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…