"WHEN I dream of an afterlife...the action always takes place at the Ritz Paris," said Ernest Hemingway in 1944, as World War II was hurtling toward an end.
I have two good friends, Peter Rogers in New Orleans and Jim Mitchell of NYC. Both wrote me on the same day to recommend this book that they "couldn't put down."
I don't know how I had missed Tilar J. Mazzeo's deft work for Harper's titled The Hotel on Place Vendome. It is subtitled Life, Death, and Betrayal at the Hotel Ritz in Paris.
This is an informal, intriguing history of the great hotel that managed to rise without parallel in the days of Proust and the Dreyfus affair and then struggled to stay open during four years of the Nazi occupation of Paris in the 40s.
All the names, the gossip, the invented drinks and extravagances, the French resistance, the spies, the ones who were complicit, the tortures, the movie stars, the literature, the tragedy, the hilarity and the heartbreak. This book doesn't seem to miss much! (There is still plenty of Ritz history after World War II, including the American ambassador to France, Pamela Harriman, dying in the Ritz swimming pool and Princess Diana being chased from there on the night of her death. But I guess that's only a P.S.)
We do get the good-guys and villains of the Ritz up to circa 1945 in this book. For instance, Hermann Goering, air hero of World War I, in all his morphine-addicted glory, stealing the treasures of France from a plush suite at the Ritz. ...Chanel with her German officer (she said at her age, she didn't question a handsome officer's uniform)...Jean Cocteau, trying to imitate Proust, and on and on.
The author opens the book with a glossary in front naming those who endured, profited and made themselves into traitors or heroes, like Marlene Dietrich who essentially flipped Hitler the bird. (She would not return to Germany. She would entertain Allied troops!)
And, of course -- the war correspondents -- from Robert Capa to Hemingway. The latter's 24 hours of drinking after the liberation of Paris, carousing as he dumped his wife, the gifted reporter Martha Gellhorn, for someone named Mary, makes for a fascinating read in itself. (Hemingway was always drunk so it's hard to judge. Mary became his fourth wife.)
The book is quick, suspenseful, funny, tragic and full of people like General Dietrich von Cholititz who refused to destroy the city when Hitler asked "Is Paris burning?" (Hitler's provincialism is well displayed in the work.) There are those who refused to leave although the S.S. came for them in the end. We also get the despised Duke and Duchess of Windsor, who were downright traitors it seems to me. But they survived to live on as a kind of ennui-laden jet-set joke.
This dash down memory lane is to laugh and cry over -- the contrast of pain and luxury, of excess and depredation. Hotel on Place Vendome is full of gossip, dread, joy and horror.
•OH, dear, please, please spare me anymore time spent watching irritating television commercials where a guy in a "gimme" cap steps into almost every scene to tell well-dressed, seemingly normal souls that they are wasting their money. Who asked him?
Took me quite a spell watching these dreary boring commercials for me to understand that they are urging people to segue to Time Warner! What?! Signing up with "Choose Better." (Choose better adsvertising!)
The guy in the cap doesn't knock on the door; he just steps into living rooms, boardrooms, simply appears in kitchens and heaven knows where else to lecture. It's a wonder no one calls the cops on his uninvited entrances. Or some innocent tries to sock him, thinking he is an intruder.
And why is he so dressed down? To prove he's the common man? Why? What?
I remember when advertising was entertaining. Like in Mary Wells Lawrence's "Where's the beef?"..."I Love New York"..."Try it you'll like it"..."Plop plop fizz fizz"..."I can't believe I ate the whole thing."
Oh, I know -- it's only a commercial. And I'm always reminding my readers "It's only a movie/TV show." What can I say? -- consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.
•Larry Kramer, one of my heroes, has sold his Connecticut house and moved to a new home in Washington, CT. If you want to reach him, send me an e-mail and I will forward to him. Larry, who is not in the best of health, is buoyed up by the millions who have now seen his epic work The Normal Heart.
He is busy doing a sequel to this great AIDS work. He has nothing but praise for HBO's presentation of his original.
•SAVE the date October 22 when The International Women's Media Foundation presents its rare awards at Cipriani 42nd Street. Two of TV's finest journalists, Christiane Amanpour of CNN and Cynthia McFadden of NBC, will host.
This event honors women of bravery and salutes women under fire. Bank of America sponsors. And Bloomberg's Peter T. Grauer and Deborah Lloyd of Kate Spade are running things. Contact 212-254-6677 ext. 303. Seating is limited.