The best part of reading a book while traveling is that you are not just constructing the picture in your head by imagination, but through reality. You can easily reflect the experience you have in the book onto the road you go. The past summer while my friend and I was road tripping across the United States, I was reading Jack Kerouac’s On The Road. I waited till we got to Chicago to read about the part where he was in Chicago. I followed the paths he took. And it was as if I relived his journey.
Now in Paris, I held A Moveable Feast with me. Ernest Hemingway spent some days of his life in Paris, where later he recognized this experience as that “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”.
And thankfully, I am one of the young men. It is to my surprise how relatable my experience is to Hemingway’s, when I walked into a café near campus last month. I sat down and held the hot chocolate in my hands, feeling the warmth through palms. As that sense of warmth overwhelms my body under that rainy afternoon, I opened the book. Hemingway was experiencing a rainy day too, surprisingly, in chapter A Good Café on the Place St.-Michel. “All of the sadness of the city came suddenly with the first cold rains of winter”, just as Hemingway puts it, I felt that sense of sadness through the foggy weather. It is the kind of sadness along with pensive feelings, inside this most beautiful city I know of. While Hemingway is writing, in the café, he heads up and sees this girl came in. “She was very pretty with a face fresh as a newly minted coin if they minted coins in smooth flesh with rain-freshened skin, and her hair was black as a crow’s wing and cut sharply and diagonally across her cheek”. I stopped reading this sentence, and looked up. There was not any specific girl that came to my notice, but instead, I felt that it was about that serendipity one find under the superficial sadness. The girl was the representation of it to me, like the warmth of my hot chocolate, or the fresh baked bread smell of a bakery store. It is something that hits my heart every time when I think of Paris, something that makes me feel blessed I am here.
As I turned up to the chapter Shakespeare and Company, the rain stopped. I decided to go take a look at the bookstore right around the Latin corner. The place is full of tourists inside, taking pictures and buying souvenirs. I walked in with A Moveable Feast, looking to find the same books Hemingway was looking at. Failed. But I did find books that I was mostly interested in. I grabbed them up, purchased one, and went out. Since it was raining anymore, I sat down on the outside of Shakespeare and Company coffee next door, and continued to read Hemingway’s conversations with the owner of the bookstore. At that moment, I seemingly saw myself standing there, sifting through different books, and counting the money I had to get the books. I felt like I was Hemingway.
Later the days got dark, so I went home with all the memories of this afternoon, and a quote from him:
“There is never any ending to Paris and the memory of each person who has lived in it differs from that of any other. We always returned to it no matter who we were or how it was changed or with what difficulties, or ease, it could be reached. Paris was always worth it and you received return for whatever you brought to it. But this is how Paris was in the early day when we were very poor and very happy”.