Les Anges Magazines

Where Olive almost becomes a great journalist, communes with the angels, discovers photography, mingles with the beautiful people, and like a boomerang, ends up where he began.

I've always believed that you can learn from any situation, no matter how fucked up it may be. Of course, if this is true I must be a fucking genius because I've had more than my share of odd situations, including my brief but not altogether undistinguished career as a journalist. It began when I met a crazy French guy, Paul, who also happened to be a talented publisher. Paul had come up with an idea for a bilingual magazine – French and English – that would cover various events, openings, restaurants, movies, clubs, and essentially anything else that made Los Angeles the exciting city that it was and still is. Paul had started the magazine and all he needed was a good photographer. What he got was me. All I needed was a camera.

Where do you go when you need a good camera that is good enough for professional photo-journalism but that is cheap enough since I had very little money? Being the bright fellow that I am, it didn't take me long to figure out that a pawn shop was the answer. I drove over to Hollywood Boulevard heading toward downtown and found a crappy looking pawn shop that appeared to be within my price range. I found a magnificent Nikon F3 with a 6-shot-per-second motor drive. It was big, black and fast. It was the shit. I knew just enough about cameras to know this was a really good one. I played around with it, took it apart, somehow managed to put it back together, and when it still worked after that I paid the man his asking price of $500. Quite a bargain I figured. A pawn shop is a strange and singular place. One can buy almost anything there – jewelry, weapons, musical instruments, sporting goods, family heirlooms, and of course, cameras. I thought for a moment about whoever pawned this camera, someone in great distress who was forced by circumstances to part with their possessions. Then again, I mused, the money may have saved his or her butt when they needed it most. And who knows, the person might have been a shitty photographer anyway.

I was excited about my new career and I plunged into it, devoting all of my available time, which at the time was all day until 4:00 pm when I would go to the restaurant (I hadn't yet cut the umbilical cord to my day job, which happened to be at night). And so I became the photographer for the magazine Les Anges ("the Angels") as well as the resident restaurant reviewer. Apparently, Paul figured that since I worked in one I was by default an expert reviewer. I was hardly an expert restaurateur yet but I kept my doubts to myself and said yes to everything. My undying optimism had kept me alive so far and I wasn't going to abandon it now.

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I spent my days with Paul, who in addition to being the publisher was editor, interviewer, writer, bookkeeper, and very likely the janitor as well. With the possible exception of bookkeeper, he was good at everything. Paul and I would interview all kinds of celebrities – movie and TV stars, athletes, society people – all of whom were intrigued by this French team of journalist/clowns who were operating a French-English magazine. Needless to say, our heavy French accents opened many a door during that time. Rarely did one get slammed in our face.

We had great fun, Paul and I. We were invited to all the cool events in LA, including private dinners at Ma Maison, L'Orangerie and Le Dome (three of the most famous restaurants in the US at the time), fashion shows in top clubs, new bar and restaurant openings, movie premieres with great celebrity-strewn parties afterwards as a bonus. All I had to do was show up and take lots of pictures of all the beautiful people and their beautiful clothes. The hardest part for me was in remembering who everyone was once I was back in the office with the photos. This was before digital photography of course, so it involved old-style developing, proofing, cutting and pasting by hand and setting everything up in advance of publication, most of which occurred atop a coffee table in Paul's living room. It was a bitch but worth it for all the fun we were having, not to mention the free booze.

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Once, we were invited on an all-expense-paid trip to New Orleans on Muse Air, a new commuter airline out of Dallas that was named for its founder who also happened to be a past president of Southwest Airlines. The purpose of the trip was to cover a big, new development complex that was opening in an up and coming area of New Orleans. In case you don't remember this short-lived air carrier, Muse Air was the first American airline to ban smoking on all domestic flights, years before federal restrictions made it law. Curiously, who did they invite on their smoke-free flight but a couple of chain-smoking French journalists. During the flight to the Big Easy, we consumed the inventory of booze and wine and smoked like there was no tomorrow. The hard drinking they could deal with but the smoking didn't go over very well, especially since they had yet to have federal law backing them up. It's no wonder Americans think the French are assholes. We tend to scoff at authority, perhaps out of mistrust, and we harbor a general disrespect of the establishment. However, in our favor we're a peaceful lot. We're lovers not fighters (we proved that in World War II). In any case, we were never invited to fly Muse Air again, but then no one else was either because they went out of business only a few years later. I'm sure we had nothing to do with it.

It became increasingly hard to balance my two vocations, the restaurant and the magazine, so eventually I made the risky decision to leave La Toque and devote myself to Les Anges, thus allowing me to continue unbridled the subsequent debauchery we reveled in under the guise of serious journalism. Unfortunately (you saw this coming, didn't you), the magazine didn't make enough money. I should clarify that statement. The magazine actually made money but the money wasn't always going to the right place, namely Les Anges' bank account. As I said, Paul was brilliant at everything save bookkeeping, a role he played out of necessity. On paper it was very simple: you take the income from the advertisers, less operating expenses (printing, staffing, and general overhead) and you were left with a profit. Profit equals not only our ability to feed and house ourselves but the continued livelihood of the magazine as well. In reality, however, it was more like, "oh look, there's $700 in the bank. It must be ours to use as we want." It was the economic equivalent of a t-shirt I saw once that read, "How can I be broke; I still have checks left." We lasted a year and a half.

The blood-letting continued until at one point we were so broke that for weeks our daily sustenance consisted of shared double cheeseburgers and fries at Burger King every day around 5:00. It may not sound like much but we were living on hope, excitement and free booze. I saw a handwritten sign in LA once that said "dope will get you through times of no money better than money will get you through times of no dope." That was our consolation. Although it was a very sad period for our stomachs, we survived and I am here to tell the story and ultimately, I suppose, that is what counts. But when things went from bad to worse and we could no longer afford our daily Burger King forays I figured it was time to abandon the sinking ship. After all, I wasn't the captain of this ship, only an underpaid deck hand and I didn't fancy going down with the rats. I had to think fast and figure out what I was going to do next. I had become hopelessly addicted to eating food and the withdrawal pains were becoming acute. In the end, I turned to what I knew best, the restaurant business as a bartender, server or whatever else I could talk my way into. And so it was that I found myself back on the road in LA in my big Lincoln Mercury 57 convertible with my dog Lafayette, memories of some great parties with beautiful women, and very little else.

Olivier's Story:

A Life with Recipes,
or A Parisian in America

By Olivier Said
Translated into English by James Mellgren

Chapters

The Limo Driver
Racket Lesson
Now I have stayed
Live and Drive
Les Anges
Leaving LA
Coyote Ugly
Drinking in English
Outline




Olivier Said

Leaving Los Angeles...

I leave LA in the evening. I just got tired of it somehow. Maybe I know too many people in this city, or maybe I don't know enough. Or maybe this last year in the restaurant brought back too many memories of my own failed establishment in Paris, memories prompted by the fact that most of the people I know here acquired at least one hangover there.

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