To date I've written tributes only about friends and acquaintances who have recently died so it may appear strange to write about the death of a magazine. But Gourmet was different. It was a tradition, a force and one of the few periodicals that carried me through my year in Viet Nam.
Gourmet's life was almost as long as mine and I can recall intersecting with its articles throughout my career; on our honeymoon in St Martin, for instance, Bud Vass, elegant hotelier, prided himself on cooking exclusively from Gourmet and it was some food. Colette, too, cooked from its many books and we used articles to guide us on foreign trips.
Sure it went through some hard times and years and I dropped it before Ruth Reichl's return convinced me she could turn it around. The addition of Alexander Lobrano as Paris/French/European correspondent six years ago was inspired.
But the combination of Conde Nast's bean counters and McKinsey's pall-bearers finally did it in. Its demise is not only a disaster for the many fine people who write for and edit it, it's sad for we its readers and I fear one more sign of the dumbing down of the print press.
With the death of Bill Safire I lost one of my guiding lights, a man whose love of language and words was inspirational, prompting me to write several articles on language, slang and jargon.
Since I first encountered him in his 1968 book "The New Language of Politics" I've reveled in all he has written, considering him a national treasure akin to Niagara Falls and the White House even though our politics were 180° apart (except on Clinton and abortion).
From 1973-1979 I enjoyed reading his Op Ed pieces except those where his irrational devotion to Nixon and Agnew induced nausea, but from 1979 to this month I loved reading his views "on language."
The one time I was able to sit down with him and chat (I usually communicated with him via his wonderful research assistants) I found him to be witty, humble and most assuredly human.
What a loss to literature, writers and readers; I hope the New York Times has the good sense not to try to replace him; it would be impossible.
Bye Bill, you've guided me more than once through sticky thickets (a malapropism I think he might like).
I was about 19, a sophomore in college, and playing squash all alone one day - banging the tiny ball against the wall time after time. I heard a loud rap on the door and that now-familiar booming deep voice said “John, John, mind if I join you?” It was, of course, Ted Kennedy. I knew him, indeed his older brother, then Senator, had addressed us after dinner just a while back. But how the deuce did he know me? Sure, we lived in the same house at school but he travelled in a very different crowd than I, albeit neither bunch could be characterized as mainstream.
It was only a bit later when I was visiting a classmate’s family in Hyannis that I expressed my puzzlement at Kennedy’s feat. “Oh, one of them said, they’re all like that, they (the Kennedys) never forget a face or name.”
While he and I played squash together a few times afterwards and I saw him from time to time walking to classes, etc., we certainly were not close.
So, again, it was somewhat of a surprise when I was skiing with friends in typically bitter January weather at Stowe a few years later, to have a big but graceful figure on skis, who was as shrouded as I, pull up and say “Hey, John, how are you, what are you up to these days?” Again, I was incredulous. We chatted, parted and that was that. I thought.
Much, much later when I was a spokesman first for Viet Nam Vets Against the War and then the American Psychiatric Association, I found myself testifying before Congress on various bills for various lost causes and unfailingly, just before the session would be called to order, Ted would step into the room, quickly cross over to the panelists’ table as if he were simply another citizen and shake my hand, saying how much he was looking forward to my testimony.
How did he know I’d be there?, why did he care, since I couldn’t vote for him (except for President)?, and what friendly/political/gentlemanly calculus brought about such faithful greetings? I have no idea, but I was always flattered, impressed and left DC with a warmer feeling about our government than I came in with. If we had representatives who were so respectful of all our citizens as he was, how could our government not command respect?
Brain cancer was a cruel punishment imposed on a man whose brain housed a memory for names and faces unparalleled by others.
Bye-bye Ted, I have no recollection who was better at squash or skiing but I surely know who was better at friendship.
George Clooney, not only the sexiest man in the world, but now America's global spokeman in ways that George Bush, the last and lesser, could only dream of being, said in an interview in Variety: "Sydney made the world a little better, movies a little better and even dinner a little better." Wow, tears did come quickly.
Because, once again, Clooney said the right thing and said it so well. Sydney Pollack, even when playing that most viperous of professionals, a lawyer, in "Michael Clayton," came across as a real person not an actor.
He was someone you know you'd like to schmooze with, trade ideas with, indeed, have dinner with.
But I never did. So why do I feel he was a friend?
I think beause he was so real, so genuine, so friendly-looking. Every photo of him, whether in films, in repose or in directing, makes him look smart, approachable and decent.
Clooney finished by saying - "A tip of the hat to a class act. He'll be missed terribly." Right on George!
Paris lost another favorite son this week with the death of legendary New York Times reporter, critic and eater – R.W. (Johnny) Apple Jr. at the age of 71. Todd Purdam’s nuanced obituary described him as “Dickensian….Churchillian….Falstaffian, but to me, more suitable descriptors are Rabelaisian and Gargantuan.
For Apple could never get enough; enough news, enough dirt, enough food. The man was not only full of life he was bigger than life for sure. It’s very hard to think of the New York Times, Paris or the food scene without him.
Apple started out as a small town political reporter (Albany NY), became a war correspondent (Viet Nam), then a sage analyst (garnering the Polk Award for his analytic article that foresaw the collapse of the War), and finally a legend. And all the while eating his way through Africa, Southeast Asia, London and of course, Paris.
Apple and I met as a result of our respective tours in Viet Nam and quickly agreed that one couldn’t truly live well without good food. So in 1968 we and Bonjour Paris art critic Deb Markow and spouses set off to explore this “nouvelle cuisine” thing at the source.
The defining Apple story for me (diversion: I believe it was Calvin Trillin, in his New Yorker article on Apple, who pointed out that anyone who even brushed shoulders with Johnny, had at least one “Apple story”) was of a weekend in Paris, which included trekking out to Asnieres to the then little-known Barriere de Clichy, where some young guy, Michel Guerard, was cooking up a storm. But that’s not the story.
The story is that after a huge dinner, I think at Vivarois, remember “nouvelle” then didn’t necessarily mean small portions, begun by and followed by some of best aperitifs and digestifs ever, we returned to the Right Bank and the Hotel Scandinavia, where he always stayed, and as he emerged from the cab, towards, if not after midnight, he said “Before going home, let’s grab a petite tranche de jambon and a glass of Beaujolais Nouveau at a little zinc I know nearby.” Pure Apple; this was the man who later became known as “three-lunch Apple.”
The bookend story to this, was that involving a trick played on Johnny by the then White House Director of the Press Pool for Bill Clinton, which I suspect he never fully forgave either of us for. This guy, who must have had mixed experiences with Apple, as did, I also surmise, all Government officials from General William Westmoreland to President George W. Bush, came up with this story to tell Apple after the Clinton official and I had dinner in Paris one night.
I was then working on researching and writing on the differences between the homeless in Europe and America. On his return to Washington, this puckish guy greeted Apple with the news that he’d run into his old friend Talbott (true), that I was on the streets (well, when walking to the restaurant maybe) and that I was researching homelessness (and here comes the stretch, I’ve surmised) first hand.
I knew not a thing about this. But I received a strange call from the then Chief of the Paris bureau of the NYT, whom I’d also known from the Viet Nam days, who asked the strangest questions about my “research,” my sanity, my health and my weight.
It was only when I got back to the US, six months later, that on a whim, I called Apple up to arrange a lunch date and miraculously he was free that day. I met him at the Times office where he (1) ushered me into his office immediately, (2) looked me over as a buyer would a prize heifer and (3) gave me a hug like I’d just returned from the dead.
Later, connecting the dots, I realized that my Press Pool friend had tricked Apple with his account, which prompted Johnny to get on the phone to his old buddy in Paris, who then checked me out, but that he still wanted to make sure himself – I’d like to say because he was concerned about my well-being but I suspect because he smelled the possibility of a good news story too.
The same age as Johnny, I’ve gone through life envying only one human being, and that’s Apple. To work full tilt at everything he did, to speak languages like he took 8 lessons in 8 different tongues every day, to eat and eat and eat without ever pausing, and to be constantly on the lookout for the best runny cheese, intense sauce or gutsy wine in any part of the world he was in; to know every Congressional district in America (and of course where to eat there; and if he didn’t think his info was up to date, a few phone calls to Pierre (Salinger) or Craig (Claiborne) would produce the results); to drag his beloved wife Betsey everywhere he ate and mention her in every food article he wrote; and to live well right up to the end (his article on eating in the Singapore was published only a few days before his death) - that’s not bad.
The old Readers Digest used to have a feature called “The Most Unforgettable Character I’ve Ever Met.” You’ve guessed the punch line.
So, so long Johnny, I’ll catch up with you soon for lunch. Be well and don’t slow down, wherever you go.