April 27, 2014

Inside a Pearl: My Years in Paris
Edmund White
Au revoir – Edmund White continues his breezy, chatty memoirs recalling his life in the 1980s in the City of Lights. An earlier memoir, Sketches from Memory, featured more American-in-Paris charm; but, this longer book is more of a whirlwind, covering more ground, dropping more names, describing White’s social and artistic life (Sketches offered a more intimate domestic portrayal), and featuring numerous entertaining anecdotes of a life lived abroad. A few, unrelated excerpts:

I amazed and pleased everyone by saying a few words in French at the beginning of the meal. But as I drank more and more white wine, I acquired a fatal confidence and soon was stringing together long chains of French words and tossing them like bouquets at the worried-looking experts. Finally, Simone said, unsmiling, “You know, you’re not making any sense. No one can understand a word.” When I think of that moment now, late at night, forty years later, I still cringe.

At another grand dinner, given by Diane von Furstenberg to launch a new perfume, I was seated next to France’s then most famous model, Inès de la Fressange. I asked her what she did.
As a novelist, I was intrigued by the economics of painting. Whereas serious novelists, even celebrated ones, could barely survive, the top painters were very rich. It was all because a painting was a unique object whereas a book was a multiple.


Now Americans didn’t like feeling intimidated by a superior culture but enjoyed dipping randomly into Czech or Hungarian cuisine, folklore, or even politics in a lightly condescending, neocolonial way before running back to their enclaves in bookstores and reading their copies of English-language newspapers and attending concerts by American or British music acts. That’s probably why so many young Americans scorned France and believe the French were rude or snooty; they weren’t used to dealing with their equals or their more intellectually and artistically refined counterparts in other languages.

He never heard me speak English except once in London, in a roomy, old-fashioned taxi when I shouted directions to the Cockney driver. Brice told me that whereas I had a charming little accent in French, in English I sounded like a rustic braying for more “white wine.” He thought every American was shouting “white wine” all the time.


One winter day Raymond Carver, wearing a leather jacket, and I had our picture taken in front of the Academy, knowing that we would never get any closer during his stay.


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