Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘Princes of Crazy Years

 

September 13, 2006

“The Princes of the Crazy Years” by Gilbert Gilleminault and Philippe Bernert.

The two authors of this French book selected eight figures from the twenties whom are representative of the spirit of the period after the First War.  These personalities are icons in different facets of life and society outlooks, in Europe and the USA. They describe the creative individualism resurging after Great War calamities and the tendencies of the new and young generation to drastically condemn the older generation and its high-handed government of society and their offspring.

It is about a generation seeking luxury and a life style entrenched on how to enjoy the present to the fullest as individuals.

 The Russian writer Maxim Gorky endured the emergence of communism and tried to sustain the cultural richness and diversity in Petrograd by providing means of physical and spiritual survival for the poets, artists and writers who were suffering from the upheaval in the new regime and the economic and financial squeeze of the European blockade on Communist Russia. He helped open the huge ‘House of Arts’ or as it was called then the ‘demented ship’ because it had the architecture of a ship and where the artists and poets found lodging and total liberty to live the way they desired in fashion and style and freedom of expression.  These artists could carry bags of supplies during this period of famine from the ‘Kouba’ or the center of supplies of the committee for the artists created by Gorky.

 The Austrian film maker Fritz Lang toured the world as a painter before he was twenty-three and then settled in Berlin after the war to produce the best silent movies at the grandest scale.  Metropolis is about two distinct worlds of the rich and powerful living above ground and the wretched people living underground and slaving for their patrons in an automated fashion; it represents the city of the year 2000. The series of films on the character of Mabuse, the gangster spreading his tentacles to every aspect of the world of crimes, foresaw the evolution of the Nazi movement and its murderous tactics and assassinations.  The Lady on the moon which opened the era of building rockets to land and investigate the moon and the interstellar world; Fritz discovered Hermann Oberth who was the pioneer in designing rockets and liquid gases for rocket fuels.  The epic ‘Nibelungen’ which revived the Germanic mythology and gave a rebirth of faith in Germany; Goebbels, the future minister of propaganda of the Nazi regime, saw it ten times when it was first shown and decided to produce another one at an even larger scale.  The Spies, The Three lights, the Hindu Coffin, the Snow Madonna, the Spiders, followed with great acclaim and appointed Fritz as the unchallenged baron of Berlin; Lang set the style and fashion of this era in Berlin and was the most sought after scenarist and screenplay with his prodigy wife, Thea von Harbou, famous for her exotic novels set in India and which attracted millions of German readers as an outlet to the gruesome war depressions. The Assassins among us or just “M” was rightly viewed by the Nazis as targeting them and their program for banning any individuality.  After he fled Nazi Germany in 1934 to the USA he cooperated with Hollywood and produced other masterpieces such as: Fury, I have the right to live and the Woman in the portrait.

 Georges Ivanovitch Gurdjieff founded a renowned cult throughout Europe and received rich and famous adherents who searched for the meaning and the knowledge of the real life.  This cult was dubious and obscure and the recruits were made to toil on menial and manual labors for over 16 hours a day, house cleaning, remodeling the residence and cultivating the domain and expanding it without the benefit of even seeing the mentor or meeting with him personally for years.  The idea was to break any sense of individuality or developing any particular talent that any adherent might have any hope of keeping. Among these rich and famous were such personalities as the New Zeeland writer Katherine Mansfield who suffered from tuberculosis, the journalist and Russian philosopher Ouspensky who became his staunchest recruiter,  the Russian orchestra Opera leader Thomas de Hartmann, the notorious British literary critic and founder of the review ‘The New Age’ Richard Orage, the famous British psychoanalyst Young, the wife of Chekhov Olga, the Russian painter Alexander de Salzmann, the US writer Miss Margaret Anderson, the French Rene Daumal, Luc Dietrich, and Irene Reweliotty among hundreds of others. While the adherents to this cult were toiling miserably and constantly hungry from the meager rations, produced and cooked by themselves, and not knowing and communicating with each others, Gurdjieff was leading a life of luxury and eating the best food. He trained a team of exotic and Sufis dancers which a great attraction in many places; when the master said stop each dancer stopped and remained in the position he had for as long as the master wished.  After a long and hard day of work, the master would train his adherents to perform several rhythmic gestures simultaneous. This cult leader was a combination of Georgian /Armenian from the Tsarist Russia and looking as fierce as a Tarass Boulba or a Tartar Buddha.  He entered an orthodox seminary as Stalin, then quit and worked all kinds of odd jobs while wandering in the Far East trying to learn and master the religions of the Orient and settling down in Tibet as the preceptor of the Dalai-Lama. A Russian officer identified him as a spy to the Tsar in Tibet. Gurdjieff, with the finance of English rich personalities, finally bought a reclusive domain in France called the Prieure d’Avon where he remodeled a former airplane hangar.  All kind of rich and famous personalities from around Europe, especially from England and France, were jockeying for his attention and to be selected to enter his property in order to discover the meaning of true life away from the feeling of futile Western conventions.  When Gurdjieff died in 1949, for four days and nights, thousands of cult adherents flocked from all over the world, even from the USA, to have a last look at their cult leader.

Jean Cocteau, addicted to opium, was a poet, a writer and, most importantly, he was the best discoverer of talented artists, poets, and writers and endeavored to advance their careers by managing them and allowing them to mingle with the personalities of the time. His motto was: “Much is just enough for me”.  By the time he was twenty, Cocteau was recognized amid the intellectual circles of Paris, especially, at the Duchess of Rohan, and was very close to the authors Edmond Rostand, Maurice Barres, Francois Mauriac, and Marcel Proust. During the war, he wrote a poem to the Chief of Staff titled ‘Ode to Joffre’ and voluntarily joined the contingent of nurses.  Cocteau had the talent to sniff out the trend of the period and scent the most promising artists from their first drafts, poems, or painting; he promoted the Russian musician Stravinsky, Picasso during his cubist period, the musician Erik Satie, Diaghilev the choreographer of the Russian Ballet to whom he created ‘Parade’.  He fell in love with a poor 16 years old writer called Raymond Radiguet and took him under his wings and fashioned him; Radiguet later wrote the famous novel ‘Diable au corps’.  It is in a seclude villa in the company of Radiguet that Cocteau wrote the poems ‘Plain-Chant’, and the two novels ‘Thomas l’imposteur’ and ‘Le Grand Ecart’.  Cocteau wrote ‘Boeuf sur le toit’ for a pantomime ballet and woke up the famous American photographer May Ray to take pictures of Proust in his death-bed.  He turned to movie making with ‘Sang d’un poete’.

 The French Alain Gerbault crossed alone the Atlantic from Europe to the USA on his eleven meters yacht the ‘Firecrest’; he started from Cannes on April 25, 1923, and then continued from Gibraltar on June 6 and after 102 days reached New York on September 16.  This trip t is much harder and more dangerous than in the other direction which took Howard Blackburn only 39 days in 1901.  Alain attempted to tour the world by sea and left New York on October 2, 1924.  He reached the Antilles islands, and then passed Panama then to the Galapagos Islands and then the long stretch of 3000 miles to the South Sea.  After a long and tedious trip he landed in the port of Le Havre on July 26, 1929.  Along the way, Alain visited the Canaques indigenes in the Gambier Archipelagos, the Marquises Islands, Tahiti, fell in love with the people of Bora-Bora, Samoa Islands, the Maoris in Wallis Islands, the Isle of Saint Helena where Napoleon died, the Isles of Cape-Verde, and the Azores.  Commander Bernicot did a harsher cruise nine years later without the fanfare and celebrations that welcomed Gerbault because it was no longer the first attempt and because Gerbault was not supported by a State or received funds from companies to cover his trip.  Alain covered his expenses from the sale of his book that he wrote about the conditions of the native people, how the nations of the Occident harmed their civilizations, and about the hazards of his trip. Alain started his civil engineer studies at the university ‘Ponts et Chausees’, liked football and practiced tennis as a professional. During the war, Alain was selected and trained as an aviator.  He suffered several injuries and received several decorations. When not flying, he read everything that was connected to sea navigation, especially the volumes of Jack London who traveled all over the Pacific on his yacht the ‘Snark’.  After the war he toured most of the port in order to select a convenient yacht before finding the ‘Firecrest’ in an English port and for three years he increased his navigation knowledge and skills while cruising in the Mediterranean Sea. He wrote ‘L’Evangile du Soleil’.  He left France in 1932 to never return and died from malaria in the Isle of Timor in 1941; his ashes are buried in Bora-Bora and Ella Maillart eulogized him: “He had the courage to become free, master of his destiny, what every one of us, unconsciously, aspires to be.”

Ettore Bugatti was the king of car racing in this crazy era; he understood the passion for speed, individuality, freedom, and emancipation in the twenties. In order to lodge his large team of racers and mechanics during competitions he used to erect a large tent that could house 45 single beds with individual showers, a kitchen, and an ice maker; for his family Ettori built a 5 meters long special caravan with all the necessary comfort. Ettori refused to mass produce his famous cars and even avoided to redesign his cars to fit the cheaper tourist models. His cars cost a fortune between 80,000 and 150,000 Francs at the time, they were bought by those rich and famous personalities who were mad with speed and personally driving these cars in the circuits.  His cars had to be repaired and returned after each race in his factory at Molsheim, in the Alsace close to Strasbourg, where Ettore reign as a prince since 1910.  This factory was constituted of thirty subsidiary factories over seven hectares of land.  Frederic Loiseau, a rich lieutenant from the French army stationed in Algeria, convinced Bugatti to subsidize car races in the Sahara desert which started from Paris, to Algeria, Haute Volta, Ivory Coast, Mali, and back to Algeria and Paris. All decisions are made by the family; the father Carlos, from Milano, was a completed artist in sculpture, painting, architecture, jewelry design, and mechanics; his favorite daughter Ebe told people: “He once didn’t like the tone of an invoice he received from the electric company and thus, he built an electric complex for his factory.”  His elder brother Rembrandt was a famous sculptor who tragically died at the age of forty; his son Jean who was loved and respected by the workers and who died young from a car accident; his wife and two other daughters.  Before the Great depression he designed a powerful engine for a special car to be called “La Royale’ to compete with Rolls-Royce for the monarchs and princes; this 300 CV engine weighted 350 kg and turned at 1700 cycles per minutes. Alphonse XIII of Spain was the first to purchase this car but was dethroned; only six were manufactured because of the depression and the engine was used for twenty years on a Bugatti’s trains. During the Second War, part of the factory of Ettori was transplanted to Bordeaux to design and manufacture fighter airplane engines and after the war ended, Bugatti lost his belongings in Molsheim to the Germans who had purchased it at less than half its value during the war.  He died in 1947 at 65 years before the French government legally offered him the French citizenship because of the bureaucratic paper work.

 

Gabrielle or Coco Chanel was the female fashion designer of the twenties so that women might ride fast cars and dance the jazz; she was also observing the homemade dresses of the working women that the famous designers used to ignore the details in the execution of these homemade designs.  Whatever Coco designed women would buy, the color black is predominant, even her perfume which she labeled N 5 is “a la mode”, her designer jewelry, and they also imitate her haircuts “a la garconne”.  Coco was born in 1883 from an ambulatory family; her mother died when she was six years old and the two sons were taken care of by the public assistance and the three girls lived with their paternal grand parents in Vichy.  Gabriele spent her young age at a convent and was educated gratis because she was poor.  At 18 years of age she helped her young aunt in dressmaking and met a rich officer Etienne Balsan who used to call her “coco”, as Scott Fitzgerald used to call his preferred girls, and helped her open a fashion shop at Deauville.  By this seaside resort, she studied the elegant and simple female dresses from overseas and fell in love with the handsome and rich Englishman Arthur Capel, nicknamed “Boy”, who owns coal mines.  Arthur would die of a car accident in the Cote d’Azur in 1922 and Coco would never recover emotionally from that loss.  After the end of the war she returned to Paris on 31, Cambon Street.  At first, when she saved a fortune of 200,000 Francs, she had no sense of the banking mechanism and would sign checks to discover that her account had dwindled to nothing.  Miss Chanel, or Mademoiselle as she insisted to be called, helped her artist friends in every way by designing gratis the costumes for the actresses or financing art productions.  The Duke of Westminster, the richest man in England, fell in love with Coco and offered her many gifts, including the fabulous yacht “Cerf-Volant” and the property of 40 rooms “La Pausa” at Roquebrune but she refused to marry him after many years of intimate relationship because she mostly loved to work and enjoyed her seclusion.  She once said: “there are dozens of Westminster duchesses but only one Coco Chanel” and “Solitude is the real enemy for a women because it could destroy her; so it better for women to act conventionally and never divorce, unless the woman has a  heroic courage and most tough.”

 F. Scott Fitzgerald was born in Rockville, Maryland, and was 23 years old when his first novel “The other side of paradise” was published after many refusals from publishers.  This novel was begun during the war when millions of young Americans, including Scott, were in the trenches in France; it was an instant success among the new generation of after the war who refused to be lied to by the puritanical values, rules, the ambient hypocrisies of those who didn’t have enough imagination to dream; and Scott was promoted a de facto icon or prophet of the new trends in individualism, the ultimate pleasure and happiness of living the moment.  Scott was taken aback and was forced to follow the eagerness of the youth by providing the necessary guidance and recipes of how to conduct life and enjoy it to the fullest.  It was the reason that Zelda agreed to marry him on April 1920.  Zelda Sayre was an early ‘flapper’ who called her father, a judge in the High Court of Atlanta, “Old Dick”, cut her hair very short, rode motorcycles, dived naked in rivers from high cliffs, and demonstrating utmost irreverence and total emancipation in her conservative South. New York had just started to experience the “roaring twenties”.  When he was at war Scott wrote to his mother: “As for the army don’t try to make it a tragedy or a heroic declamation: both of these attitudes are repugnant to me. I do not sympathize with the proclamations of ‘Give my son to the Country or the wood from which heroes are made from.” He once wrote: “The old generation has practically devastated the world before it transmitted it to us.”  This new generation would be fighting for success and a piece of the riches in their world of tight control by the power to be.  When the youths failed they committed suicide and when they managed to get rich fast, then avenues for luxury and the fast life would be opened to them, spending all their money and their energies without an after thought. Fitzgerald and Zelda spent their lives in luxury, boozing, and entertaining friends and artists in this jazz era; they tried to commit suicide together several times and their friends would not trust them to come back alive when they drove; they discovered the little village of Great Neck in Long Island and the Riviera coast in France when they were economically cheap to live in before prices skyrocketed when the Americans followed their tracks and invaded these spots as their favorite resorts.  He wrote “The magnificent Gatsby”, “Tender is the night”, “The long flight”. He died in 1940 of a heart attack at the age of 44, incognito, poor, and completely forgotten by the next generation of the Great depression; as he once said: “You have to sell your heart. That’s what I did.” It is recounted that Scott once paid a visit to a lecture attended by young writers and they were totally surprised because they thought Scott was already dead. Zelda had been incarcerated in a mental hospital long time ago and died burned alive in the fire that engulfed the Ashville Highland Hospital in 1948.

 

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