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Archive for January, 2009

The Normandy Hotel, Ciro’s and the Casino

Wednesday 9th August 1922

I am over the moon. Mother and Father decided I could accompany them on their annual two-week soujourn in Deauville. We arrive from London via Southampton and Le Havre. My friend Monty says it is ‘the city of spectacular sin’ and he should know since he is a journalist and American to boot. He says I am going to have a whale of a time and that he will pop over and see me to ensure that I do. But, I have been told that I must behave, act sensibly and entertain. In return I have my own room adjacent to my parents’ suite at the rather stuffy Normandy hotel and they are organizing a special 21st birthday party for me at the Ambassadeurs restaurant.

The Normandy Hotel, Deauville

“It does have a rather quaint charm” I tell father with a sly smile as he shows me around the hotel and introduces me to everyone that matters, including the manager, a M. Wesssinger, who had been a Blue Devil during the war.

“Deauville has been the resort of the wealthy since the Second Empire, dear boy” Papa said as we wandered around “but this place was built by our dear friend Eugene Cornuche in 1913. He’s the one who put Maxim’s in Paris on the map and he always had a thing for your mother you know.’

Gosh, the things you learn about your parents when you least suspect.

The Normandy Hotel, Deauville

Monty warned me this place is infectious and that you swiftly get caught up in a delightful social whirl of nothingness. “Deauville is a true butterfly, a phenomenon of whirling colour, social high lights and unparalleled gaiety for a brief breathless period out of the heart of the summertime.” That was a piece Monty wrote for the Chicago Tribune last year. He is quite right. It is wild.

I was taken to the Potiniére café at the foot of the rue Désiré le Hoc by Mama. Apparently it is THE place to be at this hour (11am). We are sitting on the distinctive little green chairs in a big group on the terrace in the cool shade of a tiny grove of trees just behind the casino having tea and biscuits. Everyone is gossiping. My head is abuzz with all the endless chat. My, oh my, women do go on. And, why is it that they all talk at once.

Le Potiniere Cafe, Deauville

“…. Oh it is such a shame that the dapper Maurice has been taken ill with a bad lung attack… he is immensely becoming” said the Duchess of Sutherland at our table.

“Do remember dear…” said Mrs Reggie Fellowes “… he will be cited as correspondent by Thomas Furness when he divorces that dreadful Elizabeth…”

“I have never cared for her at all” added Lady Rocksavage “she gave Tommy a black eye you know.”

“Well, she is American, what do you expect!” replied Mrs FitzGibbon.

“Oh really” scolded the Comtess de Maza “Maurice is technically American and you adore him so not all Americans are hideous!”

They all giggle and then Mama says “Don’t believe a word of all this nonsense ladies… I know Maurice. He simply isn’t THAT kind of man.” She leans over and whispers to me “Maurice is the amazingly handsome and clever dancer who has been performing in the casino with his new partner Leonara Hughes – everyone is devastated. He is a darling! Take no notice…”

Hmmm, I think I would like to become “immensely becoming” especially since all the ladies swoon at the thought of him. Although I can dance of course, I am going to take lessons and become dapper too.

I am amazed at the cosmopolitan crowd – every rank and nationality from royalty to mannequins. My parents know everyone and everyone knows my parents. For example, father arrives deep in conversation with Lord Beaverbook, the newspaper magnate and Baron James Henri Rothschild. I just hope he isn’t trying to get me a job.

“Oh there is Lady Diana Duff Cooper…” squeals mother as she waves furiously and beckons her to our table with her companion the French actress Polinaire.

Suddenly, there are gasps as a delicate young man turned the corner and walked past the cafe leading a very fine and perfectly well trained Persian cat on a string with a diamante collar. Puss walked along in a stately manner oblivious to the scowls and barks of the assorted nearby doggies. Polinaire, declared with an indignant wiff “Tomorrow I am going to bring a nice fresh, pink pig… I simply cannot be upstaged. Oink, oink.”

We changed for luncheon to be taken on the edge of the open terrace of the Normandy Hotel. As Papa took me to our rather large table I could see that Mama had clearly invited three debs to join us along with their equally snooty mothers. I smell a rat. I am being set up. As I bristled Papa held my arm and whispered “Fynes, this is in your best interest you know. One of them could be your future bride. Please be charming.”

“Hello ladies.” I say; as I know where my bread is buttered and let’s face it I knew they would try and marry me off. We have a delightfully boring lunch in the shade and breeze of the trees with dappled sunlight my only consolation. I quickly decide that of the three Evangaline Lampton is the best bet. At least she smiles and is pretty.

That afternoon papa takes me to the horse racing and then we move on to watch the lithe and agile tennis star Suzanne Lenglen delighting huge crowds and proving once again that she is totally invincible. Papa gives me the full background of each eligible girl and her family. I listen but I am getting weary it is time for a nap.

Cing et Sept. I love it. We are all spick and span and dressed up. Cocktails are served in our suite. The three snooty debs and their mothers are there again. Yawn. Mama is wearing a beautiful Lucile conncoction. She hates the idea that she likes Lucile because Lucile is English and not French. Hmm, perhaps I haven’t told you yet that Mama is French? Our other guests are mostly French too, including my aunt Mimi (Mama’s sister).

“I hear you have been doing the rounds today dear boy” she says affectionately “You will swiftly get used to t,he routine of all these gay-hued care free birds and their migratory flight patterns from one pleasure pasturage to another.”

Then she whispers in my ear “Eva est la meilleure” and gives me a big grin and pats me on the head!

At the door of Ciro’s Papa introduces me to the rather affable manager Julian, who sweeps us toward our table. To my surprise there is my elder sister, Millicent and her husband the Marquis de Cazes.

“Darling” she squeals “Surprise….”

She runs up and kisses me on both cheeks and hugs and kisses Mama and Papa as Henri, her husband, shakes our hands warmly in turn.

“Oh my Millie you look gorgeous and that is simply a divine frock” I say.

According to Mimi when Millie was courting she was regarded by her numerous suitors to have the narrowest hips, the reddest lips, the shortest hair and the most life of any girl in London. She is looking resplendent in a silver gown embroidered with pink and white flowers and with a startling décolletage. She is decorated with a string of pearls, some delicate matching diamond and silver earings and bracelets. Henri has clearly been taken on an expensive spending spree. She acquired him at a hunt ball and it was love at first sight, especially when she discovered he was a Marquis and heir to small fortune.

“Hmm, it is the newest thing from Paul Caret and look” she turned “… it is completely backless.”

“Divine my dear…” says Mama “but far too risqué for me I am sure” as she sat at our table, glaring at Lady Ludlow who is pouting disapprovingly and looks like she has just seen a naked harem dancer.

Millie is a darling but also a bit of a minx. I often think that she must be like Mama at that age. Her husband is a bore but very handsome and very well connected. He is also very French of course. You see it is surely no surprise that Mama encourages Anglo-French relations. I am surprised there are no French beauties for me to examine. I suspect that she may have that up her elegant Lucile sleeve.

“I’ve decided to become a dapper dancer” I say to Millie in one of our more private conversations.

“But you are a wiz already Fynes.” she says kissing me on the cheek leaving a big red mark.

“I need to brush up. I have heard all about Maurice and I have decided that I need his allure.” I laugh.

“Well…” Millie says “You have given me the perfect idea for THE most superb birthday present… Leave it with me” she giggles.

We leave Ciro’s early and miss the dancing. We approach the vast Casino, a huge white stone building with a façade reminiscent of Versailles fronted by a wide formal park, green lawns and flower-patterned terraces. It was all lit up and glittering like a magnificent jewellery box and you could hear the music of Billy Arnold’s American band.

The Casino at Deauville

We headed straight toward the music in the crowded ballroom adjacent to the Ambassadeurs restaurant, the only other smart place to be beside Ciro’s. Places had been reserved for us on the edge of the dance floor and we were surrounded by a plethora of familiar faces that we had to greet. We drank champagne and enjoy the music, conversation and the lively dancing. The fashions are astounding.

Mama sniffs and says to Millie “Our cousins from over the herring pond are trying to prove that the American woman is the smartest in the world; but there is no comparison with Parisian chic and English distinction.”

Then, to my great surprise, Eva runs up and grabs me. “Come and dance” she instructed. She led me to the densely packed dance floor.

I have to say she is looking quite ravishing. Her pale skin, bright blue eyes and short wavy blond hair was framed by an amazing dress of pale green chiffon covered in a flutter of bright pink and blue butterflies. It had a gentle simplicity of line that belied the frivolity of the butterflies and made it appear quite appropriate. And, more to the point, I rather like her brashness. I think she may well do.

Millie talks to a rather demure yet beautiful blue-eyed blonde lady who is immaculately dressed and has the most radiant smile I have ever seen. They keep looking at me. Their conversation is short and the blonde is whisked off to dance. Boy oh boy is she a dancer. Who on earth could she be I wonder? Eva has no idea and is a little annoyed that I am looking at her looking at me. But the blonde is causing a sensation.

I sit down next to Millie. “That was Leonara Hughes, Maurice’s dance partner” she says with a grin knowing that I was miffed. “… and more to the point she is going to give you dancing lessons at 2pm for the next few days as your birthday present. How’s that!”

My sister is well and truly adorable and as I kiss her on both cheeks, the orchestra stops playing, trumpets blare, the dance floor empties and a hush falls over the crowd. A spotlight appears on an extremely smart gentleman who says “Ladies and gentleman, welcome to the Casino! Our night of frivolity begins with the dancing of the extremely elegant Fay Harcourt with her dashing partner Harry Cahill. They have very graciously stepped in at the last minute due the indisposition of poor Maurice.”

I guess this is the cabaret. The elegant looking programme says Miss Harcourt is British and Mr Cahill, American. They enter with a flourish causing gasps of delight from the audience as she is wearing a most extraordinary gown. A faintly flesh pink bodice had a bouffant skirt of massed mauve and purple flowers over a filmy fullness of tulle frills, shading from mauve to pink accentuated with silver sparkling diamanté and silver accessories.

Next up is the dancing of Mitty and Tillio. I remembered seeing them in the production of the Golden Moth at the Adelphi late last year. However, this time, I was unprepared for Mitty’s brief, nay almost non-existent outfit, which caused a ripple of excitement throughout the room. She certainly wore more on her hair than on all of the rest of her combined. And, what infinitesimal cobweb she wore, was perforated, cut out and ventilated almost out of existence.

Mitty and Tillio

These remarkable acrobats are described as the premier dancers of France and I am really not surprised. The man appears to do just what he likes with her and tosses her around without a care in the world. But it is not so much what they do but the remarkably neat and clean way in which it is done.

Harcourt and Cahill give another two performances with two more stunning dress creations, designed I am told by Miss Dolly Tree. A name that is familiar to me since Monty has recently made her acquaintance in London, although we have not met. She is supposed to be quite a gal!

Needless to say the rest of the evening was spent in a haze of music and dancing. I am pleased that beside Eva, I know I caught the eye of several other rather interesting gals. I crawl into bed at 2am my mind buzzing with excitement.

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