An Honored American Named George W.
He was accompanied by his stunningly beautiful blonde-haired star-quality daughter (at the ripe old age of 25), Sylvia Beach Whitman, and surrounded by a hundred or so aficionados of the bookshop Shakespeare and Company — a closely knit literary community that Whitman has engendered over the past 55 years by stubbornly keeping its utopian ideals and maintaining the legacy Sylvia Beach created in 1919 with the first bookshop at number 12 rue de l’Odéon. The gathering was one of a series of events as part of the four-day literary celebration “Travel in Words” which took place June 15th through 18th. Many of those who attended had taken part in the literary celebration such as Lucinda Holdforth who had eloquently spoken the night before at a cocktail and lecture gathering at three-star Restaurant Atelier Maître Albert about her recent book, “True Pleasures: A Memoir of Women in Paris,” and Thirza Vallois, author of “Around and About Paris” and “Romantic Paris” who led two walking tours during the festival.
Whitman has always been considered an eccentric, but others have called him “a light in a dull and homogenized world.” On this warm and long-lit Summer evening with the palace built for Marie de Medicis in the early 17th-century as a perfect backdrop, satisfying our every desire with a long table of light hors d’oeuvres and cool alcoholic potables, nothing could have been truer.
It’s no surprise to Francophiles that France should have such a long history of officially recognizing exceptional accomplishments in many domains, especially the cultural ones. The Order of Arts and Letters was established in l957 by the Minister of Culture to recognize eminent artists and writers, and people who have contributed significantly to furthering the arts throughout the world.
Whitman received the second highest of the three ranks: Chevalier, Officier, and Commandeur. He had no problem qualifying for the age requirement — 30, and must not only respect French civil law, but have “significantly contributed to the enrichment of the French cultural inheritance.” The award is given out twice annually to a few hundred people worldwide and the list of recipients is published periodically in France in the government’s Journal Officiel, a government bulletin. American recipients of the medal have included Paul Auster, Richard Meier, David Bowie, Art Buchwald, Ella Fitzgerald, Robert Paxton, Robert Redford, and Meryl Streep.
Now, George Whitman. Sylvia’s tears when the medal was pinned to his chest showed how proud she was of her father. At that moment, I also felt the presence of the first Sylvia Beach, who we cannot neglect as having some part in this accomplishment, and I was equally proud of the young Sylvia Beach who carries the torch on behalf of all of us.
A la prochaine…
Editor, Parler Paris
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P.S. Cultural things to do in Paris this week — DON’T MISS THEM! Read the Parler Paris Previews, A Weekly Community Calendar for English-Speaking Paris, for more details, but best place to be…Le Marais for Fête
de la Musique June 21st! and best place to be…La Bastille for the Gay Pride Parade June 24th.