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Posts Tagged ‘Paris’

Imagine Paradise

February 18, 2014 | by

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Mavis Gallant was a family friend of ours. My mother knew her well. I remember her visits when I was a child: she was so intelligent, wry, and observant—so funny and so cool, with her Parisian air of detachment. She was fascinated with my platinum-haired younger brother, Julian, whom she deemed a “changeling.” 

While passing through Paris in my late twenties, at work on my book The Fruit Hunters, I once stopped in to bring her a letter from my mother and some flowers. Not wanting to interrupt her writing, I suggested coffee or a glass of wine. She insisted we meet at Le Dome for lunch.

I arrived five minutes early, left her bouquet on the table, and went out to pick up a Herald Tribune. Workers were marching in the streets as part of a general manifestation against the government. By the time I returned, she was sitting there, beaming. She waved at the protesters, she whose May 1968 diary for The New Yorker concluded, “I am convinced that I have seen something remarkable.” Read More »

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Hungry for Details

February 18, 2014 | by

Remembering Mavis Gallant.

Mavis Gallant - Good Job for A Girl

Mavis Gallant, known for her prolific and trenchant short fiction, has died, at ninety-one. Born in Montreal in 1922, she had a brief career as a journalist, but soon after The New Yorker accepted her first short story, in 1950, she embarked for Paris, where she lived most of her life. As the Times notes, she took as her primary subjects “the dislocated and the dispossessed”: neglected children, failed parents, anyone living alone.

In her 1999 interview with The Paris Review, she gave as eloquent and persuasive an argument for the necessity of fiction as any I’ve ever encountered:

A journalism student in Germany once told me she was bothered by the fact that the most plain and simple and ordinary news stories could conceal an important falsehood. She gave me an example, say, a couple celebrating their seventieth wedding anniversary. They will sit holding hands for the photographer and they’ve had their ups and downs over the years, but the marriage has been a happy one. The reporter can only repeat what they say. But what if the truth is that they positively hate each other? In that case the whole interview is a lie. I told her that if she wanted to publish the lie perceived behind the interview, she had to write fiction. (She became a critic, by the way.)

That ironic aside, deceptively casual, is characteristic of her work. In addition to this interview, the magazine published an excerpt from her diaries in our Fall 2003 issue. The portion below—in which Gallant reacts to the death of her neighbor, the French actress Alice Sapritch—captures her matter-of-factness, her careful eye, her seemingly effortless powers of perception, and her black but empathetic humor. It reminds us what a talent we’ve lost.

Sunday 25 March 1990

People I know who had no great use for Alice S. as an actress seem hungry for details. The house, and her shuttered windows, appear on TV like a celebrity. Strangers collect in the street as if visiting a shrine. She was an eccentric, a deliberate, a calculated oddity, with her wide-brimmed garden party hats and long cigarette holder, the butt of male comedians and imitators on chat shows. Once a few years ago when we were both standing in the street, waiting for taxis, I asked her why she put up with it—just like that. She said in a normal, not an affected, voice that I didn’t understand her career, that it was important to be recognized and talked about. When the car came for her it wasn’t a taxi but an open car with two young men in it, one in the backseat. The driver leaned over to open the door from the inside but when he saw me staring changed his mind and got out and came round to usher her in. His face and manner were supremely insolent: he was playing it for the fellow in the backseat and for a total stranger. Meanwhile she swept in, holding her hat. Did she have on long gloves? I mustn’t add props to the scene. Impossible not to think of Gloria Swanson, and Sunset Boulevard, except that Alice S. was in a real world every minute, every second, playing the idea of an actress, a grande dame, a monstre sacrée. I’d like to take it one further and say she knew it was a joke, but I can’t be sure.

Mme B., the concierge, tells me what happened yesterday. (Some of the friends who called me this morning kept asking if Alice S. had really died; there were contradictory stories going about.) Friends or relatives had arrived before the firemen, who were supposed to be giving first aid. The friends or relatives wouldn’t let them in. They kept issuing statement, “A.S. is alive and under intensive care.” Meanwhile the captain of the fire brigade—pronounced caption by Mme B.—sent for the police. That was how conflicting stories occurred. The capitan told Mme B. that her loved ones would not accept the truth, and that she was “dead, dead, dead.”

 

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The Habits of Highly Erotic People

February 6, 2014 | by

What can the French teach Americans about sex?

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From a 1923 French advertisement

Last month, as the New York Post went into paroxysms over the latest French presidential love triangle, we found a more academic comment on French habits of the heart, thanks to our attendance at a panel on “The Art of Sex and Seduction,” sponsored by the Alliance Française. On the first of its three nights, entitled “Did the French invent love?”, Catherine Cusset, a former professor of French literature at Yale, told a story:

A countess invites a young man to her house after running into him at the opera. After a stiff meal with her husband, who retires to his private apartments, the countess leads her guest down a secret passageway into a bedroom. The walls and ceiling are covered with gilded mirrors. Sexual frenzy ensues. At daybreak, the giddy, exhausted young man emerges from the den and runs into a marquis who has just arrived. The marquis thanks him profusely. The young man realizes that he has served merely as a decoy to distract the count from his wife’s true lover. The husband appears for breakfast and greets the marquis cordially. The last line of this story—Vivant Denon’s No Tomorrow, first published in 1777—reads, “I looked for some moral to this adventure and … I could find none.”

“There is no moral lesson,” Cusset said pointedly, and a communal gasp could be heard in Florence Gould Hall. Throughout the series, the audience was susceptible to gasps, audible stirring, and sudden eruptions of laughter. The French and American panelists, who included historians, scientists, sex therapists, and journalists, spoke about vaginas and orgasms in that purposefully blunt way one always expects and yet can seldom prepare for. Here’s what we learned about the difference between French and American sexual customs and attitudes, with a few startling facts about tout le monde. Read More »

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The Paris Review Reviews Paris

January 9, 2014 | by

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We looked into it.

Exactly 365 days ago, the poet Patricia Lockwood asked:

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Rightfully, her query went on to enjoy more than a thousand retweets, landing on several best-of-2013 lists, and earning plaudits from all over—because it’s a really good question. We were confounded. Despite our name and the dozens of interviews we’ve conducted in Paris, we had never really thought to assess the city’s quality.

We put our top people on it. For the next 365 days, our agents combed the twenty arrondissements, an army of flaneurs with clipboards in hand, golf pencils tucked behind their ears. They took water samples, soil samples, croissant samples. Equipped with measuring tapes, Geiger counters, and elegant cravats, they scrutinized the city’s every boulevard and metro station. They assessed the turbidity of the Seine; they carbon dated paintings, supped on the finest Bordeaux, and enjoyed the haute fare of Le Chateaubriand, Septime, and Benoit. They sent up weather balloons and infiltrated the fashion houses. They noted the Royale with Cheese. From Gentilly to Saint-Ouen, no stone was left unturned, no bichon frise unnuzzled. Then, having conducted such exhaustive research, they crunched the numbers, feeding the data into a series of world-class supercomputers with processing speeds in excess of thirty-three quadrillion floating-point operations per second. At last, they furnished a verdict:

It’s pretty good!

Case closed.

 

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Our New Year’s Resolution: Travel More

January 3, 2014 | by

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Mallet compound locomotive of the St. Louis and San Francisco Railway (Frisco) via Wikimedia Commons.

We know: it’s hard to leave home. Your showerhead gets great water pressure; the guy at your bodega saves you the last copy of the Post; the coffee people remember your name. Why skip town? Indeed, we’re so irredeemably tethered to Manhattan that we haven’t bothered to have a foreign office in forty years. And we’re The Paris Review.

But it’s a new year, time to cast off our parochialism and see the world. Riches may lie in store. Legend tells, for instance, of a land called San Francisco, where paupers pan for gold, used bookstores line the streets, and the buses run on electricity. What is the state of letters in this paradise? Which fashions are in vogue among its citizenry? How’s the ceviche? We can’t say. But we know who can: McSweeney’s, a San Francisco institution since 1998.

This January only, you can get a dual subscription to The Paris Review and McSweeney’s for just $75—20 percent less than two individual subscriptions. In other words, you’ll have the comforts of home and a year of bicoastal exploration for less than it would cost us to get from Penn Station to Philadelphia, if that were something we were inclined to do.

Get transcontinental with McSweeney’s and the Review.

 

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Teeth Marks: Three Early Poems by Albert Cossery

December 3, 2013 | by

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Image via 3ammagazine.com.

Like his friend, fellow Scorpio, and confidant Albert Camus, Albert Cossery would also have celebrated his one hundredth birthday last month. The patron saint of indolence—who wrote only when he had nothing better to do—died in 2008. But one can imagine that Cossery, had he made it to his centenary, would have been exactly like Cossery at any age. The elegant Egyptian novelist, impeccably dressed, forever held fast to his routine. For nearly sixty years, until his death, he lived in an austere room in the Hotel La Louisiane in St. Germain des Prés. Each day he slept late, venturing out only in the afternoons, to bask in the sun and watch the girls of the Luxembourg Gardens, or to have a plate of lentils and fizzy water at the Café de Flore and linger for hours, doing nothing. Even when, toward the end of his life, he was hospitalized for an operation, Cossery—still wearing the ward’s pajamas—escaped the hospital for the café, pushed in a wheelchair by a beautiful blonde.

“Here comes Tutanhkamun,” the waiters whispered behind his back. Just so, Cossery’s writings, forever returning to the same scenes and casts—of mendicants and saltimbanques, failed revolutionaries and hashish-addled philosophers—preserved a certain consistency over the decades. The young Albert, who attended French schools as a child in Cairo, began his first novel at age ten. At seventeen, he published a book of poems, titled Les Morsures, “The Teeth Marks” or “Bites.” By all accounts the book has been lost, and Cossery himself up until his death coyly refused to aid any devoted readers in search of a copy. Yet three poems were preserved in the monumental anthology Poètes en Egypte, edited in Cairo in 1955 by Jean Moscatelli. The anthology, which brought together over fifty-five Franco-Egyptian writers, captured the collective achievements of a literary community in the twilight of its end. It included Cossery’s friends Georges Henein and Edmond Jabès, as well as Joyce Mansour and Horus Schenouda—all of whom were soon to leave, or had already left, for exile in Paris in the wake of Nasser’s coup. Read More »

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