BULL General Electric --
Paris Happenings of 1965-1966

Computer History Vignettes

By Bob Bemer

Following my stint at Univac, I followed my mentor Dr. Louis Rader to Bull General Electric, as he had need of loyalty and technical competence when GE purchased the components of both Compagnie Bull (Paris) and Olivetti (Milan and surrounding). Italy was easier -- they had no Charles de Gaulle to stir up dislike of Americans. So I was assigned to Paris, under Brainerd Fancher, a GE manager's manager with scant knowledge of the computer business, likeable though he was.

It proved to be a remarkable adventure and thorough re-education (not only in the language spoken). These are some of the happenings.

The Art Collector

One evening Charlie Lecht (founder of ACT Computers in New York City, and early celebrated icon of the IT industry), my wife, and I were having dinner at the restaurant La Truite (on the Faubourg Saint-Honoré -- near the presidential palace). Two men were at the next table, and after dinner they engaged us in conversation.

One asked if we liked art, and upon getting a positive answer introduced himself as M. Roger Hauert, a lawyer from Paris, and the other man as his client from Marseilles in a divorce action.

M. Hauert then asked if we would like to go to his apartment to view his collection. We assented eagerly, and a cab took us there. For security reasons I'm not going to mention the name of the street.

As we entered the vestibule and made the first right he pointed -- "That's one of Van Gogh's sunflower paintings" (See Note 1 at end). In the same room was a combination chaise/bed said to have belonged to Napoleon.

We then adjourned to the library for refreshments, which turned out to be pink champagne! I drank mine from a large cup I took a fancy to. But I didn't at first realize its qualities. For one thing, it was very heavy, being solid gold. For another, it was decorated all over with friezes in exquisite relief. For the last, it was estimated at over 2000 years old!

M. Hauert then explained that he had been rather more than a lawyer. He showed us some books he had written (and illustrated by himself as a talented photographer), about certain artists he was very familiar with. People like Picasso, Miró,. Chagall, Braque, etc.

Pointing to a Braque painting on an easel, he said one like that just sold for $1500 in New York, and he had about 150 more! The story was that he had acted as lawyer for a number of famous artists when they were young and not famous. They in turn had paid him in paintings rather than money!

If you think this an unlikely story, search the Web for "Roger Hauert". I got 20 hits - associated with Miró, Picasso, Chagall, and Braque again.

But he was apparently proudest of being commissioned by the Supreme Court of the State of New York to explain to them everything about art forgery.

Before leaving, we peeked into the kitchen. Here paintings, at least several hundred of them, were stacked one on the other in every possible cabinet. He had many more, he said, but not enough room, so they were with his wife in Neuilly (where we lived).

A Legitimate Business

I once had occasion to go to Fauchon's on a Saturday afternoon to purchase some very old Armagnac. This emporium, near the Madeleine, is the French equivalent of London's Harrod's or Fortnum and Mason, although perhaps more preponderantly for food and wine.

The advertised supply was kept somewhere else, and I had to wait while they fetched it. So I set out on a small walking tour, finding a most interesting street a couple of blocks North. The first attribute of interest was that it was lined on both sides with parked automobiles, and they were not the common kind. These were Lancias, Ferraris, Maseratis, Rolls, and such exotics. Even a Lamborghini, which would be my choice.

The second attribute of interest was that a number of the hoods were up, for most of the cars were being serviced and tuned (this late afternoon) by some of the loveliest young ladies I have ever seen. Some wore coveralls to protect their gowns, but it was detectable that they were all "ladies of the evening", which time was coming on shortly.

I couldn't help thinking that in the United States the Internal Revenue Service would deny these business expenses as exorbitant, uncaring that the upkeep was performed by the owners, or that General Motors pays far more than that per year in acceptable advertising.

Other Very Old Armagnac was Available

I found a place off a street radiating from the Arc de Triomphe (Rue Pigeon 48, too small to be on the map), where they had Armagnac of the 1904 vintage, numbered on the handwritten labels. Sixty years of age is quite acceptable for Armagnac, so I bought a bottle. It was about $20 at that time. Going back there six months later I bought another bottle of the same brand. The number on the label had increased only by 2!

The Ballet

During the Christmas season of 1965 a remarkable comeback was to occur. A special ballet was scheduled, starring Nureyev and Fontaine. I got all the tickets I could get -- three! It came time to allocate the third ticket, but we could find no deserving single recipient. Couples, yes. No singles. So we took the maid, sitting in the very front row! I don't know if she enjoyed it, but we did!

Sunday Dining Out

One Sunday we made a leisurely exploration of the West outskirts of Paris, on the main road to Versailles. In Bougival we noticed an old wooden sign fronting the road, with the name "Coq Hardi" and a rooster painted thereon. It had a large parking lot, and looked good, so we stopped to reconnoiter. A large and expensive car came in. The chauffeur, in grey whipcord, opened the door for Madame, who got out carrying her poodle, and headed for the entrance.

That was enough for us. We carried our two poodles and entered. We were greeted, led to a banquette, and a cushion each was placed on the seat beside us for the poodles. Each was given a treat, and they behaved in accordance with their gracious welcome.

We found the place afterward in the Guide Michelin, and confirmed that it indeed had a "jardin fleuri" in pleasant view. The Guide also gave it a great gastronomic rating, plus 5 red forks, with which we concurred.

The lowliest and cheapest restaurants I ever found in Paris served a most satisfactory meal, in pleasant surroundings, and with cloth covers and metal utensils. I hope they haven't changed to U.S. style.

The Final Night in Paris

Our furniture had been reshipped back to the U.S. by air. We had to stay somewhere the last night, and settled on the George V. As anyone with spare money knows, these are very luxurious accommodations.

But I didn't know the full extent until I saw, while seated in the lobby with my wife and a drink (Note 2), a courtesan (yes, that old-fashioned word) walking a pair of toy poodles across the huge space, very like the runway at a fashion show.

Note 1: Parade Magazine of 2000 September 17, page 4, says there are 10 versions of "Sunflowers", an 11th being "destroyed in Japan in World War II". It recommended the site "http://www.vangoghgallery.com". Click on "Sunflowers". Note that all but one are in museums. That one is in a private collection, now in the United States.

Note 2: In the best European hotels the bar is never in view. One orders from, and relaxes in, the lobby.

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