The late 1920s were an age of islands, real and metaphorical. They were an age when Americans by thousands and tens of thousands were scheming to take the next boat for the South Seas or the West Indies, or better still for Paris, from which they could scatter to Majorca, Corsica, Capri or the isles of Greece. Paris itself was a modern city that seemed islanded in the past, and there were island countries, like Mexico, where Americans could feel that they had escaped from everything that oppressed them in a business civilization. Or without leaving home they could build themselves private islands of art or philosophy; or else - and this was a frequent solution - they could create social islands in the shadow of the skyscrapers, groups of close friends among whom they could live as unconstrainedly as in a Polynesian valley, live without moral scruples or modern conveniences, live in the pure moment, live gaily on gin and love and two lamb chops broiled over a coal fire in the grate. That was part of the Greenwich Village idea, and soon it was being copied in Boston, San Francisco, everywhere.
By nature independent, gay, even exuberant, seductively responsive and given to those spontaneous sallies that sparkle in the conversation of certain daughters of Paris who seem to have inhaled since childhood the pungent breath of the boulevards laden with the nightly laughter of audiences leaving theaters, Madame de Burne's five years of bondage had nonetheless endowed her with a singular timidity which mingled oddly with her youthful mettle, a great fear of saying too much, of going to far, along with a fierce yearning for emancipation and a firm resolve never again to compromise her freedom.
The English language is like London: proudly barbaric yet deeply civilised, too, common yet royal, vulgar yet processional, sacred yet profane. Each sentence we produce, whether we know it or not, is a mongrel mouthful of Chaucerian, Shakespearean, Miltonic, Johnsonian, Dickensian and American. Military, naval, legal, corporate, criminal, jazz, rap and ghetto discourses are mingled at every turn. The French language, like Paris, has attempted, through its Academy, to retain its purity, to fight the advancing tides of Franglais and international prefabrication. English, by comparison, is a shameless whore.
We had bought a kilo of cherries and we were eating them as we walked along. We were both insufferably childish and high-spirited that afternoon and th spectacle we presented, two grown men, jostling each other on the wide sidewalk, and aiming the cherry-pips, as though they were spitballs, into each other's facesm must have been outrageous. And I realized that such childishness was fantastic at my age and the happiness out of which it sprang yet more so; for that moment I really loved Giovanni, who had never seemed more beautiful than he was that afternoon. And, watching his face, I realized that it meant much to me that I could make his face so bright. I saw that I might be willing to give a great deal not to lose that power. And I felt myself flow toward him, as a river rushes when the ice breaks up.
Now you are walking in Paris all alone in the crowdAs herds of bellowing buses drive byLove's anguish tightens your throatAs if you were never to be loved againIf you lived in the old days you would enter a monasteryYou are ashamed when you discover yourself reciting a prayerYou make fun of yourself and like the fire of Hell your laughter cracklesThe sparks of your laugh gild the depths of your lifeIt's a painting hanging in a dark museumAnd sometimes you go and look at it close up