So, after yoga class, at around 10:30 in the morning, I decided to try La Parisienne, feeling there would be less waiting, and I was right, only a few people lined up along the glass enclosed pastries prepared by a Frenchman indeed, a sight of cosmetic artistry and heartbreaking aromas. Obviously, at this hour the place wasn't quite as busy, and there was no sign of Belzondalt, a man around 70 last time I saw him who so resembled the writer/poet Charles Bukowski that people often mistook him for the great eloquent renegade drunkard and womanizer.
Well, my first trip back I settled on brioche with raisins and custard, took them home and realized I was experiencing the crème de la crème and would no longer fry bread for my morning sustenance, except for sandwiches. Twice more I came in after yoga and bought 2 brioche pastries with custard, and finally, on a Friday I skipped yoga, I came in earlier to wait in a very long line and in a packed house spotted Belzondalt sitting at his usual table beside a far wall, visiting with an elderly lady standing over him. Belzondalt is known for his grace and serenity and ability to discuss any subject with knowledge and objectivity and a certain low-key, unforced collegiality and joviality.
I called out his name. He peered over, but obviously, after about 9 years, did not recognize me. I hoped he would stay. Also, I decided to try their loaf of raisin brioche and put off the sweet brioche pastries. When I got to the counter, the polite, smiling, helpful girl offered to slice my brioche and I thanked her and headed to the table where Belzondalt sat alone, a paper coffee cup before him. I asked him if he remembered me. He did. I sat down and asked him how he was doing and he said he was doing fine and when I asked him about his cartoons he said he was only writing these days and had books out, including a work of fiction about his days in the 1950's and '60's in New York City shacking up with many women, boozing, engulfed in the jazz and blues and art scene while scrabbling away at any job available, savoring the off-culture wild life, which was written across his face.
We started talking about writing, and self publishing, and he said his books were out there but he was terrible at promoting them on Amazon and hadn't made much money. We veered into Bukowski, and how people still came up and told him he looked like the famous degenerate author, and I suggested he just tell people he WAS Bukowski, because most people didn't know he was dead anyway. This produced a smile full of what appeared to be generous false teeth. Belzondalt mentioned how Bukowski was the most imitated writer in America at one time, and I noted that Hemingway probably was and added that nobody could write like Bukowski with any authenticity because they did not suffer as he did, or match the persecuted anger and rage he felt against the plastic veneer of traditional materialistic culture, and Belzondalt said it was probably because his father beat him, and I agreed, adding that in his autobiographical novel “Ham On Rye,” he suffered from such acute acne he felt women were repelled by him, hated him, and thus his appreciation of the kind of downtrodden bar hussies he preferred to bed down. (As a lifetime bartender, I know personally these women are a savior of mankind and to be treated with care and sensitivity).
“I suffered from severe acne,” Belzondalt said, matter-of-fact.
“In those days there wasn't much you could do about it,” I said.
“I tried everything. Even tried to burn it off.”
“Bukowski tried everything.” I noticed the pits still on his face. “I remember kids were pretty cruel if you had acne. They called you 'pizza face,' and whatever else they could think up, it was relentless.”
Belzondalt laughed. “Maybe that's why Bukowski fought so much. He was always fighting and losing.”
“He was always losing because he was always drunk, way drunk. I tended bar twenty five years, and the reason I won most of my fights was because I was sober and the other guy was drunk. Only fear I had was when they were on speed or PCP. Then I needed a weapon.”
We were discussing the blues and a book by Mezz Mezzrow called “Really the Blues” when a middle-aged woman with bleached blond hair came over to say hello to Gus. We wound up our conversation and I gave him my blog card and vowed to visit with him again, Belzondalt always easy company, informative and interesting and down-to-earth.
Back home, I broke out my loaf of brioche, a darker color than the yellowish Trader Joe's, and fried it in olive oil and butter and smeared one with jelly, and it was absolutely delightful. But did I like it better than TJ's, with all its ingredients to shorten your life? I'd give La Parisienne a higher grade, and next time I'll get the orange, but somehow I felt I might stick with TJ's.
La Parisienne had a cornucopia of so much stuff I felt there was a lot of joyous experimenting and testing in the future, and maybe more visits with Gus Belzondalt.