Crushing Rose Petals
by Chef Steel
You know little kitten, love comes in many disguises, but you must be bold enough to recognize it when it appears. Oui, Cheri? Love may not be exactly what you want it to be, but don't be fooled. You are the one who must give love too. It will give you what you need beyond what you expect. But you must have your heart open and take the risk of love.
Yes, I confess, I love many things: French cooking is love, French art is love, and French music is...well, at least there is M. Ravel and C. Debussy. Even the seasons bring love. Everyone in Paris knows September is the month of love, contrary to the more popular cliche month of April. When it cools down, everyone comes back to Paris from summer vacations at their country chateaus. They are ready to socialize, and when people get together there is love and intrigue. I was at the Cafe de Lore last night with a few German and American friends, and you could feel it in the air. After we left the Cafe, while we were walking back to my flat in the cool evening, we heard someone playing a Chopin Nocturne across the parkway. It was a lovely moment, as though it was a serenade for anyone passing by, very sweet. It brought to my mind a memory of my piano teacher, Anna, a beautiful Polish-Jewish woman. I knew her for a short while, yet she managed to crush my young heart into rose petals.
Anna had sparkling brown eyes that never blinked like some bird of prey, and her manicured hair was always tied up in a fashion. Anna's pouty lips were always caked with red lipstick, which left red tips on her cigarettes. I later took one to remind me of her. She had lovely pale ivory skin. And despite what you'd think (a concert pianist's fingers are long), Anna's were strong and rather short, yet she had no trouble hitting a tenth interval! She also had no trouble with French and English. In fact, she had no trouble learning anything she went for, and it was almost effortless for her to do anything. I still don't know how many languages she knew, but she always spoke Polish with her husband, who would be passing by, leaving briskly before our lesson.
All Anna would play was Chopin. She was hired by the University because of this expertise. Yet later, she was let go because a faction of the department viewed this as a limitation. Her technique kept her from playing contemporary music, which was where the department was going. I never understood this at the time, but this was an era when Romanticism was being purged from the music department. Cheri, even the liberals were marginalizing pluralism to focus only on new music. When there is fighting within a department, a lot of nasty things are said, and Anna was one of many targets. I caught hints of this through her, and my advisor, who was the chairman at the time. It was quite sad. Anna's life was sad, and it was terribly transitory. Her mother walked her out of Buchenwald with nothing as a little girl. And while she was now taken care of and quite well off, she was very lonely.
Since I was an undergraduate with no loyalties within the department and looking for a wider experience, I decided to take piano and harmony lessons from her on the outside. I thought I needed a traditional voice to complement the experiment taking place in the department. Plus, I was very interested in her and wanted to get to know her closer, and get perspective into her Jewish Eastern European background. I really wanted it to lead to other things. She was quite agreeable about the idea of giving me lessons and excited. So we set it all up. I'd go over to her home on a regular basis, and she expected very little pay. Anna lived in a rather wealthy area of Paris, and it now seems amusing that I live a block away from where she used to live. I look at the leaded glass windows of her home every time I pass by.
After I buzzed the doorbell, Anna would never keep me waiting. As soon as she'd open the door, her two large black Doberman Pinschers would slip by and rush at me and pin me to the wall. After being around these two hell hounds, I understood why Dobermans were the Nazi's guard dog breed of choice. They relentlessly intimidated me, yet Anna would pull them off me like they were puppies and club them down the hall. While this riot went on, I'd sit and relax in the living room letting my senses take in the beauty of her home. It smelled of the wood of the two baby grand pianos, cedar cabinets, the large oriental rugs, the fragrance of clean rainwater, and fresh roses. It was all very pleasant. We would first share a little small talk and then play the lesson. She would stand behind me. And if I didn't have the right accent on the keys or some such thing, she would put her arms around me tightly and straddle my neck with her breasts, and then play the passage right. When she would do this I could really smell her expensive perfume on her arms and hair.
I thought I was in love with her, and wanted her to know, but didn't want to startle her with my passion. She seemed unfullfilled and lonely, yet she remained with her husband. We'd hug and kiss affectionately when I'd leave the lesson or even as a greeting, yet such sweetness remained at that level. I considered being her secret lover on the side, and this appealed to me at the time. I had younger girls, but Anna was a complete woman at a refined level. I started calling her to tell her about my affairs, and to see her jealous. She seemed indifferent to this, and yet it excited her to hear of my intrigue. We once met at the corner Cafe for coffee. She showed up wearing a brown bottoned up shirt without a bra. I could see the edges of her breasts and her nipples through her shirt opening when she leaned forward. She knew it drove me mad, but it was a tease in retaliation for all my jealous baiting. These sexual games of flirtation went on for a while and it made our relationship complex and full of tension. And if it went on any longer I would have to reveal my passion for her despite all risks.
But when the lessons were over, we would talk more seriously. What I loved was her deadpan sense of humor. It was so dry that I'd find myself laughing from the tension during her pauses. She'd ask what are you laughing at, and I'd start to cry. Anna was very open about her background, Jews, Poland, and music. We would talk about everything, and she could interest me in anything. When she would turn her attention on me to ask relentless questions, I would just moon gaze back in astonishment and adoration, half listening, wondering what this dazzlingly elegant woman could be seeing in me. Once, while she was sitting on the piano bench close to me, I was playing a Chopin Etude, she leaned over and whispered something in my ear. I stopped immediately and turned to her with my lips parted to kiss her, which was what I thought she wanted then. Anna just sat there, her eyes blank, and simply said "more legato." So I turned away and continued playing, trying to ignore the feeling of her body pressed up against my side.
Later in the semester, very unexpectedly, which was her style, she came up to me in the hall of the music department and said, "Well, Jean-Paul, I will be leaving you soon, we are moving to San Francisco America, so be happy for me." I felt too weak to say anything I wanted to. I wanted to say so much. I merely retreated and said something dumb like, "See you, good luck"- whatever. This was the last time I saw Anna. I say less about the pain I've suffered over Anna to spare you, but saying good-bye to her left an emptiness that remained for a long time. To this day, I entertain thoughts of where she is in America, how time has treated her, and what she is doing. My heart still goes out to Anna. She is a person that I am grateful to have know in my life. And here's to all lovers. They are bold when the risk of pain is at stake, for it is better to put themselves on the line than never know what could be. Love brings possibilities. Lovers know the reward is love. September was the month I met Anna. As I remember, one time, to pay for a lesson, I made Anna a couple of liters of Roasted Red Pepper sauce. She accepted it as though I'd given her gold. She loved it. So, I dedicate this month's recipe to Anna and to you Cheri as always.
Roasted Red Pepper Sauce:
Grill about six to eight red peppers until very soft (leave skin on or peel but disgard seeds) cut them up and saute. Put in one cup of chicken stock, add about three minced cloves of garlic, add a little salt, pepper, suger, cocoa. Boil and reduce to sauce, remove and then strain to remove any lumps, pepper skin etc., to make it smoother put it in a blender and strain. Be sure to taste the sauce then because red pepper tend to be bitter. Now your intention: with pasta: add crushed tomatos, basil, olive oil. With meat: add beef stock strain very fine. pour on when serving. With fish or shellfish: add saffron and tomato to the boil, strain very fine. With any sauce it is up to your taste, let your imagination go.
Enjoy Cheri and Anna (where ever you are).