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.
The famous quote that made Hemingway’s Paris memoirs famous (as if he wasn’t already famous enough being a Nobel prize winner) is one of the most used quotes from any writer ever. If we disregard books like the bible and the koran, only Shakespeare gets quoted more often.
Hemingway started to write on A Moveable Feast in the autumn of 1957, worked on it in Ketchum, Idaho in the winter of 1958 – 1959, took it with him to Spain when he went there in April 1959, and brought it back with him to Cuba and then to Ketchum late that fall. He finished the book in the spring of 1960 in Cuba, after having put it aside to write another book, The Dangerous Summer, about the violent “mano a mano” between two bullfighters in the bull rings of Spain in 1959. He made some revisions of this book in the fall of 1960 in Ketchum.
The book covers the years 1921 to 1926 when Hemingway lived in Paris. You should really pick up a copy and read it.
Hemingway kept to a more or less fixed routine in Paris. He would get up around six and write (work) up to two or three in the afternoon. Depending on how busy it was expected to be at home he would either write at home or would go to one of the café’s in the area. La Closerie de Lilas was one of those café’s, but Hemingway frequented also several others. One of which is Café de Flore (172 Boulevard Saint Germain ). This café has started to hand out a literary prize each year since 1994, La Prix de Flore, which consists of a cash sum of money and a glass of white wine every day for a year long.
Brasserie Lipp was one of the other café’s Hemingway liked to go to write. The problem with Lipp’s was that he couldn’t always afford it. Starting out as a writer in Paris on only Hadley’s (his first wife) trust funds was not a walk in the park and often they could just afford to buy food and wood for the stove. They did lend money from a host of people and in general had a hard time in making ends meet. This made the visits to Brasserie Lipp limited to the occasions Hemingway would get in some money for one of his newspaper articles or (only later) his short stories.
There were (and are) also bars that Hemingway visited to drink and not to work. He did like to keep those two separated. This are the more well-known bars like Le Dome, Le Select and La Rotonde. All of these bars are situated in the Montparnasse district on the left bank of the Seine. In a relative small area. If one would want to visit all these bars on one evening, one would not have to walk far.
When the Hemingway’s arrived for the first time in Paris they found a small apartment in the 5th arrondissement in the Rue du Cardinal Lemoine, number 74, around the corner of the little square, Place Contrescarpe.
The opening lines of his much celebrated work A Moveable Feast paint a vivid picture of this square and the quarter as a whole. Back than it was a poor quarter. It lies a bit hidden and tucked away behind the Pantheon. The main street of the quarter is the Rue Mouffetard which runs down a mild slope from the area right behind the Pantheon to the Place Saint Medard. Half way down this street you will find Place Contrescarpe. It was a square with cheap bars and cafés and the drunks of the arrondissement used to come there to get their fill. Hemingway himself described it as a “cesspool”.
Although the area was poor and their apartment was small (only 2 rooms) Hemingway and his (first) wife Hadley seemed to be very happy there. The fact that they didn’t had a lot of money themselves didn’t matter in that quarter. For the inhabitants they were the rich Americans. And if truth was told they of course had more money than their average French neighbors. Also, they didn’t need much, one or two bottles of wine and some food. They didn’t spend any money on clothes, but saved to buy art of young, upcoming and back then still unknown artists like Miro.
The area is now a bit more touristic than it was back then, but it is still well worth a few hours of wandering around the small and unknown streets. You will still find genuine Paris bars, the ones Hemingway would stay away from, but also some that he would have gone in, sit down for a drink or two and maybe write some lines…