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March 27, 2005 - Book 'em (Rue) Daunou

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Book Wrangler

March 28, 2005

By Bob Patterson


Both of the times this columnist has gone to Paris (France) he has taken along his personal copy of the Michelin Guide.  It has been to Paris (at least) five more times and one can easily imagine that at this point it can be used like a divining rod.  If you ask it a question, will it will turn the tourist in the correct direction?  One of these rainy days in Los Angeles we’ll have to make a point of reading it.


A Movable Feast and The Sun Also Rises are highly recommended for travelers considering the inclusion of Paris on their itinerary. 


There are a great number of books set in Paris and the armchair traveler won’t want for more.


In Thurber: A Biography, by Burton Bernstein, the author quotes James Thurber on the process of applying for a job at the Paris bureau of the Chicago Tribune (page 194):  I was taken to call on Darrah [Dave Darrah, the city editor] one night and found him editing a piece of copy.  He said over his shoulder, “I’ll put your name down, but there’s a long list ahead of you,” and then he added, “By the way, what are you – a poet, a painter or a novelist.”  “I’m a newspaper man,” I said and he practically leaped out of his chair.


(It’s a section worth finding because it will warm the cockles of the heart of any true journalist [presuming they do have hearts]).


When one collects the great Paris quotes from literature, one does not think first of the renowned cartoonist James Thurber, but on page 123 of the book just cited, he is quoted as saying: “There is surely no other place in the world where there is such a variety of things that interest or amuse or instruct or enthrall.”


The book Cotton Comes to Harlem, by Chester Himes might seem like a book completely divorced from the literary heritage of Paris, but the author was a longtime resident of Paris and most of his work was produced there.


James Baldwin was another American writer who worked from Paris.


Has anyone done a book (or doctoral thesis?) on the topic of the literacy heritage of Paris in American literature?


Paris weaves an enchanting spell on writers.  Even author and journalist William L. Shirer lapsed into some travel style prose when he was writing The Collapse of the Third Republic: An Inquiry into the Fall of France in 1940.  The second sentence of the book extols:  In the span of six weeks during that spring and early summer of weather more lovely than anyone in France could remember since the end of the previous war …. [All our references are for the Simon and Schuster hardback edition copyrighted 1969.]


Shirer was working as a newspaper reporter in Paris during the late twenties and mixed socially with the American literary clique that was there.  “A young newspaperman living on the Left Bank soon encountered them.”  He gives the membership list for the group:  Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Cummings, MacLeaish, Elliot Paul, Gertrude Stein, Kay Boyle, Hart Crane, Harold Stearns, Glenway, Wescott, Djuna Brnes, Ezra Pound, and the editor of transition: Eugiene Jolas.  (page 139)


Who were Glenway, Wescott, Elliot Paul, and Harold Stearns and what books did they write?  More work for the Book Wrangler Fact Check department. 


In a chapter recounting the events of the period between the two world wars, Shirer makes some personal reminiscences:  “Mostly the expatriate writers lived in a little America world of their own between Montparnasse and the Seine, being too preoccupied with their own problems of creation in their own language to have much to do with the French literary world, though a few consorted with the noisy Dadaists and the surrealists.”  (page 139).


In Tropic of Cancer, Henry Miller wrote:  I have no money, no resources, no hopes. I am the happiest man alive.”  Miller worked as a typesetter at the International Herald Tribune during his stay in Paris. 


“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.” - Ernest Hemingway in A Moveable Feast.  It seems that Paris is also, for writers, a combination of the concepts of a smorgasbord and the miracle of the loaves and fishes.


The disk jockey will play The Poor People of Paris and we will dance over to our typewriter (or computer) and play Hemingway twice as hard as we usually do.  Come back next week.  Until then have a flapper style week, twenty three, skidoo.



Copyright 2005 – Robert Patterson


Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
The inclusion of any text from others is quotation
for the purpose of illustration and commentary,
as permitted by the fair use doctrine of U.S. copyright law. 
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