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…
La Closerie Des Lilas was one of Hemingway’s favorite cafe’s. He used to come there to write and didn’t like it when people would discover his hide out. The cafe is still there on the corner of Boulevard du Montparnasse and Boulevard Saint-Michel. The most inner part of the cafe still houses the original bar and the tables and seats around the bar all have name tags on them. You’ll not only find Hemingway, but also Oscar Wilde, Jean-Paul Sartre and Pablo Picasso. Unfortunately this is not the only bar trying to cash in on its former famous clientele. This in turn has spawned a trend in new bars that have tags attached to their bar and seats that read “Hemingway never sat here”.
Funny thing is that with today’s prices Hemingway could have never afford to drink in La Closerie Des Lilas. A beer is around 10 euro’s and it is a really small one at that too. Something Hemingway in my believe would have objected against knowing his favorable attitude towards beer.
Still La Closerie Des Lilas is worth paying a visit. True, you ‘ll get ripped off but you also get to experience a little of the ‘old days’, the days that Hemingway sat there and was working on one of his Nick Adams stories or maybe put the last words to The sun also rises.
Weird tip: While you are there don’t forget to pay the toilets a visit. One of the most beautiful toilets we have seen ever..
Hemingway loved fishing. No wonder he did find this river called the Irati high up in the Spanish Pyrenees. On his way to the festival of San Fermin in Pamplona, (better known as “the running of the bulls”) he used to stop in the village of Burguete to stay in the local inn and would walk every day around 5 miles cross country to get to his favorite fishing spot in the little village of Aribe. Nowadays there is a decent road to Aribe and there is a hotel (ran by a local woman and her Italian husband). He did write a chapter in “The Sun Also Rises” about it all.
From where the hotel is it takes you about 5 minutes walking along the river to get to “Los Banos“. A bend in the river with the ruins of an old bathing-house looking over it. This was Hemingway’s favorite spot to fish for trout. The trout in the Irati river are a special sub species and are no normal brown or rainbow trout, but more colorful and they grow quite big.
Once done fishing, Hemingway would take the bus to Pamplona to celebrate the festival of San Fermin and run with the bulls. The road from Burguete to Pamplona falls from the high mountains to the plains (where Pamplona lies waiting) which makes it a spectacular trip with lots of great views (and lots of u-turns). It might have been 90 years gone by, but it is all still there…