Read Cooking for Picasso Online

Authors: Camille Aubray

Cooking for Picasso

Cooking for Picasso
is a work of historical fiction, using well-known historical and public figures. All incidents and dialogue are products of the author's imagination and are not to be construed as real. Where real-life historical or public figures appear, the situations, incidents, and dialogues concerning those persons are entirely fictional and are not intended to change the entirely fictional nature of the work. In all other respects, any resemblance to persons living or dead is entirely coincidental.

Copyright © 2016 by Camille Aubray LLC

All rights reserved.

Published in the United States by Ballantine Books, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York.

B
ALLANTINE
and the
H
OUSE
colophon are registered trademarks of Penguin Random House LLC.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Names: Aubray, Camille, author.

Title: Cooking for Picasso : a novel / Camille Aubray.

Description: New York : Ballantine Books, 2016.

Identifiers: LCCN 2016016922 (print) | LCCN 2016024426 (ebook) | ISBN 9780399177651 (hardback) | ISBN 9780399177675 (ebook)

Subjects: LCSH: Picasso, Pablo, 1881–1973—Fiction. | Women cooks—France—Fiction. | Cooking—France—Fiction. | Biographical fiction. | BISAC: FICTION / Historical. | FICTION / Sagas. | FICTION / Contemporary Women.

Classification: LCC PS3602.E46 C665 2016 (print) | LCC PS3602.E46 (ebook) | DDC 813/.6—dc23

LC record available at
https://lccn.loc.gov/​2016016922

ebook ISBN 9780399177675

randomhousebooks.com

Book design by Susan Turner, adapted for ebook

Cover illustration: Happy Menocal/Illustration Division

v4.1

ep

Céline at Port Vauban, the French Riviera, 2016

M
Y MOTHER HAD A
P
ROVENÇAL
proverb that she recited to me in a cheerful singsong voice when I was a child:
L'eau trouble est le gain du pêcheur sage
. She told me it meant, “In troubled waters the wise fisherman benefits.” I always assumed she was reassuring me that if you persevere in difficult times you get rewarded for your efforts.

But, as with most of the things my mother told me, I've discovered another meaning to this proverb, which is to say, “When things are chaotic, and everyone else is distracted by the storm and the roiling waves, you have a unique opportunity to get what you want without being noticed.”

For some reason that proverb popped into my head today when I got an e-mail from a man I barely know:
I'm docking in Port Vauban at one o'clock, but just to pick up supplies. As soon as I've reloaded, I'm casting off. So if you want to do this thing, come now. Attached is a pass-card that will allow you to come aboard.

I'd almost given up hope of hearing from him, so I was relieved, but then I noticed in alarm that it was already noon. When I hastily told my French colleagues at the movie studio in Nice that I must skip our “wrap party” so I could deal with some personal business in Antibes, they immediately assumed that I was sneaking away for a romantic rendezvous, teasingly calling me
La
Americaine mystérieuse
as I hurried to my car.

Hitting the lunchtime traffic meant battling it out with tour buses, truckers and other locals, all in a hell-bent flurry to get to their
déjeuner
. But at one slowdown where I was forced to wait, I resolutely lifted my gaze and was able to regain a measure of composure.

For, no matter how many times I see this view, I still catch my breath at the way the Riviera's intense-but-soft sun fires up every color it touches to dazzling perfection: the pomegranate-red tiled roofs on candy-colored stone houses snuggled against terraced hills; the green of dense pine that clings to the shoreline and mountains; and most of all, blue—that infinite canopy of cobalt-blue sky over my head, and a wide-open aquamarine sea lapping at the shores, each reaching out to the other until they meet in a blurry watercolor embrace at a violet-blue horizon.

—

N
OW, AS
I
arrive at Port Vauban breathless and fearful that the ship I'm looking for has already sailed, I grab the first parking space I find.

Then I set off on foot, hurrying softly in my espadrilles past a public park, where old men sit at picnic tables under the trees, playing cards in the melon-colored light reflecting off a star-shaped stone fort, whose bastions and ramparts have for centuries stood guard over the coastline against all invaders. At the farthest end of the harbor I reach “Billionaires' Quay”.

Many of the biggest yachts in the world are berthed in this exclusive enclave, and some have so many decks and such complex architecture that they look more like a space station than a boat. I squint at all the fanciful names scripted on the sides of these luxurious ships whose proud owners are well known here: an Arab prince and his many sons; a reclusive American software magnate; a flamboyant Russian oil kingpin. The air simply crackles with power and money. At the tip of the dock there's a busy helipad, and right before my eyes a nimble helicopter lands as neatly as a dragonfly.

At last I find the yacht I'm looking for—
Le Troubadour,
a triple-decker with a royal blue hull and shining gold handrails. It's so big and imposing, I'm almost afraid to go near it. The crewmen, crisply dressed in matching blue uniforms, observe me warily as I step carefully onto the
passerelle
that makes a bridge over the splashing sea, connecting land to yacht. The gangway sways slightly, while bobbing ducks and geese and an occasional swan glide beneath me unperturbed. Seagulls circle overhead, ready to dive at the first sight of a leaping fish.

I hold up my phone to show my pass-card to a tall crew member, and as he reaches for it he glances at my hand, then gives me an odd look. Following his gaze I see that my fingernails still bear traces of black and blue waterproof mascara, and my palms have a few stubborn streaks of pink, white and red. That's because I've just spent the entire morning at the movie studio steadily making up the faces of anxious actors, so that the old look younger, the young more sophisticated, the nice-looking more glamorous.

I can just imagine what I must look like to this guy: a tall, slightly frazzled female with a long auburn braid down her back, dressed in a black pantsuit; whereas most visitors here show up wearing pale, luxurious leisure garb—and a perfect St. Tropez tan the color of rosy apricot.

The man waves my pass-card under the mechanical nose of a security computer and waits until he sees a response that causes him to step aside, murmuring deferentially,
“Merci, madame, entrez, s'il vous plaît.”
Nevertheless I sense that he, like his fellow crewmates surrounding me, are barely tamed beasts who'd just as easily toss me over the side of the boat if the security message told them to.

At this point I'm entrusted to the yacht's captain, an impeccable Frenchman in a dazzling white and gold uniform. With a brief nod of cool formality he leads me across the teak deck, down a spiraling staircase to a mahogany door. Reaching into his pocket he pulls out a circlet of keys, unlocks the door and pushes it open, allowing me to step inside before he withdraws, closing the door softly behind him. I hear a discreet click indicating that this room has been locked again, with me inside it.

Well, at least I made it this far. I take a deep breath, then inspect what appears to be the ship's library, kitted out like a gentleman's club, with leather and silk-covered chairs, wool Persian carpets and locked cherrywood bookshelves, all kept in pristine condition to defy the effects of salty sea air. Peering closer I see that this entire cabin has bespoke climate control, yet each display case has its own complicated thermostat and humidity indicator—so nothing can spoil the imported cigars in their humidor nor the delicate treasures kept under glass in a cabinet of curiosities. I hear a quiet metallic whirr overhead, coming from one of four motion-sensitive security cameras perched high in each corner of the room, adjusting its gaze like a bird of prey. I suppress a mad urge to make a face at the camera.

In the deep silence I'm aware that my heart is still pounding rapidly from my determined effort to get here on time. Only to be kept waiting now, by a man with the manners of a gangster?

But I've come this far and I'm not leaving until I see this through. It represents the end of a long road for me, and today I'll find out if I've made the right choices. I glance about, feeling a bit doubtful. It occurs to me now that perhaps my host has taken these precautions because he doesn't trust me, either.

The lighting in this peculiar sanctuary is low, minimal, shutting out the brilliant sun, reminding me that there
is
a dark side to the Riviera; I've heard that wealthy earls and fun-loving heiresses alike have ominously vanished without a trace from its busy streets, and the spin of a wheel in a casino can ruin you or make you famous overnight. Uneasily I recall the words of the playwright Somerset Maugham who made the Côte d'Azur his home:
A sunny place for shady people
.

Before I came to these shores I never thought of myself as a shady character; but everyone here has their multi-faceted angles, like a face in a Cubist dream; and when I first arrived, two years ago, shortly after my thirtieth birthday, I began to sense that I, too, had a trace of larceny in my soul.

As my eyes adjust to the shadows, and still mindful that every move I make is undoubtedly being watched, I gravitate toward a polished walnut bench built into the wall so that it remains unmoved by the pitch and roll of the sea. It's so much like a church pew that I sit down with the hushed, contemplative attitude of a Provençal lady who has slipped into an empty chapel to bow her head and finger her rosary beads, to ask favors of her patron saints, to pray for those she loves, and to heed her guiding spirits. Perhaps in my own way, just by being here today, I myself am practicing some kind of ancestor worship.

For, while I wait, I am thinking of my shy, secretive mother who unexpectedly set my feet on this improbable path as if she'd passed a baton to me, just as her own mother had wanted to do with her. Have I managed to fulfill their cherished hopes—or have I betrayed them?

I realize that even today I'm still looking for answers, cues, clues. As if seeking an anchor to steady me in this sea of uncertainty, I close my eyes and find myself communing yet again with my Grandmother Ondine—who was once a young girl living in a modest honey-colored house attached to a deceptively ordinary-looking café, in a small seaside town not very far from here, so many years ago.

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