A witness to the romance and culture of Ernest Hemingway novels set in post-World War I Paris, journalist Stanley Karnow recorded what he saw there after World War II and published it for the world to read.
“If you’re a reporter, you go for the jazzy stuff,” said Karnow, a reporter for Time magazine at the time.
The Pulitzer Prize-winning author shared memories from his tenure at the magazine with about 150 audience members at the Commodore Hotel in St. Paul on Thursday evening. Karnow’s address opened the Minnesota International Center’s year-long focus on France.
Carol Burn from the Minnesota International Center said Karnow’s speech was perfectly suited for the program.
“It is fitting to open a year on France with the France that captures the imagination — the Paris of the 1950s,” Burn said.
Burn’s comments mirrored the enthusiasm of the audience, who heard Karnow reflect upon the intricacies of everyday French life after World War II.
Much of Karnow’s discussion revolved around his Pulitzer Prize-winning book, “Paris in the 50’s.” The book serves as a memoir of his interviews and experiences as a reporter during the time period.
Before joining Time, Karnow lived as a plainclothes “stroller” in the U.S. Army in France. That background prepared him to report on the everyday happenings of French life.
Karnow also shared the reporting tips he gathered from his experience.
In matters of culinary excellence, for which the French are world renowned, Karnow said, “When you get to a town, consult the local doctor, consult the local journalist, but especially consult the local priests.”
On criminal reporting, Karnow admitted that it was a job best handled by potential novelists. “The minute someone was arrested in France, they were referred to as ‘odious assassins.'”
And on the trials of interviewing French intellectuals due to anti-American sentiments, Karnow said, “They thought of Americans as materialistic and crass.”
Of all the tips to covering the French that Karnow learned, one stood out as the most important — a tip from a former boss: “I don’t want to know what you think; I want to know what they think.”
Keeping this perspective allowed Karnow to have unbiased coverage of the everyday lives of the French. But he admitted, “I was always an American in France.”
The speech was put on by the Minnesota International Center, a non-profit organization promoting greater awareness and understanding of other people and cultures. Karnow’s lecture was presented in conjunction with the French-American Chamber of Commerce and the Alliance Francaise of Minneapolis-St. Paul. The group’s year-long emphasis on French themes will conclude in June.