PARIS -- When hundreds of hotel concierges from 30 countries convene in Washington this week to swap Tales of the Golden Keys, few will carry notes as extensive as Lucien Pierrot.
Few have opened the Louvre and Versailles Palace for a single visitor, chartered Concordes for one or dressed rooms with Renoirs, but Pierrot, 48, regularly performs such "impossibilities" as chief concierge at Paris' George V Hotel.
It's the simple things in life that thin his hair.
"Fifty red roses in 10 minutes sent across the world," he recalls, tapping a finger on the crossed keys embroidered on his black frock collar. "It's the very simple that can be very difficult."
The George V, opened in 1927, is one of the world's prestige addresses. "La jeunesse des vieux palais," Pierrot calls it, "the youngest of the old palaces. Nothing like the George V, Ritz or the Crillon will ever be built again." Its opulent, hushed gold and white marble structure, off the Champs Elyse'es,has sheltered Arab sheiks and princes, served as Eisenhower's Allied Command headquarters during World War II and hosted Garbo and Russian delegations in scenes straight out of "Ninotchka." During Pierrot's 33-year tenure at the "Cinq," he's watched the passage (and overseen the personal wants) of guests from Dietrich to Dylan, John Wayne to Tina Turner.
Stays were longer in the '50s and '60s, when guests arriving at the hotel were most likely to have sailed the Atlantic before berthing at the hotel often described as "a liner at anchor." During those decades, the elegant hotel headquartered royalty and entire film crews for months on end.
Typical of the period was the South American family, Pierrot recalls, arriving from Cherbourg's Cunard Line docks in four chauffeured cars they'd brought over -- including two solely for luggage. Or "The Longest Day," when, for three months, limos assembled before dawn to convoy that star-laden film's cast, crew and Darryl F. Zanuck's entourage on four-hour drives to Normandy Beach locations and then returned them each evening.
"The best concierge," Pierrot says, his hazel eyes narrowing to scan the calm lobby, "is a natural diplomat, very efficient, extremely rapid, a bit of a psychologist and," he adds quietly, "very discreet." Discretion is essential when clientele includes such "private" public figures as Frank Sinatra, Woody Allen, the sultan of Brunei, ex-presidents of the United States and former secretary of state Henry Kissinger, "whose visits are always difficult to decide whether they're private or official."
The importance of the Washington concierge convention cannot be overestimated. Annually renewed contacts strengthen an informal network, he says, of those whose profession, in many ways, is a trade of favors. "We go to the convention," Pierrot says, "to meet each other because when we need anything in the world for one of our guests ... well, everything is possible if the concierge has time and knows the right person." To facilitate this, the George V concierge has a 35-person staff (speaking a total of eight languages), "which can go across the street or anywhere in Europe for something if a guest needs it."
The profession, he thinks, is becoming harder, because "guests change little, but things go so much faster today." After three decades, Pierrot has catered to more than a few eccentrics. Such as the guests who decided to tour Paris in scenic taxis, trailed by their own chauffeur-driven Rolls.
Or the Englishman who asked that mail be held for 10 days during his absence. That seemed easy enough, as did his additional request that the hotel hold "a bronze horse statue he'd purchased" and ordered delivered. Two days later, when it arrived by truck, it turned out to be life-size.
"I'm certain that there are impossible things to do," Pierrot smiles elegantly, "but we always try to do those the quickest. Sometimes, it's the simplest things that take the most time. Not sending things to the moon, but the small things."
Like the American Chihuahua. Fed only oysters and filet, it had, of course, been paper-trained on only one particular high-grade newsprint. No other would do. "Something about the perfume of inks on paper," Pierrot explains appreciatively. When the dog's owner suddenly decided on a brief ocean cruise, arrangements were quickly made to kennel the pampered pup with a staff member who kept dogs. His wife obligingly agreed to travel into Paris each day from their small farm village to purchase fresh oysters, steaks and the International Herald Tribune.
"I've had many compliments," Pierrot says. "I've had many guests tell me, 'Never leave the hotel!' Because we are here, they feel it is special -- a home in Paris. Many call saying, 'Oh, I'm coming next month. Could you do this, because for you, nothing is impossible.'
"And we do it, because the profession," he says smiling, adjusting his vest with an assertive tug, "is known for that."