French Friday: From the CIA to the CIA

On Monday, I took you to The Culinary Institute of America, the CIA for short, located in Hyde Park, NY. I mentioned a story behind my family’s initial first visit.

Four years ago, while we were planning yet another cross-country trip from California to Maine I was designated itinerary-planner.

Poughkeepsie is a must, I decided when I had to find a stop somewhere in New York state before reaching Maine.

If you read French, you can find out here why in the world I picked a town with a name I could barely pronounce. Si vous lisez ma langue natale vous pouvez lire mon billet ici.

If you don’t read French, here’s the story.

Poughkeepsie was a must because of Malko.

Malko is the protagonist/hero of the best-selling French spy series SAS authored by Gérard de Villiers. In these books, the eternally young Malko contracts for the CIA (the other one). As a cover, he works for IBM, at least in the first books in the series. Malko’s also an Austrian prince who owns an old castle expensive to maintain and in need of serious work. To help with the cost of remodeling and also to limit his living expenses Malko accepts a mission in New York City and rents a small cottage in Poughkeepsie, NY. Conveniently located next to IBM.

My husband had read e-ve-ry single SAS ever published, often more than once.

Poughkeepsie was unavoidable.

A little background info about the infamous collection that took the family to this otherwise banal New york state town.

When I met the guy who would become my husband I knew I could deal with his impressive train set and numerous books. I had mixed feelings about his extensive collection of SAS.

The reason was simple: each book cover depicted a sultry female creature often clad with a Kalashnikov slung across her chest in place of a bra. Or still wearing a fur coat or leather jacket above … nothing.  A semi-automatic pistol or any type of weapon, however, always between the hands. These women owned an arsenal but a limited underwear wardrobe.

I was slightly reassured when I saw that my fiancé had also kept many children’s books that I also loved as a little girl, and even his series of Oui-Oui, which I had given away when I turned seven but that he still read occasionally.

He’s not only faithful to the books he loved as a kid, I thought then. He’s also unashamed to display the ones he reads as an adult. It seemed to be a rare quality when so many people can be such hypocrites when it comes to their personal tastes.

So this is why I allowed the SAS series to move in with us.

In addition, I like to know why someone I love favors a certain book or movie genre and I figured that if we were meant to live together I should probably read one of those books. I did read one and decided that a male author wrote these stories for other men. Period.

Now at least, I understood why the series was highly popular among its fervent readers and yet snubbed by the Parisian literary scene.

SAS aka Son Altesse Sérénissime aka His Highness aka Malko is often sent abroad on enemy territory to fight communism but also neo Nazis as well as all kinds of mean, despicable characters depicted without any complacence. Even though Malko works for the CIA, some controversial facts about the organization as well as elements of American foreign policy are often revealed through the books. Each story always sticks to current events. Some have even been prophetic. The reason is the relentless research behind each and every book. In fact, the author continued to travel the world while in his 80s before starting a new book.

This is why my husband said he liked the series. The research is impeccable, he explained, and the author’s knowledge on his topics extensive. I don’t even notice the front covers, he insisted.

The covers, however, hinted at Malko’s controversial reputation. The libertine is an unrepentant cheater, despite the fact that his fiancée is a beautiful woman who seems, however, unaware of this legendary unfaithfulness. They remain engaged throughout the series.

Okay, I said, the books can move in but not in our bedroom.

When we left Paris for California, I was working full time and hadn’t been able to sort through our crowded bookshelves. My husband decided to pack for me. Probably best if he wanted to take Malko with us.

Even though the books had been relocated far away from the family room from the time we had kids, our teenage daughters were outraged when they discovered them.

Dad!

Mom!

I know, I said. But we all know that we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover.

Roll of eyes. One-shoulder shrug. Heavy sighs.

Had my husband turned me into a SAS fan?

No, I’ve read exactly two books from the series, the second many years after the first. I could still appreciate the diverse foreign settings, the political context, and the suspenseful plot, but my impressions about Malko’s personal lifestyle hadn’t changed. And the covers?

In a funny way, while we don’t have kids at home anymore the books have moved to the garage. My husband decided it was time, considering the shelving space they took.

Imagine, the 200th book of the series was published in October 2013 and my husband proudly owns each of them.  The author passed away at the age of 84, also in October 2013. No more book, I thought.

But as I was writing this post and double-checking my facts – I’m far from being an expert, as you know now – I found this French article in which Gérard de Villiers’s spouse, also her collection director announces new covers for the series. Long overdue, she added.

Ha, I thought, someone else shares my opinion. I was only hoping that my husband wouldn’t want to get the updated series.

Then, I read that after years of mixed reviews, the SAS series is now gaining the respect and much interest of many secret service agencies throughout the world, due to the meticulous geopolitical research the author provided in each of his books.

Maybe, I realized, my husband was right after all.

Morality: Don’t judge exclusively a book on its cover.

If you want to know more about the author behind this best-selling series, here’s an article published in the New York Times a few months before we stopped in Poughkeepsie. The New York Times again published a tribute to Gérard de Villiers when he died.

 

P. S. A great plus for Poughkeepsie, the Walkway Over the Hudson, with an additional entrance in nearby Highland, only miles away from Hyde Park. Hyde Park, home of the CIA (the other one).

When I ate at the CIA I easily imagined the author of SAS having fun with this play on words.

 

After a very breezy walk across the walkway, before having dinner at the CIA.

Sans Malko. But with one of his most faithful fans.

Comments

  1. I haven’t been to Poughkeepsie for about 40 years. It sounds like it has been improved.

  2. A long time ago, I had a close friend who worked at that IBM plant. My, that was a long time ago and far, far away. I think he really DID work for the CIA, or at least he had worked for them before going to IBM. Hmm.

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