Today, intrepid correspondent Coralie visited the Musée Grévin in Paris, a charming old 19th-Century establishment (founded in 1882) which features wax figures and other curiosities.  She snapped the picture above of a Hemingway figure before heading off to the Brasserie Lipp, on the Boulevard St. Germain, to commune with Papa's spirit by having a meal he famously enjoyed there once (or twice) — filets de hareng pommes de terre a l'huile, suivi du cervelas rémoulade avec une bière blonde Lipp . . . which is to say, herring and potatoes in oil, followed by a dish consisting of a kind of German sausage with a celery root and Dijon mustard concoction on the side, all washed down with a blonde Lipp beer.

Hemingway told two stories about having this meal at Lipp.  In one, he had just cashed the check for the first story he sold to an American magazine, and went off to celebrate by himself at Lipp.  In the other, Sylvia Beach, who ran the famous bookstore Shakespeare & Co., said he was looking too thin and slipped him some money for a decent lunch.  In both stories, he ate cervelas rémoulade at the venerable old brasserie.

It became, in any case, symbolic of his struggling years in Paris, about which he once wrote, “If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.”  Below, the first course of Hemingway's meal, as served to Coralie today:

I was not particularly young when I first went to Paris, nor struggling, but my memories of it follow me around all the same, and my friend Coralie has allowed me to inhabit them again vicariously but vividly, just as I once inhabited Hemingway's Paris vicariously and vividly by eating
cervelas rémoulade one afternoon by myself at the Brasserie Lipp.


A couple of hours ago my friend Coralie was sitting having a coffee and a petite meringue at La Coupole in Montparnasse.  It's one of my favorite places in Paris, so she sent me a picture she took of it while she was there.

Opened in 1927, La Coupole has been restored more or less to its original splendor, when it was the largest brasserie in Paris and a hang-out between the world wars for artists, especially expatriate artists — everyone from Picasso to Hemingway.  Fans of the McNally brothers' brasseries in New York will recognize at places like La Coupole where they got the inspiration for their decor.

When I first went to La Coupole in the 1980s, the service could be brusque if your accent wasn't quite right, but once I had dinner there alone and all that changed.  French waiters have a tender regard for solitary diners, and treat them with an almost affectionate solicitude.  Dining alone can be socially awkward for some, and French waiters understand this, so they work hard to make the solitary diner feel as though he or she is the most important client in the room.  It is one of the many subtle graces that make French society so civilized, especially when food is involved.


My friend Coralie, who lives in Geneva, is making a visit to her hometown of Paris.  She asked me what places in Paris I would visit if I went back there, and I said that I would very much like to see again the unicorn tapestries at the Musée de Cluny.  This morning I got a message from her and the photo above sent from her iPhone as she was standing in the presence of the tapestries.

It's not the same as being there myself, of course, and no photograph can do justice to the deep colors of the tapestry threads and the texture of their woven surfaces . . . but I still feel as though I'm seeing them again through my friend's eyes, in something very close to real time.

It's a kind of miracle, isn't it — like the survival of the tapestries themselves?


In the 1950s, before Castro turned Cuba into a Marxist paradise, the Tropicana was the hottest (upscale) nightclub in Havana.

If you got a souvenir photograph taken of yourself at the club, it came in a folder with the cover depicted above.  Back in Indiana, when you got home, you'd show it to all your friends, then put it in a drawer, then in a box stored in the attic, where it would be forgotten but slowly grow more magical with the years.

Eventually your grandchildren would throw it away, or dispose of it at a yard sale, in which case it might end up in the hands of a collector who would scan it and post the scan on the Internet, where it would become something to marvel at.

[With thanks to Arkiva Tropika, where you can find lots more images like this . . .]


Jean Béraud left us the most charming records of the boulevards and cafés of Paris during the Belle Époque.  The Impressionists often treated the same subjects, but their emphasis on the surfaces of their canvases, on effects of light and color, took precedence over documentary concerns.  Béraud wanted us to know how it felt to physically inhabit the places he painted.  Like all academic painters, he concentrated on the drama of space, as a way of drawing us imaginatively into his images.

The painting above depicts La Pâtisserie Gloppe on the Champs Élysées in 1889.  Béraud evokes the magical use of mirrors in the shop's interior, the behavior of its patrons, the bourgeois ordinariness of the scene.  It is rooted in the here and now, which has become the there and then, and so oddly poignant, in a way the Impressionists rarely are.  Béraud recedes into his work, creating a space for us to enter this bygone moment of a bygone age.

The image has something of the authority of a photograph and something of the intense subjectivity of the artist's desire to record just what he saw, just what he thought we might have seen if we had been with him that day in the shop, and no more.

He has created a profoundly democratic work of art, radically out of step with the neo-Romantic egocentricity of the 20th-Century modernist.


Hundreds of years from now, when historians look back at the intellectual life of the 20th Century, I think they will be struck by two extraordinary, almost inconceivable delusions, one aesthetic and one political.

In this post I'll discuss the aesthetic delusion, which involved the violent reaction against the art of the Victorian age.  The disillusionment with the European political structure brought on by the madness of WWI created a sense among intellectuals that all aspects of the 19th century world had been invalidated at a stroke.  Modernism in the arts arose as a response to this, attended by great glamor and energy.  It was primarily reactionary — the new forms it embraced rarely had value in themselves . . . their juice derived from the simple fact that they were not Victorian, were anti-Victorian.

Most of what had made art valuable as a cultural force — as an example of virtuosity, of discipline, of social community, of faith — was simply jettisoned.  In their place was substituted “attitude”, the attitude of rebellion.  The fine arts of the 20th Century instantly became irrelevant to the popular mind, finding a home in the esteem of an increasingly hermetic elite, dependent on institutional support for their survival.

The irony of this was little appreciated.  The academic art of the 19th Century, against which the modernists rebelled, had depended on official endorsement, but also on the approval of a wide and diverse public.  The “anti-academic” art of the new, permanent “avant-garde” had no life at all apart from the patronage of museums, institutes of “higher learning” and a gallery establishment catering to the very wealthy.

The old functions of art continued to be performed in areas outside the control of these elites, in the arts of film and popular music, for example — which is why film and popular music became the most exciting and dynamic art forms of the 20th century, even as what were formerly seen as “the fine arts” went on enacting their increasingly tiresome rituals of negation, carried to absurd extremes.  Painting, we would eventually be told, was about nothing but paint.

The establishment which once endorsed Victorian academic art, and by extension all traditional art, had become repulsive in the 20th Century.  Those who sought to replace this art with “modern forms” became romantic.  These labels acted as blinders, almost as blindfolds, until it became impossible to see that the reactionary gestures of the modernists had little content beyond the gestural, while those who toiled away in discredited or unsanctioned forms (like Mr. Armstrong, above) were creating the truly great, valuable and enduring art of their time.

In an upcoming post I'll have a look at the seminal political delusion of the 20th Century.


Jack Kerouac’s favorite meal — at least back in the early Fifties, when he could rarely afford anything fancier — was pizza, salad and red wine.

Carolyn Cassady, Neal’s wife, seduced Jack for the first time by serving him this meal on a night when Neal was away.  Below, Carolyn with Jack and one of her children:

Eating an artist’s favorite food is a way of making contact with them across the barriers of time — a slice of banana cream pie, in the case of Elvis, for example, or some cervelas remoulade with a big glass of beer, in the case of Papa, who ate this meal at the Brasserie Lipp in Paris after cashing the check for the first story he sold to an American magazine.

I have been reading Kerouac and thinking about him a lot recently, prompted by the enthusiasm of my friend Paul Zahl (The Zahl File).  So last night, I ate his favorite meal, and communed with Jack’s restless spirit.

                                                                                                              [Photo by Allen Ginsberg]

The meal remained a touchstone for Kerouac as well.  When Neal Cassady (above with Timothy Leary on Ken Kesey’s bus) died, towards the end of Jack’s brief life, Jack called Carolyn to reminisce about the old days — “of serious work, railroad, bubble baths, pizza, and wine.”


Carla Laemmle recently celebrated her 100th birthday.  She was the
niece of Carl Laemmle, founder of Universal Pictures, and she had a
modest career as an actress and dancer in Hollywood.  She appeared
uncredited as a ballet chorine in the silent version of The Phantom Of the Opera and had a
bit part in Dracula, speaking the first words in that film as a
passenger in the coach taking Renfield to his fateful rendezvous at the
Borgo Pass.  (That's her on the left above, wearing glasses.)

She is now the last surviving cast member from those two iconic horror
films, and thus an icon in her own right for horror movie fans.

She interests me for other reasons, because of her life after the
movies.  She became the lifetime companion of Ray Cannon, another
Hollywood professional — actor, writer, director — who left the
business to pursue other ventures.

Cannon became a sports fisherman, supporting himself mainly through
writing about the subject.  He was among the first to explore the
fishing possibilities of Baja California, helping to popularize the
peninsula as a fisherman's paradise and a potential tourist Mecca.  He
fell in love with it in the late 1940s, before the crowds came, spending
much of each year
there on various fishing expeditions, and eventually wrote the text for
a best-selling picture book about the area, The Sea Of Cortez.

A wonderfully-illustrated collection of his other writings about Baja
California, The Unforgettable Sea Of Cortez, was published recently and
it's a fine evocation of the
peninsula in the days before the tourist boom.  Outside the precincts
of Ensenada at the top of it and and Cabo San Lucas at the bottom of
it, Baja California hasn't changed all that much since the time Cannon
discovered it.  Over-fishing by commercial interests has depleted the
Mar de Cortes to an alarming degree, but it's still one of the richest
sports fishing spots on earth, and the gracious old city of La Paz has
yet to be despoiled by the California duppies.

The landscapes and seascapes that Ray and Carla loved are still there
— severe and beautiful and brimming with opportunities for adventure.


Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's.

                                                                         — Matthew 22:21

Somebody didn't get the message!

You have to wonder if anybody on the extreme Christian right ever actually reads the Gospels.  I personally suspect that many of them just get briefings with all the out-of-context quotes that seem to support the social and political goals they've already embraced and would embrace even if Jesus had never set foot on the earth.

Jon McNaughton, the guy who painted the image above (and whose narrative ambition I sort of admire), has depicted Jesus as a kind of President of Presidents, the über- generalissimo of the American state.  This Jesus is presenting the republic with a copy of the Constitution, instead of a copy of the Sermon On the Mount, as though he's the actual author, or Holy Ghostwriter, of the document.

There's no doubt that the Constitution owes a lot to the Christian tradition, with its radical respect for the worth of each individual before God, but really — if Jesus wrote the Constitution, or even Ghostwrote it, do you think he would have left in the original clauses allowing slavery, which evaluated the worth of a slave at three-fifths the worth of a white person?  A perusal of the actual Gospels would suggest otherwise, which may be one reason the extremists can't afford to peruse the actual Gospels.

We may be grateful for the Christian influence on the Constitution, but while we're at it, how about a little gratitude for the Masonic influence?  Many of the Founding Fathers were Masons, and the Masonic tradition has always incorporated a radical respect for all religions.  As President, George Washington, a Master Mason, the highest rank in the Fraternity of Freemasonry, met with Jewish leaders and told them that Jews would not just be tolerated in the new republic but welcomed as full citizens of it.  That attitude, which is one reason America has, to an almost unprecedented degree among nations, risen above violent religious strife between its peoples, is not one which has normally characterized the Christian tradition, with its long history of virulent anti-Semitism.  It is quintessentially Masonic, though, and also, one might add, most perfectly in tune with . . . the actual teachings of Jesus.

It might be good to start thinking of the Gospels as “the lost books of the Bible”, and to deal with the irony of this, since the world would probably be a better place all around if they were the only books of the Bible.


Part Two — The Case For the Defense

As I wrote in the first part of this look at Jacques Rivette's La Belle Noiseuse, the film can be appreciated on one level as sheer melodrama.  The tensions of the story are so well established and developed that one's attention is riveted on their inherent suspense throughout the whole four-hour length of the film.  The acting, especially by Michel Piccoli and Emanuelle Béart, is very fine — nuanced but intense and alive.

The characters' understanding of what is happening to them may be facile, and it may seem to mirror the filmmakers' understanding of what is happening to them, but the dramatic dynamics of the story are sound and believable and well-observed.

But the level on which the film truly excites is the documentary.  A great deal of La Belle Noiseuse simply records the process of an artist working with a nude model.  Piccoli, as I say, is convincing as the artist, but much of his work is shown in close up, with the hands of a real artist creating works on paper and canvas before our eyes.  All of the film's intellectual claptrap about what art is dissolves in the miracle of art coming into being in real time while we watch.

In all of these passages, Béart is naked before us, too.  There is so much nudity that we cannot read any of the passages as a “nude scene” — as that conventional and usually contemptible device which presents the exposed female body as a sop to the male gaze, a titillation, a visceral punchline.  We see the whole woman here, as the artist is trying to see her, not in bits and pieces, not as tits and ass, but as “the nude” — a glorification of the female form, and the female essence.

The sight transcends the erotic and becomes powerful in another way — as a symbol of the male's eternal struggle for existential gravity, part of which has always involved paying homage to, celebrating, female power.

Nudity in modern films is almost always obscene.  The idea that it can sometimes be done with “body doubles”, flashing a little tit here, a little ass there, is beyond obscene — it is depraved.  It doesn't just commodify women, it exposes the full cowardice of the collapsed male psyche.

If La Belle Noiseuse did nothing more than strike a blow against this depravity, take a small step towards the redemption of the female nude in art and culture, it would be an important film.


Welcome to the day of restless souls . . .

The poster above comes from the ever-astonishing Golden Age Comic Book Stories site.  I don't know how he does it, but the proprietor of that site puts up, almost every day, high-res scans of amazing works of popular art, by no means limited to comic book art.  There's also a generous abundance of classic book and magazine illustration and promotional art for movies.

Check it out — it's one of the Internet's most consistently rewarding treasure troves.