Archive for August, 2011
J.J. here – There’s a new book out about Americans in Paris, called The Greater Journey, by historian David McCullough. It’s about influential Americans who went to Paris to learn stuff they couldn’t learn at home. Although many went for their formal education, such as in art schools, most often the real education was along more esoteric lines, such as about style, manners, wine, and oh yes, sex.
Going to France for a real education is nothing new. What Thomas Jefferson learned about wine resulted in a burgeoning wine industry at Montecello. Manners? Well, probably nobody bested Mr. A. Billfinger, a.k.a. Ferguson, the starring rogue of Mark Twain’s “The Innocents Abroad.” As for sex, where to begin? Maybe with Hnery Wadsworth Longfellow who wrote to friends about the “naughty women” of Paris. Or with Duke Ellington’s 70th birthday party when three naked dancers jumped out of a camembert-shaped cake?
In the 20th century, seems like each decade had it’s own character with exiled Americans front and center. The Jazz Age of the ‘20s with Hemingway, the Zelda and F. Scott, Gertrude Stein and Alice, and Josephine Baker mingling with all those musicians.The ‘30s added more artists and writers working in their garrets such as Henry Miller and June Miller and Anais Nin, and of course the ‘40s brought the War, Americans liberating Paris, and the indelible images of film noir epitomized by Bogie getting on that train to leave Paris in “Casablanca.” With the ‘50s came a return to style, life, and American writers such as Janet Flanner and Art Buchwald reporting it all while the great existentialists scribbled in Left Bank cafes.
But the ‘60s? Nobody has done much to record how Americans participated in that tumultuous decade in Paris that began with J.F.K.’s triumphant trip in 1961 – with the American Queen of Style, Jackie, at his side – and ended with riots in the streets in ’68.
But, hey, I was there and told my story and that of my friends in a book. Maybe others should too. Any thoughts from others of you who were there, too?