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Summer’s Eve

Summer’s Eve

June brings us poetry by Neil Ellman and a short story by Donal Mahoney. Summer is around the corner. Will there be dancing in the streets?

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And the Show Went On, by Alan Riding
And the Show Went On, by Alan Riding

Reading a fascinating book about Occupied Paris. Alan Riding’s And the Show Went On. About 110 pages into it. He tells the story of heroism and collaboration in France, the Resistance, the complicit Vichy government, the attempt to flee the horrors of the Third Reich.

For me, World War II was always the last just war. Before it and since that time, wars have been overwhelmingly unnecessary, wars of choice, wars of conquest and the protection of markets. Wars that essentially had no reason for being, other than greed, avarice, the expansion of power or the exploitation of trumped up threats.

World War II was the real thing. Things really did stand in the balance. There really was a world before it and a totally different world after it, if the world had not gotten together to battle the Nazi and Fascist threat.

And how did artists, dancers, musicians, writers and actors react? Alan Riding’s book captures their moment, their dilemma, their choices. Josephine Baker comes away as a hero. Maurice Chevalier, so far, a collaborator and possibly a traitor to his nation. But perhaps the most fascinating and bravest of the men in Riding’s story to this point is the American, Varian Fry, who went to France hoping to rescue at least 200 artists, writers and musicians and ended up saving the lives of more than 2,000.

The rest of the book should delve into the Resistance in more detail, talk about Beckett, Malraux, Camus, Sartre and Beauvoir, among others. But for now, it’s in the second year after the invasion and occupation. Paris is back in business. But it’s never going to be the same.

 

 

Shanna Perplies: La Vie en Violet

Shanna Perplies: La Vie en Violet


La Vie En Violet

 

I slipped off my robe, trying to appear casual, as if it wasn’t my first time. I had assured him I’d done this many times before. I tried to look anywhere but his face, because he must know by now I had been lying, the red blush staining my skin and revealing my inexperience and self-consciousness. I looked up at the window, high, forbidding, and remote, then down at my feet on the splintered and peeling wooden boards and lastly, the closed and bolted door. The silence of the room echoed around me broken only by the uneven pattern of my loudly beating heart. I hoped I was the only one who could hear it. I wished I had come more mentally prepared. I told myself not to be nervous about anyone looking at me naked, or whether or not I’d be good at this, or if it would be painful. I was just doing it for the money. He approached me purposefully and instructed me how to position my body. I arranged myself comfortably and tried to habituate myself for the long ordeal ahead of me.


Twenty sets of eyes followed the teacher as he nodded and said, “Okay, we’ll start with a few five minute poses so the students can sketch and then move you into the two hour pose.” I nodded slightly to indicate my consent and settled into the first pose, an easy one, just sitting slumped against the wall. Though the seventh arrondisement outside was posh, the art studio itself was damaged and filthy, the ceiling cracked and the paint peeling, but the job paid well. In just these few hours posing for art students, I would be making almost 100 euros, more than I made in a whole weekend of babysitting. Some of my friends at school had done it, and they’d given me Mr. Price’s phone number. He’d seemed hesitant, so I had told him I posed for art students all the time back in California. My friends assured me that it wasn’t bad, just a little boring, and your body would really start to cramp after a while. You had to stay still from your eyes to your tippy-toes, for two hours straight.


Mr. Price turned on some music, (the Amélie soundtrack, how fitting), which began to relax me. I was okay just sitting here. I could zone out and pretend I was somewhere else other than this dingy art studio. In all honesty, I was just thankful he had hired me. I could no longer afford my rent for next month. My apartment was a single claustrophobic room, in an elegant area, but miniscule compared to what I could get in California. Still, I was paying 1000 euros, or $1,600 USD a month for it. I figured a few student modeling jobs could get me through to the next month.
My thoughts drifted back to when I had first moved here. I remembered one joyous day when I thought I was walking to class, but I had made a wrong turn. I turned the corner, and instead of school, I found myself staring at the Eiffel Tower, the entire left bank of Paris spread out in front of me like a treasure map. While most students my age were using college to sneak beer into their dorm rooms and rack up long lists of sexual partners, I would be having a more evocative experience, sipping wine on the Champs-Élysées and going to art museums. I’d had such high hopes for myself, and now I was on the verge of getting evicted.


To fight boredom, I decided to look at the students working. All girls, except for one boy. He was cute, with curly dark brown hair. He seemed intent on what he was doing, hunched over his large pad of paper, and working with fervor. I couldn’t see his paper but I wondered what part of my body he was working on capturing with such intensity. He glanced up from his painting and we unexpectedly locked eyes. I temporarily broke the pose in my face out of surprise. He looked equally shocked, as if his mind had been deep in a creative zone and I disturbed him by snapping him back to real life, reminding him that I was a living, thinking person, and not just an amalgamation of shapes and lines and lights and darks. We both glanced away immediately, embarrassed. I didn’t look at him again for the rest of the class, though I wanted to.


I pondered my decision to move to Paris, a city where there was no such thing as overdressing. Women walked their dogs in high heels, girls came to accounting class in fur coats, and even homeless people carried Louis Vuitton bags. This city was aesthetically stunning but its beauty was deceptive. Similar to this art studio, elegant on the outside, but dirty and faded on the inside, Paris was a city that seduced you but didn’t make you fall in love.
Hours later, when my whole body was numb and throbbing, the teacher finally announced the cessation of class. The students collected their utensils and walked off to clean their brushes in the row of sinks in the opposite room. I wriggled myself off the table and slipped on my robe, wincing in pain. I was curious to see what everyone had been working on so diligently for the past two hours. My friends had warned me to never look at the paintings when I was done posing. There was no guarantee of talent in these classes, and I was sure to be horribly offended if I saw how someone had depicted me. My curiosity got the better of me, though.


I walked around the room slowly. The first girl had painted me in crazy colors; blue skin, green hair, with random bruise-like splatters of yellow. It didn’t really look like me, but it was imaginative.
Not bad, I thought, impressed. Kind of abstract.


The following girl however, was not so kind. She was extremely talented, that was for sure. She had painted me exactly as I look when I stare into the mirror. I cringed as my eyes immediately jumped to the fleshy folds of the midsection, where she had clearly strived for accuracy instead of attractiveness. Next.


Next was the boy with the curly hair. I saw his painting and immediately froze in surprise, transfixed. What he had painted was me, undeniably, but… so much better. He had painted me in different shades of purple, my skin lilac and the shadows created on my body darker violet. He clearly had the talent to make it look like me, but unlike the previous painting, he had softened some of the details. Hers was perhaps more accurate, but his made me look exquisite. I looked simple, alluring, and almost heavenly. He had taken my nudity and transformed it into art.


I was still standing in front of his painting when he happened to be the first one back in the room. He colored a deep shade of crimson when he saw me gazing at it. “
Bonjour,” he mumbled, his hands twitching as if he longed to grab the painting and shield it from view. I understood immediately. An artist’s work is like an intimate peek at their soul, and nobody wants to have their soul judged.


Bonjour,” I breathed, equally embarrassed and fascinated.
Suddenly, the teacher walked over to me, a wad of bills in his hand. “
Merci beaucoup, Mademoiselle!” he beamed at me. “Such a pleasure having you pose for the class. We’ll need you next week as well.”


I smiled, slightly disappointed at the interruption.
“Je vous en prie,” I replied. “You’re welcome. It was my pleasure.”


I watched as curly-haired boy wrapped a charcoal gray scarf around his neck before going out to brave the cold. He clutched his painting and rushed out of the classroom without another glance.


Suddenly, I couldn’t wait until the next art class.


I grabbed my bag and went to get changed back into my clothes in the bathroom in the back of the studio. I walked out, springing lightly on the pavement. I was a little hungry and I had a wallet fat with crisp euros.
How about a pain au chocolat as a reward for my first successful modeling experience? I asked myself grandly.


I sauntered out of the studio toward the sidewalk. My heart fell and my breath caught in my throat as I walked past the building and spotted a glimmer of violet in the large trash bin next to the art studio. He had thrown the painting away.


I fished it out carefully.
How could he throw this away? This perfect image of myself… I won’t let it go to waste, I vowed, tucking it under my arm carefully and turning down rue de Grenelle toward the boulangerie.

 

 

— by Shanna Perplies

 

Copyright © 2012, by Shanna Perplies. All Rights Reserved.

 

Originally from Los Angeles, Shanna Perplies has had the opportunity to live and study in California, Paris, Berlin, and Barbados.  Now 23, she keeps a dream journal beside her bed from which most of her short stories emerge.

 

Freedom to Swing

Freedom to Swing

Django Reinhardt and company. Photo by Dietrich Schulz-Koehn
Django Reinhardt and company. Photo by Dietrich Schulz-Koehn

While doing some research for a new novel, I stumbled on a fascinating story. WWII, Occupied France, and Django Reinhardt, one of the great Jazz guitarists of his era. Many elements make the story fascinating, but perhaps the most unusual aspect of the whole thing is that Reinhardt was a gypsy. The Nazis included the Roma in with other minority groups it sought to destroy, killing hundreds of thousands of them before their reign of terror ended. According to Michael Zwerin, who wrote Swing Under the Nazis, Reinhardt rose to prominence in occupied Paris despite being a gypsy. A German officer from the Luftwaffe, Dietrich Schulz-Koehn, protected him because he liked Django’s music so much. This obviously went against official Nazi policy, which was adamantly and dangerously opposed to that art form. Though the Nazis weren’t above using Jazz, “hot music” and Swing to advance their own propaganda, there is no indication that Django collaborated in any way with the Germans.

Here’s Reinhardt playing “Minor Swing” in 1937.

 

 

Still another writing table: Hemingway and Big Game

Still another writing table: Hemingway and Big Game

Papa Hemingway at his desk. 1939.
Papa Hemingway at his desk. 1939.

 It’s quite possible I couldn’t pick two writers further apart from one another to deal with back to back.

Temperamentally, artistically, biographically. Rilke and Hemingway. Yet both men were profoundly influenced by their days in Paris, and both men learned much about their art at the knee of an older woman. Perhaps it’s less than dime-store psychology to also suggest that both men had “issues” with their relationship to female sexuality. Issues that led to very different attempts to resolve that conflict — internally and externally. But, issues nonetheless. People really are complex.

Finished Humphrey Carpenter’s book about Americans in Paris, and was reminded that the core material for The Sun Also Rises was a rather banal little trip taken by Hemingway and a few friends to see the bulls in Pamplona. Years later, many of those friends looked back at that trip, having read the book, and saw it as an end of an era. For Hemingway, the success of the book was a beginning of sorts. His first title for the novel was Fiesta, which Carpenter thought fit better. Hemingway took the eventual title from Ecclesiastes.

In many ways, Hemingway is the poster boy for the negative effects of success. His best writing was early on, before it became formulaic, too Hemingwayish. There are metaphors within metaphors involved, as he took the idea of repetition from Gertrude Stein, shaped it to suit his own purposes, added a bit of tough-guy journalism to the mix, and kept on repeating himself. A rose is a rose is a rose became a novel is a novel is a novel.

Of course, it was more complicated than that. It’s also more complicated when judging the short stories and the novels. Perhaps repetition works better in the short form. Perhaps it’s more effective to use any literary device sparingly, or for sprints rather than marathons. In short, he wrote great short stories pretty much all the way through.

My favorite Hemingway novel is A Farewell to Arms. I think that’s where he put it all together, matched the artistry with the subject matter. Matched interesting subject matter with artistry. Not an easy task, which is why so many writers try to live like it’s their last hour when young, and then spend their later years, if they’re lucky to have them, trying to recapture their high-wire act on the page. They want to be able to draw upon actual experience, lived to the fullest, and hope that experience and their rendition of that experience capture the fancy of a multitude of readers.

But Papa Hemingway was different. He actually seemed to increase the high-wire act stuff as he got older, taking more and more chances, crashing planes, testing himself against the myths of his heroics, trying to kill those myths with reality. Big game as that myth. He killed a lot of big game. In some ways, strangely enough, when he was young and living in Paris, he was older in spirit, more cautious, more worried about appearances than he grew to be much later in life. One would think this would lead to better novels, not a decline. More risk taking for his art. One would think.

So what novelist, musician or artist got better as he or she lived life to even greater extremes as they aged? Was there ever such an eternally youthful beast? Something to ponder for the next installment of ” I haven’t wrestled a bear in years!”

 

Geniuses Together: Paris in the 1920s

Geniuses Together: Paris in the 1920s

Paris, France. May, 2007. Photo by Douglas Pinson

 Have been reading a wonderful book, Geniuses Together: American Writers in Paris in the 1920s, by Humphrey Carpenter (1988). It makes me smile again and again. Amusing, revealing anecdotes about Gertrude Stein, Natalie Barney, Sylvia Beach, James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway and Robert McAlmon so far. Many of the stories well-known. Others not so much.

The Left Bank. Montparnasse. Expat heaven. Dirt poor writers and wealthy socialites turned patronesses. Heavy drinking inside and outside bars, heavy talk in salons, insurgent antics by the Dadaists in theaters, fights, accidents, love affairs, and, finally, the publication of great literature. Often at great risk.

Sylvia Beach published Ulysses, risking fines and worse. The book was declared obscene in America prior to that. She loses typists when they read certain sections. One husband of one of those typists actually throws the manuscript in the fire. Luckily, Joyce found another copy. Hemingway wasn’t so lucky when his wife Hadley lost his early writings. Stolen from her when she turned her back on the suitcase containing them at the Gare de Lyon.

Natalie Barney had her salon on Fridays. In warm weather, she encouraged her guests to go out into the garden. On one occasion, a former lover, Dolly Wilde (Oscar’s niece), scolded her about the statuary, saying “Oh, Natalie, you forgot to put the hermaphrodite in the bushes.”

 

An excerpt of Paris Was A Woman, a documentary about the tremendous impact of women on the arts in Paris and beyond. Their lives together, their loves.

Robert McAlmon wasn’t famous for being much of a reader. He once told Morley Callaghan, “I haven’t read Joyce or Hemingway. I don’t have to, I know them.” Which, when you think about it, is wise in a strange sort of way. He did, however, read reviews, and attempted his own writing, with mixed results.

There’s a strong section regarding Hemingway, his writing style, his debt to Gertrude Stein (and her eventual debt to him) and his days as a journalist. “No fat, no adjectives, no adverbs” is the title of one of Carpenter’s chapters, taken as a direct quote from Hemingway in reference to writing for newspapers. Carpenter also reminds us how much of a serial teller of tall tales he was. He often bragged about war exploits that never happened, about a career in boxing that never happened, practicing the art of the story in real time. I think those stories also drove him in his quest for risky adventure later in life, as if he were chasing after the truth in those tales, wanting to make them eventually sync up with real life, wanting to make fiction into fact. A future life formed out of the serial exaggerations of the past.

I’ve now moved into the part of the book where not just American and Irish writers take center stage. The French loom large in their own capital, as well they should.

More on the book in the days to come . . .