Friday, August 14, 2009

Pour Flo

Florence, my oldest sister, died six years ago today. I never got to know her as much as I should have since we had different fathers, lived in different homes, and I moved to the States shortly after she had fled both sets of parents and gone to England. But I miss her; we spent weeks here and there sharing her apartment when I visited Paris, and by the time she was in her 50s, she had achieved mythical proportions.

She was a writer whom some critics likened to Francoise Sagan, and the books she wrote, thinly disguised biographies of her early life, read like sad tales of bad love and worst upbringing. She won literary prizes that brought her a measure of fame without alleviating poverty so in mid-stride she switched careers and became the manager of one of France's top rock 'n' roller, and she bought into the lifestyle with fury. She was the mother of two by then, young boys who grew up in a very topsy-turvy world and came out the best for it. The father, the love of Flo's life, died shortly after the birth of their second son.

Flo and her singer drove matching Porsches, showed up at press conferences in feathers and David Bowie make-up, wowed them at the music festivals in St. Tropez and Cannes. They were the toast of the Côte d'Azure, fawned upon by rich and poor alike. They made the covers of French news magazines and were interviewed weekly by Radio Télévision Française. There were a number of European hits, a few appearances in the States, trips to Nashville and Hollywood to see if he could make it in the movies. He didn't, instead developed a heroin habit and things got dicey. He sank faster than she could rescue him, retired in Switzerland and eventually got clean after spending almost six on-and-off years in rehabs and clinics all over Europe. Years later they would re-unite and become fast friends again. He sang at her funeral.

After the singer she met an older man who owned several record stores in Europe, and he loved her with unabated passion. I remember the two of them showing up unannounced at my parents' house in suburban Maryland. Flo had mentioned not seeing her mother in a while and the record magnate chartered a jet that flew them to Dulles, where they hired a limo. They rang the bell wearing his and hers mink coats and I thought my mother would expire there and then. The limo chauffeur carried in a bouquet of 100 roses. Maman could not decide whether to be grateful or outraged, so she was both, but Flo's man was a charmer and in no time at all had won our mother over.

The future caught up with Flo in 1994 when the French government discovered she had never paid a franc's worth of income tax. There was a messy trial during which Flo's excesses were paraded before an appreciative jury and when the verdict was in, Flo was penniless. Everything was taken from her and sold, and her future earnings were dunned by the fisk, France's IRS. That broke her. The last time I saw her she was living in a one-room apartment in Paris, smoking Gitanes cigarettes and drinking too much. Friends gave her money to live on, and her singer discreetly deposited monthly checks in her bank account. She died of cancer at the Neuilly hospital, and her funeral was a glam affair attended by le tout Paris.

Recently, a young woman with the same soul as Flo's zipped in and out of my life, and I wonder if indeed there are no coincidences. We win people and then lose them.

Alors Flo, ma gentille soeur qui ne croyais pas en Dieu, j'éspère que oû que tu sois, tu es toujours aussi passionante et mythique. Tu me manques. Le frèrot....

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