Revisiting 1930s Paris With GPS Technology

It wasn’t long after discovering Anaïs Nin and Henry Miller some 20 years ago that I developed a hunger to follow in their footsteps in Paris. I recall writing down some of the addresses of Nin’s and Miller’s haunts and homes, names of famous Montparnassian cafés, and in particular the fabled house in Louveciennes. Back then, I had only Michelin maps and travel guides (the names of which I patched together as “Fodommerbaum”) to help me piece together some sort of plan. Nothing, though, prepared me for the actual act of walking the streets to seek out the remnants and echoes of what once existed.

La Belle Aurore in the late 1930s, quai des Tuileries

The very first site I wanted to see was the quai where Nin moored her houseboat, La Belle Aurore. I only had old photographs to help me figure out exactly where it was. I stood holding the photo on Pont Royal, straining to match the 60 year old image with the current scene, and I had to guess. I stood at my declared spot and tried to feel the magic of knowing that once upon a time, an old, leaky barge sat in these waters, that Nin and her lover Gonzalo walked down the same staircase I did to board it. Was I right? Was this the spot?

I was only able to discover this past week that I was indeed pretty close, and I was able to do so sitting in front of my computer screen, thanks to today’s GPS technology. While editing and formatting Britt Arenander’s Anaïs Nin’s Lost World: Paris in Words and Pictures, 1924-1939, I began to toy with the idea of making what was mainly a photo-book with a nice, concise synopsis of Nin’s and Miller’s Paris years into something more: an interactive travel guide using GPS technology, something than can not only be read, but used. Once I began seeking out the more than 40 specific locations listed in the book on Google Maps, I began to see that not only can one visit these locations virtually, but one can also navigate between them and create virtual walking tours. Had I had access to something like this twenty years ago, my first Paris visit would have been very different. For example, one of Henry Miller’s apartments was on Avenue Anatole France in Clichy, and it was the setting for the famous battle between Miller and his wife June over the fact that Miller and Nin were lovers, a final cataclysmic explosion that resulted in divorce. How could any self-described aficionado not visit this place and reconstruct that scene? The sad fact is that I spent half a precious day trying to find the place only to come up empty. How was I to know that there are two Avenues Anatole France, one in Paris and one in Clichy, to the north? It is only now that I can walk that street and look up at the art-deco building where emotions ran amok that day in 1932, thanks to Google’s “street view” option. In fact, I decided one day to do what Miller himself did on a regular basis: walk from his favorite restaurant at Place Clicy, the Wepler, to his apartment, simply by using the navigation tools. The same was true in Montparnasse and all the other locations.

Steps leading down to quai Tuileries, where Nin’s houseboat was moored. The iron rings use to moor the boats are still on the wall. This image is taken from Google Maps’ Street View. Click to enlarge.

So, what I did was to mark each location and then to present some background of its significance, using facts from Arenander’s book and vintage photographs. (There are other options as well, such as including links that allows the viewer to delve further into its history, including sound and video clips, and this is something I aim on enhancing the map with often. To see an example, go to our intactive sample map and click on La Gare chemin de fer de petite ceinture.) I thought that if one were planning a trip to Paris and wanted to “practice” identifying historic locations beforehand, one could do so easily. Also, since many travelers bring smart devices along on their trips, one could use an iPad, say, or an iPhone to map out their walks as they were actually doing them. What a remarkable way to enhance a trip, especially when time is at a premium. And if one is unable to make such a trip, it is still possible to revisit the traces of the past at home. After all, I was finally able to use the street view navigation to scope out Nin’s houseboat location and finally pinpoint the spot by comparing it with the old photos. Not only that, but I discovered the old iron rings that once moored the houseboats are still affixed to the walls! (Go to the sample interactive map by clicking here and you can visit quai de Tuileries yourself.)

I have created a short walking tour which is based on an event that took place in March of 1932, chronicled in Anaïs Nin’s Lost World. Henry Miller had met Anaïs at Chez les Vikings and had a passionate conversation with her. After she left, he wrote his first love letter to her, saying, “I tell you what you already know—I love you.” After writing that letter, he walked home to Hôtel Central, where he and Nin had their first sexual encounter a few days later. Now, we can virtually walk that same path, just for the hell of it.

To take the walking tour, click here.

To order Anaïs Nin’s Lost World, click here.

Anais Nin’s Lost World: Paris in Words and Pictures, 1924-1939

In 1995, Britt Arenander’s book Anaïs Nins Förlorade Värld (Anaïs Nin’s Lost World) was released in Sweden. Gunther Stuhlmann, Anaïs Nin’s literary agent, sent me a copy as a gift, and it was always a book, despite my inability to read Swedish, that I admired.

Louveciennes in 1900. The woman to the left was Anais Nin’s landlady, Mme. Leboeuf.

The author, who had recently moved to France, made the pilgrimage to Louveciennes to see Anaïs Nin’s legendary “laboratory of the soul,” the 200 year old house where she met Henry Miller in 1931. It then dawned on her to see if the apartment building where Miller and his friend Alfred Perlès lived still stood in Clichy, and it did. This series of events triggered her quest to research and rediscover each Paris address ever mentioned by Nin or Miller, and the result was a wonderful book filled with both vintage and recent photographs of these storied locations. In between was the synopsis of the life that Nin, Miller, and many of their cohorts lived in the 1930s, interlaced with the history of Paris, Montparnasse, and Louveciennes. I had always hoped that one day the book would be published in English.

Imagine my surprise and delight, then, when Britt Arenander contacted me recently with the idea of doing just that, and it was a project I was more than happy to undertake.

In her introduction, the author clearly states her inspiration: “A lost world, of which the outlines still remain, was what I wished to recreate, by help of photographic jigsaw puzzle pieces. But my hope is also that it might be an intimate guide to Paris outside the main tourist routes.”

We have taken this idea and enhanced the original book with updated information, a well-planned table of contents complete with links to not only each photograph, some of which, as the one to the left, are at least 100 years old, but also to street maps of several of the chief Nin/Miller haunts. The last new touch is an interactive map that one can view with their ebook device or computer that offers background information, vintage photos, and current street views of such places as Nin’s Louveciennes house, the location of her houseboats, the hotel where Nin and Miller began their affair, the brothel where Nin and her husband Hugh Guiler witnessed a “show,” and on and on.

All of this, I believe achieves Britt Arenander’s quest to offer an intimate guide to Paris that is definitely out of the ordinary. The reader will be able wander through Anaïs Nin’s lost world visually, literarily, virtually, and if in Paris, truly.

The book can be ordered with Kindle and with any Apple product (iPad, iPhone, etc.) after downloading the Kindle app.

To see a sample or to purchase Anaïs Nin’s Lost World, click here.

To view a sample interactive map drawn from the book, click here.

Visit our Anaïs Nin e-bookstore here.

Read an Excerpt of Anais Nin: The Last Days

Barbara Kraft’s new memoir, Anais Nin: The Last Days is getting a lot of press lately, including a substantial excerpt on Huffington Post.

To read the excerpt, go to Huffington Post by clicking here.

To order the book, click here.

 

 

Anais Nin on Gore Vidal

When Anaïs Nin met the 20 year old Gore Vidal in 1945, she found in him a kindred soul, one who understood her and her writing, which was something she rarely experienced. She was initially swept off her feet by his dymanic, self-assured, and elegant demeanor, and the emotional bond between them sprang forth very quickly. They grew to love each other, but since Vidal was homosexual, it was a torn love, one that could not be fulfilled physically. Nin and Vidal supported and inspired each other’s work, and Vidal, who worked as an editor for Dutton, was able to arrange Nin’s first contract with an American publisher.

Gore Vidal at the time Anais Nin met him

Gore Vidal quite famously derided Nin in his work and in his comments after they had split, and Nin was not kind to Vidal’s work, characterizing it as pedestrian and beneath his capabilities. Was the vitriol a true reflection of their feelings for each other, or was it a result of the great pain of not being able to be true lovers? That is a question that begs to be examined.

Below are Nin’s first comments about Vidal in her soon-to-be-released unexpurgated 1940s diary:

November 19, 1945

Kimon Friar asked me to go to his lecture on love. At the Y.M.H.A. I was in a sad mood, so I dressed as Mary Stuart, who had her head cut off by a jealous Queen Elizabeth, in a tight black dress with long sleeves half covering the hand, a heart shaped black hat edged with pearls, and a white veil. Kimon lectured at the head of a long table. At the foot of the table one chair was empty, and I took it (Hugo had to sit behind me). Next to me sat a handsome Lieutenant, who, after I had leaned across him to speak to Maya Deren, spoke to me. “Are you French? I am a descendent of troubadour Vidal.” … He is luminous and manly. He is … not nebulous, but clear and bright. He talks, is active, is alert and poised. [H]e has [a] tall and slender body, … clear skin, and [a] full, sensual mouth. He is twenty years old. He is one of the editors at Dutton, and his own novel is appearing in the spring. He knows Under a Glass Bell and had guessed who I was. He asked when he might visit me. I said I would be home that evening or on Tuesday evening. He said he would come on Tuesday as he was not free that evening. But after a moment, he said: “I’d like to come this evening if you don’t mind.”

So four hours after meeting him, he walked into my studio. … His voice is rich and warm; he is intuitive. There is too much to tell.

***

When Gore Vidal says he will be the President of the United States, I believe him. He walks in easily, not dream-fogged, not unreal, not bemused … His eyes are … clear, open, hazel. They are French eyes. His face is square … He came Sunday afternoon. Then this evening we sat at the Number One bar and talked. His father is a millionaire. His grandfather was Senator Gore. His mother left them when he was ten to marry someone else. “She is Latin looking, vivacious, handsome, her hair and eyes like yours,” he said, “beloved of many.”

The boy-man is lonely. He rejects homosexual advances. He says: “In the army, I live like a monk.” He is writing his novel. He is clear minded, but emotionally confused and vulnerable. …

Will his French troubadour lineage stir in his memory some recognition of Anaïs, whose name comes from a little Greek town in the south of France? I feel yes, unconsciously. He has the courage to say: “May I come?” He telephones, he can command a taxi. Will he dare? I feel the bond, less than with Bill, but one that suits my present self better, for I am returning to my aristocracy and my pleasures, and leaving my bohemianism behind.

Gore talks about his childhood: “When my mother left me I became objective…I live detached from my present life…at home our relationships are casual…my father married a young model…I like casual relationships…When you are involved you get hurt. I do not want to be involved ever…”
Mutely … Gore’s sudden softness envelops me.

December 5, 1945
Gore is a lieutenant at Mitchell Field. He comes in on weekends, and Sunday he came to see me. We had a fine talk, lightly serious, gracefully sad. He read me from Richard II. “Why was he killed?” I asked. “Because he was weak. I am not weak,” said Gore.

No, he is not weak, but he might need Joan of Arc to place him on his throne. I told him his arthritic hand was due to a psychic cramp for writing about an ordinary hero when he himself is no ordinary young man. I teased him, touched upon his depression. His handwriting is chaotic and unstable. He took me to dinner.
Today he called me up: “This is troubadour Vidal.” His voice is lovely, musical …

***

December 10, 1945
Gore came, and we slid easily into a sincere, warm talk …

He takes me to dinner at the Lafayette. All the society mothers look for him, for their cocktails and dances. The debutantes write him letters: “Why are you so detached?” As we walk, I take his arm. This gesture has infinite repercussions upon the long distance range of his being. When I relinquish it, a moment later he extends it back and says: “Mon bras?”

… [He] is … adequate, answers all I say, and holds his ground. When we return home (he came at four and left at midnight), he makes me laugh with the most amazingly well-acted pastiches of Roosevelt, Churchill, a southern senator, a petitioner at the House of Commons, etc. … [N]ow, I abandon my writing, my need of the doctor, to write about him because I enjoy his presence. I enjoy being allowed into his secret self. His very far apart, clear hazel eyes open into mine: “I give you the true Vidal, a supreme gift.” Leaving, he says: “I’ll come on Wednesday. Don’t let anyone else come. Send Hugo away.”

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