segunda-feira, 8 de julho de 2013
Rosamond Bernier and the Art of Living
By LOUISA THOMAS
SOME OF MY LIVES
A Scrapbook Memoir
By Rosamond Bernier
Illustrated. 292 pp. Farrar, Straus & Giroux. $30.
In the late summer of 1926, when Rosamond Bernier was not quite 10 years old, her father put her on a ship and sent her off to her English boarding school, all by herself. Every evening she changed into a party dress, ate cold smoked tongue and then retired to the smoking room for gambling. “I had spectacular luck,” Bernier writes in her bonbon of a book, “Some of My Lives: A Scrapbook Memoir.”
Indeed she did. Throughout her long life (she is now 95), Bernier has had a knack for being in the right place at the right time. Though little known outside the world of art and fashion, she was a fixture within it, as a writer, an editor and a lecturer. This book, as its title suggests, is a random collection of her memories, snapshots of some of the greatest artists, writers and composers of her day.
Some of these relationships were serendipitous. When Bernier went to visit the conductor Carlos Chávez — whom she knew through her father, the head of the board of directors of the Philadelphia Orchestra — at a rehearsal in Mexico while she was in college, Aaron Copland happened to be playing the piano. Two others were present: Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo. Bernier befriended them all. She and Copland grew so close that he walked her down the aisle at her wedding to the art critic John Russell in 1975. On her first engagement, she recounts that he wrote: “ ‘My girl has gotten herself engaged — the only girl I could have married.’ Then he added (I can almost hear the giggle), ‘This will confuse the biographers.’ ” That drunk in the bar in Acapulco, the one she and her first husband tried to nurse back to health? Malcolm Lowry.
Whatever luck Bernier had was nothing compared with her determination and instincts (not to mention her stamina). When Nada Patcevitch, wife of “the stylish guiding spirit” at Condé Nast, was recovering from the flameout of a love affair, Bernier offered her the use of a little guesthouse on a Mexican beach. Back in New York, Patcevitch introduced her to the Condé Nast “high command.” A few days later, Bernier had a job at Vogue. She and the magazine’s illustrator, a fellow named Eric, were dispatched to Paris to report on the reopening of the French fashion houses after the war: “My entire professional training was a hissed injunction as I left for the airport: ‘Keep Eric sober.’ ” By 1947, she was the magazine’s first European features editor.
In the mid-1950s, Bernier left her job at the glossy to found her own arts magazine, L’Oeil, with her husband. Again, no qualifications — but Picasso, by then a friend, sent her to his sister’s home in Barcelona, where there was a cache of his unpublished work. It caused a sensation.
Bernier wasn’t done. After she returned to the United States following a difficult divorce, a friend invited her to lecture on art at Trinity College. That led to a gig at the Metropolitan Museum, where her talks were, in the words of a former Met employee, “the hottest ticket in New York.” She made her last appearance there in 2008, at the age of 91. If anyone strode onward and upward with the arts, it was she.
Bernier surely has friends who aren’t famous, but few of them make it into the scrapbook. Perhaps because of this, her litanies of luminaries can seem a little smug. Do we really need to know that a photographer caught Leo Castelli and John Ashbery chatting at her wedding reception? As if that weren’t enough, “Stephen Spender flew in from London, bringing me a notebook in which he had handwritten my favorite poems.”
But maybe I’m just jealous. And why not? Bernier has had so much fun, and her charm, wit and style are apparent even in anecdotes that may be worn from retelling. For the most part, her book isn’t a chronicle of “human sightseeing,” in Edith Wharton’s memorable phrase. Bernier doesn’t just give names, she provides the details that reveal someone’s personality, whether it’s Louise Bourgeois dipping a flamed spoon into the jam jar (“No toast, but no germs”) or Georges Braque slipping a red glasses case into his breast pocket before being photographed, since “every picture must have a spot of bright red.” When the first issue of L’Oeil arrived from the printer, Fernand Léger stopped by Bernier’s Paris office and told her he’d visited 11 newsstands, asking for it. “Then this staunch Communist told me,” Bernier writes, “ ‘I’m creating demand!’ ” It would be best to hear these stories in person; it’s clear why her lectures were such a hit.
Bernier wasn’t an artist. She wasn’t a socialite either, but she turned being social into a kind of art. She knew when to speak pertly and when to defer, how to give and receive a gift, how to delight others and then revel in their delight. She was sensitive to desires and frustrations. Sometimes the needs were basic — food or a hot shower — especially during the years of privation in postwar Europe. This book may not say anything new about art, but it certainly demonstrates the power of small kindnesses.
It’s possible to glimpse a more complex woman taking notes in the background of photographs of the famous ateliers. After all, Bernier wasn’t merely making friends. She was searching for subjects and conducting interviews. She’s reticent about her private life, merely referring obliquely, for example, to “personal upheaval.” This is a relentlessly cheerful book, complete with love and marriage at the end. So there were a lot of fancy people at her wedding reception. If they made her happy, bully for her.
Louisa Thomas is the author of “Conscience: Two Soldiers, Two Pacifists, One Family — A Test of Will and Faith in World War I.”
Posted by Francisco Augusto Vaz Brasil at 16:41