Andre welcomed one and all, the high and the mighty, the rough-edged ...
ONE of Phnom Penh’s most beloved and colourful expatriate residents, Andre Calabro, passed away on Monday after a prolonged bout with cancer. He was 52.
Andre, a dutifully irreverent son of Le Midi with a proud Corsican ancestry, ran Le Deauville, the well-known brasserie on the circle at Wat Phnom, which over the last 13 years was a home away from home for many foreigners and Cambodians alike, a place to savour a rich, amber cocktail and catch up on the days events for regulars from all corners of the globe.
Family and many friends gathered at Wat Tuol Sovannaram on Wednesday for his cremation. It was a fitting and tearful testimony to the affection so many had for Andre.
For more than a decade Andre offered a religiously welcome handshake, good cheer and wry wit to his patrons, among them many of Phnom Penh’s captains of industry, diplomats, senior government officials and a wide range of characters reflecting the full, kaleidoscopic spectrum of the capital’s resident saints and sinners.
The magic of Andre’s persona is perhaps best reflected by the fact that he was one of the few non-English speaking Frenchmen in town who could count as his friends literally dozens of non-French speaking Anglophones. Language was not a barrier. Andre welcomed one and all, the high and the mighty, the rough-edged, the nomadic expatriate trying to get his fatigued feet back on the ground, the professionals and the posers, the bar stool pundits, the dreamers and those misguided adventurers wrestling with yesterday’s nightmare – at least until they misbehaved.
Le Deauville has also been one of the few establishments in town where Cambodians and expats rub elbows together, where the bridge of culture has not been an obstacle, but rather a source of solace and new friendships.
It didn’t really matter to his many friends that Andre had his own chequered past. His troubles at a young age in the banking sector back in France, for which he duly punched the striped clock, only added to the flavour of his life, the colour of his character and the reason why so many in this city enjoyed his both raspy and convivial company. He made Le Deauville a most-favoured watering hole, a place of refuge from the day’s troubles, a venue for camaraderie and bottomless good cheer.
Under Andre’s watchful, if not incredulous eye, all of the world’s problems have been regularly solved in multiple languages at Le Deauville, and then re-explored again a few days later, only to be enjoyably re-hashed on yet another. It has been and continues to be one of the most eclectically entertaining venues in town.
For all of us who have been frequenting Le Deauville for years, and checking in with Andre so regularly, his passing was not unexpected. We know well why he came home to spend his last months leaning on the corner helm of his bar, the comfortable, genial captain of his own celebrated ship: to enjoy the grateful company of his many friends and they his.
Andre, we will all miss you.
Adieu mon pote, et a la prochaine fois aussi.