My friend Jean Louis Lassez died last week at his Muleshoe Ranch, after a long illness .In the usual course of things I would have known he was not doing well; we were close despite our seemingly disparate backgrounds. Or maybe not so disparate—we were both Catholic school kids, ambivalent about ‘Old Mother Church’, but were both interested in Buddhism, and travelled in Asia enough to get in trouble and get out of it, as every seasoned traveller learns.. He lived on a ranch 20 dirt road miles from town and was as deaf as a post, so he didn’t communicate easily with anyone he didn’t want to (we had some hilarious loud… discussions, with me finally shouting in French in his good ear.
He was NOT the usual wealthy European, squatting uneasily in a western habitat, looking askance at the neighbors’ guns. He was something of a gun nut himself — albeit of a certain kind. He loved the well- chosen guns of the classic western and adventure movies. “Zeese” he would say “ees John Vayne’s gun from Stagecoach” Or, for his formidable big – frame Model 629 Smith, the favorite gun of Warren Zevon and Dirty Harry :”Zees ees Clint Eastwood’s gun, .44 magnum!”.
I would respond with obscurities— : “Zees is Roy Chapman Andrews gun ” (of a model 99 Savage that resembled the one that the model for India Jones took to Mongolia to shoot wolves and antelope. ) And then we would shoot them at some improvised target in his yard. Somebody inspired said that JL was @A perfect cross between the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and Yosemite Sam@ EXACTLY.
Mostly he and his wife, Catherine, had fun. With the ease of a perfect relationship that must have lasted 50 years and produced an interesting daughter, and a modest independent income, they were free of some of the usual constraints. They were the perfect hosts, and we spent lot of holidays, as well as ate a lot of non- holiday al fresco meals, at Muleshoe ranch. See below..
Despite the name ‘Muleshoe’ the home building was almost comically appropriate. I have written about how some of the early settlers here were Provencal and Swiss Italians, including some of my distant relatives. I would guess that the builders of the Muleshoe hailed from the Haut Savoie, further West but under the same “southern” cultural umbrella… anyway it is a perfect Savoyard farmhouse to my eyes, with the addition of the only outdoor swimming pool in the county, done by mostly non resident owners in the movie biz who might have found the place too isolated.(Catherine, do you know?)
Not so the Lassez, who moved in shortly after Jean Louis’ early retirement from Tech. I have a feeling that they didn’t want him to go but he was ready. They were northerners— he a Normand, she a Parisienne of Jewish descent whose family was in the art biz— but they lived a @southern@ * lifestyle, of ease and hospitality and generosity, for well over a decade. They were a refuge for more than the stray dogs they took in. They also travelled hard in Asia, making photo books and giving me a glimpse of an Asia that might be considered part of my Asian habitat- above all Tibet- which is a logical extension of my world, but which I will never see (that is hard to say!). They had improbable adventures- at the first shocks of the Nepal earthquake they disappeared into Kathmandu and we couldn’t find them for three weeks! They were in their middle 60s at the time I think..
And then, although I was slow to realize it, JL taught me about the virtues of staying home and working on your art.
He will be missed, first by Catherine and their daughter Sarah, but also by many others.
*”southern” when referring to things French tends to mean the following. When I was in the Vaucluse- northern Provence, but defiinitely Provence- we had dinner one night with the local postman, He was a Provencal patriot , but he had been born in Italy. He told me, @oYou were lucky to have your work down here rather than in the North. WhenI first worked for the Post Office I had to work way up north, and it was TERRIBLE. It is hard for happy southerners like us— all those gr:ey, sour- faced people goimg around snarling about their grey, grey weather and their grey, grey lives.@
He gave me an incredulous look , as though some things were too horrible even to contemplate @Non , m’sieur— LYONS! @!
Which if I read a map right is all of forty miles north of where we were speaking,…