Saturday, January 20, 2007

A funny American

In 1962, when I arrived in Paris for the first time and started working with IBM, I wasn't yet capable of reading French newspapers. So, I used to buy a popular English-language newspaper that happened to be produced in Paris: the international edition of the New York Herald Tribune. In the Godard film Breathless, which had come out in 1959, Jean Seberg played an American student who earned her living in Paris by wandering through the streets and hawking this newspaper. I would often run into real-life girls with the same job as Jean Seberg, attired in the famous New York Herald Tribune T-shirt.

One of the first things I would read in the New York Herald Tribune was the daily back-page article by Art Buchwald, which was often humorous and generally well-written. Back in Australia, I had not been a regular reader of a newspaper (apart from anecdotes concerning the presidential careers of Charles de Gaulle and John F Kennedy, current world affairs didn't interest me much), and I was not accustomed to the carefree insider style of a columnist such as Buchwald, whose lopsided grin accompanied each article.

Art Buchwald ended his long expatriate existence in Paris shortly after I arrived there, and he carried on his daily column from Washington, in the style of a cosmopolitan man about town. For example, in my yellowish copy of the New York Herald Tribune that appeared on the weekend of 23-24 November 1963, reporting the assassination of Kenndy, I see that Buchwald's column concerned a private dinner at the French embassy.

A few days ago, 81-year-old Art Buchwald—described by an admirer as America's most durable and best-loved political humorist—died in his cherished house on Martha's Vineyard. Over the last year, knowing that he was condemned to die from one moment to another, Buchwald produced many light-hearted but profound comments on death. His philosophical conclusion, in the purest Buchwald style: "The big question we still have to ask is not where we're going, but what were we doing here in the first place."

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