DEYAN RANKO BRASHICH was born in Belgrade, former Yugoslavia, and is an Op-Ed columnist for Connecticut's Litchfield County Times.  He writes the monthly Letter From America column for Romania’s Scrisul Romanesc, a literary magazine and is the Editor-at-Large for  The Country and Abroad, another literary/art magazine where he authors the Dispatch from Abroad column. He is a frequent contributor to Pecat, the Belgrade, Serbia weekly news magazine, Britić, a magazine published in the United Kingdom, Ekurd Daily, a multinational Kurdish news portal and Passport, a lifestyle quarterly. He resides in New York City and Washington, Connecticut.

 

 

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Thursday
May242018

A WOMAN OF SUBSTANCE

Ladies with a past are making news this week. Stephanie Clifford, also known as Stormy Daniels, a “pornographic actress and director”, is roiling the waters of presidential politics putting Donald Trump’s Administration at risk. Another woman, Meghan Markle, a divorced biracial American movie star, is catapulting the House of Windsor into the 21st Century. I wonder what changes a professional courtesan would make, if only given the chance.  

In the late 1970’s I was chaperoning Richard, a pharmaceutical entrepreneur and his chief financial officer Arnold, on a trip to West Africa. They had negotiated contracts to provide oral contraceptives to two West African countries and were going there to sign documents with the Ministries of Health, the Administration for International Development and the World Health Organization. By then I was an old Africa hand but this was their first venture into Sub Saharan Africa.

Liberia our first port of call was still peaceful. This was just before Sergeant Doe’s bloody coup that plunged the country into decades of civil war. We checked in at the hilltop Ducur Intercontinental Hotel overlooking downtown Monrovia. Notwithstanding the name, the Ducur was a glorified Holiday Inn, in stark contrast to the down at heels open market urban sprawl below. To celebrate his liberation from stateside morals Richard negotiated an intimate short-term lease with the comely hostess of the rooftop Le Chandelier Restaurant – any port in a storm. Arnold and I looked on with disapproval.  

Our next stop was Abidjan, Ivory Coast’s capital – we checked into the Hôtel Ivoire, a hotel complex that was everything the Ducur was not. In Sub Sahara Africa it was the and only place to go ice skating at, would you believe, an indoor ice rink or go to the movies to see current Broadway releases. The Ivoire had every luxury imaginable including a casino that attracted the Africa’s wealthy and well connected but excluded the locals.

That afternoon while taking the elevator to the casino a stunning young lady in a black sheath of an evening dress joined us. Her gown was a bit out of place for a Sunday afternoon but she was certainly stunning and impeccably turned out. In the time it took to travel eight floors Richard had introduced himself and had secured her presence for dinner that evening.

Marie-Chantal - Chantal for short - was her name. In my mind’s eye she reminds me of today’s Meghan Markle, a refined, sophisticated presence, fluent in French and English, a recent graduate of Abidjan’s Institut National Supérieur des Arts, who could hold her own in any conversation. Her knowledge of local politicians including the Ministers of Health and Finance was encyclopedic and helpful. She captivated the three of us at dinner and became Richard’s companion for the duration of our stay.

A year later I found myself some 5,000 miles away in Asuncion, Paraguay with a gaggle of Argentine clients negotiating for the return of real estate seized by friends of General Stroessner, the local dictator, an endeavor that was bound to fail. The only place to while away the hours while waiting for failure was the local casino on the banks of the Paraguay River, the only game in town. The casino was a floating barge reached by a rickety swaying gangway that led to a bilious green Astroturf deck lined with one armed bandits and littered with gaming tables. The bar overlooked a lagoon that was coated in algae of a like hue. The local talent - ladies overflowing from their sateen pastel prom dresses – were there waiting for action that would never materialize.

We were drinking the local Pilsen Cerveza Blanca – a nod to the Nazis who had emigrated there after the war - when across that swaying gangplank came Chantal, once again dressed in a chic evening dress though it was barely noon. She was accompanied by a swarthy gentleman bedecked in gold chains and bejeweled amulets. They were not alone, bodyguards flanked them left and right. A common sight in those days - a narco-mafioso, his retinue and his gun moll.

Chantal walked straight to our table and addressing me as “Mon Chèr Maître” kissed me ceremoniously on both cheeks. The health of my friends Richard and Arnold was inquired of, as was the health of my daughters and was everything well with me? That said and with a pleasant “À bientôt” she was off to a private room in the back.

I refused to answer my Argentine friends’ questions as to who the exquisite Chantal was. I kept her confidence and gave myself an unearned man-of-the-world patina. Later, as Chantal and her entourage were leaving, she stopped yet again and with a smile suggested that we get out of Paraguay as soon as possible. I followed her advice. One of my clients did not, much to his chagrin.

Years later in New York I was walking by the entrance of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel when I spied a familiar figure – Chantal now in a fitted suit being helped into a waiting limousine. She caught sight of me, stopped in mid-stride and with a smile curtsied in my direction. The car door closed, the body guard got in and the two-car motorcade turned into Park Avenue traffic heading North.

I wonder what Chantal would have made of Donald or Prince Harry had she had the chance.  

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