"If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris ... then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast." Ernest Hemingway

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

My 'moveable feast' in Paris. Ernest Hemingway and his pals. With pictures.

Tourist Denise capturing some of the delights of Paris in 2004
Firstly, thanks for all the good wishes for my health since I've been home struggling with a Frenchy virus. I'm feeling much better thanks and will soon be full of energy.

Now to my new weekly post. A bit late due to lethargy, problems with downloading photos and general lack of time.

I love the old jokes about people coming home from holidays and showing their photos while everyone sits around with glassy looks on their faces. I don't want to be that person inflicting boredom, but several of you have asked to see some pics and hear some stories about my recent travels, so I'm launching into a little travel-inspired series. When I'm feeling up to it I'll be posting much more on L'Aussie Travel and Pichets in Paris, but I'll be posting most Tuesdays or Wednesdays here on L'Aussie, with a more writerly slant to my recent trip. While I'm busy editing my novels I'll usually only be posting early in the week and on Fridays for Romantic Friday Writers (can't miss that!) Great writing practise. Please join us!

So let's get this tour started. You can leave any time you want, ha ha! But I hope you'll at least see a few pics you like or read something that will encourage you to leave a comment.

When you visit someplace marvellous for the first time, you're a tourist. Your visit is usually a frenzy of checking out the famous landmarks, monuments, museums, art galleries...it has to be done. Who could visit London and not see Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey? Who could visit Berlin and not see the Brandenburg Gate? Who could visit Paris and not see, er, let me see, the Arc de Triomphe, the Eiffel Tower, the Champs Elysee, the Seine, Sacre Coeur, Versailles, the Louvre, Notre Dame, St Chapelle, the bridges, the famous cafes..

Sacre Coeur, atop Montmarte, always worth of a return visit
.Sure, we have to see these marvels when we travel. But the beauty of visiting someplace marvellous for the second, third or even the fourth time, is that we don't have to do these things; we're free to explore and find the beating heart of a place. This is how I felt when I visited Paris yet again. It wasn't about the monuments, although we revisited our favourite haunts, but this time it was more about getting into the heart of things and this included the bygone era of the literary Paris when it was the mecca for struggling artists, writers and actors.

We (husband and I) made our headquarters in this gorgeous little rustic hotel, Les Degres de Notre Dame. We were given the 'Romantic Room' so that was sweet. Large by Parisian standards, with even a sitting room, this room was a great base for our stay. It is on the Left Bank in the Latin Quarter, across from Notre Dame and a stone's throw from Shakespeare and Company. Well, wasn't this a good start for a more literary focus?

Shakespeare and Company, just a few streets away! Doing very nicely thanks they tell me!
I trotted off to Shakespeare and Company to buy A Moveable Feast (they have a whole shelf of Hemingway's books. And of the other Lost Generation writers like Scott Fitzgerald and co.) After a day packed with adventure and a dinner in 'cheap street' in the Latin Quarter (3 courses for 10 - 15 euro, good sturdy peasant food like mussels, Bouef Bourguignon, creme brulee (gotta have my creme brulee!)) I'd retire with A Moveable Feast. It somehow took on more of a gloss reading it a short walk from where Hemingway lived most of his early, hungry days in Paris in his twenties and Paris' twenties.

Well, what would you choose? This one?
Or this one? Hmm, decisions...or should we just find a Maccas, more in Hemingway's price range?
Some of you know I'm a great fan of Hemingway's writing. He's been described as the greatest writer since Shakespeare and I know this is easy to dismiss, but for a journalist he wrote mighty fine. First his war reporting, then his myriad short stories, but he didn't think he could be a real writer until he wrote a novel. This he did, writing 7 of them. He also published 6 short story collections, 2 non-fiction works. A further 3 novels, 4 collections of short stories and 3 non-fiction works were published posthumously.

I love most of his work and I greatly admire his work ethic - writing from 5am - midday every day nearly without fail, always on the search for the 'one true sentence.' As Roland  posted recently, Hemingway said, 'you write to rewrite.' He drew heavily from his life experiences and these were enhanced with large brush strokes in his novels, some recreated into film with a lot of input from Papa himself.

Hemingway speaks of the making of something 'truer than anything else' when we write. In his words: '...you make something through your invention that is not a representation but a whole new thing truer than anything true and alive, and you make it alive, and if you make it well enough, you give it immortality. That is why you write.'

On a previous visit, I followed in the footsteps of some of my Parisian-based idols like Collette and Victor Hugo, and I did start walking up Hemingway's street, but just wasn't in the mood. This time I was.

I checked out Victor Hugo's apartments again at the Place des Vosges. Still kept as a shrine to him.  Then had coffee in the cafe Victor Hugo in the passages below his apartment. 

74 rue Cardinal Lemoine took on a mesmerising glow during my reading of Hemingway's novel. I wanted to see the apartment building he talks about so much. Where he shivered along with his wife Hedley as they were too poor for heating other than a few sticks. They had no private bathroom. No wonder Hemingway went to cafes to write! He was just too cold at home! So what were his writing habits? At this stage of his life he relied heavily on input from great writers like Gertrude Stein, Scott Fitzgerald and Ezra Pound, all living in Paris at the same time. After his morning spent writing, he'd meet up either casually or planned with one of the 'greats.' Remember he was in his twenties and hadn't yet written a novel. Of course he didn't always take the advice on his writing these luminaries offered; he was very sure about his own talents.

A waiter snapped us drinking rhum babas at the Cafe de Flore in 2004, one of Hemingway's favourite writing places.
So one afternoon, we stepped out of our hotel, headed to the quai, nodded to Notre Dame, and turned right. We walked past the booksellers and artists until we were opposite the Isle St Louis, then turned right into rue Cardinal Lemoine. It is quite a long street by Parisian suburban standards, but it was fun meandering our way upwards away from the Seine. Hemingway describes it as a 'steep street', which it is anything but. Not many steep streets in Paris except around Montmarte.

I guess it felt steep when dressed in your overcoat, feeling full of whisky and rum and shivering with cold. Anyway, to the left we passed James Joyce's Paris home, quite an enclave and much grander than Hemingway's (Joyce had Ulysses under his belt), but we soldiered on right to the top, to the last number in rue Cardinal Lemoine, no 74.

Knocking on Hemingway's door, but no-one's home

He said he lived on the third floor so we had a conversation wondering which was actually his apartment and who lived in it now. Sadly there was no one to ask (turns out they were all having dinner in Place Contrascarpe just down from Hemingway's apartment.) Fittingly there is now a bookshop underneath. Hemingway would have liked that. He says in A Moveable Feast that he loved that apartment, he loved the view and its proximity to everything he needed - his friends, his cafes, his beloved Seine where he would people watch and imagine his stories. He always left his writing when he knew what would happen next so his subconscious could work on it.

We should all be so lucky to live in an apartment like he did while writing in Paris.


  1. What a wonderful trip. I re read a Moveable Feast last summer.

    Went to France for a few days myself in mid-July. Stopped in a little village filled with artists in Mougins. Wanted to take up residence!

  2. That's cool you treated yourself to the 'Hemingway Tour." How many books did you buy in that shop?

  3. I love looking at vacation photos. :) Sounds like a great trip. I've been to his Key West place.
    Jules @ Trying To Get Over The Rainbow

  4. Hi,

    Sounds like you had a great time down Hemingway!

    I'm so in awe and envy re your tea-cosy-hat. :o


  5. Hi Denise, I love the photos. It's a while since I've been to Paris but hopefully we'll go again soon.

    Your picture of Sacre Coeur is fabulous - but then Sacre Coeur is fabulous :-) The views are great looking up the steps or looking out from the top.

    Now you've reminded me, I really must read more Hemmingway. I've really enjoyed the little I have read and should read more. Off to add to the to read list...

  6. Hi there,
    Glad you had such a wonderful holiday.
    Thank you so much for visiting my blog and the wonderful comment you left. I'm honoured you think so highly of my work and I would be very pleased to link one or both of my last two pieces to your Friday Night Writers blog. I had wondered if it was prefered to be short stories or story excerpts and so had not entered anything there since the first time I entered something a few weeks ago.
    But, in answer to you, yes, I would be very happy to place a link and join in this Friday's Writer's group blog.
    Thank you and, hope you get over your traveller's flu/cough soon as possible. It seems to never fail when you travel, you get everyone else's bugs through the a/c on planes I suppose.

  7. Hello Denise.
    Sorry to hear you're still feeling under the weather.

    Your photos are great and looks like you had a wonderful trip. I've never been to France, although my wife has. It all looks so dreamy & romantic.

    Wishing you a speedy recovery and thanks for visiting, even though I didn't enter RFW last week.

  8. Ann: Ah, Mougins. Who wouldn't want to live there? And write...

    Alex: I restrained myself (thinking of excess baggage!) Only bought 2 books and a lovely big book bag. Thanks for asking.

    Jules: Yes, after his Paris years he headed back to Florida and lived out his years fishin' and huntin' and travelling.

    Francine; Trust you to pick on my little fur cap. These ladies in a little shop near Notre Dame saw a victim a mile away, but wow, isn't it warm!

    Tony: Yes, love Sacre Coeur. So stunning and that view! I haven't read all of Hemingway but it is my goal to finish them! Hope you get back to La Belle France soon!

    Daydreamertoo: Your poetry is wonderful. We have several poets who write regularly for Romantic Friday Writers. I'm even posting a poem myself tomorrow *gulp*.

    Andy: Hope you get to Paris with your lovely wife. Tres romantic!


  9. hi miss denise! yikes! i didnt know you got sick. ack! im glad youre doing some better. i gotta say i love this post cause it like you took me with you and i learned lots from it. i like when you do pictures with it. that church is soooo pretty. i like that book store and i like you knocking on papas door. :) cant wait for more travel stuff.
    ...hugs from lenny

  10. Denise, that was a wonderful post, thank you. I don't get to travel so it's lovely sharing other people's experiences.

    I have a confession to make. I've never read any of Hemingway's work. You make me want to rectify that. Any recommendations for a novice?

  11. Hope you're over the flu bug soon. I enjoyed reading about your vacation and seeing the pics. It must have been so cool to be in the places frequented by those great writers like Hemingway and Hugo.

  12. I love all the pictures in this post! :) It sounds like you had a great trip.

    I should read something by Hemingway.

    I hope you fully recover from the flu soon!

  13. lenny: Glad you liked it.

    Sarah: I recommend starting with The Old Man and the Sea, his most successful book, based on real-life experience. I'll have a think and get back to you.

    tina: Yes, I greatly appreciated it.

    Golden: You won't regret it.


  14. Thanks for sharing these wonderful photos, Denise!

  15. Oh, what a fanastic post! I miss Paris whenever I'm away too long! Now I'm dreaming of being at Shakespeare & Co.!

  16. I am so glad I called by here hoping to catch up on some of your recent travels.

  17. I loved your tour, and I also love Paris! Been there 4 times and will definitely go back. I've also been to Hugo's apartment.

    I am ashamed to say, however, that I have never read Hemingway. Even worse when you consider that I'm from the area of Northern Michigan where he resided for a bit.

    For a Hemingway newbie, which of his works would you recommend starting with?


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