by Wendy Fitzgerald
Woody Allen and American writer David Burke have a lot in common. They share a fascination for Literary Paris of the 1920’s. It was a time when George Sand, Gertrude Stein and Jean Paul Sartre roamed the cafés, when the life of a starving artist in a garret was a reality for many famous writers. It was the jazz age when flappers danced the Charleston to the tunes of Col Porter, Gershwin and Maurice Ravel.
It was just after World War 1 when a disillusioned generation of young Americans flocked to Paris. Gertrude Stein called them the Lost Generation- ‘une generation perdue’ Scott Fitzgerald wrote, ‘It was a new generation, grown up to find all wars fought, all Gods dead and all faith in mankind shaken.’
Writers of 1920’s are central in Woody Allen’s new film, ‘Midnight in Paris’. Here a Hollywood Screenwriter named Gill (played by Owen Wilson) is on holiday with his fiancé. He dreams of living in Paris and writing a novel. While wandering the streets at night he falls into a time warp. In his fantasy he meets Hemingway at the Polidor Café, runs into Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald at an elegant soiree, listens to Cole Porter sing ‘Let’s do it – let’s fall in love’, visits Gertrude Stein at her house just near the Luxembourg Gardens and falls in love with Picasso’s mistress. Woody Allen has tapped into a common fascination.
A literary tour of Paris with David Burke is probably the next best thing to falling into a time warp.
David Burke is an American documentary filmmaker and former 60 minutes/writer and producer. He and his wife came to Paris for one year. They are still there twenty years later.
David has a U-tube video on his website www.writersinparis.com which gives a glimpse of his tours. His book, ‘Writers in Paris- Literary Lives in the City of Light’ is filled with stories about writers who have had Paris as a key place in their lives. Bourke has covered seventy writers, both French and expatriates. Armed with a wealth of knowledge, David Burke can take you on a literary walk around the most creative quartiers of Paris such as the Latin Quarter, the Marais, Montmartre or Montparnasse.
We stood outside Hemingway’s old home in Rue du Cardinal Lemoine while David talked about Hemingway’s life in the 1920’s.
Just down the street we paused at a plaque honouring Valery Larbaud who lent his apartment to James Joyce in the early 1920’s. This was where Joyce finished writing his masterpiece, Ulysees. Not far from the Place de la Contrescarpe we learned about how George Orwell (real name- Eric Blair) lived for a while in a seedy hotel called Hotel des Trois Mioneaux. He ended up there after a prostitute called Suzanne stole all his money. This was the inspiration for his book, ‘Down and Out in Paris and London.’
In the 1920’s Paris must have been an exciting hub of inspiration for young aspiring writers, artists and musicians.
Today the city of light is still the inspiration of dreamers, artists, writers, designers, scientists and philosophers. Just below the frenetic traffic and twenty first century madness, there are gentle echoes of a rich literary past and the ghosts of many famous creative souls from a remarkable time.
Hemmingway was right.
‘If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.’