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Tracing Hemingway's Paris

Following Hemingway's footsteps through the City of Light

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.

Fortunately, 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 affects 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 moveable 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 in Paris.

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 bypaths 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 Capa, 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, driving into Paris in a jeep--and sure that he was miles ahead of anyone else--he pulled up at the Ritz and found Hemingway's driver standing guard at the entrance, a carbine slung over his shoulder, while Hemingway was at the bar.

Paris saw a lot of Hemingway immediately after the war. He often came for the fall steeplechase meets at Auteuil, the emerald race track in the heart of Bois de Boulogne that he so enjoyed.

In Auteil, 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, Pont l'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 then working 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 Hemlngway first lived, go to Rue Notre-Dame-des-Champs, where he rented a room over a sawmill. Every day 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 recently.

Another restaurant of which he was fond of was Closerie des Lilas near Point Royale at Auteuil. He used to go there with 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 complete.

Harold Stephens is one of Southeast Asia's best known writers. Having lived in the area most of his adult life, he's authored 17 books and many thousand newspaper and magazine articles, with everything from travel to jungle exploring and searching for lost cities. This article originally appeared in the Bangkok Post


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