A strange thought occurred to me today. I am older than my maternal grandfather ever was. He died in his early seventies and I have lived longer than that.
I don’t remember much about him except that he confiscated the binoculars my grandmother gave me to spy on what the prostitutes in the building across the courtyard were doing, and that, in his youth. He had been a croupier at the Monte Carlo Casino. I also remember the often told account of how he came to marry ‘Maman’, an event for which her father, by the wonderful name of Theophile Bonaventure Muschler was entirely responsible.
Theophile in 1890s was a successful dentist in Arles. He was also an inveterate gambler and, two or three times a year, took his wife and beautiful red haired daughter for a short holiday to Monte Carlo so that he could play roulette, baccarat, black jack and whatever else might win him a fortune.
One night, while the ladies were sipping sweet wines on the casino terrace overlooking the bay with its illuminate yachts in the moonlight, he lost absolutely everything.
‘We are ruined, ‘ he announced joining them for a stiff cognac, ‘ I have nothing left. The house, the surgery gone ! The horses, the carriage, I have gambled them away. ‘ He had had such a run of bad luck that he had risked all in the hope of recouping a little, but had lost again. He didn’t even have enough money to pay the return fare to Arles let alone settle the hotel bill.
Desperate, he asked the croupier who had managed his last game, if the casino management would advance him enough to get his family home.
‘It is not the policy of the management to negotiate anything with the clients, ‘ the young man informed him, ‘ however, I might be in a position to help if you introduced me to your pretty red haired daughter. ‘
In the twenty four hours that followed , Desiré Bremond, the croupier, small of stature but suave and dapper in a tailored suit and Italian shoes, made such a good impression on Theophile by arranging a loan for him with a local bank, that he was not only allowed to walk with the red haired daughter down to the harbour to look at the boats, but invited to visit the family in Arles and, eventually, have her hand in marriage.
Desiré Bremond was the ninth child of a marriage between a civil engineer from Paris who was working on the Suez Canal and an Egyptian lady from Alexandria who presented him with eight daughters before finally giving birth to a boy - the reason they gave him the same name as the New Orleans Streetcar.
'Desiré is the central figure in this photograph wearing a bathrobe, flanked on his left by Theophile the gambling dentist and his wife, Maman on his right with teenage Simone my mother and her little sister Suzy (More on these two troublemakers later )The lady not watching how she is pouring the coffee is a waitress. The beach café on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice was owned by Desiré, one of his many doubtful ventures.