A Photo Salvador Dalí kindly took of Shirley & I at our favourite Parisian Café back in ’24
It is June 1924 in the magical period of the ‘Années folles’. We are in The City of Love. Paris by any other name. Moreover, we are young and devoted to one another. Overnight, spring has turned to summer and it is as if the tantalising romantic May dance of titillation has been fully consummated beneath the clear blue skies of the summer equinox. There are no shadows under the high sun of noon this day as Shirley and I walk the Luxembourg Gardens. Ever the actress she has adopted for this trip her very best mid-Atlantic accent in order that she will fit in when we meet up with the others, mostly arty-farty American writers of the ‘Lost Generation’, on the ‘left bank’ a little later on. For now though, we just take our time, hand in hand thinking of last night’s wanton frolics.
“Honey, we had such a gay time with all our new friends at Gertrude Stein’s party last evening. We really must return the favour don’t you think?”
Homing in on the ‘gay’ reference I answered in a deep voice that perhaps gave away a hint of my shock at hearing her say such a thing, “Pardon?” However, the conversation does not get a chance to develop as walking toward us taking in the rays is a shirtless Ezra Pound. I’ve always had a soft spot for Ezra. Approaching us with more haste than one would expect on such a fine, hot day he says, “Can you give me the time?” My riposte, “Ezra, my friend, I can give you dollars, francs or sterling for I have those ‘aplenty; I can give you lewd photographs or the business cards of Russian ‘ladies of the night’ immigrants, yet ‘time’ is something beyond my ability to gift.” I’d never heard Ezra swear before yet for whatever reason I think I overheard him mumble, “Fucking tosser,” as he walked on. Presumably he was talking of T S Elliot of whom I am aware he has doubts?
Eventually, having braved the rising temperatures longer than I would have wished and walked the Boulevard St-Michel down past the Cluny and the Boulevard St-Germain we arrive at the little bohemian café of our choice on the Place St-Michel. This is not where those writers and philosophers wishing to be noticed gather, more where the serious students of life descend upon. We take a table outside and order our drinks.
“Honey, just why is it that the French serve up lager in thimbles for us to sip when back home it comes in pint mugs with handles all the better to gulp from? I’ve got a thirst you could photograph about me and would certainly prefer a more substantial vessel.”
I tell her I cannot say why. It is then that I spot Hemingway also sat outside, pen in hand scribbling away like billy-o. I call out to him, “Hi Ernie, how’s it going then?” He looks up and over at me with some distain before affording me a reply. “Hem to you,” he says in what I feel is an unnecessarily aggressive tone of voice. The thing is I do not know this word ‘Hemtoyou’ which makes an appropriate response difficult. Regardless, the others have told me that Ernie has the makings of a literary giant and I guess he simply knows more words than me. “Come over and join us Ernie,” I ask of him whereupon he rises from his table, punches the waiter in the guts and storms off in something of a huff…and there was me ready to discuss the meaning of life with him; give him a few tips and such like.
The afternoon turns to evening and still Shirley and I find ourselves consumed in ‘people watching’ enjoying every minute of it. To our surprise, just as we were about to depart for a spot of nosh who should turn up but Scott F Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda. As is her want, Zelda has been on the tilt once more and I detect is now as pissed as the proverbial rat. I hate it when she is like this. Her envy of Scotty’s success always leads to a shed load of insults thrown in his direction after she’s had more than a few sherbets. Recently Ernie has let me know that Scotty has confided in him saying he gets very embarrassed when she brings up the subject of his penis in public places…the size of said penis that is; not the public places! The things she says are not repeatable here. Today however her anger seems to know no bounds. Somewhat out of the blue we hear her say aloud to any one prepared to listen, “Love making with this man…yes I’m talking about you Fitzgerald…is like being stung by a cotton bud.” This cuts the ever sensitive Scotty to the core and I detect tears in his eyes as her rant continues. We take our leave with some haste.
Decades after the events outlined herein Shirley and I found ourselves nostalgically running over the events of our lifetime together and the subject of Paris in 1924 came up. Shirley, having long since dropped the mid-Atlantic accent and reverted to her usual plummy Surrey brogue, reminds me that that little café in the Place St-Michel was where many years on Woody Allen penned what is perhaps the best one-liner ever written, “I can levitate birds. No one cares.” My how we laughed!
NB – for the record Zelda genuinely did have the habit of belittling Scott’s member in public places.