By summer 1944 the Allies were powering through occupied France. The military commander of Paris, General Dietrich von Choltitz, had orders to destroy the city if the Allies got close. Dynamite was packed under every monument.
Locals suspected of contacts with the resistance disappeared daily. The concierge would force the door to find an empty apartment with two chairs close together in the hallway and German cigarette butts on the tiled floor. Family and friends could do nothing but queue daily at the Gestapo headquarters on avenue Foch to beg for information.
A woman with green eyes, high-cheek bones, and a bun of dark hair spent a lot of time standing in line that summer. Marguerite Donnadieu was child-faced thirty-year-old born to French teachers working near Saigon. In early June 1944 her days were spent working as a Vichy civil servant, her evenings plotting with a hard-left resistance group led by fellow bureaucrat François Mitterrand. Any spare time went towards writing novels under the name Marguerite Duras.
He’s a foul-mouthed, crevice-faced Scotsman and one of the best chefs in the world. Back in 2004 Gordon Ramsay had three Michelin stars and a fistful of accolades. It was time to move into television.
Ramsay had been on the box a few times before. Two fly-on-the-wall documentaries, a judging role on a show about catering students, and bit of what passed for reality tv at the turn of the century. But it was Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares that made him a celebrity.
It was a simple formula. Ramsay goes to a failing restaurant, looks appalled, swears a lot, and helps the owner get the place back on its feet. There was some good advice and a few decent recipes but producers soon realised viewers mostly liked to watch Ramsay become foul-mouthingly furious at dirty kitchens, uncooked prawns, and chefs too obliviously incompetent to take his advice. A ratings hit.
In 2007 the programme went stateside as Kitchen Nightmares. American producers preferred sentimental stories of family heartbreak over business strategy discussions but the core of the show remained the same. Gordon Ramsay. Food. Swearing.
Turns out restaurant owners in America are a lot more interesting than their British counterparts. At least three had connections to some kind of organised crime.
Paris is the city of love, light, and literature. I went there prepared to hate it.
Historical Paris has an eternal place in my heart. I’ll talk your ear off about the absinthe glories of La Belle Epoc, Hemingway scribbling in the Closerie des Lilas, and Mesrine escaping La Sante prison in broad daylight.
But my image of modern Paris was an urban hell full of rude waiters and yapping poodles. I was wrong. Boy, was I wrong.
The Almighty Gaylords are a Chicago street gang involved in guns and drugs. I wrote two posts on them: an overview and a look at some recent gunrunning arrests. A member of the Gaylords got in touch to bring me up to date about the gang’s fortunes.
He told me rumours of the gang’s demise are exaggerated. The Gaylords are alive and well and spreading across the US, with new chapters in places like Florida and Indiana.
It’s true that there’s no longer any central leadership, and individual areas in Chicago like Addison and Sayre Park run as separate gangs under the Gaylord banner. This fragmentation fooled outsiders into believing the Gaylords were on the skids. In reality it introduced enough flexibility to keep the gang alive after it was pushed out of its traditional Chicago inner city territory by demographic change. And it gave Gaylords who left the state the freedom to set up fresh chapters in their new homes.
The media paints the GLs as a gang of soft-bellied old racists mourning the loss of white Chicago. The truth is different.
When you hit the Georgian capital Tbilisi in 1992 you stayed at the Metechi Palace Hotel. Everyone did.
You got a taxi from the airport. It cost $5 and the driver spent more time negotiating bribes with the roadblocks manned by young men with AK-47s and leather jackets than he did at the wheel.
The city was a wreck, smoke-black from the recent fighting. Out the taxi window you saw the shops embracing free enterprise by selling Malaysian exercise books, Korean playing cards, fake Camel cigarettes, leather jackets from Turkey. The bookshops that sold only Soviet engineering texts and copies of the twelve century Georgian epic poem, The Knight in the Panther’s Skin, that everyone in the country already owned. The Stalinist-style parliament building, half destroyed in the fighting, its supporting columns eaten away by RPG rounds. The street vendors selling orthodox icons, nesting dolls, glassware, ornamental daggers, the family silver.
The last time Chicago street gang the Almighty Gaylords hit in the media was back in August 2011. Early morning police raids scooped up nine gang members for illegal gun possession and sales. The tv news helicopters broadcast footage of stocky middle-aged men sitting around suburban gardens in their underwear while cops searched houses.
The days when the Gaylords were local boys defending a shrinking island of white inner city Chicago against multiculturalism were long gone. Now the gang was an amputated limb of its former self, a group of fortysomethings with prison records who’d made their peace with rival Hispanic and black gangs to sell drugs and guns in suburban places like Addison and Elmhurst and Villa Park.
The 2011 raid took out the Gaylord’s main faces, including James Grace aka Mega, the 40-year-old leader of the gang’s Addison faction. And he’d been turned in by one of his own.
Crazy Joe Gallo got a bullet in the head in April of 1972. I wrote a post about it here. He was celebrating his birthday in the early hours at Umberto’s Clam House when gunmen came in through the back door and started blasting.
Joe overturned the table and made it outside but died in the street. It was the end of the Gallo brother’s dream of forming their own Mafia family.
But back in the 1950s that dream was still alive. Joe, elder brother Larry (the brains of the outfit), and younger bother Albert (‘Kid Blast’) were up and coming foot soldiers in the Colombo crime family. They ran their own corner of Brooklyn for the family, collecting debts and protection money, and hustling any opportunities that came their way.
The three brothers were the Mafia warlords of their block. They had money, guns … and a real life lion in the basement. And a little person club-owning friend to walk him through the Brooklyn streets.