ANYONE who plans to go to Paris, and wants
to know more about the city other than the Champs Elysees and the Eiffel
Tower, might do well to read Ernest Hemingway's A Moveable Feast.
It's a marvelous book that gives a
glimpse of what Paris was like in the 1920's. It was the time of the
Lost Generation when writers, painters, musicians and composers went to
Paris to work and make names for themselves. Hemingway's first novel,
The Sun Also Rises, was about Paris.
We are very fortunate for much of
Hemingway's Paris still exists. Perhaps restaurants have changed their
names, and the old bookshop where he spent much of his time no longer
exists, but the streets, parks and student quarters are still there. And
the mood that Paris creates continues to affect those who visit today as
it did in Hemingway's day.
In 1950, Hemingway told a friend,
"If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man,
then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for
Paris is a movable feast."
For Ernest Hemingway, Paris was just
that, a movable feast that he took with him every place he went. Like
many other writers and artists, Paris became his adopted home.
Hemingway started his writing career as a
cub reporter on the Kansas City Star, but gave it up for a Bohemian life
He first arrived in Paris in 1921, with a
young wife and the ambition to be a great writer. He carried letters of
introduction from the noted writer Sherwood Anderson but in that small
tranquil world there was no need for a formal introduction. Everybody
frequented the same cafes and ate in the same restaurants. Acquaintances
were easily made and in a very short time Hemingway knew everyone who
was someone-or destined to be.
Hemingway and his friends were members of
the Lost Generation, a name which he disliked immensely. Gertrude Stein,
the mama-san of ex-pat writers in Paris, coined the name. But according
to Hemingway, there was nothing lost about his generation. There was no
movement, nor any tight bands of pot-smoking nihilists wandering around
looking for a cause. There were a lot of people of the same age who had
been through the war, and they came to Paris to write or compose or do
whatever they had in mind. Paris gave them the freedom they needed.
The Hemingways arrived in Paris at a time
when the dreary aftermath of World War I was receding and life on the
Left Bank had begun to come back. Before long the Lost Generation had
their territory staked out, and the young aspirants in letters and the
arts follow it to this day. It ran and still runs the length of the
Boulevard Montparnasse from the Closerie des Lilas at the Observatoire
to the Restaurant de Petit Trianon opposite the railway station, and by
one route or another down to Saint Germain-des-Pres and the Seine.
There are, of course, detours and
by-paths that one can follow, but essentially the world of the 1920's is
still intact. Behind the same boulevard, painters still find studios and
writers their rooms in the vicinity of the Montparnasse Cemetery.
As they always have, students drink beer
at Balzar's in the Rue des Ecoles. In Hemingway's time, those who could
afford it lunched in view of the Luxembourg Gardens at the Cafe de
Medicis, where they drank, according to Hemingway, the fine 1915
vintages of the Hospice de Beaune topped off by the Marquis d'
Audiffred's marc de Bourgogne.
After the 1920's Hemingway often returned
to Paris, staying for weeks and sometimes several months. His favourite
hotel was the Ritz, with a room facing Place Vendome.
During World War II, he was a war
correspondent for Collier's magazine and his return to Paris was an
event that didn't go unnoticed. Robert Caps, the famous combat
photographer, remembers when he had travelled with Hemingway and how at
first he thought Hemingway was a general. Hemingway had a public
relations officer, a lieutenant as an aide, a cook, a driver, a
photographer and a special liquor ration.
Caps also recalls when the war ended, he
was in the very first Jeep to arrive in Paris, miles ahead of anyone
else, he thought, and pulled up at the Ritz only to find Hemingway's
driver standing, with a carbine slung over his shoulder, guarding the
entrance. Hemingway was at the bar drinking.
Paris saw a lot of Hemingway immediately
after the World War II. He often came for the fall steeplechase meets at
Auteuil, the emerald race track in the heart of Bois de Boulogne that he
In Auteuil, he would convene with his
friends in the Little Bar of the Ritz every race day at noon and while
the bartender made Bloody Marys, they would study the race forms and
make their selections.
Hemingway enjoyed his lunches at the
Course Restaurant, which is still functioning. He wrote about the meals
between races-Belon Oysters, omelette with ham and fine herbs, cooked
endives, Point I'Eveque cheese and cold Sancerre wine.
If you go up to Montmartre Hill to Place
de Tertre, you will find Hemingway's first Paris haunt. At one corner of
the square, where Rue Norvins starts, was the Au Cliron des Chausseurs,
where he often ate when he had money. He was working then for the Kansas
City Star, and getting between US$11 and $21 for each article he wrote.
If you want to see the neighbourhood
where Hemingway first lived, go to Rue Notre-Dame-des-Champs, where he
rented a room over a sawmill. Everyday his rejected manuscripts would
come back through the slot in the door of the bare room.
In the 1920s, Hemingway often went to
Harry's New York Bar near the Opera. He had been one of Harry's earliest
customers soon after the place opened. Today Harry's New York Bar is on
the list of tourist "musts."
Another bar that Hemingway liked was near
Harry's, one that was hard to find. It was the Le Trou dans la Mur. The
entrance was on Boulevard des Capucines across from the Cafe de la Paix.
Lipp's in Saint-Germain, where Hemingway
often went to eat, is still a popular cafe on the Left Bank. Its owner
and founder, a friend of Hemningway's, died only few years ago.
Another restaurant for which he was fond
was Closerie des Lilas near Point Royale at Auteuil. He used to go there
with the writer James Joyce.
Hemingway's writings give us a truly
nostalgic account of life in Paris. In all of his works, life centres
around cafe life, drinking and dining. If there were bull fights and big
game hunting in Paris, those would have been included, and Hemingway's
Paris would have been completed.