Tuesday, June 29, 2010


"X" is for "EXpatriates"
This is a bit of personal history.

Flash back with me to the time when an eager young writer-producer, bright-tailed and bushy-eyed, was on a first assignment for a major production company: I was to write and produce a film on Paris, which would have a sequence devoted to the American expatriates of the 1920s. It was for Universal-International and was to be titled “One Man’s Paris.”
Doing my research on the scene, I was pleased to learn that Sylvia Beach, another famous name from those Parisian roaring twenties, was still around. I phoned her and asked if we could get together. She suggested meeting at the cafe named Le Select. The Select! That rang a bell. There couldn’t have been a better place for such a meeting.
“’Café Select,’ he told the driver, ‘Boulevard Montparnasse.’” (Jake Barnes in Ernest Hemingway’s “The Sun Also Rises.”)

Cafes then were, and to a degree still are, central to Paris life – writers wrote in them, painters painted them – and the Select (which has only been around for eighty years or so) represented the best traditions of the Parisian café. Sylvia Beach arrived and we had a wonderful conversation. She was then an elderly lady, but was full of youthful energy and vitality and she became very interested in the documentary I was there to make. She knew everything about the era in question, about all those earlier expatriate Americans, where they used to live and the cafes where they used to hang out.
La Coupole was just across the street, and that was just steps away from La Rotonde and Le Dome at the next corner, but Le Select was the jewel of the crown – not just for the Americans but for people who came from all over the world. It was indeed a pleasure, sitting in that famous café, to have pointed out to me just where in the place Henry Miller used to meet Anais Nin for afternoon drinks, where Luis Bunuel sat, and which was young Pablo Picasso’s favorite spot. In our 21st century groups of Japanese tourists continue to show up, asking to see Hemingway’s table.

No question, the Select had its attractions, but it was no more interesting than the lady I was talking with. Living in Paris at the end of World War I, a New Jersey girl named Sylvia Beach had opened an English language bookstore and lending library that thousands came to know as Shakespeare and Company. She started her store just as the franc dropped in value and the exchange rate became very favorable so the shop flourished. It became a hangout for Americans.

As I spoke with her, I remembered that Shakespeare and Company had gained considerable fame after she more or less single-handedly published James Joyce’s “Ulysses” in 1922, as a result of Joyce's inability to get an edition out in English-speaking countries.

She had gone into debt to bankroll the publication. Joyce would later show his gratitude by financially stranding her when he signed with another publisher, leaving Sylvia Beach in debt and suffering severe losses from the publication of that book.
Things went from bad to worse for her because of the depression of the thirties. She managed to stay open because André Gide organized a group of writers into a club called Friends of Shakespeare and Company, which got a lot of publicity and helped the business to improve.

Then came World War II. The shop tried to remain open after the fall of Paris, but by the end of 1941 Sylvia Beach was forced to close. She kept her books hidden in a vacant apartment.

It's now a fable of our time that, as Paris was being liberated, Ernest Hemingway – reckless, flamboyant, heroic – drove up in a jeep to liberate Sylvia and her bookstore.


Roger Owen Green said...

I LOVE THIS STORY! IT's so personablr, descriptive.

But Joyce was a twit.

ROG, ABC Wednesday team

Berowne said...

Thanks so much for the comment, R O.

Amy said...

Great story and very well written - thank you! That is quite an image of Hemingway!

Mara said...

What a great story and how fantastic to hear it from the 'horses' mouth', so to say!

Sylvia K said...

This is such a terrific story and like Roger, I love it! So much wonderful history! And, yes, Joyce was a twit! Love the part about Hemingway! It does sound like what I've read about him over the years. Thank you for sharing this with us today! Enjoy!


Unknown said...

What a wonderful story. I agree with Rog.
That must have been quite an experience to meet such a key person like Syliva Beach in Paris.

Great post!

I forgive you for the 'E-X'. I wanted to choose a 'pure' X-word, so I chose 'X-ray', which makes a less exciting post, almost boring.
Oh well.

Best wishes,

Anna's X-words

photowannabe said...

Fascinating. Another tidbit to help me understand our crazy world.

Berowne said...

My special thanks to Amy, Mara, Sylvia K., Anna and photowannabe for these great comments.

♥♥ Willa ♥♥ said...

Love your Expatriate story because I'm one myself. |:)
ABC Wednesday

Cheryl said...

I remember this from your WOW BON day. I loved it then and loved rereading today.

Katherine said...

Wow Berowne...you're the man! How I would love to have been a fly on the wall (no! on your shoulder) to have experienced something as exciting as this. What a wonderful past you have & a what a wonderful story you've shared here with us. I loved it...thank you!

Hildred said...

Wonderful story, - a little gossip with a moral and a great picture of the literary scene in Paris in the first part of the last century. Thanks for a most enjoyable post.

Tumblewords: said...

I've spent far too little time in Paris - excellent post!

Bradley Hsi said...

I was there when I was young, 20 years ago, taking the guide book, sitting in the cafe, reading "The Sun also Rises" and imaging the Parisian life in the 20's. Thanks for the history and memory.

Jay said...

What an amazing experience that must have been!

There's a moral there, too, isn't there? Never bankroll a write and look for gratitude. Shame on him!

Berowne said...

Katherine: "what a wonderful story you've shared here with us. I loved it...thank you!"
What a generous comment -- thanks.

Gattina said...

What a nice post ! I have often been in Paris but never seen that.
Gattina ABC Team

ds said...

Wonderful post! What a lucky fellow you were to have spent the afternoon with that amazing woman.
And you tell it so well. Thank you.

Pat said...

I was fascinated by this era when I was in Paris in the sixties and once sat at the next table to Jean Paul Sartre. We didn't speak and I tried not to stare.
When I was trying to find Gertrude Stein's atelier I was surprised to find no French person I asked had ever heard of her.

Berowne said...

Pat: "...once sat at the next table to Jean Paul Sartre."
It must have been at the Cafe de Flore or the Deux Magots.

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