Tag Archives: Paris

Les Maîtres de l’Affiche

Masters of the PosterAt the turn of the century, Parisian magazine subscribers were treated to colourful advertising posters which were included in the monthly issues. Each magazine contained four small 11 x 15 inch posters. For 60 months, subscribers also received a monthly original lithograph by one of 90 French or foreign artists, numbered and imprinted with the mark of Atelier Chaix, the magazine publisher.

Subscribers paid nothing for these prints, other than the price of the magazine. Today, though, if you want to purchase one of these posters, you are looking at a price of several hundred dollars apiece – more for the works of the more famous artists.

An important catalogue of 256 of these prints, Les Maîtres de l’Affiche, offers a representative selection of art of la Belle Epoque.

Jules CheretPublished in Paris, this collection reflects the well-deserved pride of the French at having invented the artistic commercial poster. Jules Chéret, the artist-director of the printing house, was the father of this artistic genre. For his role in launching the golden age of the poster, he was awarded Légion d’Honneur.

He believed that advertising design at the time was vulgar and lacked redeeming artistic features. Chéret was the first to associate a woman with a product; for example, beverages such as Dubonnet, various pastilles and soaps, music halls such as les Folies Bergère.

His salon artists covered the buildings and walls of Paris with images of beautiful women, turning the city into a plein-air museum.

It was not only the French who collected these posters; it is estimated that 6,000 American subscribers also had a collection. Major museums such as the Metropolitan and the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Louvre in Paris, and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, also acquired these works for their permanent collections.

Alphonse Mucha

One of the best-known Maîtres de l’Affiche was Alphonse Mucha. His images were appropriated during the 1960s for theatre posters, and they often featured actress Sarah Bernhardt. Another well-known contributor was Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, whose art celebrated the Parisian cabaret and the bohemian life in Montmartre.

The complete set of 256 prints illustrated in Les Maîtres de l’Affiche or its English-language counterpart, Masters of the Poster, provide an enticing glimpse into the bohemian life of la Belle Epoque.

A Moveable Feast

“If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.”

A Moveable FeastBegun in the autumn of 1957 and published posthumously in 1964, Ernest Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast captures what it meant to be young and poor and writing in Paris during the 1920s. A Moveable Feast is considered by many to contain some of his best writing.

A correspondent for the Toronto Star, Hemingway arrived in Paris in 1921 with his young wife, Hadley, and baby son, Bumby (John), and the ambition to be a great writer. In that small tranquil world there was no need for a formal introduction. Everybody frequented the same cafés and ate in the same restaurants. Acquaintances were easily made and in a very short time Hemingway knew everyone who was someone÷or destined to be.

This was three years after the trauma of the Great War and at the beginning of the transformation of Europe’s cultural landscape: Braque and Picasso were experimenting with cubist forms; James Joyce, long living in self-imposed exile from his native Dublin, had just completed Ulysses; Gertrude Stein held court at 27 rue de Fleurus, and deemed young Ernest a member of une génération perdue; and T.S. Eliot was a bank clerk in London.

According to Hemingway, there was nothing lost about his generation. There was no movement, nor any tight bands of pot-smoking nihilists wandering around looking for a cause. There were a lot of people of the same age who had been through the war, and they came to Paris to write or compose or do whatever they had in mind. Paris gave them the freedom they needed.

His territory ran the length of the Boulevard Montparnasse from the Closerie des Lilas at the Observatoire to the Restaurant du Petit Trianon opposite the railway station, and by one route or another down to Saint Germain-des-Prés and the Seine.

Closerie des Lilas

Among these small, reflective sketches are unforgettable encounters with the members of Hemingway’s rag-tag circle of artists and writers, some also fated to achieve fame and glory, others to fall into obscurity. Some of the prominent people to make an appearance in the book include Aleister Crowley, Ezra Pound, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ford Madox Ford, Hilaire Belloc, John Dos Passos, James Joyce and Gertrude Stein.

Hemingway spends a great deal of time in the cafes, drinking and eating rather well for a pittance. His kindest comments are about Sylvia Beach, the American who ran an English bookstore called Shakespeare and Company — it was a hangout for English-speaking authors and others, and was an oasis for individuals seeking English-language books.

Ernest and Hadley HemingwayHe depicts his genteel poverty and his obsession with gambling on horse races. He is deeply in love for most of the book with Hadley, who loses all of his manuscripts at a train station. He courts influential people such as Ford Madox Ford, who is described very unfavourably, and has great admiration for war veterans. His artist friend Pascin invites him to share his models, but he declines.

His friend Ezra Pound is trying to get up a collection for T. S. Eliot to rescue him from mundane bank work. He teaches Pound boxing. He cuts off his friendship with Gertrude Stein, repulsed by her lesbian relationship with Alice B. Toklas. He debates the merits of Dostoevsky with poet Evan Shipman. Ezra Pound charges him with delivering opium to the addicted poet Ralph Dunning, but Dunning rejects the help. Hemingway devotes three chapters to the very annoying F. Scott Fitzgerald and his hawkish and manipulative wife Zelda.

In the bittersweet final chapter, he describes an idyllic time spent in the Austrian Alps with Hadley. Pauline Pfeiffer arrives and an affair develops which eventually destroys his marriage.

It was during these years that the as-of-yet unpublished young writer gathered the material for his first novel, The Sun Also Rises, and the subsequent masterpieces that followed.

“You belong to me and all Paris belongs to me and I belong to this notebook and this pencil.”

This is the Paris that Hemingway knew as a young man – a map drawn in his distinct prose of the streets and cafés and bookshops that made up the city where he, as a young writer, sometimes struggling against the cold and hunger of near poverty, honed the skills of his craft.

Satori in Paris

Jack KerouacAlthough he was born and raised in Massachusetts, Jack Kerouac’s family was French-Canadian, and he was proud of it.

Published in 1967, when Kerouac was at the height of his fame, Satori in Paris tells the story of a ten-day visit to Paris and Brittany in search of his ancestors.

On this hectic odyssey, fascinated by everything and everyone he met, from a faded French beauty in a Montparnasse gangster bar to one of his strange, foppish Breton namesakes, Kerouac experienced a feeling of transcendence, a satori, which was to the Beat generation the culmination of all experience.

Andrew Sarris reviewed Satori in Paris for the New York Times in 1967. Here is is blunt and accurate, in this blogger’s opinion, excerpt.

Satori in ParisIf the latest spiritual adventures of Jack Kerouac lack the ebullience of earlier explorations, it may be because he is hunting down a pedigree rather than an identity. (“As in an earlier autobiographical book I’ll use my real name hear, full name in this case, Jean-Louis Lebris de Kerouac, because this story is about my search for this name in France.”)

By his own admission, Kerouac was 43 years old when he braved Paris and Brittany. That’s a bit old for a Dharma Bum drunk on Dante’s Beatitude, a Rover Boy with a yen for Zen, a traveler of the fifties who managed to bypass Marx and Freud on the road across the American continent.

Kerouac can still write a blued streak, but his skyrocketing prose no longer illuminates the landscape. He now travels alone, out of his time and place, more like a Babbitt than a beatnik.

He now seems to revel in a calculating callousness, particularly in his country-club put-down of “a half dozen eager or worried future writers with their manuscripts all of whom gave me a positively dirty look when they heard my name as tho they were muttering to themselves Kerouac? I can write ten times better than that beatnik maniac and I’ll prove it with this here manuscript called Silence au Lips all about how Renard walks into the foyer lighting a cigarette and refuses to acknowledge the sad formless smile of the plotless Lesbian heroine whose father just died trying to rape an elk in the Battle of Cuckamonga, and Phillipe the intellectual enters in the next chapter lighting a cigarette with an existential leap across the blank page I leave next, all ending in a monologue encompassing etc., all this Kerouac can do is write stories, ugh'”–Ugh, indeed. No there-but-for-the-grace-of-God-and-Grove-go-I feeling in Kerouac’s credit-card sensibility.

At times, his aggressive religiosity resembles Cassius Clay’s: Methinks women love me and then they realize I’m drunk for all the world and this makes them realize I can’t concentrate on them alone, for long, makes them jealous, and I’m a fool in love With God. Yes.”

As for what a satori actually is, he explicates in quasi-religious terms: “Somewhere during my ten days in Paris (and Brittany) I received an illumination of some kind that seems to’ve changed me again, towards what I suppose’ll be my pattern for another seven years or more: in effect, a satori: the Japanese word for ‘sudden illumination,’ ‘sudden awakening’ or simply ‘kick in the eye.'”

Unfortunately, the illumination comes at the end of a shaggy dog story by a saloon Sartre who manages to get gushy over the straighforwardness of a Paris cab driver.

New York Times Book Review (sign-in may be required)

Time Was Soft There

“Hard time goes slowly and painfully and leaves a man bitter…. Time at Shakespeare and Company was as soft as anything I’d ever felt.”

Earlier we blogged about Shakespeare & Company, an English-language bookstore which sits just across the Seine from Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. In its two incarnations, it served generations of authors such as James Joyce, Alan Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs.

So it was with sweet anticipation that I picked up Jeremy Mercer’s Time Was Soft There at the library, hoping for a personal glimpse into the bohemian life in the eccentric world of George Whitman. The book is subtitled “A Paris Sojourn At Shakespeare & Co.                

Shakespeare and Company

“In a place like Paris, the air is so thick with dreams they clog the streets and take all the good tables at the cafes… That night at Polly’s, the table spilled over with the rapture of pilgrims who have found their temple. That night, among new friends and safe at Shakespeare and Company, I felt it too. Hope is a most beautiful drug.”

Time Was Soft ThereMercer’s visit to Paris was not entirely of his own choosing. In 1999, Mercer was a young crime reporter for the Ottawa Citizen, with a couple of true crime books under his belt. Unfortunately, he had indiscreetly outed one of his contacts and, after receiving a threatening note and experiencing a break-in, he fled for his life. He ended up in Paris, penniless.

It did not take him long to discover the Shakespeare & Company bookstore, where George Whitman was legendary for offering bed and sustenance to those in need.

On the book’s dustjacket, one reads that he “found himself invited to a tea party among the riffraff of the timeless Left Bank fantasy known as Shakespeare & Co. In its present incarnation, Shakespeare & Co. has become a destination for writers and readers the world over, trying to reclaim the lost world of literary Paris in the 1920s. Having been inspired by Sylvia Beach’s original store, the present owner, George Whitman, invites writers who are down and out in Paris to live and dream amid the bookshelves in return for work. Jeremy Mercer tumbled into this literary rabbit hole, found a life of camaraderie with the other eccentric residents, and became, for a time, George Whitman’s confidant and right-hand man.”

Mercer does go on, in this reader’s view, about his own importance and the deprivations he suffered. And his titillation at petty crime can be a little wearing.

Regardless, Mercer’s account of life at the bookstore is entertaining, and his portrait of George Whitman lovingly details his whimsies and contradictions. His stories of the other bookstore denizens – exotic Nadia,  rival  Kurt who is constantly polishing his unfinished screenplay, Simon the neurotic British poet – tell us a little about why they are there: travel and adventure, scholarships, disillusionment. The details are there: the petty rivalries; the formation of lifetime friendships; the many rituals adopted as the “tumbleweeds” adapt to the quirky requirements of bookstore residency: writing their biography, reading a book a day, and helping out with the constant cleaning chores.

But so little is said about the Paris of the imagination which conjures up visions of poets in cafes and painters in garrets.  Perhaps this reader wanted to see more of that magic and less straight journalism, and perhaps reality never has the same loveliness as dreams. After all, during a return to Paris several years later, even Mercer noted that things had changed since he was part of Shakespeare & Company.

Time Was Soft There is rather like a nice postcard of the Eiffel Tower. It leaves out the soul of the city that has inspired more creativity than any other.

Eiffel Tower Postcard

The Rag and Bone Shop of the Heart

Kilometer ZeroKilometer Zero is right in front of Notre Dame, on Ile de La Cité. It is the point to which all the highways in France refer.

If you stand on Kilometer Zero, facing Notre Dame, you will see a bridge called the Pont au Double. Cross it to the left bank of the Seine. The large street along the river is St. Michel. Cross it. Now there is a tiny park and after that, you are in front of Shakespeare and Company, the most charming bookstore on earth.

In 1917 Sylvia Beach, the daughter of a Presbyterian minister in New Jersey, opened an American bookshop in Paris called Shakespeare and Company. It was a bookstore, a lending library, and centre of activity and contact for English-speaking writers and artists in Paris.

James Joyce’s Ulysses was first published by Shakespeare and Company, and books like Lady Chatterley’s Lover, banned in England and the U.S. were available to buy or to borrow.

James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway, T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, Andre Gide, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Archibald MacLeish, Thornton Wilder, Katherine Anne Porter, Janet Flanner, Samuel Beckett, Virgil Thomson, Harry Crosby, Sherwood Anderson, and many others frequented the place.

Shakespeare and Company has become a destination for writers and readers the world over, trying to reclaim the lost world of literary Paris in the 1920s.

Inspired by Sylvia Beach’s original store, the present owner, George Whitman, invites writers who are down and out in Paris to live and dream amid the bookshelves in return for work.

Shakespeare & Co.

In its present incarnation, Shakespeare & Co. was opened by Whitman in August 1951.

George had found himself in Paris after the Second World War, not wanting to return to America straight away. He enrolled at the Sorbonne to improve his French and found a small hotel room on Boulevard St Michel. During his studies he amassed a large collection of English books and used his room as a library and bookstore.

It was only after a conversation with his friend Lawrence Ferlinghetti that George took seriously the notion of opening a bookstore in Paris. So, in 1951 he managed to acquire a small apartment opposite Notre Dame de Paris, which was then converted into the front of Shakespeare and Company.

His bookstore is a sanctuary for writers, aspiring writers and artists. From the day that George opened he has invited writers to share his home. Some 50,000 have placed their heads on Shakespeare and Company’s famous pillows. Such people as Henry Miller, Anäis Nin, Lawrence Durrell and Alan Ginsberg have shared a tea and a pancake with George.

Since 1951 the bookstore has stubbornly kept its utopian ideals in a changing world. Many who knew the store back in their youth return as adults to find an institution that has not been altered by the passing years. The shop has continued the legacy of Sylvia Beach’s Shakespeare and Company, inviting writers and encouraging new writers. However, George has done it his way. Some have called him an eccentric, while others have called him a light in a dull and homogenized world.”

Some bookstores are filled with stories both inside and outside the bindings. These are places of sanctuary, even redemption.

Rag and Bone Shop of the HeartThe Rag and Bone Shop of the Heart

I have let my imagination run wild with the result that a stranger walking the streets of Paris can believe he is entering just another of the bookstores along the left bank of the Seine but if he finds his way through a labyrinth of alcoves and cubbyholes and climbs a stairway leading to my private residence then he can linger there and enjoy reading the books in my library and looking at the pictures on the walls of my bedroom.

Over the years I have combined three stores and three apartments into a bookstore on three floors that Henry Miller called ‘a wonderland of books’.

When I opened my bookstore in 1951 this area in the heart of Paris was crammed with street theatre, mountebanks, junkyards, dingy hotels, wine shops, little laundries, tiny thread and needle shops and grocers. Back in 1600 in the middle of this slum our building was a monastery with a frère lampier who would light the lamps at sunset.

I seem to have inherited his role because for fifty years now I have been your frère lampier.

I may disappear leaving behind me no worldly possessions – just a few old socks and love letters, and my windows overlooking Notre-Dame for all of you to enjoy, and my little rag and bone shop of the heart whose motto is “Be not inhospitable to strangers lest they be angels in disguise”.

I may disappear leaving no forwarding address, but for all you know I may still be walking among you on my vagabond journey around the world.

Shakespeare and Company
37 rue de la Bucherie 75005 Paris

Shakespeare & Co.

Read The Rag and Bone Shop of the Heart

George & Co., the film

Interview with George Whitman in The Literary Review

Passage des Panoramas

Alice LiddellShe adored the Passage des Panoramas.

It was a passion surviving from her youth, a passion for the gaudiness of fancy goods, fake jewels, gilt zinc and cardboard with the appearance of leather. When she passed that way she could not tear herself from the window-displays.

She felt the same now as during the period when she was a down-at-heel street urchin and used to forget herself in front of the confectionery in a chocolate-maker’s, while listening to a barrel-organ playing in a neighboring shop.

Passage des Panoramas

She was taken especially by the pressing attraction of cheap knick-knacks, requisites in walnut-shells, necessaries in small containers, rag-picker’s baskets for tooth-picks, Vendome columns and obelisks containing thermometers.

Emile Zola,
Nana: A Realistic Novel, 1880

Image: Charles Dodgson,
Alice Liddell as The Beggar Maid,
Late 1850s

Hell at the Library, Eros in Secret

The lighting is bordello red, but the librarians insist that their X-rated exhibition is serious.

Hell at the Library, Eros in Secret, which opened at the National Library in Paris last month, offers a peek at its secret archive of erotic art, putting on display more than 350 sexually explicit literary works, manuscripts, engravings, lithographs, photographs, film clips, even calling cards and cardboard pop-ups.

Croix Rouge metro station

Visitors to the library can listen to a modern-day recording of an 18th-century “dialogue” during sex and watch a six-minute excerpt from a grainy black-and-white silent pornography film made in 1921.

The handwritten manuscript of the Marquis de Sade’s novel Les Infortunes de la Vertu (The Misfortunes of Virtue) is under glass here, as are 17th-century French engravings of “erotic postures”; English “flagellation novels” exported to France in the late 19th century; Japanese prints; Man Ray photographs; and a police report from 1900 that compiles the addresses of Paris’s houses of prostitution and what they charged.

To avoid complaints that a publicly supported institution is corrupting the country’s youth, no one under 16 is admitted.

“In an era where sexual images are a product for popular consumption, the library has decided to lift the veil on this world of imagination and fantasy,” Bruno Racine, the library director, said in an interview. “The library is a very serious institution, and the project was done with gravity. But we also perhaps are different from what you think — and there is humor here too.”

The items, on display through March 22, are drawn from a permanent collection created in the 1830s when the library isolated works considered “contrary to good morals.” They were put in a locked section with its own card catalog and given the name L’Enfer — hell. Many pieces have been consigned there over the years by the police for safeguarding, perhaps, and posterity.

The exhibition (and its 464-page catalog) comes at a time when France is struggling with a variety of societal issues: the limits of privacy for its public figures, censorship and the definition of good taste. A one-day scholarly conference at the library about the exhibition included a debate on the meaning of modern-day censorship. Library curators acknowledge that public morality is shifting.

President Nicolas Sarkozy himself is blurring the lines of public permissibility. His decision to revel in, rather than hide, his love affair with Carla Bruni, a model-turned-pop-singer, is, he said at a news conference last week, a break with the past and a sign that “France is moving forward.”

However, Ségolène Royal, the Socialist defeated by Mr. Sarkozy in last May’s presidential election, is calling for more decorum and discretion in public life. “Nicolas Sarkozy has chosen to turn private events in his life into public events, like Louis XIV: You have the king’s breakfast, the king’s lunch, the king’s bedtime, the king’s mistresses,” she said in a radio interview on Monday.

Even Simone de Beauvoir’s backside is not off limits from exposure and analysis these days. The decision by the weekly magazine Le Nouvel Observateur two weeks ago to mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of that feminist literary figure with a nude photo of her (taken from the back in 1952) has been sharply criticized and just as sharply defended.

Florence Montreynaud, a historian and feminist author who runs an anti-sexism organization, protested the photo by offering the magazine’s director, Jean Daniel, a choice: apologize or bare his own bottom. She also said the magazine should publish the bare buttocks of Jean-Paul Sartre, Beauvoir’s long-time partner.

The fact that the cellulite on Beauvoir’s thighs and buttocks was airbrushed away added to the indignity. The media columnist for the newspaper Libération, Daniel Schneidermann, wrote: “The photo has even been retouched — the buttocks of Beauvoir — with makeup, to make them lose some kilos, some rolls of fat and to take off 10 years.”

The Paris metro system constructed a teaser for the show on its No. 10 line. Commuters passing by the closed Croix Rouge station get the most fleeting of glimpses of erotic engravings lighted up in shocking pink and partly hidden behind fluttering black curtain strips.

The newspaper Le Monde has run ads for the show (with a shocking-pink X) on its front page. The literary review Le Magazine Littéraire devoted its December cover to the subject, with scholarly essays on sex and aging, the last taboo of pedophilia and whether excessive public display of sex has made it boring.

Still, with France’s tough laws against pornography and one of the most aggressive law-enforcement campaigns against child pornography in Europe, the library has taken care to avoid falling afoul of the law. . . .

New York Times, January 16, 2008

From the Fifteenth District

From the Fifteenth DistrictCanada Reads finalist Mavis Gallant was interviewed this past Sunday on the radio show Writers and Company. There is a RealAudio version of the interview, or you can download the show as a podcast.

Mavis Gallant is a bona fide trailblazer. She moved to Paris to eke out a living as a writer at a time (1950) when most women wouldn’t have dreamt of being so bold. Yes, Mavis has guts — so much so that she opened one of her books with this quote from Boris Pasternak: “Only personal independence matters.” And judging from her lively interview, she’s still as feisty as ever at age 85.

Her bravery paid off—Gallant has published over 100 short stories in her career, many of them in The New Yorker.

When she was working as a young reporter for the Montreal Standard, Ms. Gallant had a chance to interview famed French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre! With characteristic wit, Gallant told the interviewer, “I had seen that he noticed me. He liked girls. He had a wall eye, but I still noticed that the good one was swivelling….”

In addition to discussing subjects as varied as her childhood, life in post-war Europe and her ability to be hypercritical of her work, Gallant was also forthcoming about her writing — likening her process to glimpsing movie stills outside a cinema, and saying of her characters, “They arrive…. It’s like a stage and the curtains part and there’s just a phone ringing, and then someone picks up the phone…. But you know all about this woman, the one that came in and picked up the phone.”

Apparently, this way of working, of “glimpsing” a character or scene and then writing from there, was how Gallant was able to create two of the stories—The Remission and The Moslem Wife—featured in her Canada Reads contender From the Fifteenth District.

(The Moslem Wife grew out of the image of a couple walking across the Place Masséna, while The Remission began with a picture of a couple and their children descending the steps of a train.) From there, Gallant proceeded to provide her listeners with valuable insights about The Moslem Wife that should be required listening for all of us before we choose our top picks for Canada Reads.

Mavis Gallant

Mavis’s talk of Paris gets one daydreaming about the City of Light, surely one of the best places on earth for a bookworm to soak up some literary history, with some remarkable book-themed sites.

Oscar Wilde’s tomb at Père-Lachaise cemetery:
Absolutely breathtaking, and covered with flowers and lipstick kisses left by Wilde fans who’ve come to pay their respects.    

Marcel Proust’s grave (Père-Lachaise):

Le Sélect (99, bd. du Montparnasse): One of the many – so many you’ll never see them in one trip–bars frequented by Ernest Hemingway during his expatriate years.

Les Deux Magots (6, pl. St-Germain-des-Prés): another haunt frequently visited by Hemingway and other literati during the late ‘20s. This also seems like the kind of place Mavis would have frequented, back in the day.

Café de Flore (172, bd. St-Germain): practically next door to the Deux Magots, this establishment was the spot favoured by Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir. A booth on the upper floor is kept empty in their honour year ‘round.

Shakespeare and Co. (37, r. de la Bucherie): A world-famous bookstore, whose founder, Sylvia Beach, facilitated the first publication of Ulysses. During the shop’s lengthy history, the rooms on the second floor (informally referred to as the “tumbleweed hotel”) have housed many aspiring writers and starving, literary-minded travellers.

And finally, here are some titles that should appeal to those of you who are into tough dames like Mavis, expatriates and all things Paris:

A Moveable Feast

The Rainy Moon and Other Stories (Colette)

That Summer in Paris (Morley Callaghan)

The Left Bank and Other Stories

The Great Good Place: American Expatriate Women in Paris

Anything by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Time Was Soft There

The Beat Hotel

The Alice B. Toklas Cook Book, if only because it pairs Parisian recipes with breezy reminiscences along the lines of, “one day when Picasso came to lunch I decorated a fish in a way I thought would amuse him…”

From the Fifteenth District

Interview in The Walrus