Mapping the Lost Paris of Anaïs Nin
Upon reading Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer and Anaïs Nin’s diaries, I not only fell in love with the work, but the setting—1930s Paris. It wasn’t long before I realized that while I would never be able to meet Henry or Anaïs (they were long gone by the time I discovered them), I could retrace some of their footsteps by visiting Paris. Armed with Michelin maps and guidebooks, I set out for what was to me an unknown world.
I had five days and nights to find as many places as I could, all the while trying to fit in as many touristy places to keep my companions satisfied (they were not smitten by Miller and Nin and thought that I had been afflicted with some vague curse). Time, obviously, was at a premium. When we first ascended from the metro, I was instantly overwhelmed by the magnificence—right across the street was Jardin du Luxembourg, which alone was overload for my Midwestern American eyes. As the vast city opened itself before me, I began to realize that I was unprepared for my pilgrimage.
That said, I was still able to find Nin’s first apartment on rue Schoelcher, Hôtel Central where Nin and Miller began their famous affair, the quay where Nin moored her houseboats, and the fabled house in Louveciennes that Miller dubbed the “laboratory of the soul.”
No matter how many times I have since revisited Paris, I have yet to locate some key Nin/Miller sites—until now, that is, from where I sit, in front of my PC. When GPS technology allowed Google Maps to pinpoint a growing number of places on the planet, a new realm of possibilities arose.
The catalyst that prompted me to explore this was a book I was recently working on, Anaïs Nin’s Lost World: Paris in Words and Pictures, 1924-1939 by Britt Arenander. Originally published in 1995 as a Swedish-language hardcover, it had been newly translated into English and was to be released as an e-book. It occurred to me that on top of its already rich contents, because it was an e-book we could also offer readers an experience with the virtual world. Britt’s goal was to piece together the remnants of a bygone era using vintage photographs as well as current ones of, for example, the Louveciennes house, Henry’s and Fred Perlès’ apartment in Clichy, etc., along with a commentary on Nin’s and Miller’s lives during those years. Taking a cue from Millerwalks and other such resources, Britt and I agreed that incorporating the internet would add a new facet to the readers’ overall experience. Not only could one read about these places, once could also locate them on a map, and, using Google Maps, virtually visit them.
So, I linked maps to the various sites in the book, and I also created a Google Map of each and every address that can be accessed through the book itself, whether on a Kindle, iPad, or even an iPhone. To give you an idea of how this map looks, I’ve created a sample map with several of the sites that can be accessed by anyone (link is below).
One of the best things about a Google Map is that it can be updated and enhanced on a regular basis, so that the reader will periodically discover new sites or get more information about the ones already there. I’m able to provide links, video, photographs, text, basically anything I want, to each location. I can also create virtual walking tours using “street view.” Because new information can always be added to the map, Anaïs Nin’s Lost World is constantly evolving.
For this post, I’ve provided two mini-walking tours based on Henry’s comings and goings. Both include places he frequented, such as Hôtel Central, favorite cafés, and his workplace for a short period, the Chicago Tribune building. For simplicity’s sake, I put each on a separate map, although I could have put them both on one. With a little patience, it is easy to become adept at finding your way around.
Anyone can make a map of anywhere Google Maps supports. The process is made easier with tutorials, which are easily found on the web.
Had I had technology like this at my disposal during my first Paris trip (or any of them), things would have gone more smoothly—no half days lost looking for streets whose names have changed over the years, no lugging around books and bulky maps. And while a virtual tour is obviously not the same as being there, it’s still fascinating to catch the echoes of Nin’s and Miller’s lost world no matter where you happen to be.