Mona Voelkel

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The Art of Living

I was thinking about the azure water, navy cliffs, and endless rocky beaches of the fabled French Riviera and wondering about the first Americans to vacation there.

I discovered two legends of artful living: Sara and Gerald Murphy. In the 1920’s, as American expatriates, they moved to Paris and, later, the French Riviera, then an unfashionable place to spend summers. Sara and Gerald not only embraced the summers of the French Riviera, they did so surrounded by their large circle of friends, including Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Pablo Picasso and Dorothy Parker.

When Sara and Gerald first arrived, sunbathing was not a common occurrence. Gerald spend untold hours laboring to remove the four foot-tall layer of seaweed in order to uncover the beach sand below. He turned an entangled mess of vegetation into a pristine beach where he, his wife, their three children, and famous friends spent idyllic summer days.

Sarah wore her long string of white pearls to the beach, claiming the sun was good for them and, not wanting to spoil her tan, turning them so they streamed down her back. Both she and her husband, Gerald, had a gift for creating festive gatherings. Once, when the flower market was unexpectedly closed, Sarah instead purchased a variety of little wooden toys to decorate the dinner table. Picasso was
captivated by these little toys and piled them together into one tall tower. Can you imagine being a muse for great writers and artists? Picasso created 40 paintings and hundreds of drawings inspired by Sara. F. Scott Fitzgerald (Tender is the Night) and Ernest Hemingway (A Moveable Feast) both wrote novels inspired by the Murphys.

The 1920’s was a bright and shining time for the Murphy’s until their lives took a darker turn. I am struck, though, by how thoughtfully and artfully they made the very most of those bright and shining days. They added their own special flair to so many aspects of their lives. Whether it was a treasure hunt for the children which involved burying all sorts of fabulous oddities that would later be “found” by following a carefully constructed map, special cocktails, or fabulous dinner parties, Sarah and Gerald had the knack of turning the routine into something memorable.

A hundred years after Sara and Gerald Murphy last set foot there, one can’t help but be so inspired by how this couple lived. It begs the question: Can I live more artfully?

dining-by-the-waterTo that end, last night I decided that, instead of having a regular dinner, we would dine by the side of a pond. My husband, Ray, grilled swordfish and asparagus while my brother-in-law, Will, prepared a shrimp appetizer on ice. After taking time to set the table with real plates and napkins and find serving platters for the couscous, fish, and vegetables, I piled white beach rocks around a lit lantern. It was work to transport everything and we had to pause to apply mosquito repellent, but as we sat there eating, talking and laughing, it was a completely memorable and enjoyable evening.

Word Quest: Art


art: the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination. (OED)



Latin artem “work of art, practical skill, a business, craft.” (Etymoline)


art, arts, artsy, artist, artisan, artiste, artfully, artwork, artistry, artifice, artlessly, artisan, artifact



Writing Invitation

How will you add more art to your every day? start? Let me know by emailing me at or commenting below.

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