Read Chasing Cezanne Online

Authors: Peter Mayle

Chasing Cezanne

BOOK: Chasing Cezanne
13.01Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub



Peter Mayle spent fifteen years in the advertising business, first as a copywriter and then as a reluctant executive, before escaping Madison Avenue to write books. He is the author of
A Year in Provence
Toujours Provence
, as well as the novels
Hotel Pastis
A Dog's Life
, and
Anything Considered
. He and his wife and two dogs divide their time between the South of France and Long Island.

Peter Mayle

Chasing Cézanne

Anything Considered

A Dog's Life

Hotel Pastis

Toujours Provence

A Year in Provence


1997 by Escargot Productions, Ltd.

All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. Published in the United States by Vintage Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, and simultaneously in Canada by Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto. Originally published in hardcover in the United States by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., New York, in 1997.

Mayle, Peter.
Chasing Cézanne / Peter Mayle.
p.    cm.
eISBN: 978-0-307-79196-2
1. Art thefts—France, Southern—Fiction. I. Title.
[PR6063.A8875C48    1998]
823′.914—dc21     98-11055

Author photograph courtesy of Jennie Mayle

Random House Web address:

Cover design by Chip Kidd
Cover paintings by Cézanne / Art Resource, NY


For Ernest


THE receptionist echoed the decor, a human accessory precisely in tune with the restrained, almost severe chic of her surroundings. Glossy and cool in beige and black, she murmured into the phone, ignoring the rumpled young man standing in front of her. A slight frown threatened the smooth mask of her makeup as she glanced at the scarred leather shoulder bag that the young man had put on her otherwise immaculately bare desk of polished sycamore. She put down the phone, pushing back a wing of blonde hair to replace the gold earring that had been removed to facilitate conversation. Her eyebrows, plucked to perfection, rose in two questioning arcs.

The young man smiled. “Good morning. I have an appointment with Camilla.”

The eyebrows stayed up. “You are?”

“Andre Kelly. Are you new here?”

The receptionist declined to answer, as she unhitched her earring and took up the phone. Andre wondered why Camilla kept on hiring girls like this. They rarely lasted more than a couple of months before being replaced by
another polished clone—decorative, faintly unwelcoming, relentlessly blasé. And where did they go once they had left? The cosmetics department at Barney's? The front office of a smart funeral home? Or were they swept off their feet by one of Camilla's many friends in the lower levels of European aristocracy?

“Her meeting's running late.” A finger flicked toward the far corner of the reception area. “You can wait over there.”

Andre smiled at her again as he picked up his bag. “Were you always this unpleasant, or did you have to take classes?”

But it was wasted. The phone was already tucked beneath the burnished wing of hair, the murmuring already resumed. Andre settled into a chair and prepared himself for an extended wait.

Camilla was known—and, by some, admired—for her deliberate unpunctuality, for double-booking appointments, for manufacturing situations that emphasized her editorial charisma and her social importance. It was she who had broken new ground in the world of power lunches by booking two tables at the Royalton on the same day, shuttling from one table to the other—a nibble of arugula and endive here, a sip of Evian there—while she simultaneously entertained an important advertiser and a promising South American architect. It was a tribute to her reputation that neither of them was offended, and the two-table lunch then became an occasional part of Camilla's sociocorporate repertoire.

In the end, of course, she was allowed to get away
with such displays because she had achieved success, for which, in New York, all manner of bad behavior is forgiven. She had rescued an elderly magazine from its lingering death and modernized it, changing its name, retiring its venerable contributors, instituting a zippy but socially concerned “Letter from the Editor,” updating its covers, its typography, its photography, and, indeed, its receptionist and reception area. The circulation had tripled, advertising pages were increasing steadily, and the magazine's owners, while still losing money, were bathed in the reflected glow coming from a suddenly hot property. The magazine was being talked about, and Camilla Jameson Porter, for the moment, could do no wrong.

The magazine's rapid rise, while certainly helped by the cosmetic changes in its appearance, was in fact due almost entirely to something more fundamental: Camilla's editorial philosophy.

This had evolved in a curious way. During her earlier years, as an ambitious but unknown journalist working on the R and L (rumors and libel) page of a London tabloid with social pretensions, she had managed to acquire a wealthy upper-class husband—the tall, dark, and inconsequential Jeremy Jameson Porter. Camilla had embraced his name (which sounded
much smarter than the one she'd been born with, which was Camilla Boot) and also his well-connected friends. Alas, she had embraced one of them too enthusiastically and had been caught doing it. Divorce had followed, but by then Camilla had mingled with the wealthy long enough to learn the lesson that was to serve her so well in New York.

It was very simple. The rich are acquisitive, and with a few notable exceptions, they like other people to know about their acquisitions. After all, half the satisfaction of a privileged life is the envy it engenders; and what is the point of having rare and costly possessions unless others know you have them?

This fairly obvious insight kept returning to Camilla's thoughts as she pondered her future as an unattached woman in need of a job. And then one day she found the catalyst that turned her insight into a career.

She was in her dentist's waiting room and had picked up a copy of a brightly colored gossip magazine, intrigued by the cover photograph. It showed an aristocratic and internationally known art collector, posing in front of his latest Titian with his latest wife. Why, Camilla wondered, would such a couple agree to appear in such a magazine? Her question was answered by the story inside. It had been written on bended knee, shameless in its flattering descriptions of the collector, his pneumatic young bride, and their art-filled, fifty-seven-room love nest perched on the most select hillside overlooking Lake Como. Many photographs—artfully lit and equally flattering—accompanied the gush of prose. Every word, every image, attested to the fact that this was an absolutely wonderful couple living a wonderful life in a wonderful home. It was a seven-page massage.

Camilla looked through the rest of the magazine, an illustrated chronicle of the doings of the underemployed section of European society—charity balls, perfume
launches, gallery openings, the frothy distractions that provide excuses for the same group of people to keep bumping into each other—
quelle surprise!
—in Paris and London and Geneva and Rome. Page after page of smiling faces, vapid captions, bogus events. Nevertheless, as Camilla left the dentist she took the magazine with her, and she spent that evening brooding over the cover story. Gradually, an idea began to take shape.

Success is rarely achieved without a little luck, and in Camilla's case this came in the form of a phone call from a journalist friend in New York. All of media Manhattan, it seemed, was talking about the Garabedian brothers and their unexpected move into publishing. Having made several fortunes in nursing homes, invoice factoring, and waste disposal, they had recently acquired a group of companies that included a minor book publisher, a Long Island newspaper, and several specialist magazines in varying stages of decrepitude or collapse. The assumption was that the Garabedians had taken over the group for its main asset, which was a building on Madison Avenue, but there were rumors that one or two of the magazines might be kept alive and, in the words of Garabedian the younger, “goosed.” Financial analysts interpreted this as an indication of significant injections of capital. And one of the magazines considered suitable for goosing was
Decorating Quarterly

It was the kind of publication you might expect to find, its pages curled and yellowing, in the salon of a long-deserted Newport mansion. It was staid in tone, dowdy in
appearance. The advertisements, few and far between, were mostly devoted to curtain fabrics and faux-baronial lighting fixtures. Articles discussed the joys of ormolu and the proper care of eighteenth-century porcelain. The magazine kept its editorial face firmly turned away from anything remotely contemporary. And yet it had managed to retain a core of readers as it limped along making a marginal, shrinking profit.

Garabedian the elder looked at the numbers and was all for killing the magazine. But his brother was married to a young woman who described herself as a homemaker and who had read thrilling things about Philippe Starck. She persuaded her husband to consider a rescue operation, and the demise of
Decorating Quarterly
was postponed. If the right editorial formula could be found, it might even have a future.

The word went out; the grapevine throbbed. Camilla, briefed by her friend, came over to New York with a detailed proposal, which she presented, in her shortest skirt, to Garabedian the younger. The presentation lasted from ten until four, with a two-hour break for a mildly flirtatious lunch. Garabedian, it has to be said, was impressed as much by her ideas as by her legs, and Camilla was hired. As her first editorial act, she announced a change in the magazine's name: henceforth,
Decorating Quarterly
would be known as
. New York watched and waited.

BOOK: Chasing Cezanne
13.01Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Other books

When We Were Strangers by Pamela Schoenewaldt
1920 by Eric Burns
East End Trouble by Dani Oakley, D.S. Butler
Sway by Amber McRee Turner
Aire de Dylan by Enrique Vila-Matas
Irish Luck by RaeLynn Blue