Robert Silvers is best-known for editing the New York Review of Books since its foundation, but he started out at The Paris Review, the classic “little magazine”. But how did he get there? It all began with a posting to NATO HQ in the 1950s:
I was a soldier at NATO military headquarters—called SHAPE—near Paris. One of the best things about working there was that, by some international understanding, practically everyone had Wednesday afternoon off—you could go to the Louvre, you could go to the Café de Flore. And there, one Wednesday afternoon, at the kiosk in front of the Flore, I bought a copy of The Paris Review and took it back to our international barracks at Rocquencourt and read it in my bunk. I thought I should know more about it.
For unknown to NATO, some of my old college friends at the Noonday Press in New York had asked me to be their scout in Paris and see what books I might find for translation. So on some of those Wednesday afternoons, I would see publishers.
One of the people he went to see was George Plimpton, who took him to a party:
The sun began to set over the Luxembourg Gardens nearby, and suddenly the lights came on in the street, and George said, “Pati Hill is having drinks on the Île Saint Louis, and why don’t we go over there?” So we walked down to the Île de la Cité and over the little bridge to the Quai d’Anjou and found the beautiful Pati Hill—once a model, now a writer for the Review—and she offered us tall glasses of blanc de blanc in her charming rooms near the Seine. And among the blur of American and French writers and artists there, I talked to John Train, who was one of the founders of The Paris Review, and he asked me to see him at his flat on the Avenue Franco-Russe the following Wednesday.
The rest is literary history. Could a NATO official follow the same path now?