Americans in Paris (part one?)
by jemma margaret
Several Sundays ago, I was waiting at Shakespeare and Company for the speaker to arrive. Seated at the very front of the audience and with no alternative occupation, I eavesdropped. (Sure, I might have taken a paperback from the walls of books surrounding me, but isn’t that a form of eavesdropping too?)
The well dressed ladies behind me–one American, one French–were discussing some sort of chopped meat and where to get the authentic version, then a fabulous dinner party hosted by a wine maker in Bordeaux, then their too quickly grown children, then the astounding youth of General Lafayette, and eventually William Faulkner.
“Faulkner tried living in Paris,” said the French woman, “but only for a short time. He realized quickly that he didn’t need to know any more about the world than what his little hometown could tell him.”
“Ah, but at the end of Sanctuary,” said the American, “his description of Luxembourg Gardens leaves the others in the dust.”
“People think of Hemingway when they think of that time. If you ask me, Faulkner is in a whole different league. They’re incomparable.”
“Everyone has a Faulkner story,” replied the American, and she proceeded to tell hers.
If I had a Faulkner story, this would have to be it: Junior year of high school was American literature. We started As I Lay Dying right after the Great Gatsby, which I had loved. I distinctly remember reading the final pages sitting on the curb waiting for my piano lesson. At the time, Fitzgerald was like a well written romance novel and thus perfect for my teenage sensibilities.
As I Lay Dying was a wholly other beast. A short book without too much in the way of plot, I remember it was funny and that I had to put full faith in the author that things would make some sort of sense in the end.
Walking home the night before flying to New York, on a whim I popped into Shakespeare and Company to see about a book for the long journey. I was thinking Henry James’ The Ambassadors, or something similarly full of “oh I’ve been there” scenes. But with 2 euro titles abundant along the quai, I quickly discovered this particular American tourist destination exceeds my paperback price range. Besides, they did not have The Ambassadors. Not too far from the Jameses I found Sanctuary, and still curious flipped to the last two pages.
The picture above is highly ironic.
Here I wanted to quote you some Faulkner, but am thwarted by copyright issues. If you want a hint of the text see this heavily cropped version which makes a very sombre scene seem nostalgic and lighthearted. Or here in a more complete (though not entirely complete) form. However, I’d recommend avoiding reading novels on the internet, and instead traipsing down to the local library or librairie locale.