… and a bit of Vergangenheitsbewältigung for that which one has never experienced. (New word, thank you The Economist! German is an amazing language.)
I was reading this article in The Paris Review today – one of the first by them I’ve actually (sadly) read – but it infused me with this crazy longing for all things dimmed and jazz, feather boas and crazy, inspiring little old ladies. It tells the story of a woman called ‘Bricktop’, who drove F. Scott Fitzgerald home every night in Paris (that city-saddened man); who exchanged wry jokes about lynchings with Cole Porter; who had Django Reinhardt and Fred Astaire playing and dancing on her bar floor; who was comforted by Langston Hughes… well, the article has a hundred other names to drop, and it’s just incredible.
Couple that with an episode of BBC Radio 4’s ‘Great Lives’ series on Samuel Beckett a few nights ago (I find it hugely relaxing to listed to podcasts while pedaling away in the gym; it’s a desperate bid to expand my mind and simultaneously contract my bodily fat) – and it seems like I am fated to dream of bohemian Parisian circles tonight.
Paris seems to have been where everyone fled to in a bid to escape the smallness of their own societies and lives – whether the racism of old America, or the religiosity of an emerging independent Ireland – and Paris was a city of Bricktop‘s and Shakespeare & Co‘s. A beautiful cluster of random things and poetic moments (smoky jazz; pornographic publishings; folies bergères; and error-ridden typesets) – which in many ways, I suppose, it still is: I got the strongest sensation when I visited Paris that it was (as I so eloquently/pretentiously wrote in my journal at the time) “a conglomeration of times & times & times…it’s organic history”. History that never stays still – but lives, thrives and symbiotically fuses with the future and the present and its own past like some kind of throbbing amoeba. It’s like a highly fertile soil covered in different kinds of fungi – the Napoleonic fungi-buildings; the Revolutionary fungi-buildings; the opulent imperial fungi-palaces… etc. (A tenuous analogy, but I can think of no better – except, I sincerely hope no mycologist comes to shatter my simile by telling me that different kinds of fungi cannot grow on the same soil.)
This post was meant to be an ode to Josephine Baker (who oddly enough hasn’t featured at all yet…), and the redolences of jazz and smoky Parisian corners that that article called up – but it wound up being an ode to Paris. Oh well. But maybe it’s not unfitting: she was emblematic of Paris in the most beautiful of ways, after all. But here it is at last, then – to make this post a truly synaesthetic experience (you’ve had Paris in poems, and Paris in purple hues – now have Paris in music). I’ve heard many versions of ‘Bye Bye Blackbird’, and most of them don’t do to me what this particular version does; they are too slow, too drawn out in a desperately ugly attempt to be that kind of cooling, drawling jazz – but Baker’s really jumps with her special brand of joie de vivre. :D
Now… all I’m waiting for is Woody Allen’s ‘Midnight in Paris’ to be released. Taking… so damn long!!!!