Americans in Paris
April 30, 2014
Oooh lala! 61 years ago this month, on May 4th 1953, American author Ernest Hemingway received the prestigious Pulitzer Prize for his most famous novel “The Old Man and the Sea.” Although this novel was written in Cuba, Hemingway first started his career as a writer in Paris in 1922. Ernest Hemingway, like many Americans, had a love affair with Paris. Is it the cities charming streets and terraces, its history, its monuments, its food and shopping or simply that little “je ne sais quoi” that make Paris and Parisians so irresistible to those visitors from across the pond. Regardless of the reason, here are some of the most famous Americans who have fallen in love and left an impression on the city of lights.
So let’s admit a visit to Paris is a tribute… but a tribute to what? Liberty maybe, as it is liberty that the Americans got after the War of Independence (1775-1783), a war supported by Louis XVI and the French (Lafayette) as a way to overrule British supremacy? So Americans have certainly remained close to the country. Let’s not forget that France offered the Statue of Liberty to the Americans… Benjamin Franklin became the US Ambassador to France from 1776 to 1785, followed by Thomas Jefferson until 1789. “Every man has two countries: his own and France,” Jefferson said, his statue now lying next to the Musée d’Orsay, at the entrance of the Léopold Sédar-Senghor footbridge.
Parisianist Fun Fact: Benjamin Franklin often came to discuss with famous 18th century philosophers in the restaurant Le Procope, the oldest restaurant in Paris still open today.
The lost generation was the name given to the American artists living in Paris after World War I. Gertrude Stein, an American, was a main advocate of the Lost Generation in Paris and guided young artists, helping them publish what the US would never dare to. Hemingway, one of the most iconic figures of the Lost Generation, used this term in both his novel The Sun Also Rises and posthumous memoir A Moveable Feast. Other famous figures include Francis Scott Fitzgerald and John Dos Passos.
Parisianist Fun Fact: Hemingway’s Parisian residence can be seen from the outside at 74 Rue du Cardinal Lemoine. The Lost Generation spent time in the first English book store in Paris called Shakespeare and Co, created by Sylvia Beach at 12 rue de l'Odéon. The lively and old-fashioned bookstore is now on 37 Rue de la Bûcherie since 1941 (store originally opened by George Whitman). Check the citineraries Quartier Latin 1 & 2 for details. Gertrude Stein lived at 27 Rue de Fleurus.
Ernest Hemingway called this African American girl from Saint Louis “the most sensational woman anyone ever saw.” After a difficult start as a performer in the United States, a country still plagued by racism at the time, Josephine Baker disembarked from the boat that led her to France, and found almost instant success (and tolerance) as a Folies Bergère cabaret dancer. She was then recruited as a spy for the French military intelligence during WWII, only to return to the Folies Bergère after the war. She eventually acquired French nationality and was a great supporter of the American Civil Rights Movement.
Parisianist Fun Fact: The cocktail club Josephine was inspired by the French-American star. A floating swimming pool on the Seine also bears her name.
Jim Morrison is better known as the lead singer of the 1960’s band The Doors, but he would probably have preferred to be known as a poet, for he had ended his musical career in 1968 to focus on his poetry. Tired of his popularity in the United States and wanting to reduce his alcohol consumption, he decided to take a long holiday in Paris in the spring of 1971. He was found dead in his apartment at 17 Rue Beautreillis on July 3rd 1971, probably due to an overdose.
Parisianist Deadly Detail: Morrison is buried in the 6th division of the Père Lachaise cemetery, and is one of the most iconic tombs there.
Weddings and Relationships
So Paris could indeed be a tribute to independence, freedom of speech, and poetry for many Americans. But let’s be honest, it’s mostly about love. Or, as Christina Aguilera, Lil' Kim, Mya, and Pink sang it: voulez-vous-coucher-avec-moi. And what is it that makes American men and women fall for the French? Is it the accent, the manners, the fantasized romantic behavior or the secret French Touch that just makes them so charming and loveable? Whatever the reasons, and despite a cultural gap many tend to underestimate, many famous Americans have sealed the deal with a frog. Take for example Scarlett Johansson (Romain Dauriac), Nathalie Portman (Benjamin Millepied) or Hillary Swank (Laurent Fleury). Miles Davis also had an interesting past with French actress Juliette Greco.
While Americans might not always love everything about Paris (the very puritan Thomas Jefferson left Paris in 1789, shocked by the open and promiscuous way of life), the city usually leaves a special impression. Or a life-changing one, as was the case with Erika, an American women who married the Eiffel Tower in 2008, thus receiving the name Erika La Tour Eiffel.