Wednesday, 25 April 2012

The Riviera Tiger

F Scott Fitzgerald got the blame for the excesses of the Roaring Twenties. And it's true, he was a boy who loved to party. (Would he have hated the verbing of 'party' or loved it as an amusing new usage?) 
Fitzgerald wrote afterwards, from the viewpoint of the Depression - worse (for the moment) than we are bearing, a time when it was not unusual to go hungry and, if you were lucky, to queue for a meagre bowl of vegetable soup, a time when my great-uncle Cecil, son of a Dublin solicitor, tried to cross from the US into Canada, listing his profession as 'labourer' and his means as 'destitute', and was turned back, and shortly died in a fall in the mountains. 
Fitzgerald remembered the Twenties as a time that was not all bad.
"There were so many good things," he wrote. (I quote from Matthew Bruccoli's superb biography, Some Sort of Epic Grandeur.) "These eyes have been hallowed by watching a man order champagne for his two thousand guests, by listening while a woman ordered a whole staircase from the greatest sculptor in the world, by seeing a man tear up a good check for eight hundred thousand dollars."
Fitzgerald, a party animal who made the rock stars of the 1960s look like amateurs, wrote: "It is our custom now to look back ourselves on the boom days with a disapproval that approaches horror. But it had its virtues, that old boom. Life was a great deal larger and gayer for most people, and the stampede to the Spartan virtues in times of war and famine shouldn't make us too dizzy to remember its hilarious glory."

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