I am thrilled to have Pulitzer winning journalist Jonathan Freedman write for Eye Prefer Paris. His fascinating true story "Champions" is about the reunion of two women, now in their nineties, who were French women's golf champions before the War.
If you're feeling weary-dreary and looking for a fascinating glimpse into the lives of the rich and famous in Paris before the War, ride the Paris Metro to the Rue de la Pompe stop. (If you’re not in Paris, the ticket to the virtual Metro is free.) Walk to nearby Avenue Henri Martin. Now close your eyes and imagine you are back in the spring of 1938, when the avenue was lined with private mansions.
At 64 Avenue Henri Martin stands the grand maison of the Kapferers, a prominent Jewish family socializing with the Rothschilds and Citroens. Chez Kapferer is a three-story affair. Marcel Kapferer is head of Royal Dutch Shell of France. His art collection is legendary: Van Gogh, Cezanne, Vuillard. His three beautiful daughters are the talk of Paris society.
Ring the bell and the porter will lead you through the garden. In the entryway, you are greeted by a nude with alabaster breasts, by Malliol. Rushing out the door, Monsieur Kapferer brushes them lightly. A Rodin bust looks on disapprovingly.
The walls are covered with Japanese silk hung with impressionist masterpieces, including Cezanne’s “Lake Annecy,” and Van Gogh’s “Three Pairs of Shoes.” A Buddha by Odilon Redon hovers mysteriously.
But the furniture is old fashioned, the air stuffy, time regimented – no fun for the daughters.
That ringing laughter on the stairs is Yvette, the middle daughter: Daring, athletic, and fiercely independent, she is the reigning French women’s golf champion. Although she grew up surrounded by art, she cares not a whit for Cezanne and his ‘Lake Annecy.’ And Van Gogh’s ‘Old Shoes’ frankly are ugly! She’s passionately in love with golf, and a boy named Alec Weisweiller, the scion of a fabulously wealthy family.
The Kapferer Mansion on Ave. Henri Martin before it was torn down circa 1961. .
But she’s engaged to an older man, a British golfer and officer, and wants to escape her stuffy home, so she marries him. Alec appears unexpectedly at the wedding pleading stop! Too late.
Flash forward: France has declared war on Germany, but no fighting has broken out -- “the phony war.” Yvette’s husband is bivouacked with the British army in France. Yvette and their one year-old boy are living safely in Britain. But she misses her parents in Paris. In June 1940, she catches the last flight out of London to Paris. Just as Hitler’s tanks are poised to invade France. Blitzkrieg!
The Kapferers pack up and flee. Driving her father’s Citroen, 22 year old Yvette sets off with her baby, an English nanny, a pregnant dog, 24 suitcases and a bicycle. She crosses the Spanish border. But the Gestapo has given Franco a list of Jews, and Yvette’s parents and sister are on the list.
Meanwhile, the commandant of the Gestapo occupies the Kapferer house and loots the art.
Yvette miraculously escapes to Scotland, and provides tea and comfort to brave RAF fliers fighting in the Battle of Britain.
Her life races like a thriller. A tale of pluck, amazing escapes, heart-breaking deaths, championship golf, dancing in the London blitz, ghastly nuptial sex at the George V Hotel, and great illicit sex at the Savoy. It’s also about no-good cheating husbands, exiled royalty, show dogs, high jinks, a fairy tale golf hotel, a TB sanitarium… and laughing in the face of death.
Yvette is now 93, looks 75, and remembers it all.
Yvette as French golf champion shocked British golfers by wearing trousers in a tournament in 1930s
By chance, she is visiting Paris! We meet for lunch.
“This is Lally Segard, my best friend – and worst foe – on the French golf team,” Yvette says, introducing us. “She beat me in the final in the Benelux championship!”
“Really, I don’t remember,” Lally replies with feigned humility, deadpan.
They’ve been friends since 1935, and teammates. Lally’s mother, a golfer in her own right, coached them. In those days, proper lady golfers wore skirts. The French team wore trousers to a tournament in England, shocking the British.
They were stars, swinging clubs on the silver screen in French newsreels. Then came the Nazis. Lally endured the Occupation, a bitter time. After the war, they became teammates again and played championships all over Europe in to the mid 1950s. Their lives went separate ways, but they kept in touch.
“Lally, do you still play golf?” I ask.
“If you want to call it that,” she laughs.
The French cherish their heroes. These pioneering women’s champions must be enshrined in a Hall of Fame? I inquire, presumptively.
Lally sweeps her hand, bitterly. “We’re forgotten. The golf association cares only about this year’s champions.”
I’m shocked. What a loss to French history. To young girls growing up today, who need role models.
Today’s golf champions make beaucoup from and commercial sponsorships. Yvette and Lally played for little silver trophies. They did it for the love of the game, not the love of money. Of course Yvette was an heiress, but she lost her fortune.
Yvette has a 1937 photograph of Lally and herself – young, vibrant, bright eyed, and game to play.
“How about me taking your picture in front of the old one?” I suggest, wondering if I’ve gone too far. “Are you game?”
They look at each other, their weathered faces scoured by near ninety winters.
“We’re game!” Playfully, they primp their hair and assume the same pose.
Their skin shows the ravages of time. But the bone structure shows through, strongly, beneath the flesh. They look remarkably like their younger selves… and strikingly like sisters.
Life is a cruel and unfair match between Enduring Youth and the Ravages of Time.
Gazing at the picture, I see two players, game for the next round. Beneath cloudy skies, they see a green fairway beckoning.
And I think I hear them say:
We have known victory and defeat. We endured. We’ve stayed close. We are champions!
Jonathan Freedman, a Pulitzer prize-winning journalist and author, recently visited Paris with his family. He currently lives in Switzerland and is writing a blog, “Confessions of a Hausmann,” about his misadventures as a “marvelous” husband raising two “model” children and keeping an “immaculate” house in a “charming” central European country – not! Find the blog at:
And a video of his illustrated book, “The Man Who’d Bounce The World,” a story of giving for all ages, can be found at:
Contact Jonathan Freedman at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Contact Yvette Kapferer at: email@example.com
I am happy to announce the launch of Eye Prefer Paris Cooking Classes. Come take an ethnic culinary journey with me and chef and caterer Charlotte Puckette, co-author of the bestseller The Ethnic Paris Cookbook (with Olivia Kiang-Snaije). First we will shop at a Paris green-market for the freshest ingredients and then return to Charlotte’s professional kitchen near the Eiffel Tower to cook a three-course lunch. After, we will indulge in the delicious feast we prepared along with hand-selected wines.
Cost: 185 euros per person (about $240)
Time: 9:30AM- 2PM (approximately 4 1/2 hours)
Location: We will meet by a metro station close to the market
Class days: Tuesday,Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday
Minimum of 3 students, maximum 6 students.
Click here to sign up for the next class or for more info.
I am pleased as punch to announce the launch of Eye Prefer Paris Tours, which are 3-hour walking tours I will personally be leading. The Eye Prefer Paris Tour includes many of the places I have written about such as small museums & galleries, restaurants, cafes & food markets, secret addresses, fashion & home boutiques, parks, and much more.
I look forward to meeting you on my tours and it will be my pleasure and delight to show you my insiders Paris.
Check it out at www.eyepreferparistours.com