It is somewhat mind blowing to think that Paris in the twenties not only was the place where such great writers as Scott Fitzgerald, James Joyce and Ernest Hemingway worked and lived, but also some of the greatest names of the fine art scene. Not only Picasso and Dali, but also Miro, Bunuel and Man Ray.
It should not be a surprise that these groups – if you like – mingled. Hemingway was not only a good friend of Jules Pascin, another painter, but also of Joan Miro. The story has it that they would box together at the Cercle Américain boxing club on the Boulevard Raspail although Miro was a lot smaller than Hemingway and – we take it – a little less athletic. Nonetheless they were good friends. Both were trying to make it as young artists that just started out, but couldn’t get a lucky break so far. Often they were to be found at Le Nègre de Toulouse, having dinner. A place also frequented by James Joyce.
In that time Hemingway only got rejection after rejection when he did send in his stories. Miro in turn did not manage to sell any of his paintings or have them displayed by one of the galleries. One of his paintings called The Farm (on which he worked for nine months) was eventually bought by Hemingway for $175. He liked it very much and Miro could use the money. Hemingways said of the painting, “It has in it all that you feel about Spain when you are there and all that you feel when you are away and cannot go there. No one else has been able to paint these two very opposing things.”
There are some competing stories of how Hemingway became the owner of the painting. It is said that Evan Shipman, a friend of his and a well known poet, also wanted to buy the painting and – according to the man himself – he and Evan Shipman did shoot dice for it. According to Shipman, he tossed a coin for it and Shipman won, but he let Hemingway have the painting anyway. Still Hemingway had to pay up the $175, a considerable amount of money in those days (even more for a young artist with no significant financial means) and it seems that he either earned the money by giving boxing lessons or, as a competing story goes, taking on a job selling vegetables.
The Farm always stayed with Hemingway and it was probably one of his most favorite paintings if we have to go by the place he hung it in his villa in Havana.
At the time Hemingway lived in Paris (the early twenties of the last century) a lot of other artists also did. In those days Paris was the center of the artistic world and some of the people that Hemingway shared the city with were Pablo Picasso, Scott Fitzgerald, Salvador Dali, Luis Bunuel, Man Ray, T.S. Eliot and also the musicians Josephine Baker and Cole Porter.
Now Paris is a metropolis that is home to millions of people and even back in the day it was already huge, so the chance of just running into someone would have been small. Fortunately for us, the artists of Paris Jazz Age liked to meet each other, go to the same parties and cafes and sometimes even work together (like Dali and Bunuel). Still, there is no evidence or recorded events that tells us that Hemingway and Cole Porter knew each other or even met.
If any music or musical artist represents the Jazz Age and Paris during that time it must be Cole Porter and his music. And there is proof Hemingway was – at least – aware of this, because he quotes from Porters “It is bad for me” in his story “The Snow of Kilimanjaro”
“Would you like some more broth?” the woman asked him now.
“No, thank you very much. It is awfully good.”
“Try just a little.”
“I would like a whiskey-soda.”
“It is not good for you.”
“No. It`s bad for me. Cole Porter wrote the words and the music. The knowledge that you`re going mad for me.”
Porter being – although not openly, he was married to an older woman – gay, might have had something to do with them not meeting. As we know Hemingway tried to maintain an image of tough and silent manliness – much alike many of his fictional characters – and maybe didn’t feel the need to meet. Hemingway`s views on homosexuality and homosexuals were, to say the least, backwards (in any case from a nowadays point of view). Proof of this we can find in his short story “The mother of a queen”.
In A Moveable Feast Hemingway wrote a chapter about his meeting with the painter Pascin. It is called “With Pascin at the Dome”. The Dome of course being one of the cafés of Montparnasse. Pascin was a well-known figure in the art scene of Montparnasse in the time Hemingway lived in Paris and frequented the cafés of Montparnasse. People called Pascin The Prince of Montparnasse and he was regarded as a living symbol of the artistic community associated with the neighborhood.
Pascin was a Bulgarian national who fled his homeland during or just before WW-1 to avoid being drafted into the army. His real name was Julius Mordecai Pincas and He was best known for his paintings that mostly portrayed women in casual poses, mostly nudes. He used to wear a bowler hat. Hemingway also noted that Pascin loved women and that he loved to drink. There were always people around Pascin.
According to Pascin’s biographer, Georges Charensol:
“Scarcely had he chosen his table at the Dome or the Sélect than he would be surrounded by five or six friends; at nine o’clock, when we got up to dinner, we would be 20 in all, and later in the evening, when we decided to go up to Montmartre to Charlotte Gardelle’s or the Princess Marfa’s—where Pascin loved to take the place of the drummer in the jazz band—he had to provide for 10 taxis.”
The chapter Hemingway wrote about meeting Pascin at the Dome recounts a night in 1923. They have a drink and are kept company by two of Pascin’s models who are also sisters. The sisters and Pascin go out for dinner at a restaurant later and Hemingway goes home to his wife which he calls his “légitime” which means something like his wife or lawful partner.
Pascin did hang himself in 1930. Hemingway says this about him: “I liked to remember him as he was that night at the Dome. They say the seeds of what we will do are in all of us, but it always seemed to me that in those who make jokes in life the seeds are covered with better soil and with a higher grade of manure.”
A walk Hemingway often made was the one from his home in Rue du Cardinal Lemoine to the boulevards where the cafés are located where he used to do his writing. For this post I would like to take you along on the route from his home to Café de Flore on 172 boulevard Saint Germain.
Knowing Hemingway (as far as that is possible) I would say he would take the blue route (map above), the route that would take him around the Pantheon (1) towards the Odeon (2) and the Jardin de Luxembourg (3). After all, this would bring him to the Boulevard Saint Michel (4) and very close to the Rue de L’Odeon (5) where the bookshop of Sylvia Beach – Shakespeare and Company was located (at number 12). I like to think he would pop in for a moment and say hi.
And I also think he would also prefer to see the Pantheon at every opportunity he would get. The alternative route (the grey one on the map below) would be a bit boring and Hemingway didn’t come to Paris to be bored.
Further on he would walk a little along the gates of the Jardin de Luzembourg before taking a right into Rue de Seine. After walking that long street up to the boulevard Saint Germain he only would have to take a left to see the Café de Flore and go in. Conveniently for him the Deux Magots and Brasserie Lipp were also close by.
When living in Paris – before all the glory and fame – Hemingway was often very hungry. They (his wife Hadley and him) did not have a lot of money and sometimes not enough to buy food. Hemingway being a natural heavy weight dealt with it in his own way. Most of the time he tried to do something that would keep his mind of the hunger, like going to the Palais de Luxembourg to watch the paintings.
Then sometimes when he did get money, he would go to Brasserie Lipp on 151 Boulevard Saint Germain, almost right across the street from brasserie Les Deux Magots. In A moveable Feast he describes going there and eating the potato salad and drinking a lot of beer. In the first part of Islands in the Stream – the part that is set on the island of Bimini – he also refers to the potato salad from Lipp’s.
Last week in Paris we went to pay a visit to brasserie Lipp. The first thing that struck us was the overwhelming number of waiters and other people that seemed to be part of the staff but had no clear task or obvious reason for being there. After sitting down we quickly identified these older men in worn down suits as the ‘gerants’ and concluded that their role probably did not had changed a lot from Hemingway’s days. Most of the time they walk around a bit and look around if all is well.
The interior looked to be unchanged from Hemingways’s days too. I would describe the style as ‘Jugendstil’. There are some paintings of palm trees on the walls around the big mirrors that should give the place a more spacious and ‘tropical’ look.
We entered the brasserie at lunchtime and it was quite busy. We ordered a fish soup (soupe de poissons), a beer and a green tea. It took them 10 minutes to get it to our table and to be honest the soup was not that good and the tea and the beer nothing more than you would expect from a normal beer and cup of tea. We had to pay 30 Euro however and I am sure there are numerous places in Paris where you would get a better deal for your money. Still, it is something to do when you are in towns and like to taste a little of Hemingway’s Paris.
Hemingway’s life in Paris constituted only five years of his existence, between 1921 and 1925, yet it would become for him an indelible landscape, synonymous with happiness but also with destruction and disillusionment. He arrived in Paris with his wife Hadley on December 20, 1921. A year earlier he had been dragging his boredom and malaise between Oak Park, Chicago and Canada, where he had begun to write for the Toronto Star. Several short stories also date from this time: “The Mercenaries” set in Sicily, which he visited during the war (WW 1), “The Current” and also “Crossroads: An Anthology.” The magazines to which he sent the pieces all rejected them. Hemingway began to doubt himself and started thinking about traveling to Europe.
The American writer Sherwood Anderson explained to the aspiring young writer that the best way to learn the craft of writing was to go to Paris. In addition, he pointed out that because of the favorable exchange rate, an American could live better in Paris than at home. Anderson also introduced Hemingway to people like Gertrude Stein, James Joyce and Ezra Pound. Getting to know them and embracing the Parisian elite of the arts and their fascination with modernism, would greatly widen his views.
By the end of November 1921 everything was prepared: Hemingway would be the Paris correspondent of the Toronto Star, and at the same time learn the craft while learning from some of the already more established writers and artists.
“Maybe away from Paris I could write about Paris as in Paris I could write about Michigan,” wrote Hemingway in A moveable Feast. And indeed, it was only in Cuba that he would write about the French capital, but it was in Paris that an essential phase in his writing career occurred.
The above text is for a great part from “Hemingway – A life in picture”, B. Vejdovsky with M. Hemingway
Hemingway loved to write letters. And he wrote thousands of them. A fair deal of the letters had a business objectives, getting his stories published, getting his money and more of that sort of things. But he also wrote a lot of private letters to family and friends. here’s a short one to Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas:
Fitzgerald was around yesterday afternoon with his wife and she is worth seeing so I ‘ll bring them around Friday afternoon unless you want me not to. Bill Smith ‘s going to put McAlmon’s publishing on a business basis, accounts kept, sales followed up and collections made so Bob will know how he stands and he is a good business man and careful and cautious so that is all to the good. They are going to get a good list from Tennessee (Anderson) and all of us and try and sell out all the books direct by mail to the states so there won’t be all this loss on dealers…
So far this very short fragment from one of his letters. If you would like to read more of Hemingway’s letters I would recommend the Cambridge University Press edition edited by Spanner, Defazio and Trogdon. I myself have the second volume that spans the period from 1923 to 1925, the period Hemingway lived in Paris.
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…