‘Cleo from 5 to 7’: A Film for Paris in July

Summertime… and the viewing is nostalgic. On a lazy, hazy summer afternoon, what better way to spend your time than to catch up on classic films that you’d missed through the years, or, rewatch them. Sure, a glass of pink lemonade and some chocolate-dipped madeleines would add to the enjoyment.

Here’s a wonderful film by the venerable Belgium born French director Agnès Varda, who turned 90 on May 30 this year. Just exactly what she was doing a few weeks before her 90th birthday?

On May 12, Varda joined Cate Blanchett in leading 82 female industry figures to walk up the stairs on the red carpet at the Cannes Film Festival, a silent protest symbolizing the challenges women face in climbing the industry ladder. Blanchett gave a speech in English, Varda in French.

Cleo from 5 to 7 (Cléo de 5 à 7) is a 1962 film by Varda, a Cannes Palme d’Or nominee the next year. The story takes place on one single day in the life of a popular recording singer Cleo (as in Cleopatra) who loves everything beautiful looking. But early in the day she receives all sorts of bad omens about her health. Her zest for life fizzles through the day as she would be calling her doctor to find out the result of the medical test she’d taken a couple days ago.

Cleo from 5 to 7.jpg

We follow Cleo on the longest day in 1962, yes, that’s the first day of summer, which could have brought her vitality and joy. How does the fear of illness and mortality affect the beauty-seeking and fun-loving Cleo? It totally changes her outlook. Instead of being cooped up in her apartment with musicians rehearsing her songs, she steps out into the streets of Paris to escape the gloomy sense of despair.

Don’t worry, this is not Sarte or Camus. Cleo is just a gal seeking to be loved, and for the first time in her life, fearing for her own mortality. Varda takes us along the streets of 1962 Paris, and offers us naturalistic scenes of cafes and roadside buskers, and leads us into an art studio as Cleo looks for her friend who works as a model for sculptors.

Finally, she’s alone in a park, the serene, meditative milieu is the ideal setting for her to meet Antoine. The encounter is the magic she needs. The rest you ought to see it for yourself. Varda’s pace is leisurely, her viewpoint insightful, and the ending is satisfying. Maybe by now, Cleo learns the difference between beautiful-looking and beauty.

The original music is soothing and cooling for a summer day, composed by Michel Legrand (who is the piano player in the movie). Legrand is a three times Oscar winning French film composer. Which three times? Yentl (1983), Summer of ’42 (1971), The Thomas Crown Affair (1968).

As I said, summer is the best time for nostalgic viewing.

 

~ ~ ~ ~ Ripples

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Paris in July is hosted by Tamara of Thyme for Tea, an annual summer blogging event.

Paris in July 18

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Haute Cuisine Movie Review

My first entry for the Paris In July 2014 blogging event is a review of the 2012 French film Haute Cuisine (original name Les Saveurs du Palais, which can be translated as ‘The Taste of the Palace’ or ‘The Taste of the Palate’)

 

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Haute Cuisine Movie Poster

 

The film begins with scenes on the remote Crozet Island in Antarctica, at the Alfred Faure Scientific Base. The cook, Hortense Laborie (Catherine Frot), is preparing dinner for the dozens of workers there. It’s a special occasion, her own farewell dinner. This is the menu she has prepared:

  • Thai clear soup with fresh foie gras
  • Sweet and sour duck with Sarlat potatoes
  • Saint-Honoré cake

Not your ordinary cafeteria food for workers in Antarctica, but then, Hortense Laborie is no ordinary cook. If her one year gig working on the Crozet island sounds extraordinary, it is yet not as remarkable when compared to her previous job. Hortense was the personal chef of the French president (Jean d’Ormesson) for two years before she quit and sought a change in venue for her talents. Her kitchen used to be in the Élysée Palace in Paris, the official residence of the French President.

Haute Cuisine is a movie based on the real-life story of Danièle Delpeuch, a Périgord farmer and renowned country cook appointed by the Palace Élysée to be the personal chef for French President François Mitterrand in 1988. She was responsible for preparing home-made, simple cooking for the President’s own private meals and his personal guests.

In the movie, as soon as she stepped into the Palace’s Main Kitchen Hortense knows what she is up against: a macho army of 24 all-male chefs who guard their territory like a castle. They serve 70,000 meals in a year, using some of the copper pots and pans dating back to Louis-Phillippe’s days. Hortense does not work right in that kitchen, but that is her source of supplies and ingredients (initially), and the battlefield for territory and sphere of culinary power and influence. The battle begins as soon as she steps on this holy ground.

The Battleground 1

Hortense works in a small, homely kitchen joined by a tunnel with the Main Kitchen. Her helper is a young pastry chef Nicholas Bauvois (Arthur Dupont). The two form an unlikely alliance and share an endearing camaraderie. Frot’s portrayal of Hortense is most amiable. She is not a harsh boss over Nicholas, but she can stand her ground and be assertive in front of the Main Kitchen chefs, and even with the President’s staff. Hortense is an iron fist inside an elegant, velvet glove.

So from the kitchen in Antarctica to Paris, the film goes back and forth to tell the story of Hortense, how she gets the Palace job and why she quits two years later. The shifting between the two time frames are smooth and seamless. With the two drastically different settings juxtaposed against each other, viewers can savour the irony: That the exquisite culinary skills and fine art of Hortense’ cooking are more appreciated by the Crozet Island workers than the Palace Élysée.

A delightful movie not just for foodies, Haute Cuisine is like a layer cake, blending multiple tastes together by tackling various issues of contention… the battle between the sexes in the work place (the kitchen is probably the most volatile), efficiency in meal preparation vs. passion for cooking, and, the dilemma of all food lovers: gratification or health (no sauces, fats, or cheeses? How can that be in French cuisine?)

A well crafted film that moves as efficiently as an experienced server, removing your empty plate as soon as the food is consumed, quietly slips in the next item for you to enjoy without a break. Yes, it’s relatively fast-paced, lean and fat-free with no wastage; to top it all off, the delightful, well-timed and orchestrated music composed by the prolific Gabriel Yared is like the light cream on the Saint-Honoré cake.

The President deeply appreciates Hortense’s home-grown culinary offerings. Her ingredients are locally grown right from the Palace garden,or nearby markets, or from her own farm, yes, truffles too. The tastes remind him of home when he was growing up as a boy. He has found a foodie soul-mate in Hortense. Here’s her first meal for him and his five guests (with two hours’ notice as to the number of guests):

Stuffed Cabbage

  • Brouillade with ceps and chervil
  • Stuffed cabbage with Scottish Salmon and Loire carrots (“I like things to come from somewhere”)
  • Saint-Honoré (her Granny’s recipe)

But I personally like this one the best:

Beef fillet pastry wrapped

 

  • Cream of asparagus soup with chervil
  • Fillet of beef (pastry wrapped) with Chanterelle Fricassee
  • Cream tart with fruit of the forest and pistachio nougatines

A virtual meal, so delicious and satisfying… and best of all, fat-free.

~ ~ ~ Ripples 

 

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Paris In July 2014

This is my first post for the blogging event Paris in July, 2014.

This year the hosting team has expanded to four. From the original creators Karen and Tamara, we now have Adria and Bellezza. Thanks to their time and dedication, we can travel to France on a virtual flight, no need for tickets, no baggages to drag along.

Also discovered another similar blogging event and that’s a Monday Meme Dreaming of France from Paulita’s An Accidental Blog. The more the merrier I’d say.

Dreaming of France Meme Eiffel

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Click Here to the New York Times’s profile of Danièle Delpeuch, the real-life personality on whom the movie is based.

Other Food Related Posts on Ripple Effects, coincidentally, all Paris-related:

Gourmet Rhapsody by Muriel Barbery

The Hundred-Foot Journey by Richard C. Morais (movie adaptation coming out in August, 2014)

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Saturday Snapshots July 28: Paris Montage

The Brasserie Balzar
Near the Sorbonne, Sarte and Camus’s frequent hangout where they dined and debated. Insert shot of Menu: Breakfast for 6 Euros includes a croissant, tartine, confiture, hot drink, orange juice.

A View of the Tower
Size is relative. 

The Paris Apple Store
Probably the most elegant of all the Apple branches.

The Paris Collage
As you can see, I got a bit carried away playing with the features in the photo editing site Picmonkey.

Again, Saturday Snapshot is hosted by Alyce of At Home with Books, Paris in July at Bookbath and Thyme for Tea.

Thanks to Zara Alexis for pointing me to PicMonkey.com for making these collages and watermarks.

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Saturday Snapshots July 21

Once again, Saturday Snapshots framed by a Paris in July backdrop…

I was pleasantly surprised to find the open space outside the Louvre being used not only for tourist line-ups but as a spot for a family outing.

Dad can keep an eye on Sis biking, while Mom gets baby ready for a video shoot.

And Li’l Bro rides into the sunset.

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Saturday Snapshot hosted by Alyce of At Home With Books, Paris In July at BookBath and Thyme for Tea.

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The Hundred-Foot Journey by Richard C. Morais

How do you get to Paris from Bombay? Food, Food, Food.

What better transport is there than a light vehicle that provides a fun and wild ride, taking me out of Midnight’s Children‘s Bombay to my next destination, Paris in July? Thanks to Karen of Book Bath for organizing the trip.

This delightful, breezy read is that speedy transit. It tells the story of Hassan Haji, a Muslim boy who lives above his grandfather’s restaurant in then Bombay and how he ultimately ends up as a three-star chef in Paris.

Growing up immersed in the savoury aroma of Indian food and spices,

I suspect my destiny was written from the very start, for my first sensation of life was the smell of machli ka salan, a spicy fish curry, rising through the floorboards to the cot…

Hassan is endowed with an exceptional gift of culinary talent. After the Partition and the death of his grandfather, religious and political turmoils push his family out of the country. They first land in London, later immigrate to France. The boisterous family finds a home in the resort village Lumière near the Alps and starts its own restaurant Maison Mumbai, serving Indian dishes and bringing a welcome change to the villagers.

Hassan soon is jealously noticed by the veteran, feisty two-star French Chef Madame Mallory across the street. She is the proprietor of the small country hotel, Le Saule Pleureur. Her restaurant is a haute French culinary establishment that plays Satie in contrast to the Indian music from a loudspeaker at the Haji’s. After many animated and almost cartoonish conflicts between Madame Mallory and Hassan’s Papa, Abbas Haji, both concede to the reconciliatory move of allowing Hassan to become Chef Mallory’s apprentice.

Thus, Hassan takes the one hundred-foot journey and crosses the street to stay at Le Saule Pleureur, learn all he can from the great Chef and answer ‘the irrefutable call of destiny’ to be one himself. Towards the end of his apprenticeship, Hassan is left on his own to create recipes for pigeons, gigot, and hare, all to the satisfaction of Chef Mallory. After three years under her wings, Hassan is ready to move on.

Chardin’s Grey Partridge Pear and Snare on Stone Table, one of Hassan’s favorite paintings.

Next step, Paris. Hassan starts as a sous chef with a couple of smaller restaurants. After a few years, he decides to open his own and is approached by a benefactor who offers him reduced rent in an upscale location near the Panthéon. The one-hundred foot journey has brought him fine training, now he can take flight.

Here is his trademark dish:

the Siberian ptarmigan, roasted with the tundra herbs taken from the bird’s own crop, and served with caramelized pears in an Armagnac sauce.

We as readers are privy to the actual cooking procedure beginning with the feathered live bird.

For me, more a movie buff than a foodie, the book conjures up many cinematic images… the colours and conflicts in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, the prejudice in Chocolat, the sumptuous offering in Babette’s Feast, and, the training sessions in the The Karate Kid. Dev Patel (Marigold Hotel, Slumdog Millionaire) will be perfect for the role as young Hassan. I couldn’t help but think, this book is good movie material.

And then I found out from the Acknowledgements after I finished, the book is an homage to the late Ismail Merchant, the film producer behind the Merchant Ivory productions (Room With A View, Howards End, The Remains of the Day) who met an untimely death in 2005. The bond between the author Richard Morais and his friend Ismail Merchant was food. This book was started with a subsequent movie in mind.

In-depth research has gone into writing the book, culinary history, recipes, game, desserts, soups, the French kitchen, the Indian kitchen, restaurant operations, even for me the uninformed and casual eater, there are plenty to savour. The book is a smorgasbord of gastronomic delights. My only criticism is that its literary treatment may taste a bit raw, simplistic, and at times, didactic. However, read it like a comedy, it can satisfy like a dessert.

~~~ Ripples

The Hundred-Foot Journey by Richard C. Morais, Scribner, NY, 2010, 245 pages.

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Sarah’s Key: Book into Movie

“When a story is told, it is not forgotten…”   — “Sarah’s Key” the movie

The Background: Vel d’Hiv Roundup

The story has to be told, because it is based on a historical event that has long been ignored. On July 16 and 17, 1942, the French police in Paris rounded up more than 13,000 Jews in Paris, among them 4,000 children, and confined them in the Velodrome d’Hiver (Winter Velodrome), an indoor bicycle racing track and stadium not far from the Eiffel Tower. There in the Velodrome the Jews were kept under French police guard for five days with no food and just one tap. They were subsequently sent to internment camps outside of Paris, where children were torn apart from their parents. Apart or together, they shared the same fate. From the internment camps, young and old alike were later transported by train to the Auschwitz extermination camp. The Velodrome, which was situated in the 15th arrondissement of Paris, has since been torn down but the event remains a dark page in France’s history.

The Vel d’Hiv roundup had been ignored for decades in the classrooms of the nation. Post-war French leaders from de Gaulle to Mitterrand had kept mum on the issue of France’s role in deporting Jews to the death camps. It was not until Jacques Chirac became president in 1995 that the French state accepted its official complicity, in particular, the Vel d’Hiv roundup. Here’s an excerpt of Chirac’s historical speech taken from a TIME magazine article:

France, homeland of the Enlightenment and of human rights, land of welcome and asylum; France, on that very day, accomplished the irreparable,” Chirac said in his speech, using the Vel d’Hiv roundup as a metaphor for all Vichy crimes. “Failing her promise, she delivered those she was to protect to their murderers.

A story based on this true event ought to be noticed. The French drama based on true accounts, “La Rafle” (“The Round Up”), was released in 2010 to a large audience in the country. And for us in North America, we have the novel Sarah’s Key (2007) and its movie adaptation (2010) to inform us of that horrific event and the imagined scenario of its impact on the lives involved.

(Spoiler Alert from here on.)

The Book

Written by Tatiana de Rosnay and published in 2007, the book has been on the New York Times bestseller list for 120 weeks. It has sold 5 million copies world wide and been released in 38 countries. de Rosnay has published works in French. This is her first English language book.

The book weaves two stories together 60 years apart. 10 year-old Sarah Starzynski’s family is one of those being rounded up on July 16, 1942. On the spur of the moment, Sarah hides and locks her 4 year-old brother Michel in a cupboard in the wall of their bedroom, thinking there he will be safe until she comes back for him. It was horrific for her and her parents to find out later that they won’t be returning at all.

Sarah and her parents are kept in Vel d’Hiv in appalling conditions, only to be deported to an internment camp where she is separated from them. Her determination never wavers though in getting back home to let her brother out of the locked cupboard. She has kept the key, guarding it with her life.

Fast forward to 2002. Julia Jarmond, a U.S. expatriate married and working as a journalist in Paris, delves into the research of the Vel d’Hiv roundup for a magazine article commemorating its 60th anniversary. She is totally absorbed by the little-known event. What’s more, she finds out that the apartment that used to belong to her French husband’s grandparents and which is now under renovation for her to move in was the very home of Sarah and her family.

At the same time, Julia struggles with a personal dilemma. At 45, mother to 11 year-old Zoé, and after two miscarriages, Julia is excited to find out she is pregnant. Her husband does not share her sentiment however, pressing her to abort. The poignant story of Sarah inspires Julia’s decision as the story unfolds.

While I whole-heartedly admire the author for her intention to honor the victims of Vel d’Hiv and her eagerness to expose the atrocities afterwards, I have reservations about the literary quality judging from the style and structure of the book. At several points, I feel the writing redundant. And for a novel written for an adult readership, it gives me the feeling of being talked down to, told what to think and how to feel.

Structurally, it presents the two stories in alternating chapters. The shifting is abrupt as the chapters are only three pages long. This lasts till the middle of the book when the story of Sarah’s key comes to an end. That occurs when Sarah makes it back to her apartment and discovers the heart-wrenching horror. The rest of the book is the continuation of modern day Julia’s story, her persistence to discover Sarah’s trail after the war and dealing with her own personal dilemma. Compared to Sarah’s story, this latter part seems trivial and anti-climatic.

The Movie

One year after it premiered at the TIFF, I finally have the chance to see this movie as it is being screened only recently in one theatre here in town.

Screenwriter director Gilles Paquet-Brenner has gleaned the essence of the novel and tightened the plot in an engrossing way. By virtue of its form, the movie has the advantage of showing rather than telling.  It can condense paragraphs of words into a cinematic moment frozen in the mind’s eye. The film is captivating, telling the story with vivid and haunting images.

We see the recreated Vel d’Hiv and its appalling condition. We see a woman plunging to her death from a high level in the Velodrome, an apparent suicide. We see the horror of children torn away from their mothers in the internment camp. We see too the desperation of Sarah finally running up to her apartment, pounding on the door of the new family living there. We see her barging into her bedroom and unlocking the cupboard. And from inside there with the camera pointing out, we see the terror on Sarah’s face as she looks in. We hear her scream.

The storytelling is carried out by the excellent performance of the two main actors, Mélusine Mayance as Sarah and Kristin Scott Thomas (“I’ve Loved You So Long”, 2008) as Julia Jarmond. The structure of the plot limits young Sarah to only the first part of the film, albeit her portrayal is memorable, her unseen presence lingers through the movie.

Kristin Scott Thomas always delivers. Her role as the persistent journalist Julia is convincing and a pleasure to watch. Her cool demeanor conveys the fact that it takes intelligence and professionalism to find the truth as a journalist, and yet, once exposed, the truth can have the affective power to inspire and turn one’s life around. Scott Thomas has aptly portrayed this change.

Nevertheless, the weakness of the film lies in the lack of character development in the ‘minor’ roles. If given more depth, they can sharpen the conflicts and enhance the story. I’m thinking of Julia’s relationships with husband Betrand (Frédéric Pierrot, “I’ve Loved You So Long”, 2008) who insists on her abortion, and with her daughter Zoé (Karina Hin).

And since I’ve been looking for ‘intrusions of grace’ lately, there’s a scene here that is of note. It is not in the book, but screenwriter/director Paquet-Brenner has aptly created a poignant cinematic moment with it.  When Sarah and another girl are trying to crawl under a barbed wire to escape from the internment camp, they are caught by a guard. But upon the urgent appeal of Sarah, he softens. Using his bare hands to hold up the wire, he pushes the girls through. The camera then closes up on his bleeding hand, pierced by the barbs, an apt allusion. How we need these ‘intrusions of grace’ to shed a glimmer of hope amidst overwhelming darkness.

“Sarah’s Key” may well be one of those examples where the movie speaks more powerfully than its source material. If you are time-pressed, go for the cinematic rendition.

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To read more about the Vel d’Hiv roundup and related articles, click on the following links:

Behind the French Ruling on WWII Deportations of Jews“, TIME.

“Remembering the Vel d’Hiv” The Economist.

“Letters from Drancy” The Guardian.

“Vel d’Hiv Roundup” Wikipedia

The Paris Wife by Paula McLain

Hemingway’s voice has been heard the world over. His persona and perspective reflected from his prolific writings. Now fifty years after his death, Paula McLain has gleaned through facts and whatever that’s true to create the novel The Paris Wife, revealing the point of view of Hadley Richardson, Hemingway’s first wife.

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Hadley’s voice speaks from the shadow. It reflects the thoughts of one who had seen it all from the beginning. Within seven short years, she had witnessed the transformation of a disgruntled journalist into a promising, full-fledged novelist. And she was the one who, after only three months of marriage, sailed with Hemingway to Paris and began her fateful role of the ever supportive and loving companion. How we need to listen to her side of the story.

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There are those who have read The Paris Wife and then want to read more of Hemingway’s works.  For me, after reading the book, I want to read more of Paula McLain’s.  It’s interesting that her MFA is in poetry, and that she has published two volumes of poetry collections before this novel. I wonder if it takes a poet to write prose like this, highly sensitive and nuanced, while surprisingly void of ornaments. I find the no-frills narrative style of McLain’s a bit like Hemingway’s, spare and direct, like his memoir A Moveable Feast. Consider something like this as Hadley recounted her earlier life:

And everything was very good and fine until it wasn’t.

What wasn’t fine is an understatement. It’s ironic that what happened to both Hadley and Ernest was quite similar. A domineering mother and a depressed father whose fate led to suicide by a self-inflicted gun shot wound. We know now that Hemingway himself could not escape such a fateful end himself.

But from the start, it was love at first sight for Hadley and Ernest as they met in a house party in Chicago, after Ernest returned home from the war. He was 21, she 29. A year after they met, on September 3, 1921, they were married.

Hadley’s voice captured me right away from the very beginning. I like her down-to-earth persona, her self-deprecating anecdotes as a simple American gal in Paris among the ‘lost generation’. I like it that she played Rachmaninoff and Chopin and not jazz-savvy. I like her ignorance in fashion and avoidance of the dazzling Parisian glitz and glamour:

 If the women in Paris were peacocks, I was a garden-variety hen.

It’s interesting too reading how other writers advise Ernest. They point to the bare essentials, as Hadley recalls Gertrude Stein saying:

Three sentences about the color of the sky. The sky is the sky and that’s all. Strong declarative sentences, that’s what you do best. Stick to that.”

As Stein spoke Ernest’s face fell for a moment, but then he recovered himself. She’d hit on something he’d recently begun to realize about directness, about stripping language all the way down. “… leave only what’s truly needed.” She’d said.

Or this from Ezra Pound:

Cut everything superfluous… Go in fear of abstractions. Don’t tell readers what to think. Let the action speak for itself.

Hadley was with him all the way. When she was later pregnant, Hadley felt the need to go for better birthing care in Canada to deliver her child. I was amazed to read about such a currently hot issue in their time. They sailed to Canada in September, 1923. One month later, Bumby was born.

They lived on the fourth floor of an apartment on Bathurst Street. And since I’m in Toronto now as I write this review, I’m able to go over there and take these photos for my readers. Currently, the building at 1597-1599 Bathurst Street is a comfortable and elegant looking five-storey apartment aptly named The Hemingway.

A plaque is placed at the entrance to mark this historic site:

It reads:

Ernest Hemingway

American-born Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961), internationally renowned author, lived in this apartment building 1597-1599 Bathurst Street, in 1923-24, while working as a journalist for the Toronto Star, where he became friends with novelist Morley Callaghan and writer/broadcaster Gordon Sinclair. He returned to Paris, France, where he began his career as a novelist, producing such masterpiece as “The Sun Also Rises”, “A Farewell To Arms”, & “For Whom The Bell Tolls”

Toronto Historical Board
1985

Ernest had worked for the Toronto Star before, and had developed an amicable working relationship with his boss John Bone. But this time he encountered tumultuous problems with his new boss, causing him to shorten his stay. This is what I found a block away from The Hemingway apartment:

Four months after their son Bumby was born, in January, 1924, the Hemingways sailed back to Paris. Upon seeing Gertrude, Ernest said:

I know we meant to be gone a year, but four months is a year in Canada.

I just can’t help but smile upon reading this. Interpret whatever way you will.

Once back in Paris, Ernest discarded his journalist hat and went all out to pursue his dream of a published writer, encouraged by his mentor Gertrude Stein. He began to be noticed and gain publishing success. And with success came fame, and fame, a different circle of friends, richer, more glamorous and drunk. Within their group of acquaintance, people were falling for each other’s spouses, messy and totally lost.

Hadley began to fall out of it all. One time at a tense exchange among the group, she was so fed up that she had to excuse herself and left early with Don Stewart, their writer friend. And here’s the sentence that leaves such an impression on me:

“Before we’d even gotten to the door, the gap had closed around the table and you couldn’t even tell I’d been there.”

The American journalist for Vogue magazine Pauline Pfeiffer soon became Ernest’s new preoccupation. She had not only won his heart, but Hadley’s trust and friendship. But the balance was bound to tip. Hadley’s innocence was soon shattered by betrayal from both her friend and her husband; her naivety ebbed away as she watched helplessly the painful disintegration of her marriage and small family.

I’d chosen my role as supporter for Ernest, but lately the world had tipped, and my choices had vanished. When Ernest looked around lately, he saw a different kind of life and liked what he saw. The rich had better days and freer nights. They brought the sun with them and made the tides move. Pauline was a new model of woman and why couldn’t he have her…

When I think back on Hemingway’s memoir of those Paris years, A Moveable Feast, in which he writes about his early love with Hadley, I can’t help but feel for both of them. How can we command our own feelings, passion, love? The bull fighting scenes in Pamplona which mesmerized Ernest so had become such an apt metaphor… the bulls charging madly through the narrow streets towards the ring, aroused by a mere spot of red, driven by brute instincts and raw impulses, yet all come to the same gory end in the ring.

In the book, McLain has their writer friend Don Stewart declared:

I can take the bulls and the blood. It’s this human business that turns my stomach.

You might ask: “But is this all true?” After all, this is only a novel. From his notes on A Moveable Feast, Hemingway stated that all was fiction. Conversely, in McLain’s The Paris Wife, she has this quote from Hemingway:

 There’s no one thing that’s true. It’s all true.

Looks like it’s for us readers to pick and choose.

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~ ~ ~ 1/2 Ripples

The Paris Wife by Paula McLain, published by Bond Street Books, Random House, 2011, 314 pages.

You might like to read my review of:

A Moveable Feast (Restored Edition) by Ernest Hemingway.

Midnight In Paris, a film by Woody Allen.

A Moveable Feast (Restored Edition) by Ernest Hemingway

Reading A Moveable Feast is like walking along the sea shore. On the fine sandy beach you see many attractive shells, but you don’t have a bucket with you. You pick the finest ones and put them in your pockets, until they’re full. But every step you take further, you see more that you want to keep. This post is too limited for me to display all the shells I’ve collected, but allow me to just pour them out from my pockets, without sorting, sand and all.

I first read about the term “Moveable Feast” while sitting in an Anglican church in Vancouver, flipping through the The Book of Common Prayer. After some googling later, I got the idea. A feast in the liturgical calendar that you commemorate no matter which date it falls on year after year. In the Foreword of this restored edition, Hemingway’s son Patrick (with second wife Pauline Pfeiffer) writes:

The complexity of a moveable feast lies in the calculation of the calendar date for Easter in a given year, from which it is simple enough then to assign a calendar date to each and every moveable feast for a given year. Palm Sunday is seven days before Easter.

A memorable experience that will follow you all the years of your life. You’ll cherish it whenever and wherever you are. Hemingway’s friend A. E. Hotchner suggested this title. Author of the biography Papa Hemingway, Hotchner recalls Hemingway once said to him:

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.

Like Rick says to Ilsa in “Casablanca”: “We’ll always have Paris.” Same sentiment.

A Moveable Feast is Hemingway’s memoir written from notes he had forgotten in two steamer trunks stored at the Ritz Hotel in Paris since 1928. In 1956 he repossessed the treasure trove, upon the urging of the hotel management. The book details his experience while living in Paris from 1921 to 1926, when the author was in his early 20’s. The memoir was first published posthumously in 1964. The Paris Years was a period when Hemingway, just married Hadley Richardson, young and care-free, decided to give up journalism to strive at being a novelist.

He would write in a rented room or in a café over café crème,
meet Gertrude Stein for critique of his writing, go back home for lunch with wife Hadley, or have oysters and wine in a restaurant, socialize with Fitzgerald, Ezra Pound, and other expats, borrow piles of books from Sylvia Beach’s library in her bookshop Shakespeare and Company, visit Luxembourg gardens and museum…

Two people, then, could live comfortably and well in Europe on five dollars a day and could travel.

No wonder Gil in “Midnight in Paris” dreams of such a life.

What strikes me initially is Hemingway’s frankness, sometimes blatant description of his opinion about the people he met. Like the first time he saw the artist Wyndham Lewis through Ezra Pound:

I watched Lewis carefully without seeming to look at him, as you do when you are boxing, and I do not think I had ever seen a nastier-looking man… I tried to break his face down and describe it but I could only get the eyes. Under the black hat, when I had first seen them, the eyes had been those of an unsuccessful rapist.

According to grandson Sean Hemingway who edited and wrote the introduction of this restored edition, Hemingway developed his sharp eye and ear during these Paris years. Here’s an account of Scott Fitzgerald when Hemingway first met him in the Dingo bar:

Scott was a man then who looked like a boy with a face between handsome and pretty. He had very fair wavy hair, a high forehead, excited eyes and a delicate long-lipped Irish mouth that, on a girl, would have been the mouth of a beauty. His chin was well built and he had good ears and a handsome, almost beautiful, unmarked nose.

This is only a little excerpt in a two page description of Scott’s appearance. It’s sentences like these that stand out for me. They all point to the writer at work: observing.

I kept on looking at him closely and noticed…”

“I kept on observing Scott.

And putting down in words later:

I wasn’t learning very much from looking at him now except that he had well shaped, capable-looking hands, not too small, and when he sat on one of the bar stools I saw that he had very short legs. With normal legs he would have been perhaps two inches taller.

But it was Scott’s talents despite his eccentricities and alcoholism that formed the building blocks of their friendship.

When I had finished the book [The Great Gatsby] I knew that no matter what Scott did, nor how preposterously he behaved, I must know it was like a sickness and be of any help I could to him and try to be a good friend. …   If he could write a book as fine as The Great Gatsby I was sure that he could write an even better one. I did not know Zelda yet, and so I did not know the terrible odds that were against him.

It is perhaps with such candour and devotion in writing that he constantly sought to “write one true sentence.” Woody Allen has grasped the essence in this juicy line from “Midnight in Paris”:

No subject is terrible if the story is true, if the prose is clean and honest, and if it affirms courage and grace under pressure.

The restored edition brings back sections missing in the earlier 1964 publication which was edited by fourth and last wife Mary. According to Sean Hemingway, this restored work represents the content that Hemingway himself had intended the book to have, with the chapter “Nada y Pues Nada” (Nothing And Then Nothing) written three months before his suicide.

The second last chapter “The Pilot Fish and the Rich” shows he was remorseful over the breakdown of his first marriage to Hadley towards the end of his Paris days. A mutual friend they both knew, journalist Pauline Pfeiffer, came in between them. “You love them both now… Everything is split inside of you and you love two people now instead of one.”

But A Moveable Feast belongs to Earnest and Hadley and their young son Bumby.  “… this is how Paris was in the early days when we were very poor and very happy.” As a reader, I feel a sense of loss as I come to the end, for Earnest and Hadley were so much in love the first few years in Paris:

She: ‘And we’ll never love anyone else but each other.’

He: ‘No. Never.’

Their 2-room rental walk-up with no electricity and no hot water had been a haven of warm meals and intimate talks. It was the time when he was “a young man supporting a wife and child … learning to write prose.” Their short marriage lasted only six years. In 1927 Hemingway married Pauline, four months after divorcing Hadley.

The last section at the end of the book is entitled “Fragments”. These are “false starts”, beginning paragraphs of an introduction Hemingway tried to write for this book. Interestingly, every one of these attempts starts with: “This book is fiction.” Many include this sentence: “I have left out much and changed and eliminated and I hope Hadley understands.” In another fragment he wrote: “No one can write true fact in reminiscences…”

I’m baffled. But maybe unnecessarily. From our very subjective mind, our often hazy view of what did happen and what we wish to have happened and what could have happened, we conjure up a fusion. Should there be a clear line separating them? It’s because the demarkation of fact and fantasy is fluid that we can appreciate the arts, such as the film “Midnight in Paris.” The events that happen to Gil after midnight would remain fondly with him as reality, so real that they change his decision regarding his future. Facts or fiction… or fusion?

~ ~ ~ 1/2 Ripples

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A Moveable Feast: The Restored Edition by Ernest Hemingway, published by Scribner, NY, 2009, 240 pages. Foreword by Patrick Hemingway, introduced and edited by Sean Hemingway.

This post is to participate in the Paris In July blogging event hosted by Karen of BookBath and Tamara of Thyme for Tea. You can also find another review of A Moveable Feast here at Dolce Bellezza.

To read my review of “Midnight In Paris”, CLICK HERE.

Photos: Paris, Shakespeare and Company, Writers’ portraits and The Library in Shakespeare and Company taken by Arti of Ripple Effects, Aug. 2010. All Rights Reserved.

Click on the following links for some insightful interviews:

National Post Interview with Sean Hemingway on the restored edition

Interview with Woody Allen on making “Midnight In Paris”

Midnight In Paris (2011)

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A Woody Allen movie rated G? Yes, and maybe only in B.C. where I saw it in Vancouver yesterday. If you’re offering charming characters, lively performance from some talented actors, Woody Allen’s own clever screenplay inundated with witty dialogues, and have him direct in the backdrop of dreamlike Paris, the result is pure delight. You don’t need too much of anything extra, hence the MPAA PG-13 rating. And maybe because of that, clean and crisp, this is one of the Woody Allen movies I enjoy most for some years. And yes, this is the one with French first lady Carla Bruni in it, where Allen has to direct under the watchful eyes of the French President and his security personnel.

Gil (Owen Wilson) and Inez (Rachel McAdams) are engaged to be married. They take a trip to Paris with Inez’s parents John (Kurt Fuller) and Helen (Mimi Kennedy) for John’s business merger. While Gil and Inez first appear to be a romantic pair, we soon find them to be incompatible. Gil is an underachieved screenwriter from California, aiming to write his first novel. His dream of Paris is one of the golden age, nostalgically inhabited by the modernists, the artists and literati of the 1920’s.

However, his fiancé Inez fails to see his aspiration or potential, and the imagination that the cultural city can unleash in him. Rather, she falls for their American friend Paul (Michael Sheen), the intellectual snob whose self-importance drives him to snub Gil and even counter their museum guide (Carla Bruni) in the accuracy of her information. But Gil is more preoccupied with his midnight encounters, which ultimately transform him and change their individual paths. These experiences after midnight are just wonderful surprises for Gil, and me. Without giving too much of a spoiler, let’s just say it’s Woody Allen’s version of ‘Back to the Future’.

When I first saw the trailer, I had reservation about Owen Wilson being the leading man in a Woody Allen movie set in Paris. Would that be a miscast? Well, I’m proven wrong the moment he appears on screen. Wilson embodies the unassuming and delusional Gil, screenwriter from Pasadena, CA. He casts all of his previous film roles out of my mind and replaces with only this one of the moment, offering a performance that is impressively convincing. He leads a cast of wonderful actors, including the charming Marion Cotillard, veteran Kathy Bates, the versatile Michael Sheen, and a very dramatic Adrien Brody. And I won’t give away who is supposed to be who, I’ll leave that joy of discovery for you.

This is a movie for art and literature lovers, ideal for book bloggers and discussion groups. Allen has cleverly juxtaposed the modernists in the turn of the 20th century with their contemporary admirer Gil. We encounter all these iconic figures in the film: Ernest Hemingway, Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, Pablo Picasso, Cole Porter, Salvador Dali, T.S. Eliot and more… it’s so much fun to hear allusion to their works, and some of them utter lines that are their own but in the style and wit of Woody Allen’s.

What makes the movie gratifying of course is not just the visuals, people and places, but how the story leads. The twist towards the end is the pivotal revelation for Gil. While one can bask in nostalgia, one needs to embrace the present in order to fully live. As I watched the movie, I wanted to read the script and capture Allen’s ingenuity. As I left the theatre, I wanted to see it again.

~~~1/2 Ripples

To read my review of Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast CLICK HERE.

Paris: The Latin Quarter

Solution to Arti’s Cryptic Challenge #3: Paris

It was pure serendipity that I’d picked a hotel right in The Latin Quarter.  At the time of my booking I wasn’t aware of so culturally rich a Parisian sector I’d be staying, and with many attractions on my list within walking distance.   The Latin Quarter derived its name from the fact that Latin was widely spoken in the area during Medieval time.  This has been the academic and literary part of Paris, and remains so today. Bookstores are everywhere, almost all in French though, many specializing in philosophy.

Our hotel is situated right across from the Sorbonne, Universite de Paris.  Unfortunately it was closed during the summer months, the guard at the gate making sure people stay out, so I did not get a chance to go inside or browse in their bookstore.

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The Panthéon is also located in The Latin Quarter, about a 15 minutes walk from where we stayed.  It is the burial site of several renowned intellectual and literary figures of France, including Voltaire, Rousseau, Hugo, Zola, Pierre and Marie Curie:

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Not just as a memorial ground, the Latin Quarter is a vibrant sector where writers, intellectuals and academics congregate, meet each other to engage in discourses over coffee or a glass of wine. Here is a restaurant where Camus and Sartre were among its prominent patrons, now a tourist point of interest on the map, Le Brasserie Balzar:

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Heading down rue St. Jacques from Balzar, I walked towards the River Seine.  I could see from afar the Notre Dame:

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But I wasn’t going to make my way across just yet, for I’ve found the number one item on my must-see list situated on this side of the Seine, the Left Bank, and that was the legendary bookstore-library, Shakespeare and Company:

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On November 17, 1919, American expatriate Sylvia Beach opened the English language bookstore-library in Paris, and turned the page in literary history.  Beach was not merely a bookseller, but a multi-faceted literary personality, a writer and a subject for other writers, the publisher of James Joyce’s Ulysses in 1922, the proprietor of a literary hub that welcomed expatriate writers to mingle, read, write and stay.  In one of her many literary parties she introduced F. Scott Fitzgerald to James Joyce, the former was too intimidated to approach Joyce himself.   Many icons of the ‘Lost Generation’ had been affiliated with the literary hang-out, including Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, to name a few.  Click here for a historic photo of Beach and Joyce in front of Shakespeare and Company.

Hemingway and some of the ‘Lost Generation’ found on the walls of the bookstore:

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Closed down during WWII, the new owner George Whitman, another American expat and a friend of Beach’s,  re-opened its doors in 1951 in the present location on the Left Bank of the Seine.   Now in his 90’s, Whitman has stood by his commitment not to sell his little bookstore to developers, and kept the tradition alive: a sanctuary for writers.  For almost 60 years now, Whitman, himself a writer and a poet, has offered lodging and writing opportunities to countless aspiring souls.  The bookstore is now run by daughter Sylvia Beach Whitman.  According to its website, Shakespeare and Company has served more than 50,000 heads on the pillows of its 13 bed facilities for free, accommodating such literary figures as Henry Miller, Anais Nin, Lawrence Durrell, and Alan Ginsberg.  Click here for a personal account of what it’s like staying at Shakespeare and Company, and some house rules.

A mementos from Lawrence Durrell:

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Upholding the spirit of hospitality:

Typewriter for use, tradition alive and well:

Some impromptu music-making:

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Just last week, even the editor of the New York Times has declared the inevitable, that the print version of the New York Times will end some time in the future. Under the sweeping torrents of eBooks and ePublishing, seems like independent bookstores are fighting an uphill, if not a losing, battle.  I wish the Whitman family well in standing strong against the tide.  From a little bookshop-library, it has stayed true to its tradition, and by so doing, gained a spot on the historic map of Paris.  In 2006, Whitman was honoured by the French Minister of Culture with the Order of Arts and Letters. More than just a point of interest for tourists, Shakespeare and Company has now become a cultural institution that just, hopefully, might not be so easily demolished to make way for new development along the Seine.

Click here to read an interesting article and personal interview with George Whitman from Bloomberg, yes, Bloomberg.

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All Photos Taken By Arti of Ripple Effects, August 2010.  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

Flight of the Red Balloon (2007, France, DVD)

flight-of-the-red-balloon

In celebration of its 20th anniversary, the Musée d’Orsay in Paris has commissioned four notable directors to create a series of commemorative films. One of them is Olivier Assayas with his Summer Hours (l’Heure d’été) which I have reviewed.  Another is the highly acclaimed Taiwanese auteur Hou Hsiao-hsien. Flight of the Red Balloon is a unique piece of film art gently crafted by Hou in homage to Albert Lamorisee’s Oscar winning short Le Ballon Rouge (1956). Hou has long been garnering awards in international film festivals throughout Europe and Asia since the 1980’s, albeit relatively unknown in North America. Flight of the Red Balloon is his first French language film.

The little boy in this 2007 rendition is Simon (Simon Iteanu), a child growing up in the hustle and bustle of Paris. With an absentee father somewhere in Montreal pursuing his writing, and a frantically busy mother Suzanne (Juliette Binoche), Simon is alone in an adult world. Overloaded with her work as a voice-over artist in a puppet production plus other personal matters, Suzanne hires Song (Fang Song), a film student from Beijing, to look after Simon for her.

Suzanne is the embodiment of urban frenzy. As a single mother, she has to shuttle between home and work, deal with the eviction of a bad tenant in her lower apartment, confront her non-committal husband on the phone to Montreal, and connect with her daughter in Brussel, all in a day’s work. Simon is most perplexed.  “Why are you so busy, Mama?”, he asks.

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Song, on the other hand, offers the tranquility that is needed to balance life in the midst of chaos. As a film student, she uses her hand-held camera to record Simon’s activities, and by her quiet demeanor and calm observing, she reflects pleasure in the mundane, everyday trivialities called life. This is reality show without sensationalism.  Hou has ingeniously conveyed his perspective of realism with artistic overtone. No doubt, there is a lack of plot, suspense, or climax, but there is character contrasts, cinematic offerings in sights and sounds, and realistic, natural performance. Juliette Binoche has once again assured me why she is one of my favorite actresses. And no, you are not watching paint dry, you are watching life unplugged.

The red balloon forms the focal point of Hou’s signature long take. The almost God-like omnipresence hovering over buildings in the Paris skyline is a joyful symbol of childhood. Its silent drifting is as elusive as the fleeting memories of happiness. Even little Simon achingly remembers the pleasant days he had shared with his much older sister, who is now living in Brussel. We are all trying to catch and hold on to fond memories and meaningful relationships. Yet as the busyness of urban living numb our senses, we ignore and shove away what we think is a hindrance to our time, just like the people rushing out of the subway station, shoving away the red balloon. Only a child would try to catch and befriend it.

Complementing the cinematic artistry is the equally mesmerizing piano music, meditative, serene and restoring, setting the mood and the preamble of the film.  Other musical numbers are equally soulful. Click here for the official IFC site where you can have a taste of the sights and sounds of the film.

felix-vallotton-le-ballon-1899I particularly enjoy the ending. As Simon goes on a school trip to the art gallery of the Musée d’Orsay, the children gather on the floor to talk about Félix Vallotton’s 1899 painting Le Ballon, he leans back, slightly removes himself from his school mates, and lays on his back. As he looks up to the glass canopy of the museum ceiling, he sees it again, the red balloon, watching over him, removed yet engaged, far away, yet ever so near.

~ ~ ~ Ripples