Wednesday, August 16, 2017

The First Time I Heard About the Disaster of '55

We sat at a round dining table covered in lace, somewhere in the middle of France. These were friends of my parents—was it the family my mom had stayed with as a student? Or someone else they’d met along the way? We were forever criss-crossing the country: Paris, the south, Provence, the Alps, Brittany, the Pyrenees. Who the fuck knew who these people were. I can’t remember.

They were older—older than my parents—which befit the exquisitely bourgeois surroundings. The fine china displayed in cabinets along the wall, the flowered wallpaper, the Louis chairs. There must have been a grandfather clock somewhere.

We were there to eat cake. A classic French cake with meringue and cream and lavender. It was not very good, in my opinion, as it contained no chocolate. But it was sweet, so I ate it. I don’t know why we didn’t eat lunch. Just cake. Maybe we’d arrived too late, stuck in traffic on the autoroute.

Someone mentioned the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The man wistfully recalled the race in ‘55. A car slowed on the track and Pierre Levegh struck it. His Mercedes took flight and tumbled along the stands, disintegrating as it crushed and tore asunder dozens of human beings.

I gripped the silver fork and thrust it into the violet icing. The meringue resisted a little bit—you had to press hard. When it broke, the layers shifted willy nilly. Soon, crumbs and cream covered the floral pattern along the perimeter of the plate. I was afraid I was not elegant enough for this.