Stories

John Baxter

and

The Lost Generation

 

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It was in the late autumn of 2013 when we first met Australian-born author, journalist and filmmaker, John Baxter. This was a demanding but exciting time for John as he was releasing three new books; Paris at the End of the World, The Golden Moments of Paris and his Kindle single, The King Kong Syndrome. Several months later when in Paris, we met John once again and joined him on a literary walking tour of the neighborhood of Odéon, home to many of the great artists of The Lost Generation of the 1920s and 1930s.    

As an expatriate living in Paris since 1989, John had the good fortune of residing on rue de l’Odéon, in the very same building as Sylvia Beach, the American-born publisher and founder of the famous Shakespeare and Company Bookstore. We couldn’t help but wonder if it was mere coincidence or John’s destiny that he too, came to live and work in the 6th arrondissement of Paris, just as Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ezra Pound once did. Regardless, it was clear that John had respectfully embraced his rightful home which fueled his inspiration for creating the captivating storytelling found in his books and literary walks.

As we set off through the streets of Odéon, John began with the story of Sylvia Beach and her supportive role in the progressive community of American expatriate artists who influenced the modernist movement, otherwise known as The Lost Generation. Their creative explosion was also supported by Eugene and Maria Jolas, who founded Transition, an influential Parisian literary journal that served as a platform for avant-garde writers, visual artists and political activists. Transition was distributed primarily by Sylvia Beach’s Shakespeare & Company Bookstore. Also instrumental in publishing the works of these writers, were the founders of Black Sun Press, Harry and Caresse Crosby. With eloquence and whimsy, John details their scandalous liaisons, decadent and bohemian lifestyles and sadly the tragic demise met by many, while making you feel as if you were just “let-in” on a big secret.

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So, if plans for a visit to Odéon or Montparnasse are not on your bucket list any time soon, you can always experience the next best thing through John’s book, The Most Beautiful Walk in the World – A Pedestrian in Paris. Historical, factual and fun, John brings the reader through the neighborhoods of old Paris while introducing the names and faces of the famous, the notorious and the noteworthy. 

A look back to Paris in 2014…


 

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With Valentine’s Day fast approaching, we would like share a short story that combines love, fate, history, the arts and travel. It’s the true story of Robert Louis Stevenson and Fannie Osbourne. If you’re not all that familiar, we hope this worthy read of their remarkable story stirs up romance and sparks in celebration of true and unconditional love.

J&B


The great Scottish novelist, poet, essayist and travel writer, Robert Louis Stevenson discovered the special beauty of the Forest of Fontainebleau during a trip to Paris in 1875. Serving as inspiration for his earlier works, Robert made long and frequent trips to the forest, staying in Barbizon at the Hôtel Siron. Although Robert did qualify for the Scottish bar in July 1875, he abandoned law to pursue a more artistic way of life as a writer and traveller. The following year Robert crossed the forest on foot from Barbizon to Grez-sur-Loing where he met American painter, Fanny Osbourne. Estranged from her unfaithful husband and with two  children in tow, Fanny had been studying art at the Académie Julian in Paris along with her daughter Isobel. Nicknamed “La Belle Américaine”, Fanny had unexpectedly come to Grez-sur-Loing to recover from the recent death of her youngest son, Hervey aged 5. Shortly thereafter, Robert returned to Britain, but Fanny remained in his thoughts as he wrote an essay “On Falling in Love” for the Cornhill Magazine.

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Snowbells in the Fontainebleau Forest

Early in 1877, Robert and Fanny met again in Grez-sur-Loing and became lovers, spending much of the following year together with Fanny’s two children among the artists’ colonies. Robert was beginning his career as a writer and Fanny, convinced of his talent, encouraged and inspired him. However they were to be separated again in 1878 when Fanny and the children returned to her husband in California. Fanny eventually pursued a long overdue divorce while Robert pursued Fanny, against the wishes of his friends and family. His journey by train across America to California was harrowing with Robert arriving on Fanny’s doorstep impoverished and gravely ill. Fanny nursed him back to health and they married on May 19, 1880. Fanny had just turned 40 and Robert was 29.

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The road traveled nearby Château de Fontainebleau

During their marriage Robert and Fanny traveled extensively. In spite of lengthy periods of ill health, Robert produced his most famous works; Treasure Island, Kidnapped, Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and Weir of Hermiston. The great love shared by Robert and Fanny defied convention. As artists and lovers, they persevered in the face of adversity. As husband and wife, literary accomplishments flourished through their never-ending belief, devotion and loving care of one another. Theirs was a romance of destiny.

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Where the journey began…the home of Robert Louis Stevenson in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris


Back in 2014 we experienced the magnificence of this treasured Cathedral. For those who will not be able to experience the same, here is our little story set against the majesty of beauty, artistry, faith and hope.


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The Vespers Service at Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris 

When in Paris…sometimes not having a plan and just showing up can lead to a wonderful surprise. It was sunset when we passed by the main entrance to Cathédrale Notre-Dame, taking casual notice of the movement of people congregating toward the doors. Since it was the end of the day, we thought it was somewhat unusual, so we wandered in to see for ourselves. As we drew closer to the main altar we realized that a mass would soon begin and so we too settled in, all gazing and full of anticipation. We expected to participate in a traditional service but were rather treated to the vespers service, a sunset evening prayer. Vespers opens with the singing or chanting of the words (in French) and continues throughout the ceremony, interchanging between the priest and the choir. Understanding the French language is not necessary. Simply behold and listen. You won’t soon forget the spectacular beauty of this moving and very special celebration.

Today, the cathédrale is a sparkling crowned jewel, as well as a collective symbol of faith’s bright energy, hope never-ending and indomitable will. Badly damaged during the French Revolution, the cathédrale and many of it’s treasures were either destroyed or plundered. The statues of the biblical kings of Judah (erroneously thought to be the kings of France), located on the facade of the cathédrale, were beheaded. The great bells were broken and melted, sparing only the great bell Emmanuel. Sadly, the cathédrale came to be used as a warehouse for the storage of food. In 1829, the great French poet and novelist, Victor Hugo began writing Notre-Dame de Paris (The Hunchback of Notre-Dame), largely in part to create public awareness about the invaluable importance of the cathédrale he so admired. His novel was published in 1831 and was met with enormous success, thus leading to the monument’s salvation and major restoration, undertaken in 1845 and lasting 20 years.

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Long considered an artistic masterpiece of Gothic architecture with stained-glass rosette windows, towers and gargoyles, the cathédrale is the most popular French monument visited by 13 million people each year. By ascending the 387 steps in the South Tower, you can enjoy a 360° panoramic view of Paris. Requiring less stamina, is a visit to the archaeological crypt which was built to protect the ruins and elements from successive buildings, discovered during the excavations in 1965. Access to the cathédrale is open and free of charge every day of the year, during opening hours. Visit their website for directions, opening hours, services, concerts and events.


 

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