I have adored Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir since my teens. Back then, they were my proof that intelligence and independence could very well be combined with respect and love. That it was ok to criticize, as long as it happened in a constructive way. The couple reflected the unusual, the revolutionary and the individuality we all so longed for at the time.
After the way too early dead of my beloved grand father, just after I had turned twenty, the picture became important in a different way. Gra, as I used to call him, always had reminded me of Sartre. (Or vice versa.) With their short frames, the button like eyes behind thick glasses, something puffy and soft looking in both faces, and barely a moment without a cigarette or pipe in their mouths or hands, the visual similarity was quite obvious. In addition, my grand father also was French.
But it is Gra’s fearless way of living life to the fullest, of making no compromises for ideas, situations or people he could not stand 100% behind, that I started to see and feel in this photograph. His limitless abundance, in any aspect of life, and especially when it came to his family, his wife and his biggest passion: Food.
My grandfather was a simple but smart man who owned a little grocery store. That meant long days of hard, physical work, but – in his way of looking at life – also friendships (and way too much wine, shared with customers in the little back room). He was not a rich man, financially spoken, by any means. He bought a car when most families already were used to having one. When he surprised his seven kids with a TV, they already knew the shows from watching them in other peoples houses. His four daughters slept in one room, sharing two beds. And the three boys had the other room and two beds.
Yet, they always ate well. There were fresh Chnöpfli (hand cut, thick pasta) with long cooked stew and rich gravy on the weekends. Fondue for supper on cold Saturday nights. Sometimes roasted chestnuts as an appetizer. My grand mothers polenta was famous in the neighborhood and always made for three entire meals. From the little garden, they picked all kinds of vegetables and herbs which they, often as a husband and wife team, transformed into wonderful Ratatouille, soups and tarts. They had peach and Mirabelle and plum trees, from which they made more tarts, and rows of preserves.
I remember the barrel of wine and blood in the basement, in which during the fall, deer would marinate and smell up the damp room. Or our Sunday pick nicks along the Doubs river, where Gra and all the Dads and grandchildren catched (or tried to catch) trouts that we then cooked in foil and ate with pride and joy. Every year, on Sunday before Easter, he packed all his 15 grandchildren into his VW Bus and drove us to Gruyère. There, we picked flowers for several hours and tied them into bouquets, until all the buckets he had brought were filled. After that, he took us for the Meringues, strawberries and sweet cream this little town is so famous for. It was in his back yard or kitchen, depending on the weather, where all my cousins and myself – under the strict exclusion of our mothers – was allowed to taste their first sips of wine.
When Gra was seriously ill and weak, and knew that the end was close, he invited his wife to go eat Bouillabaisse. In Marseilles! He had bought two train tickets, and off they went, to enjoy his favorite meal, one last time, in one of his favorite places, with the absolute favorite person in his life.
I adore Sartre for his intelligence, brilliance and visions. And for his respect towards his partner, Simone de Beauvoir, and women in general. (An attitude Gra totally shared with him.) – And I adore my grand father for his guts, for not just living, but celebrating life every single day. My deep, deep love both for Gra and for food are directly related. And make my life richer. Every single day…