Magazine article The Spectator

High Life

Magazine article The Spectator

High Life

Article excerpt

I am standing on the deck of a 100ft schooner that was built in Normandy in 1931 by Gerald and Sara Murphy, the golden American couple who invented the south of France as a summer playground and who were in the forefront of artistic and literary Parisian life of the time. More important, Ernest Hemingway and Scott Fitzgerald trod on the exact spot where I'm standing, relaxing rather, surrounded by children and grandchildren, but feeling a bit of a midget compared with the types that once sailed on the Weatherbird.

I've chartered her for the month of August and the dreaded upcoming birthday but, far more important, in order to play Papa Hemingway, who once appeared chez Murphys with his wife Hadley and his mistress Pauline in tow, as happy a threesome as the Riviera had seen that particular summer. (Alas, no such luck for the poor little Greek boy. ) Gerald Murphy, a very talented painter, had designed a flag for Weatherbird that Picasso, another close friend, admired greatly: a stylised eye in black and white that appeared to wink as it fluttered. Gerald was tall and sandy-haired, wore beautifully cut clothes and was very handsome. Sara was a classical beauty and the couple had three children.

They were rich and talented and lived better than anyone, surrounded by beautiful things and gifted artists. Thus the stage was set for the Greek tragedy that followed, the loss of their two boys from disease, and eventual genteel poverty and death. So what else is new? Gerald and Sara were lucky not to live to see the present Cote d'Azur, the sweaty overbuilt hellhole inhabited by crooked Russians and Gulf billionaire camel drivers.

Gerald and Sara were the inspiration for Dick and Nicole Diver in Tender Is the Night, the hauntingly sad novel that broke Fitzgerald's heart when it was panned by critics, but is now considered, along with Gatsby, as his masterpiece. In one version, the novel begins in the south of France, when Rosemary Hoyt spots Dick on the beach and tells her mother, 'I fell in love this afternoon.' Neither Gerald nor Sara were best pleased, but said little.

They always indulged poor old Scott and understood the hell he was going through with the nutty Zelda, his alcoholism and money problems. Cole Porter, another close friend, was among the first to visit in the summer, a deserted time in Cap d'Antibes and the tiny little beach of Garoupe, where Gerald had built Villa America. If that wasn't paradise back then, I don't know what is.

Just compare today's parties among the shady people of Monaco and Antibes with those given by the Murphys on board the Weatherbird. …

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