taking pictures of the fountains. The rather startled gentleman (who turned out to be Jean-Luc Meyer) immediately apologized, but did, however, point out that he too had an interest in photography, and he could not help but remark that, by shooting pictures so close to the fountains, we risked getting water-spray on the lens. We conceded that this made sense. But Jean-Luc still felt compelled to make good his apology. So he (together with his silent friend, Olivier) invited Ricardo and me to join them for a citron pressée on the Champs Elysees, which invitation we accepted. After we had enjoyed our refreshment, and were preparing to hail a cab to take us home, Jean-Luc again pressed us to join him on Sunday morning for a drive to his place in the country, and also to test a new vehicle which his aunt had purchased. He gave us a visiting card with his name and address, and we then took off into the night, along with Olivier. When we asked Olivier where he might like to be dropped, he said anywhere was fine (which I couldn’t help but think was an odd observation in such a huge city), and he got out of the car, and we never saw him again.

But Sunday morning came, and when we gave the cab driver Jean-Luc’s visiting card, the driver seemed to be uncertain whether in fact we were not mistaken about where we wanted to go. But we assured him that the address was correct so as far as we knew, and that was where we wanted to go. The address was on Avenue Victor Hugo which was looking magical on that beautifully warm and sunny July morning. The entrance to the residence off the grand tree-lined boulevard was through an equally grand stone archway. We drove along a relatively short cobblestone drive to the front entrance and stopped before a heavy oak door where a maid greeted us. After ascending one flight of stairs, we were inside the so-called apartment, which was easily as large as a house. The long hallways were cluttered with photographs of family members with what appeared to be famous or important people (I was too young or too rushed to determine which); and the few rooms we saw were richly appointed. However, we wasted no time on such matters as interior design, as Jean-Luc gathered up his things and our luggage, and we headed back to the street where his aunt was waiting in her new car.

The car was a small European vehicle of no distinction. Jean-Luc assumed the wheel, aunt in front, Ricardo and I in the back, and we headed off in a flurry to the country, munching I recall some marzipan. Somewhere outside of Paris, along a more rural road, a truck passed us, a rock flew up and struck the windshield of our car, causing the entire screen to crystallize. Jean-Luc was able to stop the car safely. He pulled off his right shoe and used the heel of it to smash out the now opaque windshield. So we then drove on with a considerable amount of wind in our faces, and Jean-Luc decided to heighten the merriment by turning on both the windshield wipers and the windshield washer, something which was not sitting at all well with his aunt. Bad start to her new car, in fairness.

As we drove into what was the object of our tour (a small country village), many people waved to Jean-Luc as he drove through the narrow streets. He later confided that he was thinking of running for election as the local mayor (a prospect which I found quite unexpected, since he was not more than twenty, we being about 17 years of age at the time). The house before which we finally came to rest was a thoroughly charming thatched roof country residence, with five dormer windows on the second floor. The inside was distinctly oak and very comfortable. The back yard consisted of a small grassy area of rather little definition, and the backdrop was a small, old church (in which I later played the pump organ). Because of the hour, we immediately sat down to a summer luncheon, consisting of crawfish, salad, followed by fruit, cheese, brandy and cigars. After a short respite, Jean-Luc headed off with the other two to get the windshield of the car fixed, leaving me with my glass of brandy, a cigar and two hundred rounds of ammunition to be used to pop off some of the millions of sparrows and other small birds which abounded in the back yard (along with the donkey). Fortunately for the birds, by the time Jean-Luc and crew returned home, I had shot all 200 rounds and hit nothing. I think that was the last time I ever shot a gun.

What happened the rest of that day or the next has long since faded from my memory. All I do remember is that on the day of our return to Paris, Jean-Luc again insisted that he perfect his original insult to us by the Fountain. He said his family was having a party in St. Tropez for a friend of the family, for someone who was quite well known in France, but of whom we may never had heard. Her name was Brigitte Bardot. Well, we of course said we knew who she was, but the problem was that we did not have the money to travel to St. Tropez, to which Jean-Luc replied that was no problem at all because his father had a plane going down. Ricardo and I thought this would be just fine, but I had to take the precaution of calling my parents to advise them of this, if for no other reason than to confirm we would be “leaving town” so to speak. When I connected with my mother in Stockholm she thought the whole affair was a scam. Ricardo and I were instructed to get on the next plane out of Paris and head for Stockholm, which we dutifully did (interrupted by a small but enjoyable over-night detour in Copenhagen, where we visited Tivoli).

Back in Stockholm, I was sitting in the back yard one sunny afternoon reading my mother’s copy of Paris Match, and to my utter astonishment I came upon some pictures of a party for Brigitte Bardot recently held in St. Tropez. And there was a picture of her and Jean-Luc, arm in arm, glasses raised, smiling for the photographer. I raced into the house to show mother. I cannot remember what, if anything, she said.

Post Scriptum:

Early in the New Year 2023 I searched the internet for historical intelligence regarding Brigitte Bardot on the Côte d’Azur. I landed upon a marvellous article by a Ferrari Club in Latvia.  This morning I received a reply from the President of the Club.

Hello Bill,

thanks for your nice text. Yes I love the French Riviera. As for the article it basicly doesn’t have a proper author as I found some good articles of different authors and putting them together. The same I have done with photos and videos I found on the net. This is a bit weird but the goal was to have something good to make people enjoy such beautiful things. When articles are in different languages I translate them in English. It’s a big, crazy job but I didn’t want such gems to somehow get lost.

Let’s be in touch.

Kind regards.
Valerio Palmigiano

Scuderia Ferrari Club in Riga, Latvia