Pierre was the third and last child, born six years after Jean and twelve years after me. My father keenly hoped for a daughter but my mother had made up her mind long ago, and was right as usual. We immediately forgot that he wasn’t a girl; he was pretty as could be and blond, a blondness he got from who knows where.
We pampered him too much, my father especially. He couldn’t leave the house without bringing back “the present for Pierre.” Pierre didn’t overindulge, he welcomed these little treats with uniform satisfaction, without excess or capriciousness, without vanity.
He was very smart and sometimes capable of applying himself. He listened with a deep abandon that could sometimes pass for a spiritual disposition. At 10 or 11, I spoke to him of the mysteries of theology and the philosophy of being, dreaming of the day he would bring his grace to our thomist debates!
His early schooling didn’t go too badly, but it became obvious that the formulas that had or, on the contrary, hadn’t worked with the two other brothers couldn’t be applied to him. We had to innovate and that’s what we did: tutors, a private school, music and sports. Not wanting to repeat “what happened with me,” we kept him outside the sphere of influence of our grandmother Tatié, who translated this by remarking that she wasn’t “as interested in this grandson as in the other two.”
At 13, his seductiveness was at its apogee. He wasn’t only handsome, he had an otherness about him, a form of absence you could get lost in. There was a slight indentation, a slight quivering of the upper lip that lent him a perpetual pout and a vocation for kissing. Little Annie was crazy about him, she nicknamed him Ganymede, dedicated her poems, drawings and puppet shows to him. When the pretty nymphet Isa arrived, I stood watch outside the cabin to defend their sacred lovemaking.
The years went by and we began to doubt his ability to put all the talents we had ascribed him to good use. But unlike my adolescent problems, which had been born of a sense of anxiety and urgency, his met with the possibility of postponement, a tolerance. My head full of my recent emancipation, I encouraged this optimism as well.
By age 16, all my friends had crushes on him; he was a major symbol of that congregation of youth and beauty surrounding my early photos. He was generous as only beings who lack for nothing are, giving and taking indifferently.
His friend David had pale skin and dark brown eyes; there was something elegant and abrupt about him. He was the youngest of a family of three sons like ours, and its fate epitomized a lost generation whose parents had dreamed of modern happiness in the heyday of the Luberon.
Who got him started? It had been going on for some time, and we should have suspected something: the constant sleeping, the carelessness, the vanishing money. One winter’s evening, Pierre kept soaking his feet, or so he said, while we waited to leave for the movies. Putting my eye to the bathroom door, I happened upon this baleful scene through a slit in the curtain: his arm in a tourniquet, the spoon, the syringe.
That was the beginning of a never-ending journey: the denial, the bursts of candor, “that was the last time, this time is the last, it’s no longer a problem,” and so on. A little run-in with the police tipped my parents off. We made many attempts to give him an anchor— the cinema, ceramics, real estate or the insurance business—but he always ended up back at my mother’s summer camp doing odd jobs. It was a time of failed rehabs and a delicate status quo, but it was also one full of the hope, which he deftly maintained, that he would eventually figure it out and find something he was good at.
In the summer of 1987, the first or second week of July, he came to wait for me at the Avignon station. He still made no distinction between work and play, or between the pursuit of a career and that of a new pastime. One thing seemed certain, he had quit some time ago.
“David got tested,” he told me in the car, “So did I. We’re both HIV positive.” My first reflex was to refuse to listen. Indeed, at that time in Paris, we had suppressed the first wave of panic. We assumed we were all in the same boat, and that having it confirmed was pointless and would only cause greater anxiety; the problem was so huge that a solution had to be forthcoming.
After the initial shock wore off, it seemed important to talk about it openly, and not to hide the truth from anyone—except our parents, that is, whom we naively thought more fragile than we. Us three brothers were still so close to the maternal order that we were persuaded this news would kill her.
When Jean-Claude arrived in Apt a few days after me, I delivered the news with my brother present and in a totally detached tone, as though recounting his latest screw-up: he had taken the test, which was kind of dumb, but oh well. We all knew we were infected anyway, so what was the point of getting it confirmed!
And then there appeared on the scene a miraculous new hope, proffered by one of our friends, which promised all of us the years of reprieve and insouciance we longed for. Professor Jonas Salk, who had developed the polio vaccine in the 60s, was running an AIDS research unit in Los Angeles. He believed in a classical approach using weakened strains of the virus, and was doing experiments along that line. Vaccination studies were underway, secret in part because pharmaceutical interests could compromise everything. Our friend was categorical: it was the right line of research, and a cure was close at hand. We had lucked out and would be the first to benefit from it. The more anxious we got, the more we clung to this friend. For it was a race against time: the notorious T4s were dwindling and Salk had set a minimum threshold for his study.
With the passing months, alternating between remissions and unexpected complications, my brother and other loved ones were slipping into the ineligible category. We won a hard-fought battle to send him to L.A. to get the injections, which he was no longer eligible for in Paris (where the drug trials never took place in the end). My brother traveled to L.A. four times. Our family still didn’t know—until one day, they did—they happened to find one of my brother’s health insurance forms, which he’d probably deliberately left lying around. This revelation did not produce the devastating effects we had worried it would. After the first moments of bewilderment, it was, on the contrary, a relief. Life and Pierre’s incomprehensible behavior had finally found an explanation, and each of us would have a role to play.
Pierre had always dreamed of flying, just as Jean and I had. We would alternate the same dreams: of gliders landing in the lavender field, of jumping on imaginary trampolines, of jetliners crashing into the three rocks over St. Martian. He inevitably became a paragliding fan and expert.
At first it was a game, a new pastime, but then he added various feats of daring: gliding off Mont Blanc; flying over Saint Martian and landing outside the cabin door, which was the epitome of the three brothers’ fantasy and a feat given the lack of overhangs; staying in the air more than four or five hours; taking off in the early morning from the highest volcano in Mexico after an all-night hike. In short, flight at any cost and in any circumstance, a compulsive addiction and an obsession.
In the summer of 1992, he managed to make a handicapped friend’s dream come true by actually carrying him on his back. After that flight, he took off alone, despite the changing weather. His wing folded and he fell 15 meters. With his pelvis paralyzed for several months, his only concern was to be able to fly again. He once snuck out of the hospital on his crutches to fly for a few moments, just to be sure it was still possible.
It took time before we realized that the nature of AIDS was changing, that it had become a chronic illness and that life could still carry on. Pierre was part of that small group who made it by the skin of their noses, with only a few months to spare, to the arrival of the first- and second-generation antiviral drugs, which were less toxic than the virus itself. His friend David, who was probably infected at the same time, didn’t make it.
If Pierre had known, if any of us had, he would have led a better life for those first ten years when the illness was dormant, when episodes of fatigue were still manageable as part of a normal life. Each of his trips wouldn’t have born the shadow of the last, or each ailment the mark of the “opportunistic infection” that would finish him off, or each drug intolerance the sign of a therapeutic impasse.
During his childhood and adolescence, when he was handsome as a Greek god, we had all accepted Pierre and turned a blind eye to his recklessness and capriciousness. This continued during Pierre’s illness, as though its cruel reality sheltered him from common law. That was sort of how we felt about his marriage—as a whim and an opportunity we were eager to embrace.
Pierre travelled to South America and cast his spell on Maria des Anges, a pretty Venezuelan who was as happy as a Cuban on her way to the beach. We had no trouble adopting her; she was a breath of fresh air and health amidst the sterile bachelorism of Saint Martian.
On 25 October 1997, we gathered at the Apt City Hall and then at the St. Martian chapel, but without great conviction. Even the locals were less than convinced by this marriage and the late appearence of a second Madam Faucon. The town clerk, a junior-high-school friend of Jean’s, had prepared a warmhearted speech that bristled with affectionately lewd references to Pierre and Jean’s past.
It wasn’t only the autumnal light and Pierre’s health that were responsible for the nostalgia of the festivities, but also the difficulty he had in getting others to follow him, which was something my mother, Jean and I managed with ease. At this party in his honor, Pierre seemed to be a helpless dreamer.
Among several surprises, a flaming wedding crown was lifted into the sky by an enormous weather balloon.
After Jean’s death in 2001, the ceramics workshop found itself without a director. Pierre had shown no desire to take over from past generations. But after a few weeks he began to get interested in the workshop. He and I had each inherited a quarter of Jean’s assets. I guess the power and responsibility incumbent upon him only really sank in when he realized the inescapable, legal nature of this bequeath—the first break with our family’s exceptionalism. When our parents gifted their shares to us, we became equal-part owners and Pierre managing director.
Jean’s employees did not see Pierre’s arrival with a favorable eye. They would have happily dispensed with the little brother whom they knew only for his reckless behavior. Pierre’s involvement quickly took on extravagant proportions. His attempts to make things his own were clumsy; he reorganized the space, changed the routine without consulting anyone, forever convincing himself he was working for everyone’s interest. Despite his fatigue, his extreme fragility, the huge quantity of chemicals he ingested (often two-hour perfusions in the evening), he became a workaholic. There were no fixed hours, no weekends, and he did everything haphazardly, in accordance with his impulsive nature. Though he had worked several times with Jean, there were big gaps in his knowledge. He filled them, he pulled it off.
This looked like his big break and we felt we had to encourage him, to go along with him. But leadership can’t be improvised; he was a loner and had never led anyone but himself. His acts of tyranny and generosity alike bore the sometimes arbitrary, sometimes scrupulously legal mark of someone who had never had a clear relationship to authority. The workshop turned into a sinkhole of suspicions. Pierre was mortified to find that he wasn’t liked. The men didn’t know where they were being led; the little information they were given was truncated and contradictory. They began to pillage the workshop and its manufacturing secrets, and to sabotage production.
Buyout and investment offers arrived from all sides, including very prestigious ones: Baccarat and Hermès, among others. The world-famous ceramics of Apt represented the kind of niche market entrepreneurs dream of. The potential, it was thought, was considerable, but you had to dazzle, to beautify. For months barbarian expressions contaminated our heads: business plan, audit, structures, value maximization, patents…
But the misunderstandings soon began. My brother’s extreme vulnerability was only part of the story; there was also the defiance of eight successive generations. Neither my brother nor my mother really knew what they wanted, the winds kept changing and their decisions had no grounding in objectivity or in the reality of the workshop.
We ended up driving away all potential partners, even sent them running.
Just when it seemed over and Jean’s craftsmen had left to start a rival workshop, an eleventh-hour reprieve arrived in the form of an offer from Christian Louboutin.
Christian, who had started to branch out, had identified the workshop’s clientele as a perfect subset of his own. His reputation as a trendsetter was such that all his clients could potentially become ours. He only had to leave the marbled clay on his desk or in a corner of his felucca to immediately spark interest.
Christian and Bruno, his top dog, knew all about my brother’s condition, the disarray the workshop was in, and the imminence of the competition, but it didn’t scare them. Bruno would take care of hiring and secure production, Christian would attract prestigious orders and media attention, advising my brother on new styles. Eventually, my brother would only have to represent the brand and the dynasty, and guarantee their authenticity. Their development goals were sensible and realistic, unlike everything we had heard up until then. It was the first viable, human offer that we had. Pierre and Mady gave them a warm welcome and we quickly sold them a 51-percent stake for a very modest amount, but with a commitment on their side to pull out without damages if sales hadn’t doubled or tripled in three years. It was very honest.
Under Christian’s stewardship, new mixtures and motifs were born. But there were a lot of missteps, damage, and lost time. The operation lacked technical prowess and direction.
If Pierre hadn’t been so ill, we could have suggested a course correction, but he forged ahead, hiring a team of largely incompetent people he thought were docile, but who in reality dragged everything under. And my mother, who cared about protecting Pierre as much as the family business, only made things worse.
Just as the first magazine articles and big orders came in, everything ground to a halt. Louboutin realized it would never work and they pulled out just as they said they would, without asking for compensation.
This tragic conclusion took place in a Paris bistro. The contracts binding us were annulled. My worn-out brother, who made the roundtrip in one day, insisted on writing a check nobody asked him for reimbursing the share he had cashed out on. The desperate determination of this act reduced the Louboutins to silence.
Exhausted, Pierre didn’t last another month. He decided to rest a little and left Mady in charge of filling the last orders. She settled into the workshop which she ran until it closed, playing the role of the “temp” in a workshop he still directed on paper, even though he hadn’t wanted to hear about ceramics in a long time.
A daytime news report on end of the dynasty was all that was left of so much potential! In it you saw Mady, both moved and moving, explaining that we’d tried everything to avoid reaching this point.
Pierre had never been to Cuba. Since leaving the ceramics workshop, he didn’t get out much. He spent his time between self-care and planning possible trips. We had hoped to spend Christmas with our parents in Cuba, though we were skeptical.
During this period, he made two or three short trips to the Balearic Islands and took his paraglider out over the sea. It wasn’t South America, but they did speak Spanish, which was the language of love and adventure to him.
In November 2004, he planned a trip to Rio despite his many doubts. He found a guesthouse in Playa Flamingo and imagined that with enough rest and a settled life, he could take the glider off the Sugarloaf over the favelas and land on the beach. I couldn’t help thinking he was planning to end it that way. He’d alluded to it once before: if there was an accident, the poor people in the favela could retrieve his sail and suit, it would be great.
Finally, he bought his ticket for December 17th, the last ticket he would never use. Between his overzealous planning, the sails, clothes and numerous flight accessories he wanted to take with him, the astronomical quantities of medication, some of which had to be kept cold, and the constant uncertainty of his body—it was enough to make your head spin.
More or less everywhere he went, the fever went with him. When I came to Apt to be close to him I lived in his cabin. On one or two evenings, while talking about his farfetched trips, he got close to me, held my hand, cuddled me. I understood that he was telling me he didn’t believe it anymore. I don’t know what I said, probably that nothing was certain, that everything was still up in the air. In such situations, I lose all self-control, I fly into a panic and only want to run away, and he knew that. What does it mean to be capable of love? Staying till the end? I was never able to. I went to bed that night knowing he wouldn’t fall asleep until dawn.
The fever didn’t break and Pierre couldn’t stand it anymore. He asked for the hospitalization he so feared. In Nimes, a nurse who had always known how to handle him promised to do her best to get him back on his feet, one last time. The weeks went by, he was increasingly tired and he came to realize there would be no more miracles. He decided to return to the hospital in Apt. It was mid-January 2005.
The first two days he was paranoid and confused. He claimed the head doctor had deliberately misinterpreted the treatment plan prescribed in Nimes. Then one evening, my mother and I were at his bedside, his mind had cleared and he announced that he had just stopped his medication. We both knew what that meant.
The time has come, I’m ready, I know that the little humanity I still have left will collapse in a few days, it’s hard to part ways but I knew great joy, I’ve done many things, I’m not afraid, I’ve always tempted fate and I’m used to it, I just don’t want to suffer, afterwards I want you to enjoy life, to live differently, intelligently, but please no mourning. I hate that word, no gibberish please, I hate those people who roam the halls (religious zealots who had tried to approach him). I do believe in something but it’s of another nature, it doesn’t really have anything to do with me.
The following day, after signing a discharge, he returned to Saint Martian. Before my mother had a chance to offer, he claimed the bedroom and the parental bed (we had slept there as children when we were sick). This meant that he would no longer fight the arrival of his mother, whom he had continually kept at a distance.
Since arriving in Saint Martian, Pierre was admirable and had even got back his sense of humor. We never ceased to be astonished by his lucidity, by the passing fancies he entertained like gifts to calm our fears: a sudden craving for a certain brand of raspberry ice cream from the grocer or a little croque monsieur without butter, just with mustard and Swiss cheese, which my mother hastened to make for him. Ending his horrible treatment gave him a certain sense of well-being. We were no longer embarrassed to laugh and cry in front of him. What poor things we were, bogged down by our machinations. The slightest representation of an afterwards, the slightest detail, broke our hearts: walking into the cabin he would no longer lay eyes on, getting into the car he would no longer drive, finding pills he no longer had any use for.
He was practical and organized. He called his friends and doctors, and reminded us that he wanted to be cremated. He made plans for his dog, returned unopened bottles of pills to the hospital, gave Francis his computer, gave me his car (suggesting I not “screw around, because it was a very powerful car”), saw to his cabin which would be divided between Maria and I. My mother was the only one he left nothing in particular to, but he knew she was well served: he was offering her reconciliation. His mistrust of her, which had only worsened with his condition, was suddenly suspended. He had surrendered, but on his own terms, in his own good time. Now he let her lay down beside him, speak to him softly, and try to feed him and cuddle him.
On the last morning, the four of us were gathered with our parents: “It’s almost like a flight, like I’m going on a flight.” My mother said: “An interstellar flight,” and this idea, as self-evident as it was, struck me as incommensurably naive, an unbearable admission of helplessness.
And then Pierre asked for a photo of the four of us. We laughed because I couldn’t say no, even though I had refused to have my picture taken for the last ten years. I checked the two or three shots, and showed them to Pierre.
A little earlier, he had commented to Maria: “I woke up early this morning, like you do on Christmas, excited by all the presents waiting for you.”
Finally, and most importantly, he spoke this phrase—I’m not sure at what time exactly. It was an unforgettable lesson, a parable that gets to the heart of time’s pointlessness, the envelope of eternity that covers everything: “Think of me often… well not very often, not for long, think of me a little, often.”
Adriana, the other Venezuelan woman whom Pierre had lived with before meeting Maria, had arrived early that morning from Lyon.
For a long moment, these magnificent tropical plants lay on the bed on either side of our scrawny Pierre. It was an act of defiance and incredible beauty. My parents and I left him to bid farewell to real life, women, love, travel, the Spanish language. We heard them laugh.
One of Pierre’s last words, so unlikely in describing a life like his, was “I’ve been happy.”
He was cremated in the majestic mountains of Hautes Provence. And a few weeks later, it was my father who took off from Mont Ventoux on a two-seat paraglider to scatter his ashes in a sky Pierre would have liked to fly through. As graceful and poetic as he was, my father couldn’t avoid opening the urn into the wind and getting a big faceful!
After Pierre’s death, the condolences were not very numerous, but extremely intense. About twenty people I didn’t know, mainly from South American, had managed to penetrate Pierre’s singularity. The word “angel” came up again and again for lack of a better term. He was a light, ethereal being, magical and supernatural, inhabited entirely by the purity of his desire.