In Paris with Hemingway

“If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man,” wrote Hemingway to Hotchner, “then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast”.

Walk anywhere south of the Seine and north of Gare Montparnasse, east of Pont Royal and west of Pont d’Austerlitz, and you are likely as not to be walking where Hemingway walked in his and the last century’s early twenties, when he lived on the Left Bank with his first wife, Hadley, his son, Mr Bumby, and their cat, F Puss, and they “were very poor and very happy”.

It is no longer a neighbourhood of hand-to-mouth artists and poor working men, but still throngs with students from the Sorbonne, who fill the cafés and talk as excitedly and drink as freely as the writers and painters once did and preserve a whiff of the bohemian air which enveloped the place in the Jazz Age. Parts of the quarter are still unexpectedly shabby  –  filthy awnings, fading signs, rotting shutters, peeling paint – and you expect, when you look in the windows of bars, to see young men and women, carelessly dressed, with a drink and a cigarette, labouring over a notebook. But even where the tone has altogether changed, the apartment blocks, the gardens, the cafés, the bistros, the bars of Hemingway’s time are largely still standing and what you see as you walk will often be much as he saw it in the twenties.

The Hemingways lived in a two-room apartment at 74 rue du Cardinal Lemoine, a couple of streets back from the Pantheon. The address “could not have been a poorer one” then; but it is a lot smarter now, and the bookstore on the ground floor of 74 is a long way upmarket from the bal musette which Hemingway recalled in his memoir entitled, after the comment to Hotchner, A Moveable Feast.

James Joyce lived across the road, for a time, at 71 in Valery Larbaud’s apartment, where he worked on Ulysses. “Well,” said the long-suffering Nora Barnacle when Hemingway carried him home, “here comes James Joyce the writer, drunk again, with Ernest Hemingway”.

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Head north and Cardinal Lemoine leads straight to the river, but the route is as dull now as Hemingway said it was back in the 1920’s; head south and it leads, by way of Place Contrescarpe, to rue Moufftard, which is still the “wonderful narrow crowded market street” he described. But the “sad, evilly run” Café des Amateurs, where the customers “stayed drunk all of the time, or all of the time they could afford it,” closed down long ago.

One street to the west, towards the Pantheon, the Sorbonne and the Jardin du Luxembourg is rue Descartes where:

“there were no more tops to the high white houses as you walked but only the       wet blackness of the street and the closed doors of the small shops, the midwife – second class – and the hotel where Verlain had died where I had a room on the top floor where I worked”.

A hint of the seedy, decrepit look it must have had in the early twenties still clings to this dark, narrow street. As you look up the facade of No 39, it is easy to imagine the young Ernest Hemingway, unpublished as yet, in his unheated studio (the heritage plaque mistakenly says that he lived there), eating his mandarins, sharpening his pencils and fretting about his writing.

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You can follow him on the route which he took from rue Descartes and described in A Moveable Feast: past the Lycée Henri IV and St-Ėtienne-du-Mont Church, through the Place du Pantheon, into Boulevard St-Michel and down past the Sorbonne and the Musée de Cluny into Place St-Michel.  The “good cafe” he ate at could be any or none of those which surround the square today, but one or other should be able to serve you a dozen oysters and a carafe of white wine, and you can eat “the oysters with their strong taste of the sea and their faint metallic taste that the cold white wine washed away leaving only the sea taste and the succulent texture”.

Or, you might save your money, as Hemingway did, by skipping lunch and walking along the side of the river from Pont de Sully to Pont des Arts, past İle Saint-Louis, Notre Dame and İle de la Cité, browsing the booksellers’ stalls along the quai and watching big barges as they trundle down the river and under the bridges.

Or else you could wander in the lovely, tranquil Jardin du Luxembourg up and down the gravel lanes, among the riots of colour in the pots and stop to watch the old model sailing boats on the circular basin and look and listen to the Medici Fountain or sprawl in the period deckchairs. Hemingway went there when he was going without lunch, because it was the only place he didn’t smell food and he reckoned that hunger helped him to appreciate the paintings which were then in the Palais du Luxembourg. He claimed, years later, that he used to catch pigeons in the gardens and hide them in Bumby’s baby carriage and take them home for dinner. But that is surely one of his pub stories.

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Gertrude Stein lived just to the west of Jardin du Luxembourg at 27 rue de Fleurus, then – as now – a much better address than the one at which Hemingway lived. She annoyed him by talking about a “lost generation,” which he quoted on the flyleaf of his first serious novel, The Sun Also Rises. The book was meant, he said, to refute the idea of his generation being lost. But it just made the phrase immortal: awarded it capital letters.

Just north of the gardens is rue de l’Odeon, where Sylvia Beach ran a bookstore by the name of Shakespeare and Company and indulged young writers by advancing money, forwarding mail and lending books (Hemingway sometimes kept them: Henry Miller usually did). Only a heritage plaque survives there, but the name and spirit live on at 37 rue de la Bûcherie across from Notre Dame. The new Shakespeare and Company – already more than sixty years old – has the cosy, chaotic feel of all the best bookstores and you sense the ghosts of the Lost Generation rummaging around to find their own books.

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Hemingway famously punched out a vase at Shakespeare and Company in a tantrum at a bad review. It was there, as well, that he met Ezra Pound, who taught him “to distrust adjectives”. They would later be neighbours on rue Notre Dame de Champs, Pound at 70, Hemingway at 113. The road is still a bit ragged around the edges, but a great deal better than it was when Hemingway lived over a sawmill and Pound made his own furniture from old packing cases. It leads, at one end, to Boulevard Raspail and, at the other, to Boulevard Montparnasse – two streets whose intersection was the centre of the Paris of the Lost Generation.

In those days,” wrote Hemingway, “many people went to the cafés at the corner of the Boulevard Montparnasse and the Boulevard Raspail to be seen publicly”. The cafés are still there, La Rotonde on one corner with its brash red awning and its name in big gold letters; Le Dôme on the other with its wrought iron terrace, now a seafood restaurant with a Michelin star. A few doors down the street, facing each other, are La Coupole and Le Select. Hemingway spent time in all of them, but that – characteristically – didn’t stop him being rude about them. He wrote of La Rotonde in a newspaper feature:

“A first look into the smoky, high-ceilinged, table-crammed interior of the Rotonde gives the same feeling that hits you as you step into the bird house at the zoo.”

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Come out of Le Dôme, hang a right into rue Delambre and halfway down there is an Italian restaurant named Auberge de Venise, which used to be the Dingo Bar, where Hemingway met Scott Fitzgerald. “The rich are different from you and me,” said Fitzgerald. “Yes,” said Hemingway, “they’ve got more money”.

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The Dingo. That’s the great place, isn’t it?” said a character in The Sun Also Rises.

Yes,” said Jake Barnes, “that or this new dive, the Select

A few pages later, Barnes gets a taxi to Le Select but ends up at La Rotonde. “No matter what café in Montparnasse you ask a taxi driver to bring you to from the right bank of the river,” he complains, “they always take you to the Rotonde“.

Hemingway preferred to work and drink in Closerie de Lilas a brisk walk up the Boulevard at No 171. It was full of war veterans, then, and ”people from the Dome and the Rotonde never came”. It was at Closerie de Lilas that Fitzgerald got him to read The Great Gatsby, and where he worked on the proofs of The Sun Also Rises.

In what may very well be another pub story, Hemingway claimed that Harold Loeb – the model for Robert Cohn in The Sun Also Rises – threatened to shoot him the day after it came out. He said that he cabled Loeb (who denied the whole thing) that he could be found at Brasserie Lipp on Boulveard St-Germain between two and four every day, if anyone wanted to shoot him.

Brasserie Lipp features in A Moveable Feast, as well. After a failed attempt to do without lunch, Hemingway calls in there for a litre of beer (un distingué) and a potato salad:

“The beer was very cold and wonderful to drink. The pommes a l’huile were firm and marinated and the olive oil delicious. I ground black pepper over the potatoes and moistened the bread in the olive oil. After the first heavy draft of beer I drank and ate very slowly When the pommes á l’huile were gone I ordered another serving and a cervelas. This was a sausage like a heavy, wide frankfurter split in two and covered with a special mustard sauce.

I mopped up all the oil and all of the sauce with bread and drank the beer slowly until it began to lose its coolness and then I finished it and ordered a demi and watched it drawn.”

Lipp is still there, at 151 Boulevard St-Germain, looking as if nothing has changed since 1926. Inside it is all tiles and mirrors, leather banquettes and black and white photographs. Pommes á l’huile is no longer on the menu, but cervelas remoulade is.

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Across the street is the well-known Deux Magots. The tables outside are a nice place to sit with a café crème and watch the Parisian clichés stroll by, the haughty ladies with little dogs, the Gitane-puffing students. Hemingway drank there with Joyce and seemingly found it such a draw that he had to arrange his route back from Lipp to avoid it. You can follow him again, across rue de Rennes, into Bonaparte, across Vaugirard and down Guynemer along the edge of Jardin du Luxembourg, down rue d’Assas and Notre Dame de Champs to Closerie de Lilas, where he ordered a café crème and took out his notebook.

It is way too grand, now, for young writers and old soldiers, with its red leather and polished mahogany, its tinkling piano and startling prices. But that fits well enough with the story of Hemingway in Paris, because The Sun Also Rises made his name, and by the time he left in 1928, he was earning a good living from his writing, and had married his rich second wife, Pauline Pfeiffer.

Paris was never to be the same again although it was always Paris and you changed as it changed.”

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