Did I mention the fact that I catch everything that goes around? It got worse when I arrived in Europe. Apparently, your body gets used to the germs in your country. Leave it, and you are open season to every new contagion you meet – and I met a lot. There were days I was so dazed by fever I hardly knew where I was. That I had still not replaced my glasses, and navigated in a blur, didn’t help. Picture me on the metro, squinting desperately at the walls, trying to read what station I was in. Or standing under the street sign and peering up – is that a B or a D? I didn’t speak French, but my first words were: “Where is ____?” and “Left and Right.” “Straight on” in French sounds just like “Right”, so if someone told me to go straight on, I’d hang a right, and they would have to run after me (if they were nice). So I wandered around in a fog, usually with a dreadfully congested chest, sore throat, and migraine. It was April, and I had a shoot for the cover of a magazine. The photographer took us to a house in the country with an outdoor pool, and that is where I spent an hour – in the freezing water, in the pale April sunshine, jumping and splashing to keep warm – and of course, I caught bronchitis.
I remember fainting in the stairs a few days later at a “go see” for a job – that day I actually sprang for a taxi ride back to the apartment – I was too sick to take the “Choo”. I lay in bed and hallucinated. I dreamed that one of the models sharing the apartment (there were ten girls in the agency-run apartment, and we were three or four to a room, and it was an unholy mess) – anyhow, I dreamed one of the girls came in with some flowers for me. A while later, I was woken up by a kind voice saying “Jennifer – here, I hope these make you feel better!” and I stared at a bouquet of vivid tulips. “I’m still dreaming”, I said, sitting up and rubbing my eyes. “Are you a dream?” It wasn’t a dream. It was Andie, my best friend in the apartment, and she’d been concerned about me. “We have to get out of here,” she said. “The other girls are inviting boys over. And one of them was doing drugs.” I was all for moving. Most of the other girls were Swedish models – very beautiful, but they didn’t like the “no boyfriend in the apartment” rule and flouted it all the time. We were tired of heading to the bathroom in the morning and coming face-to-face with a “boyfriend” leering at us while we scampered back to our room to get dressed. Andie wanted to rent an apartment in St Germain de Pres, so we did – the apartment belonged her to boyfriend’s family, and we loved it. It was five floors up, no elevator, and split level, with a bedroom and bathroom downstairs, a tiny flight of stairs to a kitchen nook, and another flight of stairs to a bedroom beneath the eaves. It overlooked a courtyard, and the neighbors were always shouting and fighting, which was why, I guess, the rent was so low. We moved in, and I took the upstairs room and Andie too the downstairs room. It was furnished, so all we needed was our suitcases of clothes and makeup. The first day we were there, a woman used the key and walked in. “Hello, Babies!” she yelled.
This was Carmen. A Brazilian woman who had permanent access to the apartment for reasons we could not fathom. But there she was. And she moved in, taking my room upstairs. I moved down and shared Andie’s room. We were perplexed. She paid no rent. She ran up phenomenal phone bills calling long-distance – but we kept her. She cleaned. She cooked. She gave advice. She took us out. She introduced us to everyone – she knew, it seemed, everyone in Paris. She was, we later decided, a “pute de luxe”, but we adored her. Don’t ask me why. But the days I was too sick to get out of bed, she would be there with soup and medicine; calling the doctor, getting the doctor to make house calls up five flights of stairs, and making sure I felt better. She made sure we had clean sheets, clean towels, a clean apartment (honestly, I don’t recall ever doing any washing up when she was there), and in exchange, she stayed in the upstairs bedroom and Andie and I slept in the big king-sized bed downstairs. At that time, I was working nearly every day, and spending about two weeks per month in Italy or Germany working. Andie’s sister and mine both came to stay, and we all camped out – they shared the upstairs room – Carmen had left for the summer, but not before inviting us to the polo club one day.
Carmen had her faults – but she had a heart of gold. When I was on the plane once, I met a Brazilian man coming to Paris to fetch his son’s body. The young man had been killed in a construction accident, and his bereaved father had to come to France to get his body to take home for burial. I didn’t speak Portugaise, and he spoke no French and very little English. I brought him back to the apartment and gave him to Carmen’s care – and she took him under her wing – taking him to the embassy, to the morgue, getting everything done for him, and never leaving him alone. She was his angel that week – bless her.
After that summer, I finally started to get used to the new germs. I also started dating a guy I’d met at the polo club, and in October, I moved out of our apartment in the Latin Quarter, and moved in with my future husband, Stephane, in a large apartment in Boulogne that we shared with Christophe and Stephane’s cousin, Florence. I missed Andie, but she’d started working too, and since we were both absent two or three weeks per month, it seemed silly to keep the apartment. She moved in with her boyfriend and then on to New York, where she was mostly based. I kept working mostly in Europe, where I was in demand for catalogue work for lingerie and bathing suits – so I was often in Morocco or the Canary Islands to shoot in warmer climates. Of course, every time I went somewhere new, I came home with some new germ, so trips were punctuated with days in bed, trying to get over whatever illness had found me.
Looking sultry was easy – my broken wisdom teeth were always aching – I remember pressing my cheek to this cool mirror and thinking I just wanted to stay there!
I did, finally, get my wisdom teeth fixed. What happened was I got so sick one day I fainted during a shoot, and the agency sent me to a dentist (practically dragged me there) where the dentist gave me four root canals – but for some obscure reason, she left the wisdom teeth in. The pain was gone – but there were still four broken teeth in my jaw! The root canals were so painful, it took me another year before I braved a dentist to go have them out.
These two pictures were taken the day before I finally got my root canal – I was in such pain I wince when I see these pictures.
I stopped getting so many sore throats and bronchitis finally – but I did catch all the stomach bugs that went around, and I never got used to rich food. My husband will never let me forget the day I lay in bed sobbing that I was dying… What happened was I went to the south of France one day for a photo shoot at a Three Star Michelin chef’s Restaurant for a food & wine magazine – they wanted photos of a glam couple eating at this fabulous restaurant with the chef (Georges Blanc) and so off we went in a helicopter (I LOVED the helicopter!!) We landed on a copter pad in the countryside at this gorgeous restaurant/hotel, and off we went for a epic gourmet day – we had foie-gras & scrambled eggs, filet mignon with foie-gras, salad with – you guessed it – foie-gras – cheese, dessert…and wine. I am a teetotaler – I just don’t drink anything but an occasional beer – and that day we had this rich, sweet wine – I must have had 2 whole glasses. We finished the shoot and the chef gave us bags of goodies, and I remember there was a bocal of foie-gras and a jar of homemade current jelly – and a bottle of wine. We got back in the helicopter and off we went. By the time I got home that night I felt “odd”, and by the next day I was pretty sure I was dying. I couldn’t walk – I could only crawl – and my husband sat at the table and was cheerfully eating toast with the homemade jelly on it, and he looked at me crawling by and said, “Want some?” and stuck the toast in front of my face.
I still cannot see a jar of current jelly without shuddering. I also completely ruined his toast. Served him right, the beast.