Hemingway’s Paris for the Budget Traveler
Articles about how to explore and discover “Hemingway’s Paris” are published with some regularity. Usually they recommend visiting establishments the writer was known to frequent, such as Les Deux Magots, La Closerie des Lilas, the Ritz. This is fine for those who are able and willing to pay top prices, only to be surrounded by a lot of other tourists trying (unsuccessfully, I’m pretty sure) to channel creative energy long gone from these particular places.
Is the magic still there? The good news is, yes, it is–and even better news is that you don’t have to pay inflated prices to experience it.
Here are a few tips for budget travelers who would like to experience something of what it was that drew Hemingway and so many others to Paris, and nurtured their creative genius.
1. Spend some time with the statue of Maréchal Michel Ney, located across the street from the Port Royal RER station, adjacent to the Closerie des Lilas. The statue was erected at the place where the Maréchal, one of Napoleon’s favorite marshals, who took both the blame and the fall for what happened at Waterloo, was executed by firing squad in 1815. (Ney’s last words are said to have been “Soldiers, when I give the command to fire, fire straight at my heart. Wait for the order. It will be my last to you. I protest against my condemnation. I have fought a hundred battles for France, and not one against her. Soldiers, fire!”)
Stand there, outside, and read what Hemingway wrote about Ney, looking back many years later, on the afternoon when he had stopped at the Closerie des Lilas for a beer after being told by Gertrude Stein that he and all his war-veteran companions were “a lost generation.”
“…as I was getting up to the Closerie des Lilas with the light on my old friend, the statue of Marshal Ney with his sword out and the shadows of the trees on the bronze, and he alone there and nobody behind him and what a fiasco he’d made of Waterloo, I thought that all generations were lost by something and always had been and always would be and I stopped at the Lilas to keep the statue company and drank a cold beer before going home…sitting there with the beer, watching the statue and remembering how many days Ney had fought, personally, with the rear-guard on the retreat from Moscow that Napoleon had ridden away from in the coach…I thought of what a warm and affectionate friend Miss Stein had been…and I thought, I will do my best to serve her and see she gets justice for the good work she had done as long as I can, so help me God and Mike Ney. But the hell with her lost-generation talk and all the dirty, easy labels…” *
Read it, and think about it.
Now you’re getting close to communion with the master, and you haven’t paid anything except the cost of the Metro ticket to get there.
2. Stroll over the Seine on the Pont des Arts, where Hemingway and his first wife Hadley strolled one night, reminiscing about their friend Chink.
Or choose any bridge you like to stroll across. (The views are beautiful from all of them.) If you are with someone you love, reminisce about whatever makes the two of you happy. Or talk about the future, as Hemingway and Hadley did too. (But please do NOT add to the “Locks of Love” on the Pont des Arts: here’s why.)
3. Find your own café.
The cafés that Hemingway loved best were unpretentious local places where he could go to be alone and work. Thank God there are still hundreds of such places still in Paris, in every part of town. Find an unpretentious, unknown café, pick a table in a corner somewhere, and take out your notebook, or a book to read. You can order a glass of wine, a beer, or un café, and stay there for hours, and as long as you are not in the part of the establishment where a meal is being served, no one will bother you or hurry you on your way. (They probably won’t even bring you your check until you ask, unless they are changing the shift, in which case they may apologetically ask if you would mind settling l’addition. But you don’t have to leave then either. You should just pay up.)
4. If you want to go the places where Hemingway lived–as well as a few other very important writers, including George Orwell and James Joyce, Honoré de Balzac and Paul Verlaine–and to gain a very good basic overview/background on them, as well as a lot of other interesting information, two hours spent with Paris Walks Tours is money well invested.
At 12 Euros for adults and 10 Euros for students 21 and under (children under 15, 8 Euros), it’s one of the best bargains in Paris for the intellectually curious. There is a weekly Hemingway tour, every Friday morning at 10:30 a.m. No reservations needed, all you have to do is show up at the Metro Cardinal Lemoine (a name that will be familiar to you if you’ve read A Moveable Feast) and meet the guide. The tours go on 365 days a year, rain or shine. (Here’s the link directly to their site: http://www.paris-walks.com/)
5. Find a nice café–not expensive, just nice, as in sympa–or a bench in one of Paris’s many beautiful parks, and read “A Moveable Feast.”
(You can read why you should read THIS edition, and not the 2009 “restored” one here.)
Really, is there any better way to connect with writers than to read the work they left behind? Is there any better way to connect with the Hemingway who so loved Paris?
I don’t think so.
And–should you happen to be in Paris in a week that is particularly rainy, know that you are not alone. Here is a Hemingway quote that is not that famous, but it can be a very appropriate one: “I don’t know what I thought Paris would be like, but it was not that way. It rained nearly every day.”
Janet Hulstrand is a writer, editor, writing coach, and teacher of writing and literature based in Silver Spring, Maryland. Each summer she teaches a literature course in Paris, for Queens College, CUNY (“Paris: A Literary Adventure”). She also teaches culture and literature classes at Politics & Prose bookstore in Washington D.C., and writing workshops in the Champagne region of France.
*from A Moveable Feast, published by Touchstone (Simon & Schuster), 1996 edition, pgs. 30-31
Entry filed under: About Paris, About Travel. Tags: A Moveable Feast, budget travel, Hemingway, Hemingway in Paris, Hemingway's Paris, literary travel, Paris, statue of Marechal Ney, the lost generation, things to do in Paris, travel, walking tours in Paris.