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Posts Tagged ‘France’

When Paris Learned to Smile, and Other News

October 28, 2014 | by

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Gerard Dou, The Extraction of Tooth (detail), ca. 1630.

  • The triumphs of late-eighteenth-century French dentistry—professionalization, a commitment to canine conservation and oral hygiene, skill in making and installing artificial dentures—were a crucial element in the complex process ... call[ed] the ‘Smile Revolution.’ Only when an open mouth was able to expose white teeth (or, failing that, white dentures), only when dental hygiene dispelled the miasma of halitosis, could a full smile exposing the teeth be countenanced.”
  • At eighty-five, Hedy Pagremanski likes to plant herself on street corners and paint the disappearing buildings of New York. She’s done more than eighty of them. “We have learned that whatever was, isn’t … I once went to the Landmarks Commission and said, ‘What buildings are coming down?’ And they said they never know until the wrecking ball hits. And that was about twenty years ago.”
  • Tony Kushner on Tennessee Williams: “Because he was mining himself, his self, so endlessly, at some point what you call a kind of calcification of the heart manifests itself, and the self-mining becomes a kind of self-devouring, self-cannibalism, even; the business of putting your self and your inner life on stage over and over becomes a form of self-consumption.”
  • The French culture minister, Fleur Pellerin, has never read any of Patrick Modiano’s books—actually, in the past two years, she hasn’t read any books at all. “I haven’t had time to read anything in the last two years except for a lot of notes, legislative texts, and newswires,” she said. Some have taken this news poorly. “Nothing will uplift us, the soul is an illusion,” one commentator said.
  • Lubricious opening lines: Do they attract or dispel readers? (The opening line that prompted this debate is Christos Tsiolkas’s: “My mother is best known for giving blowjobs to Pete Best and Paul McCartney in the toilets of the Star-Club in Hamburg one night in the early sixties.”)

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Being Discovered: An Interview with Calvin Tomkins

October 20, 2014 | by

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Gerald and Sara Murphy with Cole Porter and the Murphy’s friend Ginny Carpenter, in Venice, summer of 1923. Gerald had come to collaborate with Porter on their ballet Within the Quota.

In the late fifties, Calvin Tomkins, a longtime staff writer for The New Yorker, moved his family from New York City to a little community on the Hudson River called Sneden’s Landing. “The houses are built on the side of a hill fairly close together,” Tomkins told me by phone this past summer, “but in those days there were no real property lines. Everybody knew each other, and the kids wandered all over.”

Tomkins’s two daughters, Anne and Susan, eventually found their way to Gerald Murphy, then in his sixties, pruning his rose garden. As kids do, they struck up a conversation with Gerald, and when Tomkins and his wife caught up with them, Sara, Gerald’s wife, emerged from the house, taking orders for ginger ale.

“The Murphys didn’t talk about the past in those days, and it was some time before I realized they were the people F. Scott Fitzgerald had used as models for Dick and Nicole Diver in Tender Is the Night,” Tomkins wrote in 1998. In the twenties and early thirties, the couple, along with their three children, spent part of the year in the south of France, on the Riviera, and the rest of it immersed in the salad days of modernism and surrealism in Paris, where they had befriended, among others, Picasso and his first wife, Olga Khokhlova; Ferdinand Léger; Dorothy Parker; Cole Porter; the Fitzgeralds; the Dos Passos; and the Hemingways. It was a fascinating life, though shrouded in mystery and tragedy.

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Gerald Murphy with Picasso.

Tomkins urged Murphy to write a memoir, but Murphy “scoffed at the notion … he had too much respect for the craft of writing, he said, to attempt something which could only be second-rate.” Tomkins reported the piece instead. It was called “Living Well Is the Best Revenge,” a reference to the seventeenth-century poet George Herbert’s mordant epigram, which Murphy had once jotted down on a piece of paper. The piece ran in The New Yorker on July 28, 1962. By the time Tomkins had expanded it into a book, in 1974, “Gerald had been dead for ten years, and Sara, who died in 1975, was no longer aware of the world around her.”

Fortunately, Tomkins was, and Living Well Is the Best Revenge remains one of the most ingeniously reported profiles of the Lost Generation, with the Murphys serving to illuminate the nearly century-old American expat scene that flourished in Europe between the two World Wars. The book had gone out of print until MoMA reissued it earlier this year in a beautiful flex-cover format. I spoke to Tomkins, who’s now eighty-eight, about the Murphys’ past, Gerald’s career as an artist, and his reporting for the book.

Before you got to know them, did you know much about Gerald and Sara Murphy?

I had heard about them. The Murphys were legendary because people knew vaguely about their life in Paris in the twenties, but nobody really knew them very well. They had a party a year, I think—a garden party with candles in paper bags. More or less the whole community was invited. But otherwise, they kept to themselves. We were all very curious about them. It seemed to us that we had these exotic creatures living in our midst. Read More »

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All Aboard L’Armand-Barbès

October 7, 2014 | by

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Jules Didier and Jacques Guiaud, L’ Armand Barbès, 1870, 1914.

Say you’ve got to skip town in a hurry. Maybe you owe somebody a lot of money; maybe the mayor’s daughter is in love with you and you’re below her station; or maybe it’s 1870, the Franco-Prussian War is on, and you have to ditch Paris because it’s under fierce siege and you’re the minister of the interior. In any case, here’s what history advises:

Flee in a hot-air balloon.

Léon Gambetta did it on October 7, 1870. Worked like a charm.

Okay, Paris ultimately lost the war, so “worked like a charm” may be overstating things, but still—Gambetta lived, didn’t he? He did. He became a prominent statesman.

At the time of his spectacular escape, Paris had been shelled by the Germans and Napoleon’s empire had fallen; Gambetta helped to improvise a new government and advised running it from someplace other than the capital, given the city’s precarious condition. A delegation left for Tours to organize the resistance, but Gambetta himself had to be sure to elude capture by the Prussians.

The safest way, against all odds, was by balloon: couriers had been delivering the mail to Paris that way with great success. And so they smuggled him out on the sumptuously named (if not sumptuously appointed) Armand-Barbès, one of some sixty-six balloons. He made it to Tours intact and resumed his post with vigor.

After this comes the part where the French lose anyway, but let’s skip that and wonder instead how Gambetta felt up there, in transit. I mean, I’m sure he was terrified, at least partially—his capture would be the end of him—and yes, there must’ve been a good bit of patriotism coursing through the old veins, but I hope he took a deep breath and saw the bigger picture, saw himself wafting into the history books on a hot-air balloon, Prussians cursing the sky and stomping on their hats.

And how, once he’d reached safety, could he find it in himself to talk about anything else?

Hello, I would say by way of introduction for the rest of my life, It is I, the man who fled Paris by balloon. No, no, remain seated. Hold your applause.

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A broadside about ballooning during the Siege of Paris, 1870–1871, with a list of balloons that left the city.

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Inside Albertine

September 26, 2014 | by

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Nations of the world, take note: there are a number of benefits to running an embassy out of an historic mansion on Fifth Avenue. First, look around: you’re in an historic mansion on Fifth Avenue! Second, go upstairs: you’re still in that same historic mansion, on the same Fifth Avenue! Third, take stock of the fact that, because you don’t pay rent, you can kiss off market forces and open any business you’d like … in your historic mansion on Fifth Avenue!

Antonin Baudry, the cultural counselor for the French Embassy, had such a realization a few years ago. For more than sixty years, the embassy has made use of the Payne Whitney House, an opulent Italian Renaissance–style home erected from 1902 to 1906 at Fifth Ave. and 79th St. It seemed a shame, he thought, to deny passersby the chance to see its tongue-lollingly gorgeous interior. It also seemed a shame that New York had lost its last French bookstore, the Librairie de France, in 2009 …

You may see where this is headed. Baudry and his staff are at this moment putting the finishing touches on Albertine, a new French bookstore housed in the embassy—it opens Saturday at eleven A.M. When I visited yesterday, Baudry showed me around its impressive two floors, which had already achieved—though the ladders and drop clothes were still in evidence, and the painters were still painting, the burnishers still burnishing—an enviable blend of new bookstore smell and old building smell. It resembles a magnificent private library of the sort you’d expect to find in a turn-of-the-century estate. Read More »

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Pati Hill, 1921–2014

September 24, 2014 | by

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An illustration by B. Whistler Dabney for Pati Hill’s essay “Cats,” from our ninth issue.

The Paris Review was saddened to learn that Pati Hill, a frequent contributor and longtime friend of the magazine, died last Friday at ninety-three. A native of Kentucky, Hill worked during the forties and fifties as a model in France, where she was part of the same community of expats that included George Plimpton and the founders of the Review.

Over the years, beginning with our second issue, Hill published six stories and an essay with the Review; her last contribution, part of a series of sketches, came in Spring 1981. She wrote a pair of well-regarded books—a novel and a memoir—in the fifties, but today she’s probably best known for her art, which made early and innovative use of an IBM photocopier, as an obituary in the Times says.

To celebrate Hill, we’re posting her essay “Cats,” from our Summer 1955 issue, in its entirety, with a pair of illustrations by B. Whistler Dabney. It begins:

I like cats as far as creatures go. I like almost any animal that does not have horns or scales on it for that matter, but I especially like cats. Any sort and denomination: spotted or solid, fat or thin, with and without fleas. I like them and admire them and almost anything they do is a pleasure to me.

The way they can walk around the rim of a bathtub, for instance, without falling in and the way they can get comfortable in any old place. There is nothing better than a cat looking out from behind a pot of geraniums on a windowsill or walking slowly down a country road of a summer evening. There is something at once comforting and disquieting about a cat which makes him attractive.

They are wonderful when they stick their noses cautiously into a hole and then back out again, and when they flatten down their ears the tops of their heads look like giant bumblebees. Also they have marvelous feet. When a cat puts his paw on the head of a half eaten fish it is at once delicate and dainty and fierce and when he retracts his claws again he is most beautifully innocent like firearms in a shop window or a pin-cushion with no pins in it.

Read the rest here.

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The Solar Anus

September 10, 2014 | by

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Photo: Steve Kollis, via Flickr

Happy birthday to Georges Bataille, connoisseur of Eros, born on September 10, 1897, a simpler time he took it upon himself to complicate. Actually, to call him an erotic connoisseur grossly understates what so many readers find, uh, gross about him. Suffice it to say his work revels in varieties of sexual expression that remain taboo today; a given Bataille text presents you with a veritable cavalcade of the debauched and the proscribed, and, worse still, makes all of it seem terribly worth investigating. Even his fellow Continental philosophers—not exactly vanilla adherents of the missionary position—thought he was something of a degenerate. Jean-Paul Sartre said Bataille “incarnated human sexuality in its most degraded form”; André Breton described him more succinctly as a “sick and dangerous pervert.”

But history teaches us that perverts make fine litterateurs, and Bataille is no exception. (Not to say there aren’t exceptions. There are plenty.) In Paris, he worked as a librarian and at night went drinking and whoring on the rue Pigalle. His first novel, 1928’s L’Histoire de l’oeilStory of the Eye, which he published under the pseudonym Lord Auch, or aux chiottes, or “to the shithouse”—was hailed not as a transgressive surrealist masterwork but as pornography, plain and simple. Its reputation has improved since then: it’s still regarded as porn, just the good kind. (John Wray wrote about it for the Daily a few years ago.)

Here, for your edification and titillation, is a bit from The Solar Anus, a short something-or-other published in 1931. I don’t know what you’d call it. It’s metaphysics. It’s a taunt. It’s a series of aphorisms. It’s an extended metaphor that stops shy of allegory. It’s a hymn; it’s a rant. And what it lacks in logical validity it makes up for in images. Among the lines of inquiry pursued: the passage of energy, heliophilia, heliophobia, fecundity, decay, volcanoes, the phallic, the Sapphic, the erect, the supine, excretion, intake, and many other things besides. Have at it: Read More »

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