living well is the best revenge

I’ve  just put down a book titled the same as this post, which adds to a running list of books I’ve read recently recounting life in the magical 1920s Paris.

Living Well is the Best Revenge – first published  in 1971 – describes the early lives of American expats Gerald and Sara Murphy. They intentionally moved to France when disenchanted with the States (with three young children!), and exchanged a safe, predictable life for an unconventional life they created abroad. Aside from Gerald Murphy’s brief but remarkable painting career and an impressive group of friends, they are known for inventing the French Riviera summer season back when tourists split after Spring and sunbathing was rare (no kidding) and when they bought and fixed up a home they called Villa America in Cap d’Antibes.

No one did Living Well quite like the Murphys. They had a love and passion for life and lived it to its fullest.

Villa America became the gathering epicenter for their friends –  the who’s who of the 1920s arts and letters expat scene like Picasso, Hemingway and Fitzgerald –  and it was said no one did Living Well quite like the hospitable, sociable, creative, privileged Murphys. Gerald believed only the invented part of their life (creation of their own happiness, I presume)  held beauty until uncontrollable life events later stepped in and “blundered, scarred and destroyed.”

Sara Murphy's beads on the beach

Hostess with the Mostess: Perfecting the Art of Living

The Murphys lived the good life  – creating a happy, pleasurable life surrounded by  family, friends, dinner parties, beauty, fresh flowers and beach picnics including a daily mid-morning glass of sherry – even though they had less dinero than many of their expat friends. Their hospitality, adventurous spirit, and love for life and the arts, music and books drew people to them. They were generous and supportive (and social connectors) to their friends, many who were emerging artists and writers. They loved their family. They pursued their passions. Described as rebels, they cared little what others thought of them or of their lifestyle.

"Razor" by Gerald Murphy - a brief painting career and ahead of his time

Travel, a great education in living well.

In my experience, living abroad inspires one to live well. For me that means a number of things. Like good food. Family. Togetherness. Creating a beautiful home – no matter where and what size –  that reflects your life and experiences.  Enjoyment of the present, even the mundane events. Creating your own happiness and a life you choose to live – not what others want or is expected. A passion for life and adventure. Curiosity in places, people, and the arts. Appreciation of beauty. From another time, Gerald and Sara Murphy are still an inspirational couple and remind us through this book that living well is the best revenge.

How has travel or living abroad influenced you to Live Well ?


7 responses to “living well is the best revenge

  1. I have also been immersed in this period of time — the 1920’s in Paris with Hemingway, Fitzgerald and Gertrude Stein. I discovered the Murphys through a book that I highly recommend: “We Were All So Young,” by Amanda Vaill. It is a biography of the Murphys and also great decpiction of that time period and all the major players. The Murphys were incredibly generous to so many struggling artists including Hemingway and many others. They believed in the arts and enabled many writers and artists to achieve their dreams. I think you will really enjoy this book. Thanks so much for your lovely comment on my blog. I have bookmarked yours and look forward to visiting on a regular basis.

    • Thank you for the comment and book recommendation – it will be my next request at the library. Their story is fascinating and has, too, gripped me. As a mother, it amazes me that they left for europe with three very young children and it’s hard to imagine the grief they experienced later with the turn of events in their lives. And as a former expat, I am always curious how others deal with returning home after a life-changing, idyllic experience abroad (and their experience being unparalleled). If you are also a Hemingway fan, you may be interested in a new book,Hemingway’s Boat (Im currently waiting for its arrival at the library). Maureen Dowd with the NY Times just wrote a column this Sunday on how he is enjoying a renaissance this year, 5o yrs after his death. I have bookmarked your blog, as well – I look forward to following and glad I found it! I like the title of your blog and connection with Italy, since we lived there and holds a special meaning for us. Also, glad to know there are others with a passion for this time period.

  2. I love this post. Travel and life abroad have taught me that less is more, simple is better, and love is essential. Like you, I appreciate good food, family, the beauty around me, and creating a cozy home space, no matter where I am. I think one of the biggest struggles these past handful of years has been living the life I choose to live, instead of what is expected of me. Thankfully, I’ve followed my heart and have chosen my own life path against my family’s initial wishes (the same would go for D-Man), and we’ve both come to realize the great gifts that come with facing such fears and going against the grain. Here’s to living life to the fullest. 😉

    • good for you! I have no doubt you live life to the fullest. you and d-man are both very fortunate. here’s to choosing our own path, creating our own happiness, boundless curiousity and all life’s possibilities..(.if only our lifestyles could be as exuberant as the murphys…!.)

  3. Like Michi mentioned as well, living abroad taught me the necessity of breaking free of imposed boundaries or expectations. Doing only what feels right, such as: quitting a job that’s unfulfilling, closing relationships with people who don’t bring anything positive in your life… in general, having the guts to do the “unthinkable” (as many consider) and stepping up on the next level of authenticity.

    • i remember that’s what I loved about meeting other expats and foreigners when living abroad – most of us arrived there because of a risk we took and we shared a similar philosophy on life and what matters – which you describe so well ….

  4. Pingback: the great fitzgerald | bringing travel home

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