Fanny and Louis in Grez

wide starry sky

Nancy Horan, the bestselling author of Loving Frank, comes now with her long-awaited second novel, based on the nineteenth century love story between Fanny van de Grift Osbourne, a not-exactly-divorced American mother of three and the much younger writer Robert Louis Stevenson.

The pair met in the summer of 1875 in Grez, an art colony in France in the Fountainebleu Forest. Fanny had arrived in France the year before to escape her unhappy marriage and to study art alongside her 17 year-old daughter Belle.

Fanny and Belle were enjoying their studies in the women’s drawing classes at the Académie Julian alongside other international students, including May Alcott, Louisa May Alcott’s little sister. (You can read more about May Alcott’s art studies and travels through France at my previous post, Little Women in Dinan.)

After enduring an unspeakable tragedy in Paris, Fanny decides to bring her children to Grez for some quiet recovery time in the country. A fellow art student at the Académie Julian suggested a quiet place, “an inn at Grez, on the Loing River. It’s close to Barbizon but away from all the bustle, and cheap. It’s near the Fountainebleu Forest.” Fanny talks her estranged husband from California into supporting them for one more year in Europe.

Nancy Horan describes Grez-sur-Loing well:

[N]estled in the midst of vast farm fields, the village was a smattering of stone houses, a picturesque bridge, and a ruined twelfth-century tower with ferns growing in its cracked walls.

During my year in France I loved to plan field trips to art history sites, and I just happened to spend a gray day in Grez myself. You can read another post (Visit an Art Colony in France: Grez-sur-Loing) about my trip to Grez, which includes directions and more information about the different artists who lived and painted there.

Here are some photos of Grez that readers of Under the Wide and Starry Sky and fans of Robert Louis Stevenson might especially enjoy:

Standing in front of the bridge at Grez-sur-Loing in 2012.

Standing in front of the bridge at Grez-sur-Loing in 2012. The picturesque  12th century Tour de Ganne is in the background.

The 17th century Tour de Ganne in Grez

The 12th century Tour de Ganne in Grez

The Tour de Ganne in Grez from the grassy walk down toward the river

The Tour de Ganne in Grez as seen from the grassy walk down toward the river

On the main street in Grez: Church of Our Lady and Saint Lawrence, 12th century

On the main street in Grez: Church of Our Lady and Saint Lawrence, 12th century

In the book, Nancy Horan has Fanny’s friend Margaret Wright tell her about the Hotel Chevillon in Grez, “one of the most bohemian of the bohemian gathering places near the Fountainebleu Forest.” Says Margaret:

Barbizon has become too fashionable. It’s overrun by poseurs more interested in the mis-en-scene than in producing any actual art. The real painters go to Grez. . . . And you needn’t worry. They will leave you alone, I think.

Little did Fanny know that the bohemians who enjoyed the summer season at Hotel Chevillon were dismayed to hear that an American woman and her children had arrived at the inn. Bob Stevenson (Robert Louis Stevenson’s cousin, and an artist in his own right) arrived ahead of the group of “Glasgow Boys” from Scotland with the intention of chasing Fanny away. In the book, Bob Stevenson hints Fanny might want to find other more suitable accommodations:

There’s an onslaught about to begin. . . . Once the others start to arrive you’ll discover this isn’t the place to be if you are hoping for a little peace. Madame Chevillon said you had come for the quiet. . . . There are places not far from here that would serve you much better if you are here to rest. . . .

But things would turn out much differently than the Stevensons had planned. Within a few short weeks, both of the Stevenson cousins would have a crush on Fanny. Although Fanny was 10 years older than Louis, they found comfort in each others hearts and minds. In the meantime, Fanny’s 17 year-old daughter Belle fell in love with the Irish artist Frank O’Meara.

The Hotel Chevillon still stands today, although it is not open to the public. It is a private art residency center operated by The Grez-sur-Loing Foundation in Sweden, which manages a stipend program for visiting artists, authors and photographers. There is even a Robert Louis Stevenson Fellowship available for interested writers (the application deadline for 2014 is February 28th, but it looks like it is limited to residents of Scotland.)

Hotel Chevillon is located on rue Carl Larsson, which is named after the Swedish painter.

Hotel Chevillon, the place where Fanny and Louis met,  is still standing! It is located on rue Carl Larsson, which is named after the Swedish painter. It was restored in 1994 and serves as an art center and residency program.

Hotel Chevillon: the place where Fanny Van de Grif Osbourne met Robert Louis Stevenson.

Hotel Chevillon from the street.

A view of the back balcony of Hotel Chevillon where Fanny, Louis and their fellow bohemians gathered to paint and relx by the river

A view of the back balcony of Hotel Chevillon from the nearby bridge. Just on the other side of this wall is where Fanny, Louis and their fellow bohemians gathered to paint and relax.

The backyard of the Hotel Chevillon today. Can you picture Fanny and Louis back there? Source: Carol Ferrelly, http://www.scottishbooktrust.com/blog/writing/2013/11/five-things-robert-louis-stevenson-fellowship

The backyard of the Hotel Chevillon today. Can you picture Fanny and Louis back there back in the day? Source: Carol Ferrelly, http://www.scottishbooktrust.com/blog/writing/2013/11/five-things-robert-louis-stevenson-fellowship

Hotel Chevillon by Sir John Lavery (1883), an Irish artist who visited Grez and painted this captivating picture of the garden at Hotel Chevillon.

Hotel Chevillon by Sir John Lavery (1883), an Irish artist who visited Grez. This painting captures the feel of the garden at Hotel Chevillon back in the time of Fanny and Louis. Source: http://www.paintingmainia.com

After their summer meeting in Grez, Fanny and her children returned to Paris, where they settled into an apartment in Montmartre. Louis would continue his pursuit of Fanny from Paris to California and beyond. They would finally marry in 1880 and spend their years traveling the world.

John Singer Sargent would paint a strange but perceptive portrait of RLS and Fanny when they were all living in Bournemouth, England in 1885. Apparently, Fanny was not too happy about the way she is marginalized and made to look so Moorish in this painting. As for me, I find it fascinating. What an odd pair.

Robert Louis Stevenson and His Wife by John Singer Sargent (1885)

Robert Louis Stevenson and His Wife by John Singer Sargent (1885)

Under The Wide and Starry Sky is an interesting portrait of an unorthodox and artistic couple from history, not unlike the story of Frank Lloyd Wright and Mamah Cheney. However, this love story didn’t seem nearly as compelling as Loving Frank, and I’m not sure why. Neither RLS nor Fanny are particularly admirable people, but then, neither were Frank and Mamah. For some reason, it bothered me that Fanny lacked any substantial talent or drive as an artist, that she acted so passively in the face of her son’s serious illness, and that she waffled over her commitment to a horrible marriage. Maybe it’s my mistake, expecting a 19th century woman to act with as much agency as a 21st century woman, but still, it interfered with my ability to identify and sympathize with Fanny. I have to admit, I take strange delight in the take-down Fanny suffers under the paintbrush of John Singer Sargent.

Even if Under the Wide and Starry Sky doesn’t measure up to Loving Frank, I would still recommend this book to fans of historical fiction, especially if you are interested in learning more about the writings of Robert Louis Stevenson or the 19th century art scene in Paris. And if you happen to be visiting Paris anytime soon, I highly recommend a day trip out to Grez.  

Where the Light Falls: An American Artist in Paris

wherethelightfalls

Where The Light Falls by Katherine Keenum is a lovely painterly novel set in late 19th century Paris. What a perfect book for a review and literary tour by The American Girls Art Club in Paris.

You can find various sites in the book on Where the Light Falls Literary Tour in Google Maps.

The story begins when a young artist named Jeannette Palmer gets expelled from Vassar College for helping her roommate elope.  Despite her public shaming, Jeannette talks her prominent Ohio family into supporting further art studies in Paris.

Jeannette and her chaperone, a “spinster” cousin, find lodging in a pension on rue Jacob on the Left Bank, while Jeannette enrolls in the women’s drawing class at the Académie Julian. Had Jeannette arrived in Paris a decade or so later, she could have easily been one of the lodgers at The American Girls Art Club in Paris, which opened its doors in 1893. Instead, Jeannette would be one of the first-wave  trailblazers of American women artists to journey to France.

Jeannette’s story is loosely based on the life of the author’s own great-grandmother, who was indeed expelled from Vassar College and who traveled to Paris to study art with Carolus-Duran. Because no journals, letters or memoirs survived, Katherine Keenum had to rely on her imagination to tell her great-grandmother’s story.

Keenum’s research is considerable, but it feels like a natural part of the story. When Jeannette is learning from such famous masters as William-Adolphe Bouguereau or Carolus-Duran, you feel like you’re there too. Keenum places Jeannette in Paris at a turning point in the history of art; it is remarkable how much Jeannette and her cousin Effie get to witness in just two years.

One of Keenum’s primary sources for the life and times of an American art student abroad  was Abigail May Alcott Nieriker’s guidebook for women artists called Studying Art Abroad and How to Do it Cheaply (1879), which describes May’s studies at Académie Julian, her approach to life in Paris, and her travels throughout France. (In a previous blog post here called Little Women in Dinan, France, I wrote about May and her famous sister’s travels abroad.) 

Jeannette begins her studies at the Académie Julian, a private art school which welcomed women into segregated studios, unlike L’Ecole des Beaux Arts. The first women’s atelier at Académie Julian was located in the Passage des Panoramas in the 2nd arrondissement of Paris. This Paris Passage still stands today – it it a lovely historic covered mall at 11 Boulevard Montmartre.

In Chapter 8, Jeannette has a hard time finding the stairs that led to the second floor studio of the Académie Julian. Keenum describes a set of service stairs along one of the transverse passages, but on my various visits to the Passage des Panoramas during my year in Paris, I was never able to find them. I could see a second floor under the peaked glass ceiling, I just couldn’t get there. I’d love to hear from any of my followers to see if they’ve ever managed to gain access to the second floor of the Passage des Panormas, or if it’s a place that belongs only to the past.

Passage des Panoramas in the 2nd arrondissement of Paris, the location of one of Académie Julian's atelier for women

An old sign inside the Passage des Panoramas in the 2nd arrondissement of Paris, the location of Académie Julian’s first atelier for women in the 1870s. You can still walk through the Passage today for a sense of the 19th century.

An interior view of the Passage des Panoramas in which a second floor is visible. I just couldn't figure out how to get up there.

An interior view of the Passage des Panoramas. In Chapter 8, Keenum describes it like this: “Inside, restaurants and small specialty shops crowded both sides of an arcade. Painted signs hung out at right angles overhead like banners; a tiled mosaic floor ran for two blocks. Above a second story of shops, the whole length was roofed with a peaked ceiling of glass.”

Passage des Panoramas

Passage des Panoramas entrance at 11 Boulevard Montmartre

Marie Baskirtsheff, In The Studio (1881). A painting of the women of Académie Julian.

Marie Baskirtsheff, In The Studio (1881). A painting of the women of Académie Julian by one of its most famous students. Although the women were allowed to paint from live nude models, this painting avoids controversy and shows a draped figure of a young boy. Dnipropetrovsk State Art Museum, Ukraine. In Chapter 8, one of Jeanette’s classmates points out their fellow student “The Countess,” [Countess Marie Bashkirtseff] “a star student in the class for the full nude.” The Countess is supposedly picture in the center of this painting with the palette in her lap.

Atelier Julian, undated, so it is possible it is from the other women's atelier on rue de Berri. Source:http://verat.pagesperso-orange.fr/la_peinture/Mixite_Beaux-Arts.htm

A photo of one of the women’s classes a Académie Julian. It is undated, so it is possible it is from the other women’s atelier which opened in the 1880s on rue de Berri near the Champs Elysée. Source:http://verat.pagesperso-orange.fr/la_peinture/Mixite_Beaux-Arts.htm

A photography of some of the female messiers (studio assistants) of the Académie Julian. Source:http://verat.pagesperso-orange.fr/la_peinture/Mixite_Beaux-Arts.htm

A photograph of some of the female messiers (studio assistants) of the Académie Julian. Source:http://verat.pagesperso-orange.fr/la_peinture/Mixite_Beaux-Arts.htm

William-Adolphe Bougeureau, Self-Portrait (1879)

William-Adolphe Bouguereau, Self-Portrait (1879). Bouguereau was a famous 19th century Salon artist who provided private instruction for both men and women at the Académie Julian. He would be engaged to one of his American students, Elizabeth Jane Gardner, for 17 years. They would finally marry in 1896 after the death of his mother, who strongly disapproved of the match.

The Académie Julian still stands today on the rue du Dragon.

The Académie Julian still stands today on the rue du Dragon in the 6th arrondissement of Paris. This was originally one of the men’s ateliers, but has long accepted both men and women.

Jeannette enjoys her studies at the Académie Julian under William-Adolphe Bouguereau, but really, Bouguereau only passes through the class a couple of times a week with a few comments like pas mal, pas mal. Although she’s making friends with her fellow art students from around the world and learning all about the Paris art world, Jeannette couldn’t help but aspire for better art instruction.

Jeannette gets her big break when she makes the acquaintance of Carolus-Duran through   a wealthy friend of the family who is having her portrait done. Duran invites Jeannette for a studio visit at 58 rue Notre Dame des Champs. When Jeannette and Effie arrive at his address, they quickly realize what a celebrity painter he is. There are three carriages at the curb and a servant to greet the guests. Effie gushes: “Why, it’s as elegant as a hotel lobby or a fashion house!”

A photo of Carolu-Duran playing the organ in his art studio (1885). From the image gallery at the American Archives of Art. Keenum gets it right when she describes the studio as being "strewn with thick Persian rugs and hung with tapestries and pictures."

A photo of Carolus-Duran playing the organ in his art studio (1885). From the digital image gallery at the American Archives of Art called “Photographs of Artists in their Paris Studios (1880-1890).” Keenum gets it right when she describes the studio as being “strewn with thick Persian rugs and hung with tapestries and pictures.”

rue Notre Dame des Champs, a narrow winding road through Montparnasse which earned its title as "the royal road of painting" because of all the famous French artists who lived there, including Bouguereau,  Courbet and Carolus-Duran.

Rue Notre Dame des Champs, a narrow winding road through Montparnasse which earned the title “the royal road of painting” because of all the famous French artists who lived there, including Bouguereau, Courbet and Carolus-Duran.

Carolus-Duran invites Jeannette to join his women’s painting classes at 11 Passage Stanislaus in Montparnasse. Passage Stanislaus is now known as rue Jules Chaplain, a small street just off of rue Notre Dame des Champs.

Rue Jules Chaplain, once Passage Stanislaus and the home of Carolus-Duran's atelier for women.

Rue Jules Chaplain, once Passage Stanislaus and the home of Carolus-Duran’s atelier for women.

Jeannete struggles to find the extra money to enroll in Carolus-Duran’s classes, but once she does, she gets to observe one of the true masters of the art. One of my favorite scenes in the book is in Chapter 30, when Carolus-Duran pulls Jeannette right up next to him to demonstrate the essence of portrait painting:

Study where the light falls and where the shadows lie. We commence by indicating the darkest masses. . . .

Either way, what is most important now is to find the demi-teinte generale. Half close your eyes, mademoiselle; regard the model.

It’s enough to make you want to find a model and set up and easel right nowisn’t it?

Jeannette is in the perfect place and time to witness art history. She meets a young John Singer Sargent, a fellow student in Carolus-Duran’s men’s atelier who would have been only 23 years old at the time. Jeannette and her classmates celebrate when Sargent’s portrait of Carolus-Duran wins an Honorable Mention at the Paris Salon of 1879.

John Singer Sargent's portrait of Carolus- Duran (1879), Clark Art Institute, Williamston, Massachusetts. When Jeanette meets JOhn Singer Sargent at a garden party, she says: "I hear your portrait of Carolus is wonderful."

John Singer Sargent’s portrait of Carolus- Duran (1879), Clark Art Institute, Williamston, Massachusetts. When Jeanette meets John Singer Sargent at a garden party, she says: “I hear your portrait of Carolus is wonderful.”

There are plenty of other moments in art history that Jeannette gets to be a part of, including the Fourth Impressionist Exhibit of 1879, where she sees and critiques Mary Cassatt’s Little Girl in a Blue Arm Chair (1878):

That grumpy little girl sprawled on the aqua-blue chair – well, she’s vivid, but all that other aqua furniture climbing to the ceiling, . . . it’s hideous!

Don’t blame Jeannette. Most of the world wasn’t yet ready for the Impressionists either.

Mary Cassatt, Little Girl in a Blue Armchair (1878), National Museum of Art.

Mary Cassatt, Little Girl in a Blue Armchair (1878), National Museum of Art.

It is an incredible time in the history of art, and Jeannette is it the middle of it all. What a wonderful way for Katherine Keenum to honor the memory of her great-grandmother, who really did have a chance to be a part of history. In ways we can only imagine.

Where the Light Falls by Katherine Keenum: Highly recommended.

Where the Light Falls Literary Tour: As created by The American Girls Art Club in Paris.

Paris Was the Place

pariswastheplace

You probably think I will buy any book with a picture of Paris on the cover. No, really. I won’t. I’m not that easy.

But when your cover is this pretty, the font this inviting, and you have blurbs on the back from the likes of Lily King, Richard Russo, Ayelet Waldman, Margot Livesy, Maryann O’Hare and Sarah Blake, you’ve got me.

Paris Was The Place by Susan Conley is the story of a young woman’s experience while working at an immigration detention center for girls in Paris. You could say it’s Little Bee in Paris, but that would be missing half of the book’s appeal.

In some ways, Willow (“Willie”) Pears is a refugee too. Broken and lost after her mother’s recent death, Willie leaves California and comes to Paris in search of connections. Willie is estranged from her father, but wants to be closer to her brother Luke who lives in Paris with his boyfriend. Willie is a poetry professor at the Academy of France, and begins volunteering at an immigration center for girls. As Willie draws out the refugees’ heartbreaking stories, which they need to prepare for their asylum hearings, she becomes deeply involved in their desperate hope for a better life in France. In the meantime, Willie makes her own “French Connection” with an immigration lawyer who works at the center.

Part of the appeal of Willie’s story is the way she makes Paris her place. When Willie first arrives in Paris she is mystified by the geography of the city:

The sequencing of the neighborhoods here baffles me – arranged like the curvature of some terrestrial snail. I’m in the tenth arrondissement, anchored by two of Paris’s great train stations, where the alleyways weave into mapless places. I’m not embarrassed to carry my Michelin.

With her Michelin in hand, Willie maps her way through Paris, narrating her trips and transfers on the Métro, guiding us through each arrondissement. From her brother’s nice apartment on Victor Hugo in the 16th, her own apartment on Rue de la Clef in the Latin Quarter, the detention center on Rue de Metz in the 10th, and the Academy of France in the 6th, Willie stakes her claim on her new city.

Just for fun, I plotted out Willie’s Paris on this Google Map. Now you can walk in the footsteps of the characters of Paris Was the Place too.

Willie’s Michelin guide helps her unlock the baffling secrets of Paris. And isn’t that exactly the way it is when you’re a tourist or an expat in France? You might not understand half of what is said around you every day, but at least you can read your Métro map. Like color-coded bread crumbs that will always lead you home.

But there’s rarely a direct route. You need to study the map and plot your connections. What’s the best way to get from the 16th to the 10th? Can I get there without having to crowd in with all the tourists on Line 1? Can I do it with only one transfer? I used to start every day with my home-brewed espresso, plotting out my day on my own dog-eared Paris L’Indispensable.

And then, one day, just like Willie, you’ve mastered the Métro and you’ve developed an instinct for the spiraling arrondissements. You learned to cope with a life that isn’t always linear. You’ve made your connection and you feel like you belong. Paris is your place.

What makes Paris Was The Place so wonderful is the way Willie’s search for geographical connections runs parallel with her efforts to navigate through her personal connections: with her brother, her French lover, the girls at the detention center, her complicated family history, her widowed father. Some connections are made, while others are tragically lost. The fact that Willie’s estranged father is a mapmaker adds even more depth and grace to her story. Because belonging isn’t always just a matter of maps and Métros. It’s about making connections in the baffling, mapless places of the human heart.

My dog-eared L'Indispensable Paris Arrodissement Map. My own personal Rosetta Stone.

My dog-eared L’Indispensable Paris Arrondissement Map. My own personal Rosetta Stone.

IMG_2075

My home stop on Line 6 in the 16th, which Willie calls “the grown-up part of Paris” with “older women in pencil skirts walking their miniature poodles.” Ouch. That hurts. I swear I don’t own a pencil skirt or a miniature poodle.

IMG_2436

Willie, a fellow word nerd, would have loved this Métro stop too. The words from the Declaration of the Rights of Man form a word search at this Concorde Métro stop.

_DSC1014

I love this Art Nouveau Métro stop at Réaumur Sébastopol on Line 4. Only one more stop until Willie’s stop for the Rue de Metz detention center.

One of my favorite Métro stops. The Port Dauphine Métro stop on Line 2, just one stop past Luke's apartment on Victor Hugo.

One of my favorite Métro stops. The Port Dauphine Métro stop on Line 2, just one stop past Luke’s apartment on Victor Hugo. Just a short walk from the lovely Bois de Boulogne.

Who doesn't love the whimsical Louvre-Rivoli Métro stop?

Who doesn’t love the whimsical glass beads in the design of the Palais-Royal-Musée de Louvre Métro stop at Place Colette?

The gardens of Musée Rodin, the site of Willie and Gita's field trip

The gardens of Musée Rodin, the site of Willie and Gita’s field trip

Luxembourg Gardens - where Willie and Gita enjoyed their brown-bag lunches together

Luxembourg Gardens – where Willie and Gita enjoyed their brown-bag lunches together

I have a feeling that it’s not just Willie and I who share this need to map out our place in Paris. Check out this quote from Susan Conley’s website, where she talks about her own Paris map OCD:

My craziest Francophile moment came when I found myself making these gigantic maps of the Paris neighborhoods covered in my novel. I used indelible markers on poster board in my little rabbit warren of an office on the third floor of our old house, and I tried to recreate the streets that Willie and Macon walked on in Paris. These hand-scrawled maps were my blue print of the city. They’re almost illegible but they gave me access to the parts of the city I really had to make sure the novel rendered fully. I needed to make the maps to feel like I was there in Paris. Then I knew that the reader would (hopefully!) feel like they were there too.

Yes, Susan, when I read your book I felt like I was in Paris too. Thanks for that, because now I miss it just a little less.

Paris Was The Place by Susan Conley:  Highly recommended.

Paris L’Insdispensable: Indispensable.

Little Women in Dinan, France

little women abroadLittle Women Abroad, edited by Daniel Shealy (University of Georgia Press, 2008), is a wonderful account of the Alcott sisters’ trip to Europe together in 1870. Most readers will be interested in the travels and insights of the most famous sister, Louisa May Alcott, but for an artist, the real thrill is to see France through her little sister Abigail May’s eyes.

Most of us know Amy, the precocious little sister in Little Women who dreamed of becoming an artist. Few of us know much about Louisa’s real little sister Abigail May Alcott Nieriker (“May”), who did indeed grow up to be an accomplished artist. Unfortunately, May’s story ends tragically. She married at the age of 38, only to die one year later after giving birth to her first child.

May Alcott began to study art in 1856 when she was just sixteen years old. She studied with Stephen Salisbury Tuckerman, William Rimmer and finally William Morris Hunt, all of whom offered single-sex studio classes for Boston women. Hunt had studied at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris and no doubt extolled the virtues of study abroad. May’s fellow students such as Elizabeth Boott, Sarah Wyman Whitman and Elizabeth Bartol were all making plans to study in France by the late 1860s and early 1870s.

After Louisa May Alcott achieved financial success with Little Women in 1868, the two sisters planned a trip to Europe with their friend Alice Bartlett. The women traveled by the French steamship Lafayette and arrived at the western port of Brest in Brittany in April, 1870.

It was May’s first trip to Europe and she was completely enchanted with France. Their first extended stay was in Dinan, a lovely medieval town in the middle of Brittany. May sent home sketches of a variety of scenes throughout Dinan, many of which are nicely reproduced in Little Women Abroad. It appears that all of May’s sketches were in pencil or pen and ink. In one of her letters, she said she wished she had been trained how to paint en plein air so she could capture the beautiful colors. Nevertheless, her sketches are sufficient to be able to identify the buildings and ruins which still stand today.

Here is a Google Map of the Alcott Sisters Sites in Dinan, in case you’re lucky enough to venture there yourself someday. Dinan is a beautiful little city which makes for a lovely day trip from a larger home base in Brittany such as St. Malo. Dinan has 13th century castles, gothic churches, bell towers, narrow winding streets and beautiful timbered architecture.

Until you can get there yourself, here is a photo tour of the Dinan sites in Little Women Abroad, starting with the building that once housed the pension in which the Alcotts stayed. It was just outside the fortified walls of the town, next to the Porte Saint Louis and just down the street from the Dinan Castle.

IMG_4571

14 Place Saint Louis, Dinan, France, the location of Madame Coste’s pension where the Alcott sisters stayed from April to June, 1870.  As Louisa May Alcott described it in a letter dated April 24, 1870: “We are living, en pension, with a nice old lady just on the walls of the town with Anne of Brittany’s round tower on the one hand, the Porte of St. Louis on the other, and a lovely promenade made in the old moat just before the door.”

IMG_4570

The plaque in the wall at Place Saint Louis, Dinan, France

The Porte Saint-Louis, located next to the Pension de Madame Costes

The Porte Saint-Louis, located next to the Pension de Madame Costes

The Dinan Castle, just down the street from Place Saint Louis, which May Alcott called Anne of Brittany's Round Tower. Built in the 1300s.

The Dinan Castle (which Louisa May called Anne of Brittany’s Round Tower), located just down the road from Place Saint Louis. Built in the 1300s.

IMG_4583

The view of Dinan from atop the Dinan Castle. As May said in an April, 1870 letter to her mother: “From the top of her [Queen Anne’s] tower is the most superb view all over the country, and I am expecting great things in going to see it.”

May Alcott spent her time sketching throughout the medieval village, so full of “enchanting old ruins, picturesque towers and churches, and crumbling fortifications, that it almost seems like a dream.” There were so many good scenes for sketching that she didn’t think she could do them justice. As May said in a letter home:

I long to make pictures on every hand, but get extremely discouraged when I try, as it needs all the surroundings to make the scene complete.

May recommended Dinan to her fellow artists in a guidebook she would later write:

Here an artist can rest with delight for many months, as everything from the adjacent country, which is thought to be the most beautiful in Brittany, to the ancient gateways and clocktower in a street so narrow that the gabled roofs meet overhead, is sufficiently attractive to keep the brush constantly busy.

May visited or sketched nearly everything in town, from the Basilica of St. Saveur:

The gardens behind Basillica St-Saveur in Dinan, France

“Yesterday we went to some lovely gardens surrounding the most beautiful gothic church.” – May Alcott,  letter dated April 20, 1870 . This is a photograph of the small park and gardens that stand behind the Basilica St-Saveur today. Originally built in the 11th and 12th centuries, a Gothic chapel was added in the 15th century.

to the Viaduct of Dinan over the River Rance:

"The grand viaduct which, according to Murray [the Alcott's 1870 guidebook to France] is about the finest in the world, fairly took away my breath." -- May Alcott in a letter to Anna Alcott dated May 30, 1870

In a letter to Anna Alcott dated May 30, 1870, May Alcott said: “The grand viaduct which, according to Murray [an 1870 guidebook] is about the finest in the world, fairly took away my breath.”

IMG_3340

The grand viaduct across the River Rance in Dinan is still breathtaking. The day I was there the local rowing club was preparing for practice on the other side of the river.

May sketched the Porte of Jerzual and the steep little rue de Jerzual, which winds down from the upper village to the river, and is lined with timbered old shops that lean in over the cobblestoned street:

IMG_4614

Porte du Jerzual, Dinan, France

Porte du Jerzual, Dinan, France

A scene from rue de Jerzual in Dinan. As May said in a letter home dated April 29, 1870: "Yesterday we down the oldest street in town, (where, in spite of the steepness, Queen Ann's carriage is said to have trundled over it), to the river which runs at the foot. The houses overhang the street in funny little gabled stories almost shutting out all light from above, and it being very narrow & extremely steep, you can see it was a sensation to have explored it."

A scene from rue de Jerzual in Dinan. As May said in a letter home dated April 29, 1870: “Yesterday we went down the oldest street in town, (where, in spite of the steepness, Queen Ann’s carriage is said to have trundled over it), to the river which runs at the foot. The houses overhang the street in funny little gabled stories almost shutting out all light from above, and it being very narrow & extremely steep, you can see it was a sensation to have explored it.”

In their letters home, the Alcott sisters both mention their visit to the neighboring village of Léhon, which is just a mile or so down in the valley from Dinan along Route D12. Louisa May wrote home after going to a fair in the village and said (in a letter dated April 20, 1870):

May is going to sketch the castle so I won’t waste paper describing the pretty place with the ruined church full of rooks, the old mill with the water wheel housed in vines, or the winding river, and meadows full of blue hyacinths and rosy daisies.

IMG_3354

The remains of the Léhon castle in the background.

IMG_3370

The Abbey and Chapel in Lehon, France, once sketched by May Alcott

The Abbey Church in Lehon, France, once sketched by May Alcott

The River Rance through Léhon, France.

The River Rance through Léhon, France.

The Alcotts also visited the Chateau de la Garaye, a lovely site located just a couple of miles from the village of Dinan. May wrote home to tell her mother about the beautiful ruins there:

I have tried to sketch from memory a lovely old ruin, where we spent the day yesterday, but can give you a very indefinite notion of the gray old tower with ivy clinging to it in all directions, the rear walls having all crumbled away. The blue sky shone through the little ornamental windows in a way that was quite enchanting. It is only about two miles from Dinan and a pretty walk though the wood to the moat and great embattled walls, which surround the chateau.

Alice and I walked, while Lu went down in a donkey carriage. . . . We found a large party of English people already at the castle sketching it with pencil in colors. . . .

IMG_4685

The  ruins of the Chateau de la Garaye still stand today. “The blue sky shone though the little ornamental windows in a way that was quite enchanting.” — May Alcott, April 1870. It makes me so glad to know some things just don’t change in over 140 years.

IMG_4686

My own colored pencil sketch of the ruins of Chateau de la Garaye

May Alcott’s Life Beyond Dinan:

After the Alcott sisters left Dinan in the summer of 1870, they continued their European travels and proceeded to the Loire Valley, Switzerland and Italy. They found themselves the middle of the Franco-Prussian war which broke out that July but managed to find safety in Switzerland, along with many other refugees from Paris and Strasbourg. Louisa May returned to Boston the next summer, but May went on to study art in London on her own and didn’t return until November, 1871, when she was called home to help the rest of the family.

May Alcott returned to London and Paris in 1873 and then again in 1876. She would study at the Academie Julian in the Passage des Panoramas in 1876-77, and would attend the Paris Salon of 1877 where her own still life painting would be exhibited. She would be invited to Mary Cassatt’s home for tea, and would travel to the rather bohemian art colony in Grez in the summer of 1877. She was living a ground-breaking life as an American expatriate female artist.

In late 1877, while May was living on her own in London, she would learn that her mother had died. In her grief she developed a quick romance with Ernest Nieriker, a young Swiss businessman fifteen years her junior, to whom she would become engaged in March of 1878. The newlyweds would move to a lovely little home in the suburbs of Paris, where she dreamed of combining a career in art with marriage and a possible family. She would have yet another painting accepted in the Paris Salon, and would publish a guidebook for women artists called Studying Art Abroad and How to Do it Cheaply. At the end of 1878, May’s personal life and her art career were making gratifying moves forward.

studying art abroad

But then, in December of 1879, May Alcott Nieriker died six weeks after giving birth to her daughter Lulu. She was only 39 years old. Baby Lulu was first sent to live with her aunt Louisa May in the United States, but when Louisa May died just nine years later, young Lulu was returned to her father in Switzerland.

We are lucky to have been left with such a prolific record of May Alcott’s remarkable travels and experiences, even if they were short-lived. Thanks to the details and sketches provided in Little Women Abroad, we can follow along. It’s worth the trip.

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.

Wine and War in France

I

Wine and history pair up well together, especially in France. More than anywhere else, the story of French winemaking is a lesson in history and tradition. Some French families have been making wine for dozens of generations. Don & Petie Kladstrup’s book Wine & War tells the story of how some of these families survived the two great wars of the 20th century. It makes for fascinating reading whether your interest is in history or more toward the wine. And if like me, you like both, it’s a must read. It makes a perfect companion for a wine tour in France.

Wine & War focuses on four French winemaking families: The Drouhins in Burgundy, the Hugels in Alsace, the owners of Lauren-Perrier in Champagne, and the Miaihles in Bordeaux. These are still some of the most prominent wine producers in France today. Their stories are triumphant and gripping, often involving deceit, risk and resistance in their battles to save their family legacies from theft and ruin by the Germans. In many cases, the winemakers even had to fight for their lives.

On my recent travels through Burgundy and Alsace, I brought along my copy of Wine & War and was able to make quite a few connections with the book. Here is a Google Map to save you the trouble of writing down the addresses and directions yourself. Our wine guide Tracy from Burgundy by Request (highly recommended) had read and enjoyed the book, so we were able to discuss some of these sites as we drove from town to town.

Maison Robert Drouhin, Beaune, Burgundy:

Burgundy: Maison Joseph Drouhin has been in the hands of the Drouhin family for the last 130 years. Today, the fourth generation of Drouhins (the great-grandchildren of Maurice Drouhin) maintains the caves at the same location as Maurice did during World War II, at 7 rue d’Enfer in the heart of Beaune. Wine tastings are available and highly recommended!

Burgundy: In one of the most dramatic passages of the book, the Nazis knock at the door to arrest Maurice Drouhin. Maurice has been prepared for this moment, and evades arrest by escaping through his tunnel of wine caves. He comes out of a secret doorway onto rue Paradis, and runs to the Hospice de Beaune just two more blocks away, where he hides out for 10 months.

“Even with a candle and his knowledge of the vast cellars, the darkness made it difficult for [Maurice] to find his way. On one of the four levels of passageways that made up his cellar, he finally found what he was looking for. Maurice brushed away the cobwebs and eased himself behind the wine racks; then he gripped the handle of the door and pulled. It opened easily. Stooping slightly as he went through, Maurice quickly made his way up several steps that led to the street outside,the rue de Paradis, or Street of Paradise.”

Burgundy: Hospice de Beaune. A hospital that owns some of the best vineyards in Burgundy. It has its own labyrinth of caves underground, and that is where Maurice Drouhin was able to hide from the Germans, no doubt with the help and confidence of his friends and fellow winemakers.

Comblanchien, A Village in Burgundy with a Tragic History

Wine & War includes the story of Comblanchien, a small winegrowing village in the heart of Burgundy. It was the center of much of the local Resistance activity. The locals Resistance fighters often sabotaged or blew up the German trains as they passed through on the main line from Paris to Lyon. In 1944, the Germans were on the run, but not before they retaliated against the village that had caused them so much trouble.

On August 21, 1944, the Germans attacked the village of Comblanchien, burning people out of their homes and their church. Eight people were killed, fifty-two houses were burned to the ground, and the church was reduced to a pile of ash. Some were able to survive by hiding in their wine caves while their houses burned above them. Twenty-three villagers were arrested and taken to Dijon for execution. Eleven of them were eventually freed, but the rest were deported to work camps in Germany.

Burgundy: The memorial in Comblanchien for the eight villagers who were killed in the German attack on August 21, 1944. The ranged in age from 72 to 18 years old.

Burgundy: The war memorial in Comblanchien, France.

Burgundy: The “new” church in Comblanchien, built to replace the church the Germans burned to the ground in 1944.

Alsace: The Hugel Family of Riquewihr

The story of the Hugel family’s experience in World War II is particularly interesting because of their unique position in Alsace, which was annexed back into Germany in 1939. It had been French ever since the end of World War I, but the Germans returned and changed everything as soon as they could, from the language to the road signs and the even the names of the wine houses. Hugel et Fils became Hugel und Sohne. “If you even said bonjour, you could go to a concentration camp.” The Hugel sons were drafted into the German army, and the Hugels were forced to close their 300 year-old family business because Jean Hugel refused to join the Nazi party. In fact, Jean escaped to a hotel in nearby Colmar where he had pretended to be a member of their staff.

Alsace: Riquewihr, France on the Alsace Route du Vin between Colmar and Strasbourg. An absolutely beautiful town for a day visit.

Alsace: Hugel et Fils in Riquewihr, France

Here I am geeking out a little bit over the fact that I really did find the Hugel winetasting room. They even had a French copy of the book in their shop.

Wine & War by Don and Petie Kaldstrup: Highly recommended.

Burgundy by Request: Highly recommended.

Note: I received no consideration for this post. I bought my own copy of the book and we paid full price for Tracy Thurling’s full-day Grand Cru wine tour, which we loved.

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.

Happy 100th Birthday “Dearie” – A Julia Child Tour of Paris

August 15, 2012 marks the 100th anniversary of Julia Child’s birth, and with perfect timing, Bob Spitz has authored an affectionate and definitive biography called Dearie (Knopf, August 8, 2012). I just downloaded my own Google ebook edition from my favorite independent bookstore.

If you admire this quirky powerhouse of a woman, you’ll love reading about her upbringing in California and her work at a spy agency during World War II, as well as her life in France and beyond.

For me, Julia’s 100th birthday is the perfect time to reflect on my good fortune in being able to walk in her footsteps in Paris. On a freezing cold day last January, I joined the American Women’s Group in Paris on a private  Julia Child Tour.

We were already shivering and stomping our cold feet when we met at the site of Julia Child’s Paris apartment at 81 rue de L’Université (or as Julia and Paul cheerfully called it, “Rue de Loo.”) We had private arrangements to meet the landlord in the courtyard of the building. We didn’t know what to expect, and were excited just to be there, despite the historically low temperatures.

It turned out that the landlady was an utterly charming French woman. She came out into the courtyard dressed in a fashionable fur coat, with her gray hair neatly brushed back into a black velvet headband. She spoke only French, but our tour guide was able to translate what we were unable to understand on our own.

Madame was happy to share her deceased husband’s stories about growing up as a neighbor of Julia and Paul Child. He was a young boy at the time, and would often ride his bicycle in the courtyard. Julia was never too busy to stop and visit with him, and obviously enjoyed the company of children. Julia’s French neighbors adored her. According to Madame, they remembered her as tall, outgoing and extremely friendly.

Madame told us that her husband’s family received Christmas cards from Julia and Paul for many years, even after they had left Paris. Madame apologized: she had searched for them among her old scrapbooks and souvenirs before our visit but couldn’t find them. She paged through her copy of My Life in France and pointed to the famous Christmas card with Julia and Paul in the bathtub, and said proudly: “I have this one somewhere!”

We were thrilled when Madame invited us up to her apartment, and not just because we were eager to escape the cold. We got a glimpse at an apartment similar to the one Julia and Paul lived in. While the living room and dining room were lovely, with classic wood parquet floors, gloriously tall windows and exquisite decorative wood moulding, the kitchen was excrutiatingly small. We got to peek up the stairs toward the third floor, and I couldn’t help but think of one of my favorite scenes in the Julie and Julia movie when Paul used to come home for lunch and a “nap” in the middle of the day.

In our best intermediate French (“Merci beaucoup Madame! Enchanté!”) we thanked Madame for her hospitality. We then hopped on a bus and continued our tour in the Les Halles neighborhood, where Julia used to shop for ingredients and cooking supplies. We finally warmed up with traditional French Onion Soup and a little white wine at Au Pied du Couchon, just like Julia did so many years ago. What fun.

Happy Birthday, Julia! And Madame, thanks for the memories.

Another ordinary looking apartment building in the 7th arrondissement in Paris. There is no plaque, so most passerby would never realize that this was once the home of Julia and Paul Child.

Julia and Paul’s apartment was on the third floor. (In France, they don’t count the ground floor as the first floor – get s a bit confusing sometimes!) A photo of these very windows appears in My Life in Paris.

Madame brought her own stickered-up copy of My Life in France in order to compare the photos to the scene in the courtyard. She pointed up at the windows to show us where Julia and Paul had lived.

Julia and Child’s apartment was on the third floor. Julia began cooking in the original kitchen, which was extremely small even by Paris standards. They later converted the small attic apartment above into a separate kitchen. Paul took the photo that appears in My Life in France (pictured above) from one of these third floor windows, aimed across the courtyard and toward the decorative windows in the other wing of the apartment.

Madame is pointing out the photos of Julia and Paul’s Christmas cards that her husband’s family used to receive. She apologized because she hadn’t been able to find the scrapbook where they had been stored!

E. Dehillerin in Les Halles, a classic French cooking supply store where Julia used to shop. Still a very friendly place to browse.

 

Our crazy French waiter at Au Pied du Couchon, who led us in a traditional French chanson, complete with a pig nose!

Additional reading:

Luncheon of the Boating Party: A Day in Chatou

Renoir’s Luncheon of the Boating Party (1880-1) makes me want to pull up a chair, sit down next to Gustave Caillebotte (right foreground) and pour myself a glass of wine. Maybe I would even feed the doggie some grapes and chat with Aline Charigot, Renoir’s future wife (the pretty woman in the red-flowered hat).

This is an accessible, sunny painting that reflects a leisurely Sunday afternoon at one of Renoir’s favorite hang-outs, Restaurant de la Maison Fournaise, just outside Paris in Chatou on the Seine. Did you know that you can still go there today? As Renoir said himself: “You won’t regret the trip, I assure you. There isn’t a lovelier place in all Paris surroundings.”

For a long time, the restaurant suffered from neglect and deterioration. As Renoir’s son Jean said in his book, Renoir, My Father (1962):  “I paid a visit to the place last year. How depressing it was! Nothing but factories, mounds of coal, blackened walls and dirty water. The leprosy of modern industry has eaten away the little woods and luxuriant grass.”

Maison Fournaise before renovation. From the restaurant’s website.

From 1984 to 1990, the restaurant was completely renovated with a combination of art grants and philanthropy. Today, the scene is much improved.

Maison Fournaise today

Renoir’s balcony still stands, complete with the orange striped awning. 

The view from Renoir’s easel. 

“The place was delightful; a perpetual holiday. . . . At night there was always someone about who volunteered to play the piano for dancing. The tables on the terrace were pushed back into a corner. . . . the music floated out through the open window.” – Jean Renoir, in Renoir, My Father

I even brought out my own pastels and tried to capture the scene, but alas, I’m no Renoir.

My art bag and I were here. . . . I just wish some “Midnight in Paris” magic would transport me back to the day. . . .

Restaurant de la Maison Fournaise is easily reached by car or by train. You can take the same route that Renoir did from Paris to the Chatou-Croissy station via the RER A1 Line (Zone 4), where it is only a few minutes walk to what is now called “Ile des Impressionistes.”

It was this easy access that made the restaurant Renoir and Aline’s favorite meeting place back in 1880. According to Jean Renoir: “It was easy to reach. . . . There was a local Saint Germain train, every half hour, that stopped at the Chatou bridge station. At the Fournaises’ [my parents] found a group of friends who seemed to watch over their idyl with tender interest. The painter Caillebotte looked after Aline Charigot like a younger sister.”

You can read an imagined story of the couple’s developing romance in Luncheon of the Boating Party by Susan Vreeland, who said that she had often admired the painting and wondered about the models. Who were they, and why did they pose like they did?  “I saw tremendous story potential in these appealing characters, flushed with pleasure and enjoying a summer day on a terrace overlooking the Seine.” Vreeland imagines a love triangle between Renoir, Aline, and another woman in the painting, Alphonsine Fournaise, the daughter of the restaurant owner.

You can enjoy your own toast to Renoir and his women at the restaurant, where they offer an apertif called “The Alphonsine,” made of orange juice, champagne and grenadine.

My own book club back in Chicago read and enjoyed Susan Vreeland’s book, which I highly recommend. Right now, I am in the middle of Renoir, My Father by Jean Renoir, and I am pleasantly surprised what a good read it is. Jean’s memory was incredibly good, his writing is thoughtful, and the stories his father used to tell him make captivating history.

If you or your book club can’t get to Paris, maybe you can schedule a visit to the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C. to see the original painting. At the Art Institute of Chicago you can see another of Renoir’s paintings from Chatou called Lunch at the Restaurant Fournaise (The Rower’s Lunch) (1875).

At the very least, you can enjoy some art history at the website of Maison Fournaise here.

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.

.”].” “]

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.