It’s been more than 60 years since Uncle Ho handed the French a flogging at Diem Bien Phu and the French PM, Pierre Mendes-France decided , (after 90,000 casualties and with huge popular backing), to pull out, leaving behind only the recipe for croissants ( for which we dislocated and ever expanding hippies thank them), and a spectacularly badly judged but optimistic decision to split the country at the 17th parallel and hold elections.
One individual caught up in this swirling change was Nguyen Manh Kim, pictured below.
Kim’s father cooked for the French Marines and taught him the superb skills he carries on to this day. His restaurant, Les Amis, on the river at Hoi An, still thrives.
Kim served with the South Vietnamese Army and among other things, worked as a food taster for the French Officers, ensuring that their food wasn’t poisoned.
Despite this he developed a passion for French culture and music and especially for the work of the legendary French poet, composer and singer songwriter Georges Brassens. His restaurant has become a shrine to Brassens.
Kim with his idol.
Brassens had an interesting life, worked as a slave labourer for the Nazis, became an anarchist and then set about composing over 500 poems/tunes which are evidently extraordinarily difficult to translate.
One of his many popular tunes, Le Gorille, was apparently (warning: parents please take the children out of the room), about a massively over endowed gorilla who, upon escaping from the Zoo, mistakes a passing robed Judge for his girlfriend and proceeds to have his way with him.
The Judge, who that very morning has sentenced a felon to the guillotine, apparently ends up making much the same noises as the condemned man in his last moments.
Not exactly Puff The Magic Dragon.
Kim even has documentary proof that he met Brassens, Jacques Brel and Leo Ferre.
Some hard hearted cynics suggest a similarity with the photo below.
But I feel sure that some one has cruelly airbrushed Kim from the photo, much as Stalin did to Trotsky.
Kim’s impressive hat stand is also worth a peek.