For the life of me I cannot recall just where I found this little gem. It's such a subtle thing of rare beauty; as if it could slip easily through one's clumsy fingers and be lost forever! Certainly though, I took this photograph from a catalogue in France this summer, wanting to steal it, and lock it away in my soul forever.
29 September 2014
26 September 2014
'For decades, only a tiny elite knew anything about Claudel, Péguy, Rolland, Suarès, and Valéry, Alone among the people of this busy, fast-moving city, they seemed to be in no hurry. Living and working quietly, for a quiet life without raucous publicity mattered more to them than thrusting themselves forward; they were not ashamed to live in a modest way so that they could think freely and boldly in their artistic work. Their wives cooked and kept house; it was a simple life and so their friendly evening gatherings were all the warmer. They sat on cheap wicker chair around a table laid with a plain check cloth- nothing grander than you would have found in the home of the workman on the same floor of their building, but they felt free and at ease. They had hop telephones, no typewriters, no secretaries, they avoided the intellectual apparatus of propaganda; they wrote their books by hand as writers did a thousand years ago, and even in the big publishing houses such as Mercure de France there was no dictation and no complicated machinery. No money was wasted on prestige and outward show. All these young French writers lived like the people of France as a whole, for the joys of life, though to be sure in their most sublime form, joy found in creative work. These new friends of mine, with their straightforward humanity, revised my ideas of French writers; their way of life was so different from that depicted by Bourget and other novelists at the time, to whom the salon meant all the world! And their wives taught me a great deal about the shockingly false picture we had gained at home, from our reading, of the Frenchwoman as mondaine bent only on adventures, extravagance and the sight of her own reflection in the mirror. I never saw better, quieter housewives than in the fraternal circle- thrifty, modest, and cheerful even in the most straightened circumstances, conjuring up wonderful little dishes on a tiny stoves, looking after their children, and at the same time in sympathy with their husbands' intellectual interests. Only someone who has lived in such circles as a friend and comrade knows what the real France is like.'
25 September 2014
'Such friendships were granted to me, and the best was with Léon Bazelgette. Thanks to mu close connection with Verhaeren, whom I visited twice a week at St Cloud, I had been safeguarded in advance from being caught up, like most foreigners, in the dubious circle of international painters and men of letters who frequented the Café du Dôme and were really much the same wherever they went, in Munich, Rome or Berlin. With Verhaeren, however, I came to know those artists and writers who, in the midst of this lively and opulent city, lived in creative quiet as if on a desert island with their work; I saw Renoir's studio, and met his best pupils. To all outward appearances the life of the Impressionists whose work now fetch tens of thousands of dollars was just like the life of the petit bourgeois living on a small income - a little house with a studio built on it, none of the showy splendors of the grand villas imitating the Pompeian style favored by Lenback and other celebrities in Munuch. The writers whom I soon came to know personally lived as simply as the artists. Most of them held minor public office in a job which did not call for much strenuous work. The great respect for intellectual achievement felt in France, from the lowest to the highest ranks of society, meant that this indigenous method of finding discreet sinecures for poets and writers who did not earn large sums from their work had been devised years ago. For instance , they might be appointed to posts as librarians in the Naval Ministry or the Senate. Such employment gave them a small salary and not much work to do, since the Senators did not often want a book, and the fortunate occupant of the benefice could sit in comfort in the elegant old Senate Palace, with the Jardin du Luxembourg outside the window, spending his working hours getting paid for it. Modest security of this kind was enough for such writers. Others were doctors, Duhamel and Durtain later; who ran a little picture gallery, like Charles Vildrac; or like Romains and Jean-Richard Bloch taught in grammar schools; they might keep office hours in a new agency, as Paul Valéry did in the Agence Havas, or be assistant to editors in publishing houses. But none were pretentious enough to base their lives on the independent pursuit of of their artistic inclinations, like those who came after them and had inflated ideas of themselves as a result of films and large print runs of their works. What these writers wanted from their modest posts, sought without professional ambition, was only a modicum of security in everyday life that would guarantee them independence in their true work. Thanks to that security, they could ignore the huge, corrupt daily newspapers of Paris, and write without any fee for the little reviews that were kept going at personal sacrifice, resigning themselves quietly to the fact that plays would be performed only in small art theaters, and at first their names, would be not be known outside their own circle.'
22 September 2014
'I wandered through the streets, seeing so much, looking for so much else in my impatience! For the Paris of 1904 was not the only one I wanted to know; my senses and my heart were also in search of the Paris of Henri IV and Louis XIV, of Napolean and the Revolution, of Rétif de la Bretonne and Balzac, Zola and Charles-Louis Philippe, Paris with all its streets, its characters, its incidents. Here, as always in France, I felt how much strength a great literary tradition, with veracity as its ideal, can give back to its people, endowing them with immortality. In fact even before I saw it with my own eyes, I had become intellectually familiar in advance with everything in Paris through the art of the poets, novelists, and political and social historians who described it. It merely came to life when I arrived there. Actually seeing the city was really a case of recognition, the Greek anagnosis that Aristotle praises as the greatest and most mysterious of all artistic pleasures. All the details through books, or even by walking indefatigably around it, only through the best of those who live there. IT is intellectual friendship with its people that gives you insight into the real connections between them and their land; outside observations convey a misleading and over-hasty image.'
20 September 2014
'All you could hear then was the faint roar of the city, an indistinct and rhythmic sound like waves breaking on a distant shore, you saw statues gleaming in the moonlight, and sometimes in the early hours of the morning the wind carried an aromatic scent of vegetables that way from the nearby food market of Les Halles. The writers and statesmen of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries used to live in this historic quarter of the Palias Royal. Opposite stood the building where Balzac and Victor Hugo had so often climbed the hundred steps up to the attic story where the poet I loved so much, Marceline Desbordes-Valmore, had lived. There stood the marble memorial at the place where Camille Desmoulins had called on the people to storm the Bastille, there was the covered walkway where the indigent young lieutenant Bonaparte had looked for a patroness among the not very virtuous ladies promenading along. The history of France spoke from every stone here, and what was more, the Bibliothèque Nationale where I spent my mornings was only a street away. Also close where the Musée du Louvre with its pictures and the boulevards with crowds pouring along them. At last I was where I had wanted to be, in a place where the warm heart of France had been steadily for centuries, right in the centre of the city. I remember how André Gide once visited me and amazed by such silence here in the heart of Paris, commented, "We have to ask foreigners to show us the most beautiful places in our own city." And sure enough, I couldn't have found anything more parisian and at the same time more secluded than my romantic studio room in the very middle of the magic circle of the liveliest city in the world.'
18 September 2014
'I was a novice drinker, unused to alcohol, but I ordered a glass of absinthe in his honor, not because I liked the taste of the greenish brew at all, but out of a sense that, as a young admirer of the great lyric poet of France, I ought to observe his own ritual in the Latin Quarter. At that time my idea of the right thing to do made me want to live in a fifth floor attic near the Sorbonne, to give me more a faithful idea of the 'real' atmosphere of the Latin Quarter, which I knew from books. At twenty-five, however, I was no longer so naively romantic. The student quarter seemed to me too international, too un-Parisian. Above all, I no longer wanted to choose my permanent place of residence for reasons of literary reminiscence, but in order to work there as well as possible myself. I started looking around at once. The elegant Paris of the Champs Elysées was not at all suitable, still less the quarter around the Café de la Paix, where all the rich visitors from the Balkens congregated and no one spoke French but the waiters. I was more attracted by the quiet district of Sanit Sulpice, surrounded by churches and monasteries, where Rilke and Suarès also like to stay. Most of all I would have liked to take lodgings on the Île Saint-Louis so that I could feel I was linked to both sides of Paris, the Right Bank and the Left Bank. But in my exploration of the city I managed to find something even better in my first week. Wandering around the Galeries du Palais-Royal, I discovered that among the eighteenth-century buildings constructed on the same pattern in that huge square by the duc d'Orléans, nicknamed Philippe Égalité, a single once trance palais had come down in the world, and was now a small and rather primitive hotel. I asked to shown one of the rooms, and was charmed to find that its windows has a view of the garden of the Palais-Royal, which was closed to the public after dark.'
17 September 2014
16 September 2014
'At the time when I first knew the city it had not merged so completely into a single entity as it has today, (this being 1941 when written) thanks to the underground railway and motor cars. Most of the traffic in the streets still consisted of omnibuses drawn by heavy horses with steam rising from them. And there was no more comfortable way of discovering Paris than from the impériale, the top deck of those wide omnibuses, or from one of the open cabs which also ambled along at a leisurely pace. At that time it was still quite a journey to go from Montmartre to Montparnasse, and considering the thrifty habits of the petit bourgeoisie of Paris i thought it quite credible that, as legend had it, there were still Parisians on the Right Bank who had never set foot on the Left Bank, children who played in the jar din de Luxembourg and had never been to the Tuileries or Parc Monceau. The Parisian resident or concierge preferred to stay at home in his own part of the city, making his own little Paris inside the great metropolis, and every arrondissement had its own distinct and even provincial character. So it was quite an important decision for a stranger to choose a place to stay. The Latin Quarter no longer enticed me. On an earlier brief visit, when I was twenty, I had gone straight there from the railway station, and on my very first evening I had sat in the Cafe Vachette, getting them to show me, with all due reverence, the place where Verlaine used to sit and the marble-topped table on which, when he was tipsy, he used to bang angrily with his heavy stick to get a respectful hearing.'
15 September 2014
'Street musicians played in suburban yards, from the windows you heard midinettes at their work; there was laughter in the air somewhere, or the sound of someone calling out in friendly tones. If a coupe of cabbies got into an argument, they would shake hands afterwards, and drink a glass of wine together to wash down a few of the oysters that you could get really cheap. Nothing was stiffly formal. It was easy to meet women and easy to part with them again; there was someone for everyone, every young man had a carefree girlfriend with no prudishness about her. What a carefree life that was! You could live well in Paris, especially when you were young! Even strolling about the city was a pleasure, and also instructive, because everything was open to everyone - you could go into a bookshop and spend a quarter-of-an-hour leafing through the volumes there without any morose muttering from the bookseller. You could visit the little galleries and enjoy looking around the bric-a-brac shops at your leisure, you could go to auction sales at the Hotel Drouot just to watch, and talk to governesses out in the parks. Once you had really begun to stroll it wasn't easy to stop, for the street irresistibly led you on with it, always showing you something new, like the patterns of a kaleidoscope. If you felt tired, you could sit outside on of the ten thousand cafes and write letters on the free notepaper provided, while you listened to the street traders talking up the useless junk that had for sale. The only difficulty was staying at home or going home, particularly when spring came, silvery light shone softly over the Seine, the trees in the boulevards began to put out green leaves, and every young girl wore a bunch of violets that had cost a mere sou. However it didn't have to be spring for you to fee cheerful.'
14 September 2014
'And nowhere could you ever have experienced the artless yet wonderfully wise lightness of life more happily than in Paris, where it was gloriously affirmed in the city's beauty of form, mild climate, wealth and traditions. All of us young people absorbed a part of that lightness, and added our own mite to it. Chinese and Scandinavians, Spaniards and Greeks, Brazilians and Canadians, we all felt at home on the banks of the Seine. We were under no compulsion, we could speak, think, laugh and criticize as we liked, we lived as we pleased, with others or by ourselves, extravagantly or thriftily, luxuriously or in the bohemian style - there was room for every preference and all tastes were catered for. There were sublime restaurants where culinary magic was worked, wines at two or three hundred francs, wickedly expensive cognacs from the days of Marengo and Waterloo; but you could and drink almost as well at any marchand de vin around the corner. In the crowded student restaurants of the Latin Quarter, a few sous would buy you the most delicious little amuse-gueules before and after a juicy steak, with red or white wine and a long stick of delicious white bread. You could dress as you liked; students promenaded along the Boulevard Saint Michel in their chichi berets, while the rapins, the painters sports broad-brimmed hats like giant mushrooms and romantic, black-velvet jackets. Meanwhile workers cheerfully went about on the smartest of boulevards in their blue blouses or their shirtsleeves, along with nursemaids in elaborately pleated Breton caps and vintners in blues aprons. A young couple might start dancing in the street any time, not just on the fourteenth of July, with a policeman smiling at them - the prettiest girls didn't shrink from going into the nearest petit hôtel with a black man - who in Paris minded about such ridiculous bugbears as race, class and origin became later? You walked, talked and slept with whomever you liked, regardless of what anyone else thought. To love Paris properly, you ought really to have known Berlin first, experiencing the natural servility of Germany with its rigid class differences clearly delineated, in which the officer's wife did not talk to the teacher's wife, who in turn did not speak to the merchant's lady, who in turn did not mix with the laborer's wife. In Paris, however, the inheritance of the Revolution was still alive and coursing through the people's veins; the proletarian worker felt himself as much of a free citizen as his employer, a man with equal rights; the café waiter shook hands in a compraderly manner with the general in his gold-leafed uniform; the industrious, respectable, neat and clean wives of the lower middle classes did not look down their noses at prostitutes who happened to live on the same floor in their building, but passed the time of day with them on the stairs, and their children gave the girls flowers. Once I saw a party of Norman farmers come into a smart restaurant - Larue, near the Madelaine after a christening service; they wore the traditional costume of their village, their heavy shoes tramped over the paving like horses' hooves; their hair was so thickly pomaded that you could have smelt it in the kitchen. They were talking at the top of their voices, which grew louder and louder the more they drank, uninhibitedly nudging their stout wives in the ribs. As working farmers they were not diffident about sitting among the well-groomed gentry in frock coats and grand dresses, and even the smooth-shaven waiter did not look down his nose at such rustic guests, as he would have done in Germany or Britain, but served them poliely and punctiliously as he waited on the ministers and excellencies, and the maitre d'hotel even seemed to take particular pleasure in giving a warm welcome to his rather boisterous customers. Paris accommodated everyone side by side; there was no above and below, no visible dividing line between luxurious streets and grubby alley ways; life and cheerfulness reigned everywhere.'
to be continued..
13 September 2014
A Marvelous excerpt from Stefan Zweig writing on Paris of the thirties:
'I know, I know, Paris is not alone in its suffering today. It will be decades before that other Europe can return to what it was before the First World War. A certain gloom has never entirely lifted from the once-bright horizon of the continent since then, and from country to country, from one person to another, bitterness and distrust have lurked in the mutilated body of Europe corroding it like poison. However much progress in society and technology has been made during the quarter of a century between the two world wars, look closely and there is not a single nation in our small Western world that is not immeasurable worse off by comparison with its old natural joie de vivre. You could spend days describing the trustful, cheerfulness of the italians in the old days, even when they were in the direst poverty - how they laughed and sang in their trattorias, joking about their terrible governor, while now they have to march in somber ranks, chins jutting, hearts heavy. Can anyone imagine an Austrian today as free and easy, as goodnatured as he would have once been, devoutly trusting in his imperial ruler and in God, who used to make his life so pleasant? The Russians, the Germans, the Spanish, none of them know how much freedom and joy that heartless, voracious ogre the state has sucked from rom the marrow of their souls. The people of all nations feel only that an alien shadow, broad and heavy, looms over their lives. But we who knew the world of individual liberties in our time can bear witness that a carefree Europe once rejoiced in a kaleidoscope play of variegated colors. We tremble to see how clouded, darkened, enslaved and imprisoned the world has now become in its suicidal rage.'
16 April 2014 150 X 150cm
12 September 2014
07 September 2014
'Emerson's axiom that good books are a substitute for the best university still seems to me to be accurate, and I am convinced to this day that one can become an excellent philosopher, historian, literary philologist, lawyer or anything else without ever having gone to university or even grammar school. In ordinary everyday life I have found confirmation again and again, that in practice second-hand booksellers often know more about books than the professors who lecture on them; art dealers know more than academic art historians; and many of the most important ideas and discoveries in all fields come from outsiders. Practical, salutary as academic may be for those of average talent, it seems to me that creative individuals can dispense with it, and may even be inhibited by the academic approach, in particular at a university like ours in Vienna.'
Though perhaps I wouldn't go as far as this I believe it to be mostly true that certainly, artists are rarely formed in the classroom of the Academic tradition whether it be the 19th century or today's contemporary art schools.
But, this is a beautifully written book about Zweig's childhood and coming of age as a poet and writer whose love of Art was paramount. Indeed, he describes a Vienna before the last war as a place where Art was revered in every way so much more so than the just the acquisition of riches. This is a wonderful book.