"The Gypsy Bar was usually our late night hangout. The patron and the girls knew us well, and knew that we would drink freely and surely stay till f
"The Gypsy Bar was usually our late night hangout. The patron and the girls knew us well, and knew that we would drink freely and surely stay till four or five in the morning. The girls of the place collected at our table, and indulged in their Burgundian and Rabelaisian humors. Jeannette, a big draught-horse of a girl from Dijon, pranced about like a mare in heat and restrained no remark or impulse which came to her. Alys, sweet and pretty blonde, looked fragile and delicate, but led Jeannette to bawdier vulgarities of speech and action. [James] Joyce, watching, would be amused, but surely there came a time when drink so moved his spirit that he began quoting from his own work or reciting long passages of Dante in rolling and sonorous Italian. I believed that Joyce might have been a priest upon hearing him recite Dante as though saying mass..."
As an affluent influence in the penniless bohemian world of Literary Paris in the twenties, Robert McAlmon was in no danger of having to dine alone. Or of being turned down when it was time for someone to buy a round of drinks. He rose to the occasion every time, it seems.
McAlmon was the sponsor and friend of many in the colorful underworld that included Ezra Pound, William Carlos Williams, Djuna Barnes, and Joyce. Having the wherewithal to enable various one-off and start-up publishing schemes, he found himself in constant demand, and morphed into a would-be-author-turned-publisher. Gertrude Stein, F.Scott Fitzgerald, Wyndham Lewis were all apt to be present at any given dinner party. Notably McAlmon would travel and drink with Hemingway, throughout his Spanish bullfight obsession, during some of that crucial decade.
Hard to pin down just what went on during that storied era, but McAlmon seems to have been best friend, womanizer, cocktail aficionado, observer and writer all in one; he ended up typing the last fifty pages of Joyce's Ulysses for the eyesight impaired author-- the Molly Bloom chapter-- when an accident destroyed the original. McAlmon freely admits he may possibly have juggled some of the elements there, but as he was Joyce's drinking pal, it's not an archiving error but a toss of the dice: "Molly might just as well think this or that a page or two later, or, not at all," he ventured.
Even with that level of drama unfolding, Robt E. Knoll's McAlmon And The Lost Generation manages to be a rough and uneven trip through a chronically disorganized life, lurching from literary scandale to McAlmon's irregular prose efforts and back. McAlmon wrote short stories that were at best heartfelt, nostalgic, and here Knoll fumbles in trying to tie them to the frenetic Parisian circumstances that would later claim their author's time, money, and youth. McAlmon died in obscurity and what Knoll has assembled here doesn't really solve the mystery of how it all came to be. ...more