Hemingway’s Paris in 2018

In The Art of Travel, 6. First Book, Paris by Amy1 Comment

If I were to write like Hemingway, I would start with this cafe. Small, dark eyes are watching me from above and below, with heads bobbing back and forth. They are all waiting for the same thing, maybe a piece of bread or cheese to fall off my plate, and in anticipation they anxiously shuffle around with grey and purple feathers fluffed. It smells of smoke from the couple next to me and of delicately decorated desserts from the patisserie next door. Across the cafe, I can see Hemingway, drinking a liquor that looks to warm him, smoking, and writing of course. I am looking at the same river, the same streets, and the same cafes that he looked at. The Paris I see is the Paris Hemingway wrote about and I see him everywhere.

In A Moveable Feast, Hemingway writes about the simplicity of life in Paris, making those simplicities somehow not simple at all. He divulges in food, art, and alcohol making the smallest bite so pivotal, “As I ate 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, and as I drank their cold liquid from each shell and washed it down with the crisp taste of the wine, I lost the empty feeling and began to be happy and to make plans,” (Hemingway 18). Living in Paris, Hemingway has made me appreciate the importance of simplicity, although he would not quite call Paris simple. If he was cured of his stagnation and inspired by just an oyster, than in Paris I can inspired anything, too. His words are undoubtedly relatable as I sit by the Seine and enjoy a breeze or embark on a journey through the Jardin des Tuileries, just to see the greenest grass in Paris.

From 1921 to 1926, how can the Paris described then be the same Paris I live in now? It is because Paris is full of contradictions. Paris is spontaneous, but it is calm. Paris is old, but it will always be new. Paris is slow, but the people, cars, and trains move so fast. Paris is the best place to be alone in, but the best place to be with someone in. Hemingway describes Paris as ongoing and romanticized even when he had very little, “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 days when we were very poor and very happy.” Although we don’t see horses and carriages or trains running through Musée D’Orsay, the Paris Hemingway writes of has not changed at all. Paris is still here and clearly so is Hemingway’s memory, and I think about him, A Moveable Feast, and the way he enjoyed this city enough to make me read it again, again, and again. I’d like to return to Paris someday after I leave, and find my memories scattered across the city like his, in pockets of air across the sky, sitting underneath a green tree, in the coffee ring on the table from old espresso, and definitely in books scribbled in the margins.

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(Image: A View of the Seine in Mid-September; Source: Amy Iafrate)

Comments

  1. Hi Amy,

    It must be so exciting to be having an experience that mirrors that of one of the most important authors of all time! Your post inspires me to want to read “A Moveable Feast” while I am still in Paris so that I can enjoy the same, dynamic sensation.

    Unlike some European cities which either feel like ancient relics or completely standardized global hubs, Paris balances being a nucleus of a historical preservation while also fostering a living, breathing, ever-evolving society. Based on Hemingway’s writing, it seems as though this duality has always driven the city, and it is somewhat comforting to know that this fact may never change. When I hear stories from family and friends who have spent time in Paris, whether a couple of months ago or several decades in the past, they express the very same notion.

    Hopefully, when we return to Paris after our time abroad, we can still identify the memories we once created here. After all, New York is changing every second of every day. If Paris can stay still as time passes, then maybe we can at least find a refuge in these streets.

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