Posts Tagged Paris

book review: Impressions of Paris

impressions of paris

Impressions of Paris by Cat Seto. Harper Design| April 2017| 176 pages | $19.99| ISBN: 9780062493071

RATING: *****/5*

A lovely adult picture book. The perfect gift for someone who appreciates art and beautiful things. Cat Seto sketches her way through museums, cafes, gardens, bookstores and the streets of Paris. Recalling her time in Paris through watercolor illustrations, she divides the book into four chapters: color; pattern; perspective and rhythm. There’s a reason so many creative types find inspiration in Paris. Culture, art, architecture. There’s art in everything from the buildings to the food to the streets to the fashion and to the residents.

Seto shares her personal experiences and connections to Paris as well as various art principles. It’s a combination memoir and art class within these pages. My strongest memories of Paris include chocolate crepes, art museums and impressive buildings. And eating Chocolat chaud and French bread for breakfast every morning.

On Le Boutique de Saint-Paris: “I have sketchbooks filled with etchings of flowers, and many a pattern has emerged from these tiny discoveries.” On Jardin des Plantes: “I was going to visit the Jardin des Plantes for only a few minutes. I instead spent days there, sketching among all the wanderers, art students, and schoolchildren.” Whether you’ve visited Paris or long to visit, this striking book provides a wonderful examination of the artistic sensibility that attracts so many artists, authors and musicians to the City of Light.

Cat Seto is a San-Francisco-based artist and the founder and creative director of the stationary collection Ferme a Papier. She holds a BFA in painting and an MFA in fiction/creative writing from the University of Michigan.

–review by Amy Steele

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Harper Collins.

Shop Indie Bookstores

, , , ,

Leave a comment

STEELE INTERVIEWS: author Jennie Fields

Jennie Fields is the author of The Age of Desire, a novel that imagines the details of the affair between Pulitzer-prize winning author Edith Wharton and journalist Morton Fullerton when Edith was 45 years old. The affair took place mostly in Paris. It ultimately affected Edith’s relationship with her husband Teddy Wharton and her best friend and literary secretary Anna Bahlmann. The Age of Desire is told through Edith’s and Anna’s eyes.

Fields received an MFA in creative writing from the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop and is the author of three other novels, Lily Beach, Crossing Brooklyn Ferry and The Middle Ages. An Illinois native, she spent many years as an advertising creative director in New York and currently lives with her husband in Nashville, Tennessee. Jennie spoke with me by phone last week. Read more information on her website.

Amy Steele: When did you first become interested in Edith Wharton?

Jennie Fields: I was probably in my early 20s when I first discovered her and the minute I did, I felt this tremendous kinship with her. Her books thrilled me and I never tire of reading them and rereading them. I discover something new. There’s always something new. Now you can get e-books that haven’t been in print for years through the Guttenberg Project. I never ever run out of new things to learn from her work.

Amy Steele: Your agent gave you this idea for this novel when you were in Paris.

Jennie Fields: It’s all true. It’s one of those aha moments.

Amy Steele:She suggested you write about your favorite author Edith Wharton but how did you decide what to write about?

Jennie Fields: I knew only vaguely about her life at that point. I knew she’d had an affair. I immediately got every book I could find about her—there were a number of biographies. I just started reading everything. I narrowed down a part of her life. I clearly wanted to write about her relationship with Fullerton because not only were the letters available but her love diary was available. There was one part of her life where she wrote a diary on a daily basis where you could really get a sense of what she was going through.

Then I had a sense that you needed to see her from the outside as well. I decided I wanted a secondary character. I identified Anna Bahlmann and no one had really written anything about her. She clearly was important to Edith. She was with her for years on and off. It was serendipity that her letter came up for auction. I went to my computer and put in Anna Bahlmann and that week at Christie’s, letters that had been in an attic for over 100 years, that nobody had read from Edith to Anna, were going to auction. What a thrill. I ran over to Christie’s. They let me look at the letters. Everything I’d surmised about the relationship was true. It gave me insight into how Anna fit into Edith’s life. I loved that there was a counter-relationship not just with Morton (Fullerton) but with someone who loved Edith more than Morton ever did.

Edith couldn’t have been an easy person to live with. By many accounts Edith was very imperious and difficult. She was up against a world where women didn’t succeed and she was determined to succeed. Anna was a good way to look at that.

Amy Steele: I was confused with the finances in the novel. Edith married Teddy for money at the beginning but then he stole from her trust fund later on.

Jennie Fields: The majority of the money that built the Mount and that Teddy stole from was money from her books. She was tremendously successful with her books. People don’t really recognize how successful she was. Really stunningly successful. She had way more money than him. [Teddy] was never a wealthy man; he was just an appropriate man.

Amy Steele: That’s too bad because she should have married Walter Berry.

Jennie Fields: She really should have married Walter. And when you read the House of Mirth you know that Selden is based on Walter. He’s just a penniless lawyer. He clearly loved her but didn’t declare himself and he wasn’t wealthy enough. And when he was, she was married to Teddy Wharton.

Amy Steele: She did divorce Teddy.

Jennie Fields: She finally divorced Teddy, in 1911 or 1912, at Walter’s behest because he was so dangerous.

Amy Steele: Sounded like a manic-depressive with no treatment.

Jennie Fields: They said he had gout in the head. And hot springs was all they could recommend.

Amy Steele:Amy: So I’ve read A Backward Glance but no biographies on Edith Wharton.

Jennie Fields: What’s interesting about A Backward Glance is it’s how Edith wants others to view her. She cut out Anna. She said she taught herself everything and no one encouraged her to read. Now we know from these letters that Anna saved that Anna encouraged her to read all the time. Even her parents were much more encouraging of her as a writer than she ever let on. She wanted people to believe she was born from her own power and that nobody encouraged her. It really wasn’t true.

Amy Steele: What do you really like about Edith Wharton?

Jennie Fields: The thing that draws me to her is that she always writes about people who are caught in the net of society’s expectations. They fight against that and often they don’t win.

A good example of that is Lily Barth [The House of Mirth]. One of the reasons why that book is so beautiful is that the tragedy of it is it’s her better nature that kills her. If she was a better person she would have gone ahead and married someone wealthier. She was too bright and too good to marry these wretched people.

And Newland Archer in Age of Innocence. He is told he is supposed to marry May and stay with May and he falls in love with Countess Ellen Olenska. It’s not what he’s slated to do. But he can’t fight society. He’s exhausted and can’t fight society.

But Edith herself was told she couldn’t do what she wanted to do and she did it anyway. The only thing she never succeeded at was love until she was 45 years old. Of course how well did she succeed but at least she found passion.

Amy Steele: Do you think Edith was that insecure in her relationship with Morton Fullerton? It was so uncomfortable reading some of it.

Jennie Fields: Those were her real letters and if you read the diary and the letters just on their own you will find how she was tremendously insecure and she really abased herself in front of this man who was not worthy of her. It’s painful to read but it’s the truth. There were moments when it was hard to write that book because I had to make Edith less heroic. She also didn’t sleep with him for a very long time. Probably longer than I’d like to go with fictionally but I had to go with the truth.

A: She wrote such strong female characters. Vulnerable but strong.

Jennie Fields: It’s true. Her mother never made her feel she was attractive in any way which I think made her prey to his interest in her. She was extremely girlish in her figure. Had gorgeous hair and had tremendous bearing. She held her back straight, her neck long. And she was tall for that era.

Amy Steele: what do you think attracted her to Morton?

Jennie Fields: He was extremely charming, very intelligent and very attractive. He had lovers of both sexes who could hardly say goodbye to him and he kept the letters to prove it. He must have been incredibly charming. She’d never had anybody pursue her like that before. She was pretty intimidating as a woman. A lot of men were not attracted to a very intelligent woman. He was attracted to her, he wanted her. He paid attention to her. And that was pretty heady stuff to her.

Amy Steele: What do you think Morton saw in her?

Jennie Fields: She was older, successful. He was drawn to success, fortune, fame. He saw her as a mark.

Amy Steele: Why hasn’t much been written about Anna (Bahlmann) up until now?

Jennie Fields: Anna said in a letter to her friends and to her family that all she wanted in her life was to make Edith’s life easier. I started to wonder why Edith would say in one summer ‘I can’t function without Anna. Where is Anna?’ and then the following summer she sent her away and then she sent her away again. I had to make my own conjectures.

Amy Steele: How fun is it to do that?

Jennie Fields: Well it makes a whole cloth for those who want to read it. So I really enjoy that but I want to tread lightly and carefully because I don’t want to misinterpret things. I wish the whole story were there and I could tell it exactly as it was but I can’t. I have to create scenes that make you understand why something may have happened.

Amy Steele: What was your greatest challenge in writing this novel?

Jennie Fields: Trying to tell a story that was as close to history as possible but trying to make you feel it. Sometimes I had to create my own answers and had to make sure it was credible. It’s so telling that she could be so powerful in the world but in the face of love she was really cut down.

Amy Steele: From the novel it sounds like she left The Mount and became an ex-pat and wanted to live in Paris.

Jennie Fields: That’s what happened. They built The Mount and they ended up moving to the suburbs of Paris and she won the French Legion of Honor for what she did during WWI and was buried in Versailles. She spent the rest of her life in Paris. I think she believed that American life was stifling and so prescribed that there was no room for her especially after she divorced Teddy. She was afraid to go back to America. By the 20s things have changes tremendously and she went to Yale University to get an award and it was her last trip to America. She just thought it was provincial.

Amy Steele: How was she able to write about New York society so well?

Jennie Fields: In The Age of Innocence she writes about society in the 1870s so it’s the past. She asked her friends what was going on. But a lot of her later stuff she’s conjecturing and that might be why it’s not as popular because it’s probably not as accurate.

The Age of Desire
by Jennie Fields
Powells.com

, , , , , , ,

Leave a comment

book review: The Last Nude

The Last Nude , by Ellis Avery. Publisher: Riverhead (January, 2011). Literary fiction. Hardcover, 320 pg.

The Last Nude transports the reader to 1920s Paris and the expat art world. It’s an impressive work of historical fiction as the place and the characters become so vivid and recognizable to the reader. This makes The Last Nude a book you are hesitant to put down. It’s immensely engrossing.

Above my desk I have a small framed print of Tamara de Lempicka’s “My Portrait,” in which she sits at the wheel of a bright green car in a gray hat, gray scarf and bright red lipstick. I also have “Saint Moritz”—a striking woman wearing a red and white turtleneck ski sweater. I’ve always been drawn to these art deco paintings. The colors, the attitude, the soft edges. All very appealing. So when I saw The Last Nude by Ellis Avery, I knew I had to read it. I wasn’t disappointed.

Avery’s descriptions of Paris are elegant and magical, yet also gritty. The reader should be enraptured by Paris. How can one not? It’s such an artistic, fashionable, beautiful city. I stayed in Paris for some time, many years ago and a novel as descriptive as this one brings everything right back to me in full color. It’s a true delight. Avery focuses on many ex-pats like Sylvia Beach, James Joyce, F. Scott Fitzgerald. Peripheral characters include the Seine and Sylvia Beach’s famed bookstore Shakespeare and Company.

The Last Nude imagines an affair between Tamara de Lempicka and one of her models– the one who sat for “The Dream” and “Beautiful Rafaela.” She’s a young woman of 17, recently arrived in Paris, naive to the ways of the art world and the excessiveness of the 1920s as well. Tamara seduces Rafaela and Rafaela falls quickly and intensely in love with Tamara. Of course artists can be selfish and cruel but Rafaela gives her whole heart before learning about Tamara’s shortcomings. This is a novel about the roaring, stylish 20s, art, survival, love and betrayal.

I marveled as I pulled the brown dress over my head. Sleek fashion plate, focused artist, resplendent lover, competent mother: I had seen four Tamaras in two days.

When Tamara finds Rafaela she’s turning tricks and surviving by any means necessary—in most cases trading her body for dinners, food, gifts. She’s a stunning young woman but also naïve and impressionable. She admires Tamara’s independence [or seemingly so because later we find out that Tamara, as most artists of the time, had a benefactor], talent and sexual freedom. Rafaela quickly becomes obsessed with Tamara and believes they’re in a mutually exclusive relationship. But it’s the twenties and Tamara is an artist. Who is Tamara really? Rafaela doesn’t find this out until later.

The Last Nude resonates with and enthusiastic first love and the reality of supporting oneself as an artist. In imagining the liaison between artist and muse, Ellis Avery crafts an engulfing novel. She makes life in the 1920s pop from the pages.

Shop Indie Bookstores

purchase at Amazon: The Last Nude

, , , , , ,

Leave a comment

STEELE INTERVIEWS: author Caroline Preston

Amy Steele: Why did you want to write a story in the scrapbook format?

Caroline Preston: I like to say the idea of making a scrapbook novel was 40 years in the making. As a little girl, I used to pour over my grandmother’s flapper scrapbook filled with dance cards, letters from old boyfriends, ocean liner tickets, and even long curls snipped when she got her hair bobbed.

My first three novels were what I guess you’d call “conventional” format—i.e. just words. My third novel Gatsby’s Girl was inspired by the meticulous scrapbook F. Scott Fitzgerald kept about his first love, Ginevra King—her first note to him, her handkerchief, and a newspaper clipping about her marriage to another man. Later he would turn the story of his unrequited crush into The Great Gatsby.

When I was casting around for the idea for my fourth novel, I wanted to create something that was as visual and powerful as a scrapbook. And then I had a crazy idea—why not make a novel that WAS a scrapbook. Not a digital scrapbook, but a real one made of real stuff that I cut up with scissors and pasted together with glue.

Amy Steele: What came first—the story or the memorabilia?

Caroline Preston: I started with my character, Frankie Pratt, and the outlines of her story, which was set in the 1920’s. I imagined an 18-year-old girl who wanted to become a writer and her journey which would take her to Vassar, Greenwich Village, and Paris.

Then I hunted down and bought all the things that a girl like Frankie would glue in her scrapbook—postcards, movie tickets, Vassar report cards, menus, sheet music, fashion spreads, popular magazines, a New York subway map, a Paris guidebook, and of course love letters. In all, I collected over 600 pieces of vintage 1920’s ephemera.

author Caroline Preston

Amy Steele: How did the memorabilia dictate the story?

Caroline Preston: Frankie’s story changed and evolved as I found surprising things—for example an original book cover for The Sun Also Rises. The book caused a huge fuss in Paris when it came out in 1926 because everyone recognized the characters, and she would be right there to bear witness.

Amy Steele: Why did you choose to set Frankie’s story in the 1920s?

Caroline Preston: Like a lot of people, I have a romantic obsession with the 1920’s when very aspect of life (especially for women) was turned upside down and reinvented. Women cut off their hair and hemlines, got the vote, went to work, and felt freed from Victorian behavior codes. Writing Frankie Pratt was a chance for me to indulge in some lovely time travel.

Amy Steele: How would you describe Frankie Pratt? What do you like best about her?

Caroline Preston: When the book opens in 1920, Frankie is an 18-year-old girl living in a remote New Hampshire village. She has ambitions for herself—she wants to go to college and become a writer—and is able to overcome financial hardships to get herself to Vassar. After college, she heads off to Greenwich Village and Paris on her own to follow her dreams. I love her contradictions—gutsy, wildly romantic (which results in a few bad choices), unwilling to take no for an answer, but also a sensible and principled Yankee girl at heart.

Amy Steele: Where did you get a lot of the things featured in the scrapbook?

Caroline Preston: I had a surprising number of 1920’s items in my own collection of vintage paper. I stopped at every roadside antique store and junk shop I passed—from Mississippi, Virginia, New York and Illinois. (My favorite store is Whiting’s Old Paper in Mechanicsville, Va.) And also over 300 items from eBay—so many that my mailman complained.

Amy Steele: What did you like about working as an archivist?

Caroline Preston: As an archivist, I sifted through trunks and boxes of old family papers. It reminded me of hunting through the attic of the house I grew up in.

Amy Steele: How did you transition to writing?

Caroline Preston: I didn’t start writing until I was 40 and had had my third child. I’d worked as an archivist for 15 years, and wanted to turn some of those fabulous stories I’d unearthed into fiction. My husband, the writer Chris Tilghman, encouraged me to give it a try. A year later, I finished my first novel, Jackie by Josie.

, , , , , ,

Leave a comment

13 rue Therese: book review

13 rue Therese, by Elena Mauli Shapiro. Publisher: Reagan Arthur Books (February 2, 2011). Fiction, 288 pages. Hardcover.

13 rue Therese is a whimsical blend of historical artifacts and illusion that’s truly complicated to adequately describe. It’s rather quixotic as the main character, Parisian Louise Brunet becomes defined by an American scholar named Trevor Stratton through a box of letters and mementos he finds in his office. Stratton imagines Brunet as a woman who made poor decisions and now finds herself settled in a marriage that fails to excite her. She’s artistic and often selfish. She flirts with her new married neighbor, inadvertently seduces her teenage piano student and sometimes resists urges to escape her suffocating life and sometimes acts upon them. It’s all as imagined by this American. One has to wonder what the female perspective would add here. The box that Mr. Stratton finds has been left by his secretary who has tested several other potential partners in the same manner. I appreciate the concept and design of 13 rue Therese. I also admire author Elena Mauli Shapiro’s intentions. I just wish she’d pushed herself a bit further. Perhaps it’s the jarring usage of footnotes that removes me too far from the story. Shapiro also changes often from first to third-person story-telling perhaps in an intentional manner to make the desires and actions of the characters that much more mysterious. The modern language describing moments in Louise’s life doesn’t fit the time period [between WWI and WWII]. While inherently charming and creative, 13 rue Therese lacks a certain je ne c’est pas.

Shop Indie Bookstores

, , , , ,

Leave a comment

DVD reivew: Cheri

cheri

Title: Cheri
Director: Stephen Frears
Written by: Christopher Hampton [based on novel by Colette]
Starring: Michelle Pfeiffer, Rupert Friend, Kathy Bates
Running time: 93 min.
Release date: October 20, 2009
Film Company: Miramax
Review source: Click Communications
Rating: C+

A good body lasts a long time. Everyone knows that.
–Lea

Cheri is my least favorite work by Colette. But Colette can write wonderful stories and this film could have worked particularly with Michelle Pfeiffer back in a Dangerous Liaisons-type role. It is a period film, set before WWI in Paris, when courtesans held the power. Lea [Pfeiffer] is a well-known courtesan to the rich and famous and has been living a luxurious, richly fitting lifestyle for years. Now she’s facing a time [or AGE] when she feels that she might retire. One of her old rivals, played with sufficient bitterness and contempt by Kathy Bates, asks Lea to take her son Cheri and “teach him” about women. The 19-year-old Cheri and Lea fall in love and stay together for six years until Cheri’s mother decides it’s time for Cheri to have children and she arranges his marriage to a daughter of another courtesan. Unfortunately Lea and Cheri are obsessed with each other. Lea wants to remain young and Cheri refuses to take on grown up responsibilities.
cheri2
The male narrator detracts from the female power of the courtesans, particularly Lea. Cheri is visually stunning with verdant gardens and lovely ornate costumes. Cheri is a bit too melodramatic. Pfeiffer holds her own and she’s gorgeous and regal in every scene. There’s little chemistry between Pfeiffer and Rupert Friend [Cheri]. Pfeiffer fills the screen and is too overpowering for Friend. He lacks the experience to rise to her acting talent even in this poorly scripted film.

Cheri needed a much better script and a different younger actor as Cheri to make it work.

DVD Extras: Deleted scenes, The Making of Cheri [superfluous viewing as the film isn’t that good]

GRADE: C+

, , , , ,

Leave a comment

film review: Coco Avant Chanel

coco2

Coco Avant Chanel is a stunning film and an inspirational story about a young Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel [Audrey Tautou] and the impetus for her foray into the male-dominated world of fashion design. She and her sister are left at an orphanage by their father as young girls. Fifteen years later, the duo makes money singing and dancing in bars. Coco dreams of moving to Paris. Her sister [Marie Gillain] falls in love with a Duke and moves to Paris with him. Left on her own, Coco travels to the home of Etienne Balsan [Benoît Poelvoorde] who fancied her despite the intense sparring. He is wealthy and breeds and trains race horses. When he entertains guests, he keeps Coco hidden. Coco will not bind herself with an uncomfortable corset as is the fashion at the time. She prefers to wear comfortable clothing. One day she decides to teach herself to ride a horse. Instead of riding side saddle like all the other women, she rides astride. She dresses like a boy a lot of the time. And with her un-made up face and lack of bobbles and jewels, she looks fresh and different from everyone else. She soon ends up socializing with Balsan’s friends and becomes close friends with an actress. Coco starts to make hats that everyone wants. The pivotal moment for Coco is when she falls deeply in love with an Englishman, Arthur Capel [Alessandro Nivola]. However, he is keeping something from her and Balsan is all too eager to reveal it out of spite. Balsan tries to control an uncontrollable Coco and Capel recognizes her artistic talents and independent spirit. That is why he adores her so much. Coco declares that she never intends to marry anyone [and never does]. She tells Balsan one day that she plans to move to Paris. He scoffs and says that it is silly and she will not be able to support herself. Capel on the other hand encourages her entrepreneurial attitude and will lend her the money she needs to start a design shop.

coco3
Audrey Tautou [who most remember for the sprite, cheerful Amelie] shows depth, intensity and determination in this role. You cannot take your eyes off of her beauty and strength as Coco for one moment. She is the young and determined, scrappy Coco Chanel who intends to make a name for herself. She triumphs over many obstacles and tragedies. As Capel, Nivola is handsome, charming and irresistible. And a triple threat—an American known for indie roles [Junebug, Laurel Canyon], his period British characters [Mansfield Park], now acts in perfect French in a French film. His chemistry with Tautou is electric from the moment they make eye contact. At one point she even tells her now lover Capel, that he could have married a celebrity but he chose money instead. What a strong woman. Coco Chanel is a role model. Under the direction of Anne Fontaine, Coco Avant Chanel is stunningly shot. Each scene is beautifully crafted and planned. I didn’t want the film to end. I adored every moment of Coco’s journey to the final scene where she exhibits her first clothing collection that features the signature Chanel suit. If you can see Coco Avant Chanel in the theatre, do so. These independent films that represent small works of love and art are few and far between.

STEELE SAYS: SEE IT IN THE THEATRE

, , , ,

1 Comment

%d bloggers like this: