(excerpted from Paris Insights – An Anthology)
Perhaps the most famous and frequently quoted American writer to live in Paris, Ernest Hemingway once quipped that if one were lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then Paris would stay with him for the rest of his life.
Hemingway moved to Paris with his wife, Hadley, in 1921. He worked there as the European correspondent for the Toronto Daily Star, while making connections with writers and artists, and striving to become a published fiction writer. In his book A Moveable Feast, published posthumously in 1964, Hemingway recounts his experiences during those years in Paris, and writes about the people he met.
The decade of the 1920s was a particularly intense and fertile period for writers and artists in Paris. Talented American writers such as Malcolm Cowley, Ezra Pound, and F. Scott Fitzgerald (to name only a few) gathered in and around the area called Montparnasse, frequenting cafés such as the Dôme and the Dingo where they exchanged ideas, argued, and drank. Hemingway was part of this scene, though he preferred the café called La Closerie des Lilas, where he could sit and write in relative tranquility.
Through his association with writer Sherwood Anderson, Hemingway met other Americans living in Paris, a number of whom helped and encouraged him in his efforts to become a published writer. He met, for example, Gertrude Stein, who had been living in Paris since 1903. She reviewed Hemingway’s manuscripts, and made comments on them, pronouncing some of them unprintable because of the frank language he used. Their friendship continued for some time, but soured by late 1926, perhaps due to rivalry.
In a chapter entitled “Hunger Was Good Discipline,” Hemingway portrays himself as an impoverished writer during those early years. He relates how hunger was part of his experience while living in Paris, and how he used it to enhance his appreciation of the paintings of Paul Cézanne that were on exhibit in the Luxembourg museum. According to Hemingway, Cézanne’s works were sharper, clearer, and more beautiful when viewed on an empty stomach.
Later in this chapter, he pays a visit to Sylvia Beach at her lending library, Shakespeare and Company, where he learns that a payment of 600 francs has arrived for one of his stories. Beach, because he looks thin, encourages him to go home and have lunch. Instead, Hemingway immediately proceeds to the Brasserie Lipp, where he orders a potato salad and a liter of beer. The following paragraphs are a delicious account of a man enjoying a hearty meal, although one is left wondering whether Hadley was alone back at their apartment eating dry bread.
Travelers to Paris will enjoy reading this book before they embark on a trip to the city. Hemingway’s stories will regale them and hone their anticipation of the delight that they will experience when walking in his footsteps and those of his friends.