Living Well is the Best Revenge

I am finally here: Paris, Paris, Paris! The last time I was here was in 2001 for work. I spent three days trotting and tripping up the cobbled streets of the fashionable districts in heels, heaving around a satchel of my models’ work to present to agents. It was July. I was sweaty and my feet hurt. The agents were haughty. But Paris is the holy grail of a model’s career; one had to make the effort, you see.

But that was then. In this life, I’m here with my husband and children, seeing La Ville Lumière through the gauze of my obsession with the Lost Generation and the literature and art of 1920s and 1930s Paris. At that time Americans, jaded from the carnage of World War One (not to mention far too sober due to prohibition), flocked to Paris to write, paint, drink, and live a beautiful life. Many of my heroes were there – Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald, Picasso, Sara and Gerald Murphy*, John Dos Passos, and of course Ernest Hemingway.

I had a Sara Murphy moment today as we cruised down the Seine on a barge. In 1923, to celebrate the premier of Diaghilev’s ballet Les Noces, Sara and Gerald threw a party on a riverboat for forty guests including Diaghilev, Picasso, Cocteau and the editor of the Dial. It was such a legendary night that Jean Cocteau wrote it was “the most beautiful night of my life since my First Communion”. I’m not sure if Scott and Zelda were there, but if they were they would certainly have drunk too much and taken a nudie dip.

Gerald Murphy was also, briefly, a painter. This is 'Cocktail'.

Gerald Murphy was also, briefly, a painter. This is ‘Cocktail’.

So my Sara Murphy moment on the Seine was a little less glamorous – I was sweaty and my feet hurt (some things don’t change in Paris in July no matter what life you choose). My ‘guests’ were a motley bunch of tourists. And despite months of excitement the children barely raised their heads as the Eiffel Tower came into view – they were too busy doing imaginary face painting on each other with an old leaf. But I was fully present. I took Jez’s hand and we drank in that first sighting of the Tower, it was mounted against perfect blue sky like a structure from some dystopian, futuristic novel. I swear I could hear the clink of champagne glasses and the refined laughter of Sara, the perfect hostess.

Sara and Gerald said of their time in Paris: “living well is the best revenge”. Thank you Paris, thank you Sara, this is just the beginning.

Calvin Tompkin's book based on his 1962 New Yorker article on the Murphy's.

Calvin Tompkin’s book based on his 1962 New Yorker article on the Murphy’s.


* Sara and hubby Gerald were wealthy New Yorkers at the heart of Paris scene, and the models for Dick and Nicole Driver in Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night. Sara is your most fabulous big-hearted friend who throws the most memorable dinner party with a guest list that hums like a perfect chord – and to top it off the dinner invite says ‘fancy dress’.

One thought on “Living Well is the Best Revenge

  1. Pingback: The Heart of the Matter: In Conversation with Alec Patric |

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