Friday, 14 May 2010

Piecing a puzzle of Scott Fitzgerald







Where to begin? At the end, perhaps, as I've been in the final throes of fact-checking and proof-reading my book about Coco Chanel; and therefore now lurching in and out of the grip of jittery nerves and over-tiredness. One of my eyes is twitching -- not a good look -- and both are ringed with dark shadows. But still, the last stage of the journey has been as inspiring and intriguing as its earlier steps; and serendipity landed me in the right place at the right time, with a trip to the south of France. I was trailing Coco, of course, as always, but a sideways swing led to St Paul de Vence, that beautiful eyrie in the hills beyond Nice, and from there to the semi-imaginary landscape of Scott Fitzgerald's 'Tender Is The Night'. It still exists, although Scott and Zelda's rented villa on the beach at Juan les Pins has been remade into the Hotel Belles Rives. I sat on its terrace beneath a grey sky, a few days after the coast was battered by ferocious waves (the wind had whipped up stormy seas all along the Riviera, turning the Cote d'Azur into something darker); weather which somehow seemed true to the melancholy spirit of 'Tender Is The Night'. Notes to self: the title comes from Keats' Ode to a Nightingale, forming an epigram to Fitzgerald's novel:
Already with thee! tender is the night...
But here there is no light,
Save what from heaven is with the breezes blown
Through verdurous glooms and winding mossy ways.

And here is Fitzgerald's setting of the scene:
On the pleasant shore of the French Riviera, about half way between Marseilles and the Italian border, stands a large, proud, rose-colored hotel. Deferential palms cool its flushed façade, and before it stretches a short dazzling beach. Lately it has become a summer resort of notable and fashionable people; a decade ago it was almost deserted after its English clientele went north in April. Now, many bungalows cluster near it, but when this story begins only the cupolas of a dozen old villas rotted like water lilies among the massed pines between Gausse’s Hôtel des Étrangers and Cannes, five miles away.

I know that many readers of this blog are as entranced as I am by 'Tender Is The Night', and intrigued by its possible clues to the Fitzgeralds' marriage, as well as its fictional diversions and reinventions. Hence my pilgrimage to the Belles Rives, and thereafter to the Colombe d'Or in St Paul de Vence, where legend has it that Scott and Zelda dined one evening with their friends Gerald and Sara Murphy (to whom Tender Is The Night is dedicated). The story goes that when Gerald introduced Scott to Isadora Duncan on the terrace of the Colombe d'Or, the dancer ran her fingers through his hair, whereupon Zelda leapt down a dark stairwell, or off the terrace, or from a stone parapet into the darkness; a suicidal jump that left her bloodied and bruised, but still alive.
Not that my own journey was simply devoted to the memory of dead writers; nor was it entirely overshadowed by rainclouds. The sun came out at the Hotel du Cap (surely the most glamorous place in southern France to drink tea on a Sunday afternoon, as well as the most terrifyingly expensive; how did the Fitzgeralds ever afford to come here, when he was an impecunious writer?) -- and shone on the hillside paths of St Paul de Vence, where stars are made out of stones, and the walls grow spring flowers...

28 comments:

kairu said...

What a lovely update, Justine.

Juan les Pins always reminds me of Agatha Christie novels where the lovely young heroine (having unexpectedly come into a little money) encounters a murder on the way to or from the Riviera. There always seem to be glamorous women clad in Paris designers (Chanel, no doubt), historical jewels with a dark past, and everywhere, the scent of mimosa. (What *does* mimosa smell like, anyway?).

I am back home in Seattle, and instead of Indian jasmine or the water lilies that grow in pots on the balcony of my parents' Taipei apartment, I have a handful of bluebells that a friend left for me the night I returned and a bunch of delicate pink ranunculus from my favorite flower shop...

Justine Picardie said...

What a wonderful friend you have. As for the scent of mimosa: I'm not sure I know, exactly, but when I was in the south of France, I was (of course) re-reading Tender Is The Night, and came across the following lines. It's in the chapter describing Rosemary's visit to a film studio near Monte Carlo: "Rosemary went to Monte Carlo nearly as sulkily as it was possible for her to be. She rode up the rugged hill to La Turbie, to an old Gaumont lot in process of reconstruction, and as she stood by the grilled entrance waiting for an answer to the message on her card, she might have been looking into Hollywood. The bizarre débris of some recent picture, a decayed street scene in India, a great cardboard whale, a monstrous tree bearing cherries large as basketballs, bloomed there by exotic dispensation, autochthonous as the pale amaranth, mimosa, cork oak or dwarfed pine."
Just looked up 'autochthonous', which had foxed me, and apparently it means indigenous. But last weekend I also read something (can't remember where, exactly), saying that mimosa wasn't indigenous to the Riviera. Perhaps there is a doctorate student somewhere in the world, at this very moment, writing a thesis on the history of mimosa, who might enlighten us?

enid said...

Have you read the biography Zelda by Nancy Milford ? It is an amazingly sad story of a life full of excess. I love Scott Fitzgerald’s writing and you have reminded me to reread him. We will be in France in August so I hope to visit the Riviera. We have mimosa in South Africa too.

Justine Picardie said...

I have read, and enjoyed, the biography of Zelda, but a while ago, so some of its details have gone fuzzy. Have you read Scott and Zelda's letters to each other? They are very moving...
Glad to hear you're going to France this summer. Perhaps you could compare the scent of South African mimosa with that of the Cote d'Azur?

UerBlge said...

Welcome to Christianlouboutinmy.com,the summer is coming,what are you waiting for,just come and go shopping,here are our featured and best-seller christian louboutin products:chanel shoes chanel shoes jimmy choo jimmy choo manolo blahnik manolo blahnik louis vuitton shoes louis vuitton shoes Tory Burch Shoes and so on.

Katherine said...

Those photographs are amazing! And the book sounds good, too. It's quite coincidental, too--recently I finished a book about 1920s flappers in America by Joshua Zeitz that discussed the Fitzgeralds and Coco Chanel in detail (both contributors to the flapper image. A bit off topic, i know).

From what I gather of the Fitzgeralds, however, I get the impression that although they had a lot of money, they were constantly living outside their means...

Tamara said...

Justine, as I visit different blogs, Im always impressed by the devotion of some readers - so devoted that they seek out more info about the lives of their favourite authors and the places they've been. I've never followed authors lifes (but have chased down a few composers I adore) - but you have inspired me to know more about the authors I do appreciate. I remember reading F Scott Fitzgerald at high school, and my teacher was very passionate. Perhaps I too should return to re-read some of his work. Thanks

Glenland Ladybird said...

I'm so glad that you mentioned expense and I've noted Katherine's comment 'living beyond means'. In bygone days, I visited Menton annually, for the lemon festival. I stayed with an elderly French lady in Roquebrune-Cap-Martin and soaked up atmosphere. I'd find an out of season cliff top hidey place and sit with book in hand gazing out to sea. Sometimes I spied on Monaco in the warm February sunshine and then, the book went down and the imagining began. The last time I escaped my OnlyGirl ( we have five boys too) came too, she had just past some exams. It is a very special place. Nowadays,I seem to be Glen or Scottish island tied but thank you Justine, for the blog and the memories that it has brought back. Well done for the touch of reality: a cup of tea absorbs as much atmosphere as a glass of champagne

Lazywell said...

I fear that Scott Fitzgerald would hardly recognise that “pleasant shore of the French Riviera” now. You seem to have chosen your itinerary carefully, Justine, hopping from one oasis to another amidst what in my experience has effectively become one hideous, seamless conurbation. For all the melancholy in Fitzgerald’s own life and writing, one looks with wistfulness at the evocative bookcover you’ve posted.

Justine Picardie said...

Where to begin with so many interesting comments? In no particular order: there are some writers whose lives are so entwined with their fiction, and whose fiction bled into their lives, that I find myself wanting to know more about the threads that weave truth and imagination together, and the semi-imaginary landscapes they inhabited. Hence my book about Daphne du Maurier and the Brontes, and my continuing fascination with Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald.
Fitzgerald's Riviera, like the Bronte's moors, has been sliced up by motorways and urban sprawl; but even so, you can still discover places where the past seems visible in the present tense. And for me as a writer, these places -- those moments -- are magically inspiring...

Justine Picardie said...

PS. Thanks for recommendation of Joshua Zeitz book -- not off topic at all, given that I'm just finishing my book about Coco Chanel (though now I'm cursing myself for not having discovered the Zeitz book before). The trouble -- or maybe the marvel -- of Chanel is that she leads you in so many different directions. Still, I'm going to order the book anyway!
As for the Fitzgeralds' spendthrift ways: when they first came to France, American dollars went a very long way there; but after the Crash, when dollars were devalued, the expatriates who had lived the high life on the Riviera were mostly forced back to the US.

Vintage Reading said...

Oh, I enjoyed that post and those photos. I'm very fond of Tender is the Night, too. Justine, have you read Amanda Vaill's biography of Gerald and Sara Murphy? It's excellent and contains many little stories about the Fitzgeralds.

Justine Picardie said...

Another book to add to my reading list! The pile beside my bed will be growing... but these sound too intriguing to miss.

Knitting Out Loud said...

Wonderful post, as usual Justine, thank you! And great comments. I love Fitzgerald, but always read Gatsby and the short stories, never Tender is the Night (not sure why) but will get right on it. Have just started Janet Malcolm's book on Gertrude and Alice, which is very good.

Wikipedia: "The genus Mimosa has had a tortuous history" like perhaps Coco and the Fitzgeralds. But unlike them seems to have come from South America.

Karen, Surrey said...

What a wonderful place. I love the Peter Sarsted song Where do you go to my lovely with the Juan les Pins reference.

Justine Picardie said...

Knittingoutloud: Thanks for your apposite comments. I now have a yearning to plant mimosa in my garden.

Hannah Stoneham said...

Sounds fascinating. Looking foward to the book!

Thanks for sharing

Hannah

jaywalker said...

"Sometimes Madness is Wisdom: Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald: A Marriage" by Kendall Taylor is winging its way to Tasmania via amazon.uk. I am awaiting it with anticipation. Thanks for the inspiration.

Stephen Pope said...

'Perhaps there is a doctorate student somewhere in the world, at this very moment, writing a thesis on the history of mimosa, who might enlighten us?...'

Ah, Mimosa. Elspeth would definitely have been able to help with this one...if only. The pink-flowered shrubby tree that has naturalised along the Riviera - that Americans refer to as 'Mimosa' - is really Albizia julibrissin, the Silk Tree. Its natural range is in the Middle East and central Asia, but I think European botanists first introduced it to the Mediterranean coast (maybe starting in Italy?) from somewhere like Iran - not from the Americas. What adds to all the 'Mimosa' confusion is that some Acacias are also inaccurately dubbed 'Mimosa,' especially the high street floristry sprays - but they're not related to the 'Mimosa' we're talking about. Despite the romance of its literary associations, the lovely 'Mimosa' is in reality an invasive waste-ground coloniser held in about the same love-hate status in the US as, say, Buddleia is over here!

Stephen Pope said...

'I now have a yearning to plant mimosa in my garden.'

Justine, if you decide to follow through on this and visit the garden centre in search of so-called 'Mimosa', or order online using that catch-all name, you'll almost certainly be directed towards the Australian native Acacia dealbata - the classic yellow-flowering 'Mimosa' that flowers in early spring and has feathery leaves (it's the one all the UK florists use too). Hardy in North London as well. But, as mentioned in the previous post, the one running wild along the Riviera has pink flowers and is a different plant entirely - that's the species US gardeners (and the Fitzgeralds!) know as 'Mimosa'.

Stephen Pope said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Stephen Pope said...

I've needlessly complicated the Mimosa question with too much low-flying doctorate botany, haven't I. Sorry. To re-cap: you won't be disappointed if you go for the introduced Australian yellow Acacia dealbata, that explodes winter gloom by flowering in Cannes (or Highbury) in January and February. If you have the appropriate CIA image-enhancement software you might just recognize it in the background of the avatar photo above of my autochthonous cat. It's what all of us Europeans understand as 'Mimosa'... and since the 19th century there's been no shortage of it along the Riviera!

韋于倫成 said...

我從來不認為不同意我的看法就是冒犯..................................................

Knitting Out Loud said...

Love the mimosa discussion and info!

Forgot to mention, I used to live in Maryland near F.Scott Fitzgerald's grave. It was a lovely rural deserted place back then, and as a dreamy youth I would sit and commune with his spirit (well, you know). One day I found a very long letter placed on the grave, written to him.

Stephen Pope said...

Knittingoutloud: 'I used to live in Maryland near F. Scott Fitzgerald's grave...'

Hey, wouldn't it be satisfying if there had been Mimosa growing nearby, and we could pull all the threads of this discussion together. But no, sadly just a bit too cold there in winter for any of the species that fly under the 'Mimosa' flag of convenience. That grave you know so well ought to come with a publisher's 'spoiler' warning as it gives away the immortal last line of The Great Gatsby...

Stephen Pope said...

Justine's own paper, the Telegraph, has a rather shouty three-for-two special on 'Mimosa Acacia' today. How's that for timing? At the risk of pedantry overload, it should be noted that strictly speaking there's no such species - this is Acacia dealbata, the introduced Australian tree that is now farmed in Provence for the high street floristry trade. You don't want to hear this, I know, but Australians don't get 'Mimosa' and instead call this one, and anything that resembles it, 'Wattle'. I wonder if Australian editions of English inter-war genre fiction are re-edited to '...and everywhere the intoxicating fragrance of wattle' ?

Knitting Out Loud said...

Wattle!

Okay I just googled the grave (because I didn't remember the quote) and it looks nothing like the image I have in my mind's eye (from over 40 years ago). I did at least find the tree I remember sitting under. Memory is weird.

I am enjoying Tender is the Night.

FTXT said...

Produce haul the John Doe offer of hermes bagconventional judge of its comeliness further quality. hermes walletsare intimate over elegance also spirit besides are trumped-up from emblematic skin personality that makes them of supreme reputation. The kind of the hermes constanceare maintained by the true crisis parameters seeing which every bags admit to represent successfully mishap before advance peripheral to the vend.
Use lidaFor Risk-Free Weight Loss Reduction? Many of you must be taking lida daidaihuafor getting into the perfect shape that you have desired to for a long time. But, I am sure that not many among you know about the side effects of these daidaihua. You may be gaining results with these lida slimmingbut if you study well about the content then I am sure that you will stop taking these slimming capsule any more. The obvious thing that you would be looking forward in this slimming capsulesis an for an alternative which will help you not only to loose weight and getting into shape but will also help you to keeping a good health.
Are you Chanel bagsfan like other adult females? You need Chanel bagfor you as well but are dubious about the toll you have to commit for it? Chanel Walletis one of the biggest brand keys in the domain of fashion and offers new range of purses every year which is wanted by all women.
The Afro hairstyle could be matched with large and loud Tiffany jewellery. Jazzy clothes go well with Tiffany ringshaving simple design. On some casual occasions, leisure wear go with a well-designed color silver ringswill be your perfect choice for the sake of Tiffany earringsother taste.