Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Paris Journal IX: A Moveable Feast

Hemingway called Paris a moveable feast,” but it is hard to regard the Parisian salons presided over by the great cultural figures of the past—Breton, Picasso, Gertrude Stein, Hemingway himself, and numerous other denizens of Parisian cultural life—as feasts in the same sense as the collations that occurred in American and even English cultural life. For all the brilliance of French cuisine, one associates the great gatherings of Parisian intellectuals that occurred in the early part of the twentieth century at cafés like Les Deux Magots (which are now over priced tourist meccas) with buffets of conversation and ideas. In contrast, Truman Capote threw his famed Black and White Ball for Katharine Graham in the Grand Ballroom of the Plaza in l966. It would be hard to imagine a latter-day infant terrible and major French celebrity like Houellebecq throwing a comparable society bash for someone like Carla Bruni. Thus, though one reads about the social mores of the French upper classes in Remembrance of Things Past, it is really difficult to imagine the kind of literary cocktail parties and dinners one expects in New York occurring in Paris, where the spread of ideas has a more extemporaneous feel, fueled by the ongoing presence of a true café society on streets like the Rue Mortorgueil, which is to Paris today what the Boulevard St. Germain was a century ago.

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