Zelda and Scott in Paris

z

Therese Fowler’s new novel Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald (St. Martin’s Press 2013) is a welcome reboot in the field of Lost Generation literature. This is the turbulent story of Zelda Sayre, a young handful of a southern girl, the daughter of a prominent Montgomery, Alabama judge, who married the not-yet-successful F. Scott Fitzgerald after meeting him at a country club dance in 1918.

Z presents a refreshing and much needed counterpoint to Hemingway’s Moveable Feast and Scott’s Fitgerald’s Tender is the Night. It might cause you to reconsider nearly everything you thought was true about Scott and Zelda’s marriage, about their relationship with Ernest Hemingway, and about the cause of Zelda’s mental illness. It’s finally Zelda’s turn, and she doesn’t hold back.

Have you noticed that I’ve completely fallen for the illusion that Zelda is the one who is talking in Z, and not Fowler? That’s how well this book seems to capture Zelda’s voice.

Z brought me back to my own year in Paris, when I walked the same streets as Zelda and Scott, hung out at the same cafés and brasseries, enjoyed the exhilerating (but thankfully much tamer) life of an American expat. I took every literary tour I could, so of course I have some photos of the places and scenes mentioned in the book Z.

Just a caveat: all of the stories I tell in the captions below about what happened at the sites are a mixture of the truth and myth that circulates through literary circles in Paris. I can’t vouch for the stories, except to say this is what somebody told me and I believed them.

14 rue de Tilsitt, Zelda and Scott's first apartment in Paris in about 1925. It's located on the right bank in the 8th arrondissement, which is still home to some of the most expensive real estate in Paris. Hemingway used to claim that he felt uncomfortable going to the Fitzgerald's apartment, that he much preferred his slummier surroundings on the Left Bank.

14 rue de Tilsitt, Zelda and Scott’s first apartment in Paris in about 1925. It’s located on the right bank in the 8th arrondissement, just a block away from the Arc de Triomphe. It’s a lovely area within a block or two of Champs Elysées. Hemingway used to claim that he felt uncomfortable going to the Fitzgerald’s apartment, that he much preferred his slummier surroundings on the Left Bank.

Another view of 14 rue de Tilsitt, which currently houses a street level café. Rue de Tilsitt is a small little street which forms the first circle around L'Etoile.

Another view of 14 rue de Tilsitt, which currently houses a street level café. Rue de Tilsitt is a small little street which forms the first circle around L’Etoile.

Zelda and Scott's view of the Arc de Triomphe from the corner of L'Etoile closest to their apartment. Not bad.

Zelda and Scott’s view of the Arc de Triomphe from the corner of L’Etoile closest to their apartment. Not bad. Supposedly, Scott once rode a tricycle down the Champs Elysées after he’d had too much to drink, hitting passerby with a baguette.

L'Auberge de Venise at 10 rue Delambre in Monparnasse. Formerly The Dingo, where Scott Fitzgerald met Ernest Hemingway in 1925.

L’Auberge de Venise at 10 rue Delambre in Monparnasse. Formerly The Dingo, where Scott Fitzgerald met Ernest Hemingway in 1925.

In the window of L'Auberge de Venise is an article from La Monde titled "Remembering the Epoque of the Dingo Bar."  It's hard for me to translate, but it says something like: this is where two of my favorite authors used to get blasted ("drunk mouth"), blurry and reconciled. A place to make you thirsty, for sure.

In the window of L’Auberge de Venise is an article from La Monde titled “Remembering the Epoque of the Dingo Bar.” It’s hard for me to translate, but it says something like: this is where two of my favorite authors used to get blasted (“drunk mouth”), blurry and reconciled. A place to make you thirsty, for sure.

The view inside the former Dingo Bar. I've heard two different versions of how Fitzgerald and Ernest met, but in both versions, serious drinking was involved.

The view inside the former Dingo Bar. I’ve heard two different versions of how Fitzgerald and Ernest met, but in both versions, serious drinking was indeed involved.

The doorway to Zelda and Scott's other Paris apartment (1928-ish?) on the corner of Luxembourg Gardens. The Fitzgeralds knew how to spend money - this is some of the best and most expensive real estate in Paris.

The doorway to Zelda and Scott’s other Paris apartment where they lived in 1928 at 58 rue Vaugirard on the corner of Luxembourg Gardens. The Fitzgeralds knew how to spend money – this is some of the most expensive real estate in Paris.

Another view of the Fitzgerald's apartment at 58 rue de Vaugirard. They lived here on their third trip to Paris in 1928. Their daughter Scottie enjoyed playing in the nearby gardens.

Another view of the Fitzgerald’s apartment at 58 rue de Vaugirard. They lived here on their third trip to Paris in 1928. Their daughter Scottie enjoyed playing in the nearby gardens. This building would be subsequently damaged by gunfire during the liberation of Paris in 1944.

Picture little Scottie playing with the sailboats in Luxembourg Gardens. Then picture Zelda nursing a horrible hangover in one of the low-slung  "Luxembourg chairs." For my fellow Francophilles: did you know you can order these chairs and have them shipped to the United States? Check out the website of Deyrolle, at 46 rue de Bac in Paris. This happens to be the same taxidermy shop used as a film location in Midnight in Paris. If you can't find the Luxembourg chairs on their website, you can always try to email them. I came **this close** to ordering one for my husband for Christmas last year. We loved them THAT much.

Picture little Scottie playing with the sailboats in Luxembourg Gardens. Then picture Zelda nursing a horrible hangover in one of the low-slung “Luxembourg chairs.”

My friends and I enjoying a fall day in my favorite Luxembourg chairs. For my fellow Francophiles: did you know you can order these chairs and have them shipped to the United States? Check out the website of Deyrolle at 46 rue de Bac in Paris. (Which just happens to be the same taxidermy shop filmed in Midnight in Paris.) If you can't find the chairs on their website, you can always try to email them. I came **this close** to ordering one for my husband last Christmas. We loved them that much.

My friends and I enjoying a fall day in my favorite Luxembourg chairs. For my fellow Francophiles: did you know you can order these chairs and have them shipped to the United States? Check out the website of Deyrolle at 46 rue de Bac in Paris. (Which just happens to be the same taxidermy shop filmed in Midnight in Paris.) If you can’t find the chairs on their website, you can always try to email them. I came **this close** to ordering one for my husband last Christmas. We loved them that much.

La Closerie des Lilas, the restaurant where Scott and Ernest met to plan their drive to Lyons together - a trip that would cement their friendship.

La Closerie des Lilas, the restaurant where Scott and Ernest met to plan their drive to Lyons together – a trip that would cement their friendship.

Café de Flore, another St.Germain café where the Fitzgeralds hung out with the rest of the Lost Generation.

Café de Flore, another St. Germain café where the Fitzgeralds hung out with the rest of the Lost Generation.

This is the site of Michaud’s, a fashionable restaurant in St. Germain where the Fitzgeralds often dined. It is now Le Comptoir des Saints Pere, located on the corner of rue Jacob and rue des Saints Pere. It is the place where Hemingway’s infamous “show me your penis” story takes place. In Moveable Feast, Fitzgerald supposedly confessed to Hemingway his insecurities about the size of his penis, thanks to a nasty comment fron Zelda. Hemingway is supposed to have invited Scott downstairs to the bathroom, where Hemingway took a look for himself and told Scott that he was perfectly normal, and that Scott shouldn’t listen to Zelda. “Zelda’s crazy,” Hemingway said. In Z, Zelda gets her long-awaited revenge against her “frenemy” Hem. Zelda has a deliciously alternative story comparing Scott and Hem’s measurements. I’m not sure which version I believe, but I am definitely leaning toward Team Zelda. (If your book club is anything like mine, this is going to be a hot discussion topic after a few bottles of vin rouge!)

Z by Therese Fowler: Highly, highly, highly recommended.

I hope you pick up your own copy of Z very soon. And by “pick up” I mean “buy.” And by “buy” I really mean that you should rush down to your local independent bookstore to grab a copy as soon as you can. If you don’t have a local indie of your own, feel free to buy it in ebook form from the bookstore I work for in Glen Ellyn, Illinois. All you have to do is create a Kobo account on the website. We’d appreciate your support. Then come back here to the comments and tell me what you think!

The folks at The Bookstore in Glen Ellyn, Illinois love Z so much we've decorated our front window in honor of Zelda.

The folks at The Bookstore in Glen Ellyn, Illinois love Z so much we’ve decorated our front window in honor of Zelda.

A Day in Paris With Edith Wharton

I just finished The Age of Desire by Jennie Fields, and I couldn’t wait to get back to Paris to play “Edith For A Day.”

The Age of Desire is the fictionalized story of Edith Wharton’s steamy mid-life extramarital affair with Morton Fullerton between the years of 1907-1910. It’s not just another imagined love story, this novel is based on Edith Wharton’s own letters, which Morton Fullerton saved and which are now housed in a collection at the University of Texas.

Edith Wharton’s life in Paris was one of upper-crust privilege, governed by strict rules of propriety. But these private letters show that she still found a way to carve out space for another secret life, one that was free, defiant and passionate. It’s a great story – who doesn’t wonder how Edith, such a grand dame of New York high society, could become so unhinged by an unreliable, bisexual American boulevardier?

Let’s walk in her footsteps and see where she pursued this double life. Follow along on my Edith Wharton Tour on this Google Map.

Edith Wharton arrived in Paris in the winter of 1907 along with her wet-blanket husband Teddy and her long-time secretary Anna. Edith was 45 years old and had recently published The House of Mirth. As Edith herself later said in A Backward Glance, she was looking for a flat in Paris so she could “see people who shared my tastes.”

And Edith had good taste. The Whartons rented a Left Bank apartment owned by George Vanderbilt.  As Fields said in Age of Desire:

Edith was enamored the moment she stepped in to visit George a few seasons ago. It boasts all the Faubourg’s most ravishing touches: high ceilings, exquisite boiseries and elegant moldings. George’s oriental vases and lush Aubusson carpets only make it more elegant.

The Vanderbilts obviously had a good sense for real estate. The townhouse came with its own staff, although the Whartons also hired their own local bonne. The top floor featured a common room where the servants gathered in the evening.

You can visit 58 rue de Varenne, but you can’t get inside. It is now a carefully guarded annex to the Prime MInister’s office, which is across the street in the Hotel Matignon.

58 rue de Varenne, Edith Wharton’s first apartment in Paris (1907-1909). Rented from George Vanderbilt. Currently an annex of the Prime Minister’s office across the street in Hotel Matignon. The day I went to visit, the doorway to the courtyard was open but I was quickly chased away. The guard thought I was crazy when I told him L’Americaine Edith Wharton used to lived there. “Non, le PM!”

After the guard escorted me out of the courtyard and back onto the sidewalk, he did allow me to take this photo looking back into the courtyard. Can you picture Edith back there, greeting Henry James or Morton Fullerton at the door?

Edith enjoyed her social life in the Left Bank world of teas and salons. She was good  friends with the French author Paul Bourget, who lived around the corner with his wife Minnie on rue Barbet de Jouy.

Edith loved attending the Tuesday night salons of the widowed Comtesse Rosa de FitzJames at 142 rue de Grenelle, which is now the Swiss Embassy. In fact, it was at Rosa’s salon that Edith first met the roguish Morton Fullerton.

Morton Fullerton

You can tell that Jenny Fields had fun playing with the attraction between Edith and Morton in Age of Desire. At their first meeting, Morton told Edith that he’d read and enjoyed The House of Mirth, and impressed Edith by asking about Lily Bart. Nice ice breaker for a writer, right? When they discovered they were mutual friends of Henry James, Edith was definitely intrigued. She couldn’t wait to see Morton again.

But Edith would have to wait. Discretion prevailed. When Henry James came for an extended visit at Edith’s, Morton dropped by as often as he could. Edith and Morton finally had a private get-to-know-you walk through Edith’s posh Left Bank neighborhood, “the sun . . . splash[ing] itself all along the high-walled hotel particuliers of the rue de Varenne.” 

In the pages of Age of Desire, Edith and Morton strolled down to the nearby lawns of Les Invalides. When they sat down in a nearby garden, things really started to buzz:

In the garden, they locate a bench and sit side by side. She can sense his body heat, and takes in his odor of driftwood and lavender. Edith feels something she hasn’t felt in a long time and cannot name. . . .

[Morton says,] “See that honeybee?”  On the hedge behind them, a honeybee as far as a blackberry is trying to wedge himself greedily into the narrow trumpet of a pink flower. Fullerton turns his gaze to her and says, “That’s how drawn  I am to you.”

Really, Morton, you little devil. No more Age of Innocence for Edith.

Square d’Ajaccio near Les Invalides in Paris. I could easily picture Edith and Morton on one of those benches. It was a pretty romantic park in real life.  One amorous couple kissed shamelessly on a bench while another were entangled in the grass. Ah, Paris!

Unfortunately, Edith’s newfound passion would have to wait some more. The Whartons returned each spring to their palatial home (The Mount) in Lenox, Massachusetts, and would not return to Paris until December, 1907.

Edith and Morton’s relationship finally escalated the next season in Paris. They snuck off on long walks through Montmartre, the Tuileries, and Luxembourg Gardens. They met at the Louvre, took daring trips in her car. Their love become ostentatious; people took notice. But Edith didn’t care. How can a woman say no to those little green boxes of macarons framboise from La Durée?

“Instead of flowers, [Morton] proffers a pale green box of gleaming pastel macaroons from Laduré, the pastry shop on Rue Royale.”

After a long, romantic winter, the Vanderbilt lease was up and it was time for Edith to return to the United States. Before her ship set sail, Edith spent a few weeks at her brother’s townhouse at Place des ´Etas-Unis on the Right Bank. When Morton came to visit her there, Edith felt the need to apologize for her brother’s trés American taste:

“It’s just like my brother to choose to live in Paris but reside on a street called American Place,” she says.

“Ah yes [says Morton]. Sophisticated Mrs. Wharton wouldn’t be caught dead here . . . and yet here you are!”

A lovely old residence on Place Etat-Unis, a beautiful square in the 16th arrondissement where Edith’s brother Harry Jones lived.  Yes, it’s true, a lot of Americans lived there and still do. In this scene in the novel, Fields does a great job of capturing Edith’s Left Bank snobbery.

Hotel Crillon, Edith Wharton’s home base in Paris.

The folks at the Crillon’s boutique were good sports and let me take this photo of a Hotel Crillon bathrobe. I was trying to picture Edith in a robe and slippers, scribbling away about Undine Spragg’s time in Paris, but that got a little weird.

Even if you can’t swing a month at the Crillon like Edith, you can still enjoy a nice Sancerre on the terrace.

 

Edith lands on the perfect apartment at last. And to think it’s just across the street from the Vanderbilts’ on the Rue de Varenne. But bigger, and newer, with its own guest suite and servants’ quarters and steam heat! Unheard of in Paris. And what makes it so extraordinary is that the rooms are luxuriously spacious and overlook a small but elegant garden. A garden! It’s all she could want in space and light. Precisely in the part of the Faubourg she loves.

53 rue de Varenne, Edith Wharton’s home in Paris.

The plaque at 53 rue de Varenne commemorating Edith Wharton’s years here (1910-1920),  her love for France and her friendship with Henry James.

The carriage door was open, so I was able to walk inside toward the courtyard and glimpse a peek of the lovely tiled lobby of Edith Wharton’s former townhouse at 53 rue de Varenne.

The view of the back of Edith Wharton’s apartment at 53 rue de Varenne, which overlooked beautiful private gardens. Look again at the cover of Age of Desire. Looks like Edith could be standing right there, doesn’t it?

Fouquet’s on Champs  Elysée. You can have a perfectly pleasant (although pretty expensive) dinner there, unlike the miserable dinner Edith and Morton had toward the end of the book!

If you find yourself in Paris and would like to have your own Edith Wharton Day, just follow along on my Google Map. I would recommend starting at the Rue de Bac Métro stop, walking down the rue de Varenne, and then heading over to Les Invalides. From that point you can walk across the Seine or hop back on the Métro to get to the Crillon, La Durée and Fouquet’s. After some macaroons from La Durée, a glass of wine at the Crillon and dinner at Fouquet’s, you’ll definitely feel spoiled, and perhaps, a little like Edith.

Age of Desire is an entertaining treat for Edith Wharton fans, but is also a good read for those who haven’t yet read her work. Be prepared, though, because after you read Age of Desire, you could end up spending the next month holed up in a chair, getting nothing else done, reading or re-reading all of Edith Wharton’s marvelous novels and stories. To those  purists who object when their favorite literary icons are injected with thoughts and actions from another author’s imagination, I say just give it a try. Play along.

Jennie Fields does a fabulous job following Edith and Morton through Paris and beyond. In the course of her research, Jennie visited Herblay, Senslis and Montmorency, some of the towns outside Paris to which Edith and Morton snuck off to for their trysts. Field’s research pays off. I thought it was beautifully imagined and very well researched. It’s definitely a recommended read.

The Hadley Hemingway Tour

American women just love The Paris Wife. Perhaps we’ve read Moveable Feast or maybe we just heard the buzz through our book club, but it seems we just love getting the scoop on Ernest Hemingway through the eyes of his first wife Hadley.

As most readers seem to have heard by now, The Paris Wife by Paula McLain (Ballantine Books 2011) is about Ernest and Hadley Hemingway’s brief but passionate years together in Paris in the early 20s. Ernest Hemingway was a charismatic and gifted writer, the genius of his generation, but he was also a narcissist, a cheater and a big drinker. No one better to deal the dirt than the first wife.

 In addition to The Paris Wife, there’s an excellent nonfiction book about the same years called Paris Without End by Gioia Diliberto (Harper Perennial 2011). One of my favorite authors (she’s also written I Am Madame X, The Collection and A Useful Woman), Diliberto’s nonfiction format  allows us to know more about Ernest’s developing affair with Pauline Pfeiffer than Hadley did at the time, back when Hadley was in the dark – or in denial, or a little of both. Diliberto is also able to compare the fictional events and characters in Hemingway’s stories to the real stuff going on in his life, which is a real bonus if you’re familiar with his work.

Whether you prefer the fictional drama in The Paris Wife or a more thorough nonfictional approach in Paris Without End, you’re sure to enjoy some of these Paris photographs, depicting scenes from both books. You can’t find a better Paris walk than the neighborhoods of the Latin Quarter, St. Germain and the Luxembourg Gardens. You can follow along on a Google Map here.

Ernest and Hadley moved into this apartment, at 74 rue du Cardinal-Lemoine in a working-class neighborhood of the 5th arrondissement in January, 1922. It was a two-room flat on the fourth floor without hot water or a private toilet. Hadley later said that "the apartment wasn't ghastly. In fact, it was kind of fun." She remembered that "The steep winding staircase had a niche on each flight for a step-on-two-pedals toilet."

The shop with the green awning below the Hemingways' window was once a loud and popular dance hall called Le Bal du Printemps. Ernest described it as a "noisy, rough music hall and hangout for sailor, whores, 'apaches' (French gang members) and American expatriates, who nicknamed it 'Bucket of Blood.' "

Ernest Hemingway rented an attic apartment in this building at 39 rue Descartes from 1921-1922. It served as his getaway and writing studio, and was just around the corner from his apartment with Hadley.

The plaque on the building at 39 rue Descartes giving recognition to Ernest Hemingway, although it does not appear that Hemingway continued to rent the studio after 1922.

Hadley and Ernest left Paris in August 1923 to have their baby "Bumby" in Toronto. When they returned in January 1924, they found another fairly shabby apartment at 113 rue Notre-Dame-des-Champs. It was a carpenter's loft over a working sawmill. The sawmill was torn down long ago and was replaced with the uninspiring school buildings that you see today.

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The front door of the Les Blés D'Ange bakery at 151 Bis boulevard Montparnasse. Just like Ernest and Hadley, I cut through myself and stopped to buy a croissant, which I enjoyed on a bench right outside the bakery.

Ernest had no separate writing studio while they lived in the sawmill loft, , so he spent hours at the nearby café, La Closerie des Lilas, 171 boulevard du Montparnasse. You can go there today and try for the seat with the Hemingway plaque.

While Ernest worked away at Closerie des Lilas, Hadley and little Bumby would escape the apartment and go to the nearby Luxembourg Gardens. I could picture little Bumby trying to scramble around on this old tree, which certainly looks as if it would have been around in 1925.

Hemingway tended to embellish the extent of his and Hadley's poverty during their Paris years. Ernest claimed that he sometimes killed pigeons in the Luxembourg Gardens and brought them home to eat. Hadley said that wasn't true.

The site of Hadley's first post-separation apartment at 35 rue de Fleurus near boulevard Raspail. The building was torn down and the address is now a part of Alliance Française. Hadley and Ernest separated in August 1925 after it became clear that Ernest's affair with Pauline Pfeiffer would not just die out. When Ernest and Hadley first separated, he stayed in a studio loaned to him by Gerald Murphy on rue Froievaux, and Hadley stayed in the Hotel Beauvoir on avenue l'Observatoire. In October 1925, Hadley and Bumby moved in their solo apartment, which was only two doors down from Gertrude Stein.

According to Gioia Diliberto, Hadley couldn't bear to go back to their sawmill apartment, so Ernest made several trips with a handcart in order to deliver her things to her on rue de Fleurus. He is said to have pushed the handcart "weeping down the street."

Ernest and Pauline marry in May, 1926 and move into a posh apartment on rue Férou, a quiet street that leads down from the Luxembourg Gardens into Place Saint Sulpice.

Ernest and Pauline's home at 6 rue Férou, which was paid for by Pauline's uncle. According to Gioia Diliberto, it was "lavishly furnished with antiques by the bride." Pretty obvious that Ernest is no starving bohemian anymore. Nevertheless, Hadley continued to have a friendly relationship with Ernest and Pauline, and often sent Bumby to stay with them here.

I would never have been able to piece together this Hadley Hemingway tour without the help of Walks in Hemingway’s Paris: A Guide to Paris for the Literary Traveler by Noel Riley Fitch, which I highly recommend. This guide is incredibly complete, and includes walking tours of Saint Germain, Montparnasse, L’Odeon, Hemingway’s Right Bank and more. I can’t imagine a better way to explore Paris.

Coco Chanel: Sleeping with the Enemy

Sleeping With the Enemy is a bubble-bursting kind of book.

When most people think of Coco Chanel, they probably picture her like I used to, as played by Audrey Tautau in Coco Before Chanel (2009). Either a hard-working young thing from the provinces, or the ambitious and innovative fashion icon she became later in her life.

After reading Hal Vaughan’s 2011 book, Sleeping with the Enemy: Coco Chanel, Nazi Agent, a new image comes to mind, and it’s not good. At best, Chanel was a powerful woman who would do anything to survive, to succeed, and to walk away from the war unscathed. At worst? Chanel was an anti-semitic Nazi collaborator and morphine-addicted snob who not only slept with the enemy, but aided them.

U.S. Edition (2011)

Hal Vaughan’s book relies on documents from a variety of archives and other legitimate sources, including German files discovered in the Soviet Union. They show that Chanel had a long-term love affair with a Nazi spy, the handsome, aristocratic and half-British Baron Hans Gunther von Dincklage, known to his intimates as “Spatz.”  At the beginning of the Second World War, Chanel sought help to obtain her nephew’s release from a prisoner of war camp in Germany. Spatz was the perfect string-puller. It didn’t take long until the two formed a long-lasting romantic alliance.

Chanel’s relationship with Spatz enabled Chanel to keep living in luxury in the midst of war. Although Chanel initially departed for Vichy, France, Spatz called in a favor with the German High Command and they invited Chanel to move into the Cambon wing of the Ritz as the Nazi’s “Privatgast.” Chanel’s new rooms weren’t quite the same as her old suite facing Place Vendome, but they would do.

While other Parisians suffered through severe food rationing during the long, desperate years of occupation, Chanel sipped champagne with the top German officials who had taken over the Ritz. Chanel and Spatz dined at Maxim’s, went to black-tie affairs at the opera, and attended glamourous dinner parties at the German Ambassador’s residence on the Left Bank.

But of course, there was a price to be paid for Spatz’s favors. And it appears Chanel had no trouble paying it. Chanel and Spatz traveled to Berlin to meet with with a top SS intelligence chief, and Chanel became German Secret Agent F-7124, code name “Westminster.” If Vaughan’s book has a weakness, it is here, where he seeks to explain the nature of Chanel’s missions on behalf of the Germans. It is not entirely clear what specific traitorous acts she performed against the interests of the French people. Nevertheless, it is perfectly clear that Chanel was a pro-German collaborator who was not quiet about her dislike for Jews.

Chanel didn’t just nod when other people said bad things about Jews at German dinner parties. She spouted quite a bit of venom herself. But even worse, she actually tried to use anti-semitic laws to fight for the ownership of Chanel No. 5. Back in 1924, Chanel had sold her highly successful perfume line to the Jewish Wertheimer family, and  she wanted it back. Spatz introduced Chanel to the senior Nazi official in charge of the “Aryanization” of Jewish property in France, and he helped her try to wrestle the control of Chanel No. 5 away from the Wertheimers. However, the Wertheimers were prepared and had already placed the company into a trust. For once, Chanel did not succeed.

It is still a mystery how Chanel was ever able to avoid arrest and prosecution after the war. According to Vaughan, a case was opened against her and she appeared for an interrogation, but the case went nowhere. The rumor is that Winston Churchill intervened on her behalf. Chanel slipped out of France and headed straight to Switzerland, where she spent several more years living with Spatz.

Chanel made a huge comeback in Paris in 1954. She was in her 70’s and the French didn’t wanted to be reminded of who did what in the the war. She died in her rooms at the Paris Ritz in 1971, the past varnished over. She was a fashion icon worth over $54 million. And the brand lives on.

Despite everything I learned from Vaughan’s book, and I was still interested in going on the Paris Walks Fashion Tour, which I did just this week. The tour guide was well informed about Chanel’s past, and offered a middle-of-the-road, no-one-really-knows interpretation of Chanel’s role with the Nazis. The tour guide shared a particularly interesting quote. When asked about her relationship with Spatz, Chanel supposedly said: “At my age, I’m so happy to have a lover, I don’t ask for a passport.”

In any event, here are some photos from the Paris Walks Tour, which I highly recommend.

And just in case – like me – you don’t have the right credentials to get on the Chanel VIP list for current tours of Chanel’s apartments, at least we can enjoy the photos of someone who does. Check out this story from the Guardian, complete with eye-popping photos of Chanel’s glamorous lifestyle on rue Cambon.

The flagship Chanel boutique at 31, rue Cambon in Paris. Chanel had apartments above the boutique where she entertained her clients, but she did not sleep there. She slept at her apartment in the Ritz, just across the street.

The back entrance to the Ritz on rue Cambon. Chanel's apartments during the war would have overlooked this street.

The famous mirrored staircase leading up from the boutique to Chanel's private apartments. Picture Spatz and Chanel here.

Chanel's suite at the Ritz before WWII, facing Place Vendome. It can be yours now for only 8,500 Euros per night. (Hopefully without any smoke damage from the recent garage fire!)

Art, Books, Paris: The Hare with Amber Eyes

The Hare with Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal has been out in Picador paperback since this summer, but it took a personal recommendation by a fellow art history friend to get me to finally pick it up and read it.

My friend and I toured the Stein Exhibit at the Grand Palais together a couple of weeks ago, and she couldn’t stop raving about this book. “Speaking of collectors,” she’d said, “there’s this fabulous book about a Jewish family’s collection of Japanese netsukes.” To which I said kind of sheepishly: “what’s a netsuke?” (De Waal pronounces it something like “netski.”)

 

In case you don’t know either, netsukes are small wood or ivory carvings that originated in 17th century Japan.  De Waal’s ancestor Charles Ephrussi, a wealthy art patron who lived in Paris at the height of the Belle Epoque, bought a collection of 264 netsukes when Paris was all abuzz about Japanese art. The Ephrussi collection now belongs to De Waal, and one of his favorites is the Hare with Amber Eyes, pictured above.

De Waal’s netsukes were owned and treasured by truly fascinating people. The story begins with the rise of the Ephrussi banking family in Odessa, and follows them from late 19th century Paris to 20th century Vienna, through the horrors of World War II and beyond.

Charles Ephrussi was a fashionable salon-going Paris aristrocrat, an “aesthete,” after whom Marcel Proust modeled his character Swann in Remembrance of Things Past. Charles Ephrussi was a friend and patron of Renoir, Monet, Cassat, Degas and more. The walls of his study on rue de Monceau were filled to the ceilings with impressionist paintings.

When I read that Charles Ephrussi had been invited to be a model in Renoir’s painting The Luncheon of the Boating Party, I couldn’t resist pulling out my own tattered copy of the book of the same name by Susan Vreeland. (Another great art history/Paris read to add to your list if you haven’t already.) Charles is the man in the top hat with his back to the viewer. See the names I scrawled on the cover, as I worked to keep track of all of the characters? In fact, Vreeland’s website offers a summary of each model including Charles.

 

Source: Parisian Fields

Charles Ephrussi is such an interesting character it might be worth a field trip to 81 rue de Monceau to see the former Hotel Ephrussi and the Parc Monceau neighborhood. I think I will follow the lovely travel guide by a like-minded blogger Parisian Fields, whose photograph of the former Ephrussi home is pictured on the left.

Getting to learn about Charles Ephrussi is just one of the many discoveries you will make while reading The Hare with the Amber Eyes. As the story moves on to 20th century Vienna, you will read about the rise of anti-semitism through the eyes of Charles Ephrussi’s cousin Viktor and his young beautiful wife Emmy, who received the netsukes from Charles as a wedding gift. Their children, including De Wall’s great uncle Iggie, grew up playing with the netsukes at their mother’s feet as she donned her gowns and jewelry. Before long, however, the Nazi’s seized power in Austria and stole nearly everything in the Ephrussi mansion, including their furniture, their extensive collection of books and their Old Master paintings. The family barely survived the war. The remarkable and heartbreaking story of how their netsuke collection survived the Nazi horrors is one you will just have to read for yourself.

The latest news is that De Waal has just published an illustrated U.K. edition of The Hare with Amber Eyes, which I am dying to see. If you can’t get a hold of the U.K. edition, you can at least enjoy the photos of De Wall’s netsuke gallery on his website. They’re enchanting, just like the book.

The Hare With Amber Eyes is a beautifully told story of art, family history and the connection between our lives and the objects we appreciate. Highly recommended.

 

Lunch with Frankie Pratt

Yesterday I found myself exploring the Left Bank with a copy of The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt by Caroline Preston. Recently released in the U.S. by Ecco Books, this scrapbook-style novel tells the story of a young woman who dreams of becoming a writer in the 1920’s. She goes to Vassar College, Greenwich Village in New York, and finally to Paris, where she snags a job with a literary review that just happens to publish James Joyce.

This book is like eye candy for anyone who loves Paris in the era of the 1920’s. Frankie first stops at the Left Bank bookstore Shakespeare & Co., where Frankie meets Sylvia Beach and becomes a member of the expat “clubhouse.” Fun fact in the acknowledgments of the book: in real life, Sylvia Beach was godmother to Caroline Preston’s mother, Sylvia Preston.

Frankie Pratt breezes through the standard sightseeing highlights of Paris and then heads down to the corner of Boulevard Raspail and Boulevard Montparnasse in the heart of the Latin Quarter, as recommended by her guide “Paris With The Lid Lifted.” Frankie sits outside at Le Select, where she orders onion soup and “observes the sideshow.” (p. 162).

I decided to to the very same thing myself, except I settled for an inside seat. When I showed my sweet gap-toothed waiter the scene from the book, he was absolutely thrilled. In our mix of Franglais, he ask me if it was alright to take the book to show the manager. Who knows, I might be the first of a long line of Frankie Pratt literary tourists. (The onion soup was delish!)

Frankie strikes up a romance with her editor Jamie, a Lost Generation war veteran who, like most of that generation, or so it seems, likes to hit the Left Bank bars a little too hard. Frankie and Jamie stumble through a series of hot spots in the Left Bank, from Le Dome to La Rotunde on Boulevard Montparnasse (p. 178). I followed their footsteps, but without the booze. Oh, okay, maybe an occasional glass of St. Emillion.

There’s so much more to this lovely little graphic novel, including the “inside scoop” on the release of Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises in 1926. According to Frankie, Jake Barnes is Hemingway “without testicles,” and Lady Brett Ashley is a more charmingly drunk version of the real life Lady Duff Twysden. (p. 187). Even Charles Lindberg makes an appearance when he lands his first Trans-Atlantic flight in Paris in 1927. (p. 191).

The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt is not just a clever faux scrapbook; it’s a story of a young woman coming of age in New York and Paris, illustrated with the contents of Preston’s own mother’s scrapbooks and memorabilia. It’s a beautiful tribute to an adventuresome mother and her interesting life and times.

I urge you to pick up a copy of this book from your local independent bookstore. And if you’re lucky enough to get to Paris, it’s a great idea for a literary tour of the Left Bank.