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John Glassco Penned the Start of His Memoirs as an Ex-pat In...

By Shannawilson @shanna_wilson
John Glassco penned the start of his memoirs as an ex-pat in...

John Glassco penned the start of his memoirs as an ex-pat in 1920’s Paris, among the likes of Ford Madox Ford, Gertrude Stein, Sylvia Beach and the Lost Generation. Seeking freedom from the boredom of Montreal, and harboring an insatiable need for the architecture and mystique of the City of Light, he and a friend board a ship headed toward l’intellectuel, la beauté sophistiquée de Paris.

Glassco is introspective, with a slightly insufferable measure of taste. He pores over Sade and the French philosophers, developing a distaste for Hemingway, Rebecca West, Pound and the somewhat more mainstream creative class of the 1920’s. He recounts an affair with a women, for whom he “could agree on nothing” ie. she liked Dos Passos and Tolstoy, while he preferred Turgenev and Robert Frost. Still, living among the writers populating the cafe tables of the Montparnasse boulevards, Glassco provides an of the moment perspective on life in a city bursting with art and letters between the great wars.

As he describes the things that make France, and the continent in general more appealing than the one on which he was born—the pastries, the string orchestras on the corners, the outdoor cafes, the art—he could be a young man of any decade, searching for the edge that keeps meaning in our days. He finds it among the people that populate the city, and the newness of their way of life.

Today, we can buy French linens and perfume in Illinois or Texas, and the ubiquity of foreign goods deflates their exotic appeal. We scour through reams of gleaming images of faraway places, pitched and angled perfectly courtesy of the plastic surgeon known as Dr. Photoshop. Air and train travel, along with a semester abroad, make Europe and Asia and Africa accessible to all who seek it. The idea of living and visiting a place “abroad” from one’s own has changed. But the mystery and the “art” of travel is of the ages. If one is open to the possibilities and the education that comes from traveling to a place that has been a previous void in one’s mind—Paris and Provence, Shanghai and Capetown—it’s all there for the taking. Reading about Paris and Istanbul and Prague is a lot of fun. But, the memories are better in person.

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