Archive for the ‘Making of JAD’ Category

17 March

And All That Jazz

And All That Jazz

Paris Style



It has been said that the American south gave birth to jazz, but it was Paris who nourished it, made it grow and hailed it as art. Jazz became unique to each country that welcomed it, and Paris was the first in Europe to embrace it and make it her own.

This must have been an unpleasant jolt to wealthy Paris society who, before the advent of WW I, flourished in the era known as the Belle Epoque, or “Beautiful Era.” It overlapped the Victorian Era in England and the Gilded Age in America, all sharing the same sense of “noblesse oblige,” thus perpetuating the established class system. Their life style was reflected in elaborate homes, romantic literature, music and high fashion.

France’s Belle Epoque Age ended abruptly with the outbreak of WW I, crushed by the reality and horror of war. In 1918, Paris was still reeling from the ravages of war, which the French had believed would quickly end with a glorious victory. Instead, at the end of the four year struggle, they saw only devastation, loss and poverty.  People were angry, disillusioned and felt betrayed by their leaders and the arrogant politics of war.

French writers and artists led a revolt in literary, art and musical satire, rebelling against the insanity, horror and stupidity of war. They held spirited public meetings and seminars. Finally, the French government forbade them to hold secret meetings or even meet secretly among themselves since they always seemed to stir up trouble. The creative artists solved that problem by openly meeting in little sidewalk cafes, a move that served them well and became a tradition for future generations of writers and artists.

During the Belle Epoque’s final years, European literature, music and art began to undergo a major transformation, introducing stark realism that developed into modernism.  Romantic operettas and Strauss waltzes gave way to the unfamiliar, discordant sounds of Stravinsky. The elegant, corseted high fashion gowns were replaced with the unencumbered, boyish dress designs of Coco Chanel, including (gasp!) trousers for women! Romantic adventure novels were nudged aside by the in-your-face realism of Joseph Conrad, Proust, Kafka, D. H. Lawrence, T. S. Eliot and James Joyce.

Out of their discontent grew one of the strangest, most controversial artistic protests yet seen. In 1919, Darius Milhaud, Jean Cocteau, Erik Satie, Poulenc and Picasso were among the prominent artists and writers in Paris who joined the Dada movement, an informal international anti-war movement launching a protest against everything traditional. They declared that everything was nonsense: literature, art, morality, and civilization. They ridiculed the lack of purpose and shallowness of the modern world.

The word, “dada” is baby talk for the French word “hobbyhorse,” the kind with a horse’s head on a stick that a child pretends to ride but goes nowhere! The Dada movement spread into other countries, including the United States. Dadaism began to fade into surrealism by 1924, and some theorists argue that Dada was the beginning of postmodern art.

Speaking of surreal—I had my own crazy Dada moment a few years ago while driving home from work tuned into PBS. The narrator discussed the 1920’s Dadaist movement and its meaning (or lack thereof), then played a CD of a woman reading a Dada poem—two full minutes of this woman’s melodious voice reading nothing but “dada-dada-dada” over and over again. The word never changed, only the emotion and cadence of her voice changed, as if she was reading something very deep and meaningful.  I grinned through the first minute, gritted my teeth through the second and almost ran off the road at the heart wrenching dadas that ended the saga!

Guess what the most amazing part was? The woman reading the Dada poem was (drum roll, please) Marie Osmond!  Honest! I grinned the rest of the way home. The Dadaists would have loved it. I mean, how damn surreal can you get?  Here was this little Mormon girl from Utah, almost one hundred years later, reading the iconic Dada poem about nothing!

This leads us back to why Paris was so quick to embrace the Jazz Age and its hordes of artists, writers, musicians, entertainers and other “expats” who were eager to make Paris their home. Jazz in Paris, as well as America, represented not only an anti-war sentiment, but a rebellion against the stuffiness and rigidity of the Belle Epoque, Victorian era and old fashioned classicism. Jazz flourished among the rich and poor alike, and became a musical language all could understand regardless of class.

Paris was introduced to jazz during the difficult days of WW I, when American soldiers came with their marching bands and jazzy music. War weary Parisians jumped on the jazz bandwagon like starving people looking for life support. The happy, syncopated music boosted moral and helped them forget for awhile the ravages of war.

Word of the artistic and racial freedom in Paris (and their love of jazz)  spread quickly and, after the war, African-American jazz musicians flocked to Paris for work and the racial equality and freedom they were denied in their own country. The music became a cultural tidal wave that had the power to cross racial barriers. Soon, Paris boasted the top names in jazz musicians as well as the best known African-American cabaret stars in the world. In addition, many American soldiers remained in Paris after the war, which prompted the popular 1918 song, “How Ya’ Gonna’ Keep Them Down on the Farm, After They’ve Seen Paree?”

Paris already boasted its own impressive community of avant-garde artists. Leaders in the fields of literature, music, dance and theatre were an integral part of Paris culture before WW I. They were the artistic hub, the beacon that drew other artists to Paris after the war. However, sometimes Paris could be a devious, sexy Lorelie whose entrancing song lures and distracts the creative muses, as F. Scott Fitzgerald and others discovered when they failed to heed the danger hidden in her siren song.

Among these expatriates were the cream of America’s writers, musicians and artists: F. Scott Fitzgerald, who coined the words “Jazz Age,” Ernest Hemingway, John Dos Passos, Sinclair Lewis, Gertrude Stein, Sylvia Beach and her Shakespeare Co., Ezra Pound, Henry James, Sherwood Anderson, Charles McArthur, Langston Hughes, Cole Porter, George Gershwin, Aaron Copeland, Rogers and Hart, Man Ray and so many others. They became an integral part of the burgeoning American expatriate community who had moved to Paris for the artistic freedom it nourished.

Others came to Paris just because they loved the life style. Among these were Gerald and Sara Murphy, wealthy Americans who befriended many of America’s artists and writers at their home in Cap d’ Antibes. Their biography is titled, “Living Well is the Best Revenge.”

Living in Paris was cheaper and there was no Prohibition!  They could drink, enjoy wild dancing, visit brothels and other dens of iniquity without fearing arrest. Socialites, adventurers, artists and tourists from around the world converged upon the famous Parisian nightclubs and cabarets, like Café du Dome, Chez Florence, le Boeuf Sur le Toit, le Grand Duc, the Moulin Rouge, Maxims and others. The back ally cabarets, bordellos and opium parlors existed in tandem with the more sophisticated clubs, whose patrons were not shy about visiting both.

Perhaps composer, George Antheil put it best when he said “Jazz was a marvelous antidote to 20th Century boredom and nervous tension—a subtle combination of narcotic and stimulant!”

The Jazz Age reigned until it came crashing down with America’s Wall Street, and all the American expatriates had to rush back home to pick up the pieces. Some mourned the end of the Jazz Age, others said good riddance!

The Jazz age was over, but jazz was here to stay! Over the years, jazz has given birth to the blues, rock and roll, ragtime, folk, bluegrass, scat, rhythm and blues and a host of other genres.

This came home to me a few years ago, when I was spent the night in Carcassonne, a small 14th century medieval city in southern France. The ancient, walled city had a sad Cather/Crusader history that permeated the old stone walls. I felt its pervasive sadness as I walked along the ancient cobbled, narrow streets. Suddenly, I heard live music. The jazzy sound was so out of context with my medieval musings, I was momentarily disoriented.

I rounded a corner and was astonished to see three young musicians wailing away on trumpet, bass and tenor sax. Jazz! Right here in Medieval City! I listened until the sun went down, and hoped the joyful vibes bouncing off the old walls helped chase away the centuries old sorrow lingering in the shadows. I thanked the musicians and headed back to my eight hundred year old room, which felt just as surreal as the jazz in the ancient courtyard!

Yes, Jazz is here to stay and can be found in the most surprising places!

Ernest Hemingway captured the feelings of many of the expatriates in 1920’s Paris with his famous quote:

“If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris in the 1920’s as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.”

A feast that continues to intrigue and fascinate us today!

10 March

The Jazz Age In America

The Jazz Age In America




It’s almost impossible to look back on the Jazz age and see it for what it was. One had to experience it, be a part of cultural, political and emotional upheaval of the times. Even for the participants of that era, it would be years before even they understood the events and ramifications of what F. Scott Fitzgerald described as “…the most expensive orgy in history.”

Until I met Muriel, my impressions of the Jazz Age centered on music, the Charleston, flappers, bobbed hair, bathtub gin, and flaming youth gone wild.  While all of these elements were present during the 1920’s, there was also a sense of frustration, anger and cynicism sweeping the country because of the Victorian, heavy handed political and cultural structure which many felt were stifling and oppressive.

While writing Muriel’s bio, I delved more deeply into the background and events of the era that gave birth to that crazy, frenetic decade that Scott Fitzgerald coined “The Jazz Age.”  As a result of Muriel’s stories and hundreds of hours of research in libraries (oh, what I would have given for computer back then), I began to understand how the amazing Roaring 20’s blazed upon the cultural scene with all of the dignity and finesse of a lightning strike on a munitions dump—everything went up in flames, and it took ten years for the ashes to sift back down to earth!

It was the perfect storm. Several historic and far-reaching events in America overlapped and led up to the unrest and disillusionment that fueled the Jazz Age rebellion.  I have space for just a few of the major political and cultural challenges citizens were facing at the time.

World War I had just ended and left America still reeling from not only the tragic loss of thousands of lives, but with the thousands of wounded, especially those who had been gassed and would never fully recover.  What had they gained that compensated for the terrible loss?

During the war, the controversial 18th Amendment was passed. This law banned the sale, transportation and manufacture of alcohol, giving birth to speakeasies and gangsters who managed the market for booze throughout the 1920’s until the law was repealed in 1933.  It is said that Al Capone’s earnings stood at $60 million a year, plus millions more made by other gangsters and speakeasy owners.  People continued to drink liquor, they just had to pay more for it and risk getting caught.

Speaking of getting caught, I can’t help grinning as I remember Uncle Charlie’s story of my Grandma Russell taking an axe to Grandpa’s stash of blackberry wine in the smokehouse.  The pigs and chickens lapped it up and staggered out the door to sleep it off. Satisfied with her mission, Grandma relaxed in her rocker with her afternoon tonic…Lydia Pinkham’s Lady’s Tonic, which she ordered from Sears and was about 80% alcohol!  Unbowed, Grandpa hid his next batch in the loft of the barn!

The next big event was the 19th Amendment in 1920—finally giving women the right to vote after 72 years of struggle!  It is hard to imagine women not being able to vote, isn’t it?  I’ve voted in every election since I came of age—never missed a one. I can imagine how anxious those women were to cast their first vote. And what domestic discord it must have caused if they voted differently than their husbands. Hot on the heels of gaining a voice, female voters all over the country began to unite to clean up politics, improve society and end discrimination, surely a powerful force to be reckoned with. H. L. Mencken penned thousands of words about well meaning, but naïve “lady do-gooders.”

The younger generation was fighting to escape the Victorian Age mentality still prevalent in America with its harsh, judgmental edicts about social morals and artistic freedom.  Writers, artists, dancers and musicians were especially angered and outspoken, with many of them leaving the United States and becoming expatriates in Paris, where artistic freedom was nourished. American authors wrote scathing indictments on what they saw as the shallowness and narrow-mindedness in American life.

T.S.Elliott wrote that we were a nation awash in materialism and devoid of spiritual vitality. Sinclair Lewis added fuel to the fire when he became the first American to win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1930 for his “Main Street” (1920) and “Babbitt” (1922), both satires on smugness and narrow minded complacency in small town America, causing a firestorm of angry protest from small towns throughout America!

Then there was H. L. Mencken, the acerbic editor of “Mercury Magazine” who wrote hundreds of essays mocking many aspects of American life.  He pounded away at reformers, whom he blamed for the bloodshed of WW I and the gangsters of the 1920’s prohibition era.  He insisted that, “Doing good is in bad taste!”  And when asked why he was such a keen observer of people when he complained about them so much, he replied, “Why do people go to zoos?”  Not surprisingly, his Mercury Magazine was quite popular with the younger generation. Their elders? Not so much!

To add to these monumental events, there was great political unrest especially in the south where the African Americans were becoming restless and vocal about mistreatment and discrimination.  They were also threatened by the growth and brutality of the Ku Klux Klan, but continued demanding their rightful place in society. The situation was becoming volatile and the government was slow to respond.

Something else was coming out of the south—a very different sound, especially to white Americans, that would forever change our musical history. We didn’t know what to call it at first—it was a unique sound, a mixture of blues, ragtime, gospel and a joyful syncopation of style and improvisation. Early on, it was sometimes referred to as “Jas music,” then “Razz,” and finally “Jazz”, a musical style that originated in the early 1900’s in southern African American communities. The popular Jazz bands made recordings that were played on radios across the country. They performed in Chicago, New York and San Francisco clubs and speakeasies.

Jazz music quickly became the rage, especially among the young people.  The Black Bottom, Charleston and Foxtrot followed hot on its heels.  It was as if the younger generation had been desperately seeking an outlet to release the tension, anger and discontent that had been building up and found it in Jazz and wild, uninhibited dances.  It’s not surprising that many of their Victorian parents were scandalized and strongly objected to Jazz and the dances. They condemned the unfamiliar saxophone (the sultry sax sounded too much like sex) that promoted close, intimate dancing as well as wild, hysterical gyrations that looked like the dancers were possessed.

A 1921 edition of “Ladies’ Home Journal” published an article called, “Does Jazz Put the Sin in Syncopation?”  The author claims that the outrageous dances were destroying the morals of today’s youth.  Jazz was blamed for everything from drunkenness, to deafness, to madness and a huge increase of unwed mothers! Despite such opinions (or because of them) Jazz remains to this day immensely popular. It gave birth to Rhythm and Blues, Rock and Roll, Reggae, bebop, vocal jazz and scat, Bluegrass and today’s popular music played all over the world.

Musician, J. J. Johnson, put it best when he said, “Jazz is restless.  It won’t stay put and it never will!” I think this also defines every new, restless generation. They won’t stay put either, and never will!

My parents didn’t do the Charleston (or did they?) but they were the best foxtrotters in the county.  However, they strongly disapproved of the “jitterbug” the new dance craze when I was in high school.  I loved dancing the “bug” to the swing music of Glenn Miller and Tommy Dorsey. But I remember being appalled the first time I saw the dances kids are doing today, which seems to consist mostly of pelvic thrusts. God knows what the next generation of dances will be!  Anyway, I can understand the 1920’s parents shock at the music and dances.

In addition to all the above events, the turmoil in the United States was heightened by the contentious, long Scopes Trial, which pitted friend against friend, and the disturbingly large exodus of writers, musicians, and artists who fled to Paris, along with numerous African American musicians and entertainers who found the longed for freedom and acceptance they couldn’t find here. They all became part of the large, growing American expatriate community in Paris.

Among them was F. Scott Fitzgerald who coined so many words and phrases defining the 1920’s through his books and essays.  In 1922, he described the 1920’s as “The Jazz Age.” The phrase became the iconic title of an era so difficult to define. Gertrude Stein called it “The Lost Generation,” and Ernest Hemingway insisted that “…they were battered, but were not lost.”

So, the younger generation had made their statement through fashion, style, music, dance and thought. Gradually, their freedom of dress (no more corsets, hooray!) and life style entered mainstream America. They embraced the philosophy of the popular Broadway musical, “Anything Goes.”

The Jazz Age bubble burst and plummeted to earth with a resounding crash when Wall Street collapsed in 1929. Scott Fitzgerald recalled events in his famous 1931 essay, “Echoes of the Jazz Age.”  He said the era was an age of miracles, art, excess and satire. The Jazz age had had a wild youth and a heady middle age, but it was only borrowed time. Eventually, “Somebody blundered, and the most expensive orgy in history was over.”

He ended the essay with, “It all seems rosy and romantic to us who were young then, because we will never feel quite so intensely about our surroundings again.”

I don’t perceive the Jazz Age in the same way I did before I wrote Muriel’s story. It’s easier to see why Paris became a beacon of artistic freedom that drew her, Bob and hundreds of other artists to its promising light.  Next week, we’ll explore the Jazz Age in Paris, which was a much different story from what Muriel experienced in her own country. We’ll talk about the Dada movement, famous artists, the opulent life style and…All That Jazz!

24 February

The Russians Are Coming!

The Russians Are Coming!

Muriel often mentioned how surprised she and Bob were at the huge number of Russians in Paris when they arrived there in 1925.

“They were everywhere,” she exclaimed. “They were waiters, salesclerks, barmen, street cleaners, laborers, teachers, clerks and every taxi driver in Paris was Russian. And every one of them had a story to tell, most of them sad tales indeed.  Almost all claimed to be exiled aristocrats and/or royalty, with many a Prince and Princess among them. The amazing thing was, many of them actually were!”

Paris had long held a special attraction for Russians from the early 1700’s when Czar Peter first visited; to 1814 when Alexander I entered Paris after defeating Napoleon; to the state visit of Nicolas II in 1896, at which time there were already over 5000 Russians living in Paris.  Russian aristocrats and royalty wintered there and in southern France.  In fact, Paris became known as “Russia Abroad.”

The chaos, terror and suffering that followed the Bolshevik Revolution and Russian Civil War of 1917 was the catalyst that drove over 2 million Russians (200,000 of them Russian Jews) out of their homeland, desperately seeking asylum in dozens of foreign countries. The Bolshevik regime stripped the exiles of their citizenship, wealth and lands. They were literally without a country. It was a mass migration that included everyone who didn’t accept the brutal, new Communist regime—wealthy landowners, educated and skilled workers and rural property owners.

France, especially Paris, became the refuge of choice for thousands of Russian aristocrats and former royal families. Add to this mix, the thousands of Russian unskilled laborers who were hired by the French government to help rebuild France after the devastation left behind from World War I.  France lost over 1,500,000 men in the war, and had at least that many injured.  They had very little manpower left to rebuild their country, so they hired the exiled Russians who could no longer find jobs in their own country.

However, when the rebuilding was finished, there were no more jobs for them. They, along with many of the aristocrats, were forced to take menial jobs.  Russian Doctors, teachers, University Professors, scientists and the former aristocracy became the waiters, clerks and taxi drivers…if they were lucky. By 1925, when Muriel had arrived, there were reportedly 400,000 Russians in France, over 50,000 of them in Paris.

The Russian community in Paris was bound together in the hope and expectation of the downfall of Bolshevism and a return to Mother Russia. They believed their mission in Paris was to preserve Russian culture, language and liberty and, above all, to educate the west about the dangers of Communism.

So, they organized! Over the years, they recreated their traditional lifestyles, establishing schools, churches, publishing houses, newspapers, theatres and literary circles, political groups, dance companies, cultural and language centers and even nightclubs. Paris became the political center and unofficial capital of Russian emigration in Europe. They greatly enhanced world culture, but many still help a deep love for Russia and dreamed of someday returning.

This was the Paris that Muriel and Bob discovered in 1925.  What a rich melting pot of humanity, causes and cultures. Bob must have found more than enough raw material here to fill several books, for there is no doubt that the massive Russian emigration impacted 1920’s Paris—it’s culture, politics, geography and especially its arts and nightlife.

The popularity of Russian nightlife rose dramatically in the 1920’s.  There were over 100 Russian nightclubs featuring the best caviar, 60 kinds of vodka, music and dance, balalaikas and gypsy music as well as traditional Russian folk music…usually gut-wrenching and sad songs that pulled at the heartstrings.  One of the most popular Russian nightclubs was the Chateau Caucasian, later renamed the Caveau (Cave) Caucasian, where Bob and Muriel had their first success.

Muriel described it this way:  The Chateau Caucasian was a huge three story building.  In the basement, or Caverne, the gypsies played their balalaikas and sang folk songs. There were candles, samovars and bottles on the rustic tables, recalling the bohemian atmosphere found in the small Russian cafes.  The ground floor was the Chateau, with crystal chandeliers, formal dress “Obligatoire” and waiters dressed in very formal white Cossack uniforms. Guests were served gourmet delicacies and wines while a large orchestra played for dancing.

The top floor was given over to the Cabaret.  The room seated about three hundred people, had a small stage at one end upon which appeared several different acts—sword dancers, soloists, a Russian quartet, and more gypsy dancers. The atmosphere was informal, the gay colors blended with the bright costumes of the performers. This is the room where Bob and Muriel performed nightly for several months, and where they became good friends with so many of the Russian performers and waiters.

The Russian influence on Parisian fashion was led by Coco Chanel in what was later to be called her “Russian Phase.”  She created more ornate fabrics in bold colors and added furs to her collection.  At the time, she was having an affair with Igor Stravinsky, and hired Russian models and salesgirls from the Russian aristocracy.  Vogue featured the fashionable “Slavic Style” of dress and included pictures in their magazine.

The impact of Russian refugees on the Parisian art and literary scene was immense, and remains so today.  Perhaps we have forgotten how many gifted artists, writers and musicians came to us as exiles from the Bolshevik Revolution, many via Paris.  Consider this: Serge Diagilev’s Ballet Russe found a home there, as did choreographer George Balanchine; actors, Yul Brynner and George Sanders; designer, Oleg Cassini; musicians, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Igor Stravinsky and Serge Prokofyev; writer, Ayn Rand; and artists, Marc Chagall, Survage and Kandinsky.  These artists found the artistic freedom they longed for in Paris…a freedom they could have never experienced in Russia.

So, 1920’s Paris was a brightly shining beacon promising artistic freedom for many cultures and movements around the world.  While we tend to focus on  our American expatriate group in Paris who helped bring to life the glittering, frenetic Jazz Age, others seek their own country’s role in that crazy decade of change and upheaval. No one came out of it as innocent as they went into it.

Least of all, Bob and Muriel Johnston.

17 February

Paris Remembered

  Paris Remembered

When Muriel told a story, it was almost as much fun watching her as listening to her.  I learned to read her body language, her expressions and the nuances in her voice, which often said as much or more about her story than she did with words. She relished telling favorite stories, reliving them with excitement, humor and lots of body English. She didn’t hesitate to laugh at her own foibles and social missteps.

Some of my favorite stories were about Bob and Muriel’s first crazy days in Paris.  The tales changed a little each time, as Muriel remembered other events or some fascinating gossip about the people she met, always adding a new dimension to her stories.  Here is what she told me about their first impressions of Paris.

Bob and I could hardly contain our excitement as the train we had boarded at the port city of Le Rochelle chugged its way across the French countryside and finally slowed and whistled its way into Paris. We barely waited for it to stop before scrambling off and eagerly looking around us.

“Paris!” I shouted, throwing my arms in the air. “Just look at us! We’re actually in Paris!”   

Bob laughed, grabbed my arm and headed to where our trunks we being unloaded. We had to push and shove to make our way through the noisy, colorful mass of humanity that surrounded us. People from every race, color and culture were rushing about, many in the native, exotic costumes of the countries they were leaving behind.  So many different nationalities milled about including an abundance of Russians. It sounded like the Tower of Babel as they shouted and waved to each other. 

I clung to Bob, certain that if we were separated, we’d never find each other again in that crush of people. We finally located our trunks and pulled them far enough out of the depot that we could hear each other speak. I sat on my trunk to catch my breath, still more than a little overwhelmed. We had done our research, but nothing had prepared us for our first glimpse of Paris and the Station Internationale—Grand Central Station, Paris style

I grinned at Bob. “It’s not much like our little train station on the river, is it?”

“Not even in the same universe,” Bob laughed. “But that’s the reason we’re here, isn’t it?

That was exactly the reason we were here. We spent the next few days getting better acquainted with Paris, walking miles or taking the bus, since we couldn’t afford taxies. But we were used to this, and it didn’t take long for us to fall in love with this amazing city. Paris was an eclectic mix of the old and new. …we walked down the beautiful Champs Elysees, visited lively clubs in Montmartre, spent hours at the Louvre and climbed the Eiffel Tower.   We admired the stunning architecture, centuries old buildings and landmarks, were amazed at the opulent splendor of the Palace of Versailles and awed by Notre Dame, where we stared in silent tribute at the magnificent stained glass windows. We explored and marveled at all the legendary and historical sites of Paris.

However, it didn’t take long for us to discover what was new and unique to 1925 Paris, including the overwhelming influx of people from diverse countries searching for political and/or artistic freedom. Remember, we were just coming out of that awful Victorian era, which my mother loved and I hated! So did most of the writers, artists and musicians in America, especially the black musicians. The very best of them moved to Paris where they were welcomed and appreciated. Later, many like Bricktop and Josephine Baker, became our good friends.

We had also just come out of World War I, were tired of the insanity of war and ready to move on. We knew that Paris was a melting pot of people, ideas and lifestyles, so I wasn’t surprised to see so much of Parisian life   carried to extreme…from the Dadaist Movement, to the excesses of frenetic life styles and the outrageous, exotic entertainments the Parisians seemed to love. Naturally, Bob and I had to explore each of these excesses…all in the name of research, of course! We started with the notorious Moulin Rouge which lived up to its name and left us with many less francs.

By the time we arrived in Paris, there was already a huge expatriate American colony established there, the famous, the infamous and the not-yet-famous writers and artists of our day. We were, of course, in the latter category! But I was convinced that someday Bob would be listed among those famous authors. In the meantime, we met most of them and became friends with many…some already famous and others who were just becoming so.     

 We were thrilled beyond words to discover something else exciting and new going on in Paris. The Jazz Age had arrived!  It wasn’t called that yet, but that was what was happening. Night clubs, little cafes and on street corners, everywhere we went there was a new, jazzy beat to the music, and we reveled in it!  Away with the waltzes, it was time for the Black Bottom and Charleston!

This was the spirited, seductive Paris we discovered when we got off the train in 1925.  Bob and I had always considered ourselves much more worldly and sophisticated than our peers. But I couldn’t pretend to be blasé about the incredible sights and sounds that surrounded us wherever we wandered those first few weeks.  I stared, and pointed and exulted in every new experience.

Bob teased me. ”Honey, you’ve got to quit walking around with your eyes as big as saucers and your mouth wide open!”

I did, but it took me many months to feel comfortable in new my Parisian cloak of sophistication—later, however, wearing dresses and furs designed by Chanel, LeLong and Patou certainly helped things along!

And that is one account of Muriel’s first impressions of Paris.  Her eyes still got big as saucers and sparkled with excitement as she told her story. When I finally visited Paris many years later, my experience was greatly enhanced by her memories. And when I recently saw “Midnight in Paris,” it all came alive once again.  How Muriel would have loved seeing that movie. I can imagine the running commentary she would furnish throughout the film!

3 February

A Heart Filled With Gratitude





A Heart Filled With Gratitude

We have been telling Muriel’s story for about nine weeks now. So many of you have been kind enough to leave comments about the things that have made you laugh or caused a tear or simply were of interest to you.  You have no idea how we cherish each and every comment.  It’s better than those gold stars teachers used to put on your paper at school.  It is validation and encouragement and inspiration all wrapped up in a few words of hope. Thank you, by the way, for telling us what you think.

While the blog has only been up for a couple of months, it has been on our minds, our computers, in our dreams, on the storyboards in my office and part of our daily conversations between the three of us for almost a year. Since The Epiphany, we have had brainstorming sessions that have had us experiencing every type of emotion you can imagine; frustration, excitement, laughing, tears (happy and sad), you name it – this process has put us through the paces in so many ways. It has been a cathartic process and one that has released creative wings I didn’t even know I had.

A few of you have asked how I got the idea to tell Muriel’s story in a blog format and where I got my inspiration.  I went in to a lot of detail about that in my previous article, but I thought I would mention some specific blogs and sites and the people that over the past few years have proved to be a creative inspiration.

First of all, I read blogs – most of them are scrapbook or genealogy related, so it is no surprise that photography and telling my family’s stories has long been of interest to me. That being said, telling a life story on a blog format is still something of a novelty in the blogosphere – in fact we haven’t run into anyone else doing what we are doing here – yet, i.e. sharing a memoir in serial format with videos and photographs in a multi-media fashion.

Most days I will check in with my favorite blogs to see what was going on in their world, to check out their new photographs and scrapbook pages.  I like to think of it as the electronic version of sharing coffee over the back yard fence with a neighbor. In the process, I have learned so much about design layout, the importance of sharing my story, and sometimes it’s just been a chance to laugh and share the human experience.

Four writers/bloggers have been a consistent part of that routine and if you were to ask me about where the inspiration for this blog came from, I would have to say – these ladies have been a huge part of my process:

Ali Edwards ( the reason why I chose a word of the year for 2010 (storyteller) which literally changed my perspective and why you are reading this blog.  She teaches a class at Big Picture Classes called “One Little Word” that encourages you to pick one word per year that will be your focus. Ali’s willingness to make herself vulnerable and tell her story in a authentic voice has touched the lives of so many people who follow her blog and has provided inspiration to tell not only my story in my memory keeping efforts, but to value and tell Muriel’s story as well.

Cathy Zielske, ( well mostly she makes me laugh because she is so flippin’ funny.  Her clean design philosophy and ability to teach layout design in a user friendly manner has cultivated my own design preferences and when we spent all those hours designing this blog and what we wanted and didn’t want, her voice was continually in my head reminding me that white space was necessary and clean lines made reading easy. She also teaches at Big Picture Classes and I have taken every one she has taught because I learn so much from them.

Becky Higgins ( is the creator of Project Life, a unique concept of telling your life’s story in a weekly format that is conducive to a busy life style. It is a format this is sweeping the country and proving wildly successful all over the world. I have read her column in various scrapbook magazines for years and checked in on her blog to gain the creative and meaningful inspiration she has so generously shared.  This month she offered up ads on her blog to raise money for the child of a friend and we were happy to support the cause and have our ad run on her blog.  (Welcome to those of you who have found your way to Jazz Age Diva through Becky’s blog!)

Pioneer Woman ( – not much I can say that hasn’t been said.  She is something of a blogging phenomenon.  I started reading Ree Drummond’s daily account about life with four kids and a ranching husband.  She shares recipes and photographs of breathtaking sunsets and horses and calves and her basset hound Charlie.  Two cookbooks, a children’s book, and her own show on Food Network TV are adequate evidence of her incredible popularity.  She started with a blog to share some photos of the kids with the grandparents a few years ago – today she gets over a million hits a month on her blog.  What I learn from her is that there are a lot of people out there who are interested in spending a few minutes a day reading about the life and times of other people. She has a funny and charming way about making you feel you are right there beside her feeling all this kids and cowboys.

I owe a debt of gratitude to these ladies, and a multitude of others who have so generously shared their expertise, their lives and their thoughts on their blogs. I have written them thank you notes, but I wanted to take this space and this opportunity to let them know and to let you know that they have made a difference to me.  And that this blog is a reality because they made me believe that telling our stories is important.

Are you writing your story? Not on a blog maybe, but how about a journal, or simply writing names and dates on the back of those photos you have stuffed in the closet.  Someday, somebody is going to want to know your story. Why don’t you start telling it!