March 18, 2012

It was an electric summer, with the nymphets batting around like moths against the screen.

Looking for Hemingway by Gay Talese

Really loved this one. For some reason I didn't expect to, or didn't expect anything but Talese painted such an interesting, magical portrait of what the early years of tbe Paris Review was like for the men (and few women) who were involved. It was such a wonderful read and the way James Baldwin brought it all back to reality in the end perfected it.

"He became a chess hustler in cafes, earning several hundred francs a night. It was in the cafes that he met Peter Matthiessen, and they both talked of starting a little magazine that would be the Paris Review. Before coming to Paris, Humes had never worked on a magazine, but had grown fond of a little magazine called Zero, edited by a small Greek named Themistocles Hoetes, whom everybody called "Them." Impressed by what Them had done with Zero, Humes purchased for $600 a magazine called the Paris News Post, which John Ciardi later called the "best fourth-rate imitation of the New Yorker I have ever seen," and to which Matthiessen felt condescendingly superior, and so Humes sold it for $600 to a very nervous English girl, under whom it collapsed one issue later. Then Humes and Matthiessen and others began a long series of talks on what policy, if any, they would follow should the Paris Review ever get beyond the talking and drinking stages.
When the magazine was finally organized, and when George Plimpton was selected as its editor instead of Humes, Humes was disappointed. He refused to leave the cafes to sell advertising or negotiate with French printers. And in the summer of 1952 he did not hesitate to leave Paris with William Styron, accepting an invitation from a French actress, Mme. Nenot, to go down to Cap Myrt, near Saint-Tropez, and visit her fifty-room villa that had been designed by her father, a leading architect. The villa had been occupied by the Germans early in the war. And so when Styron and Humes arrived they found holes in its walls, through which they could look out to the sea, and the grass was so high and the trees so thick withg rapes that Humes's little Volkswagen became tangled in the grass. So they went on foot toward the villa, but suddenly stopped when they saw, rushing past them, a young, half-naked girl, very brown from the sun, wearing only handkerchiefs tied bikini-style, her mouth spilling with grapes. Screaming behind her was a lecherous-looking old French farmer whose grape arbor she obviously had raided.
"Styron!" Humes cried, gleefully, "we have arrived!"
"Yes," he said, "we are here!"
More nymphets came out of the trees in bikinis later, carrying grapes and also half cantaloupes the size of cartwheels, and they offered some to Styron and Humes. The next day they all went swimming and fishing, and, in the evening, they sat in the bombed-out villa, a breathtaking site of beauty and destruction, drinking wine with the young girls who seemed to belong only to the beach. It was an electric summer, with the nymphets batting around like moths against the screen. Styron remembers it as a scene out of Ovid, Humes as the high point of his career as an epicurean and scholar."

"But as much as anything else, the Paris Review survived because it had money. And its staff members had fun because they knew that should they ever land in jail, their friends or families would always bail them out. They would never have to share with James Baldwin the experience of spending eight days and nights in a dirty French cell on the erroneous charge of having stolen a bedsheet from a hotelkeeper, all of which led Baldwin to conclude that while the wretched round of hotel rooms, bad food, humiliating concierges, and unpaid bills may have been the "Great Adventure" for the Tall Young Men, it was not for him because, he said, "there was a real question in my mind as to which would end soonest, the Great Adventure or me.""

"A few blocks away, in a small, dark apartment, another exile, James Baldwin, said, "It didn't take long before I really was no longer a part of them. They were more interested in kicks and hashish cigarettes than I was. I had already done that in the Village when I was eighteen or seventeen. It was a little boring by then.
They also used to go to Montparnasse, where all the painters and writers went, and where I hardly went. And they used to go there and hang around at the cafes for hours and hours looking for Hemingway. They didn't seem to realize," he said, "that Hemingway was long gone."

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