It was a nagging cough that wouldn't go away. Then came the diagnosis in the summer of 2011, lung cancer. Jean-Paul never smoked. On Saturday night his daughter Marie texted me, Dear Alice: My father died this morning. Je t'embrasse.
Oh, Marie. This is a girl who worshiped her father in a way that made me wish I had one worthy of worship. She had very good reason. Her father, Jean-Paul Rocher was a force.
I had heard about him for years on the vin naturel scene. He was a husband, father, wrestler turned chef. Chef turned book seller. Book seller turned publisher. That was in 1995 and proved to be his life's work. Jean-Paul Rocher editions was a fiercely independent book publishing house, reflecting a fiercely independent man.
Click on that link and look at the variety of books he published. He did not pursue the commercial but the worthy; what resonated with his curiosity, poetry and fierce passions. An eclectic man he has taken on a range of subject matter from insect cuisine to a French translation of Leaves of Grass. He was the publisher of the work of Jules Chauvet and he was also mine.
He didn't look for me, I came looking for him.
Shortly after my first book came out in 2008 it was very important to me to see The Battle for Wine and Love in its French translation. My Parisian agent wasn't trying too hard to help me out. "The French don't care what American's think about wine," she said to me at Cafe Flor, over extremely crappy coffee the morning we met. Determined to take things in my own hands, I wrote to Jean-Paul Rocher.
He could not read English so he asked me to send the manuscript to his daughter Marie. In June of 2009, I met Marie at a café near Gare de Nord before I hopped the train to CDG. She loved the book. I was quite surprised. She said that her father wanted to publish it. From that moment there was this bond. I feel like Marie's aunt, and I felt like Jean Paul's sister. It was very strange, but there was no doubt about it, I was embraced.
Our first meeting was in the fall of 2009. This was at the front table in his 'office' La Verre Volé. There we had our first wines together and a celebratory meal for agreeing to publish The Battle for Wine and Love--the only foreign rights he bought.
It was Jean Paul who again, at La VV encouraged me to write Le Vin Nu, he believed in my style, my vision. He was the one who pushed me to have the courage to look up Jacques Neauport, he just dropped the names Alain Braik and Guy Dubord and let me do the rest of the leg work. He pushed me to take on some of the tough issues I did.
Last New Years, I received a text. He was out of the hospital drinking champagne with his family. "Happy New Year, Alice! Bises." I'd get texts to have courage, that he was sending me warm embraces, that he was worried, that he was hopeful, that he wanted to see me soon. That he was drinking champagne for his birthday, his last. I am not sure what it is exactly about me that made him want to take me under his wing, but that wing was spread for me and his strong arm pulled me to him, and to Marie. Hey, it's not everyone who has a book party thrown for her by Pierre Overnoy, but Pierre was Jean Paul's dear friend, and so I was embraced as well.
I rearranged my flight in February 2012 so I could see him in the hospital, not wanting to believe it was the last time. He had lost his healthy girth, but not his passion, though he was more impatient. Constant chemo does that. We talked for an hour, me with my frustrating French. He said my language was getting better. He lied.He told me how he just heard from Christian Chaussard how much he liked Le Vin Nu, I hoped he wasn't lying there.
needing a glass of pet nat in Paris
Jean Paul was a sturdy, ruddy man who loved to laugh, was quick to anger and quick to love. He made snap decisions on people and I think he was rarely wrong. Stubborn? His daughter always made fun about how much of a Taurus he was. It was true. When he made up his mind negotiation was rare. But so be it.He was political, he loved words and ideas and was the epitome of the kind of human being I think of when I think of why I might want to live in France. Ideas, ideals profoundly mattered to Jean-Paul. He was one of my heroes, and one of the heroes of not just the wine world but the literary universe. Heroes are rare in the world. I'm not prone to embracing them, but I have to say I am richer for having known him, and I'll be watching his legacy grow and develop in Marie, and will try to be as good an aunt as I possibly can.